If I tell you it’s more than 1,200 words long, would you think Mr. Garrison liked it? Would you also believe I didn’t go through and ital stuff? Good, you’re prepared to jump.
J.J. Abrams Goes Boldly
Let’s face it: J.J. Abrams faced an almost impossible challenge with Star Trek. He had to breath life into a beloved, well-known and — frankly — worn-out franchise. He had to make a movie that appeals to arguably the most devoted, extreme and nitpicky fan base this side of, well, most of your major religions. You know, those dweeby Trek geeks. (Not cool people like you and me.)
At the same time Abrams had to appeal to moviegoers who don’t have a collection of three phasers, a gold velour uniform shirt, and 47 variations of Captain Kirk action figures on my bookshelves and hidden in the back of my office closet. Those — um, we — normal people just want to see a good flick with lots of action, solid character development and a great story.
Add to that one more barb. Abrams was working with a concept that in the last 20 years had all the life wrung from it by some of the most notably mediocre writers and producers in the business, who have been sucking like parasites at the legacy the Original Series with their anemic, gelded spin-offs — Next Generation, Voyager, et al.
The groundbreaking had become grating, and the inspired had become insipid.
So all that stood against Abrams before he even got under way. It was pretty much a no-win scenario.
Abrams took a cue from Kirk; he beat the Kobayashi Maru.
The movie, like the original Star Trek series, hits the ground running and knows where it’s going. The opening battle sequence at once shows a new dynamism while it preserves the notion that the spaceships of Star Trek aren’t the little attention deficit disorder fighters from Star Wars, but big, heavy battleships maneuvering in space. There’s a great moment where the camera follows a crewman who gets sucked out hole torn in the hull — it goes from a roar of battle to the silence of space and the body bouncing lifelessly amid the debris. That’s when you know this isn’t your safe, family hour Trek. It’s Trek all grown up.
What follows is an introduction to adolescent Kirk and young Spock, neither of whom are what you expect. There’s a reason for these changes that makes sense in the context of the Trek universe if you care, but it doesn’t matter if you’re not the kind of nerd who can cite Kirk’s serial number. (SC-937-0176-CEC. So I’m told.)
Shortly after we meet teen delinquent Kirk (Chris Pine) and young college age Spock (Zachary Quinto), and find out why they choose the paths they will which are, of course, destined to cross at Starfleet Academy. (Great moment: Spock declines to attend the Vulcan version of MIT after his mother’s human heritage is insulted, giving the Vulcan church ladies a parting “Live long and prosper” that’s very clearly him saying, “Eff you.”)
Along the way we also meet Leonard McCoy MD, (Karl Urban) who is likewise joining Starfleet, but for him it’s like the Foreign Legion. Let me tell you, Urban is Dr. McCoy more than Dr. McCoy ever was. Without it descending into caricature or two-dimensional imitation, Urban’s performance captures all of the old McCoy’s mannerisms like he was DeForest Kelley reborn, and still he gives the crotchety, quite frankly bigoted, old country doctor a new take.
Pine’s turn as Kirk was probably the most challenging role. And I’m a Kirk purist. I gotta say, I bought it. Oh, he wasn’t Captain Kirk for the first half of the movie, but that’s the point. He was growing into the gold velour and tight pants. He caught elements of Shatner’s charm and swagger from the start, but by the end he owned the role and burned the mortgage.
So the Academy comes and goes (the apple munching nod to the scene in the Genesis cave is among my favorite moments) and then along comes the Big Bad Universal Threat, only the USS Enterprise can save the day, Kirk sits in the big chair and smiles like a dildo when his plan comes together, the good guys win, lather, rinse, repeat.
Abrams makes a good go of shaking things up — yeah, you won’t believe what happens to poor Spock’s folks — and they explain at least enough to my satisfaction how a guy just out of college could take command of the equivalent of the USS Nimitz. (To paraphrase the Shat, it’s a movie.)
And yes, it’s a movie and a fan movie. Throughout this fun adventure there are more nods and salutes to fans than I could keep up with — and I mean visuals, name-dropping, the just perfect use of old catchphrases without it ever seeming forced or even expected. It’s a just an endless stream of bonuses for the faithful, but it doesn’t get in the way of anything for the non-Trekkies. Fanboy heaven. It also wipes away the last 40 years of story build-up (canon, in nerd speak) that’s strangled story telling. It gives the writers a blank slate — something it needed more than anything else — while keeping the core. (Except the warp core. Which they eject. I can show you how on the blueprints.)
Special effects? Oh yes. All the old stuff is given new life, and the space stuff is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I am not exaggerating when I say I have seen it ALL before.
The other familiar Trek characters are there (Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura), and each is handled with the same respect as the big three. Simon Pegg’s Scotty, of course, arrives late in the show but steals every scene he’s in. They get decent screen time (Pegg not nearly enough) but this is Star Trek.
And Star Trek means a movie about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
That is why the standard stop-the-bad-guys-with-the-doomsday-device storyline isn’t a problem. The story isn’t that important because this is not plot-driven Trek; it’s character-driven Trek. This is what’s going to make it accessible to non-Trek moviegoers.
A lot of Trekkies don’t want to accept the basic truth: the original Star Trek was special and it captured the imagination not because of the Enterprise, the hippie-dippy utopian visions of the future, the special effects (such as they were), the intergalactic politics, the Klingons, the preachy messages about tolerance, or any of the other bits of window dressing. All that stuff was important, but it wasn’t the heart.
Doubt it? The later spin-offs had all of that stuff in spades along with better special effects, a combined 23 years on the air compared to just three for the Original, and superior toupee technology.
But ask anyone on the street to name something from Star Trek, and they’ll say Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Maybe the Klingons. No mention of that bald French guy or the woman who — oh, big surprise — got her ship lost in space.
No, what made the Original, Accept No Substitutes, Kirk in Command Star Trek iconic is the three lead characters and how they interacted. The Enterprise, the aliens, the velour, and the transparent aluminum social commentary — it was all just the icing on the cake.
Abrams gets it, and it comes across in film, despite the screen flares. So it’s the new Star Trek for the win.
(I want sequels and I want them now.) –Trey Garrison