Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

May 18, 2009

Star Trek (2009)

by Will Ross
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Star Trek
should not have been a good movie. It's another franchise revival, written by the duo behind Transformers and The Island, featuring a mostly untested or inconsistent cast, and directed by J.J. Abrams, whose efforts in television (Lost), production (Cloverfield), and direction (Mission: Impossible III) have been spotty at best. But it boasts one of the best scripts and casts of any major movie event in recent years, and the direction elevates it to the rarity of a smart, well-constructed blockbuster that seems entirely free from the influence of Michael Bay-ism. In fact, it's something even rarer than that: It's the revival of the space opera.

The space opera, a subgenre of science-fiction featuring interplanetary travel and conflict between powerful forces of good evil, is a cinematic feat so ambitious and rarely attempted that most attempts (including the majority of the Star Trek franchise) are too campy or corny to satisfy. The last great space operas, the first two Star Wars films, have since defined pop culture's thinking of romantic space travel fantasy, with few other efforts lasting long in the public consciousness. The only exception is the original Star Trek series, created by Gene Rodenberry, which gained popularity more thanks to the novelty of a space opera on television than any real depth to their construction. The series suffered from the camp, clich├ęs, and bad alien suits that have always plagued science-fiction. But that was Rodenberry's Star Trek; this is Abrams' Star Trek.

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Is the film accessible to those who know nothing about Star Trek? Yes, but it doesn't alienate fans of the franchise, either. Abrams' vision of the Star Trek universe owes nothing to the tone or construction of its predecessors, borrowing only the most compelling and enduring aspects of its characters and premise. The writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have written a screenplay that shows an instinct for sharp dialogue, set pieces, and well-placed humour, and the cast has enough charisma and depth to avoid ruining the script with camp performances. Chris Pine plays Kirk with enough charming irreverence to endear him to audiences while still creating a sense of potentially dangerous recklessness. His foil is Spock (Zachary Quinto), who is half human, half vulcan, an alien species that values coolness and logic over emotional action. Quinto's Spock is as arrogant as Kirk, but far colder and more ruthless.

The two join an interplanetary peacekeeping armada called the United Federation of Planets, and eventually end up on the armada's prestigious new flagship, the USS Enterprise. A conspiracy of intergalactic genocide, time travel and black hole technology ensues, but the struggle between Kirk and Spock to control the Enterprise is at least as entertaining as the struggle against the evil romulan mining ship captain, Nero.

Yes, I used the word "evil", but that's not an exaggerated description. Star Trek is not a morally complex or layered film, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. The cinematography by Daniel Mindel is among the best pop photography for any film in recent years, particularly the lens flares and colour direction, which give the film a sense of intensity and immediacy that compliment its balls-to-the-wall pacing. The colours must partially be credited to Michael Kaplan's excellent costume design, which makes the famous monochromatic uniforms of the original series look respectable.

Everything from the original series has been faithfully reimagined, particularly the supporting characters - Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) all have their original idiosyncracies and catchphrases, but avoid the trap of impersonations. Urban's performance as the cantankerous Bones is so fun and biting that it's easy to forget what a cynical bastard he is. The weakest link in the cast is Eric Bana as Nero, who is always a single-minded figure of teeth-grinding vengeance. It's not bad to have a truly evil antagonist in a space opera, but it's no fun watching someone with no personality, whether hero or villain.

Another shortcoming is an early scene showing Kirk as a child of 11 or 12, stealing his stepfather's antique car and speeding down the highway with The Beastie Boys blaring. This is our introduction to Kirk, but it's the only time we see him this age, and its entire purpose seems to be to play against a similar introduction to Spock as a child that follows. It doesn't accomplish much, and between the car chase and "Sabotage", it doesn't seem to fit into a space opera.

Despite some missteps in characterization, Star Trek is one of the most accomplished, entertaining works of cinematic escapism in recent years.



I went to Star Trek with my girlfriend and not once yet have I asked her if she wanted my jeans' rod and berries. I hope you're all proud of me.

7 comments:

Devan said...

This is totally a test.

¬Will Ross said...

A brain-bashing psychotronic test.

Anonymous said...

kkkaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhnnnnnnnnnn!

Grace Hall said...

Beam me up, Scotty! That was one great action/ science fiction movie. It was never boring for one minute. I thought that Karl Urban was fantastic as Dr. McCoy :)

¬Will Ross said...

Anonymous said...

kkkaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhnnnnnnnnnn!

*Kkkhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnn!

Anonymous said...

all I can say is...
lens flairs.

¬Will Ross said...

It's like lens flares is the new shaky-cam for people to say "WHOAH THIS ISN'T A CLEANLY SHOT AND LIT HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTER I DON'T LIKE THIS NEW THING"

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