Anthony’s Thoughts On The L.A. Star Trek Movie Presentation November 20, 2008by Anthony Pascale , Filed under: Review,Star Trek (2009 film) , trackback
Last night JJ Abrams finally brought his World Tour to Los Angeles, for a screening of four scenes from his Star Trek movie at the Paramount Theater on the Paramount lot. TrekMovie correspondents have been covering each stop on the tour, but this was the first time I, your humble editor, was there to see it for myself. Find out what I thought below. [SPOILERS]
Below are quick summaries of the four scenes shown. Since this has been covered by this and other sites extensively, it is not worth going into too much detail (and can be skipped if you have been reading all our other reports), but is presented here as a quick refresher. My thoughts on what was shown is presented separately below.
Scene 1 – Iowa Bar
This is the first scene where the audience will see Pine as Kirk and it has him in modern looking bar (with some sci-fi touches like menus with animations on them). Although there is much talk about Star Wars, this bar is no Cantina scene, it is very real and it is identifiable as our future. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is at the bar ordering drinks for her friends when Kirk tries to pick her up. She brushes him off, but seems to be impressed when he is familiar with her field of communications expertise. Kirk is then confronted with four Academy cadets whom he antagonizes further resulting in a bar brawl and Kirk getting beaten pretty badly until Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) comes into he bar to break it up. He sits Kirk down (and apparently knows him) and gives him a ‘your dad was a hero on the USS Kelvin and you are wasting your life’ speech and implores him to go to Starfleet Academy. Although Kirk doesn’t give Pike any hope that he is listening, we then see Kirk riding his motorcycle to the "Riverside Shipyards" in Iowa to board the shuttle for the Academy.
James T. Kirk – rebel without a ship
Scene 2 – Kirk’s Romulan Warning
It is now three years later and Kirk has been a "trouble maker" at the Academy. He is still a cadet pending a review (due to the Kobayashi incident) when there is an Emergency on Vulcan and many Starfleet ships are called into duty to help with possible evacuation. Kirk is not assigned to a ship, but his buddy Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) has smuggled him on board the USS Enterprise for her maiden voyage. The scene starts with McCoy dragging a sick Kirk into Sickbay (where Kirk still had time to make a pass at a nurse). McCoy injects Kirk with some kind of drug that knocks him out, Kirk regains consciousness while Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is briefing the ship on the ‘lightning storm’ at Vulcan and Kirk immediately perks up, realizing he needs to warn Pike they are headed into a Romulan trap. He uses a console to ask the computer where Uhura is and then goes to get her and they head to the bridge with McCoy trailing and injecting Kirk with various things to cure him from whatever side effect the last injection had (including comically giant hand swelling). Once on the bridge Pike is not happy to see Kirk, but after he explains things, even Spock (Zachary Quinto) agrees "the cadet’s logic is sound" about the trap. Uhura was brought along because she had intercepted Romulan communications and so she was put in charge of Comms, because she speaks "all three" Romulan dialects.
Scene 3 (shown 4th) – Romulan Attack on Vulcan
Although this scene was actually the fourth to be shown, it appears come between the scenes shown second and third We start off in some industrial part of the ship with Pike, Spock, Kirk, Sulu (John Cho) headed to the shuttle bay. The ship is at Vulcan and the Romulans are attacking the planet. Pike has accepted an offer to go to Nero’s ship to negotiate but tells Kirk and Sulu they are going to jump out of the shuttle on the way in order to shut down the drilling beam coming from a platform Nero has extended into Vulcan’s atmosphere. Pike puts Spock in command and makes Kirk first officer (Spock is not amused). On board the shuttle Kirk and Sulu talk to Chief Engineer Olsen about the mission and he is gung ho to "kick Romulan ass" but after they jump and dive to the platform you see that Olsen’s red jump suit was a bad omen. Kirk and Sulu proceed to do some Romulan ass kicking of their own, with Sulu using his trusty folding katana sword. It turns out they were too late, the Romulans launch their ‘red matter’ weapon into the hole they drilled and when Chekov warns Spock Vulcan only has "minutes" before it is turned into a black hole, he puts Yelchin in command and beams down to Vulcan to save his parents and the Vulcan Council. Meanwhile Kirk and Sulu fall off the platform and need a beam up before they hit the ground and so Yelchin runs to the transporter room because only he can figure out how to beam them back through all the interference.
Kirk, Sulu (& Olsen the red shirt) to the rescue
Scene 4 (shown 3rd) – Kirk meets Scotty (and another Spock)
The scene shown third appears to take place at some unknown time after the Romulan attack on Vulcan. Kirk and Spock still don’t get along and Spock has jettisoned Kirk onto a frozen planet, where he has met the older Spock (Leonard Nimoy). The scene starts with Kirk entering some kind of lab or workshop where he and Spock meet Montgomery Scotty (Simon Pegg) and his pint-sized alien friend. Scotty thinks they are there to resupply him and he starts complaining about the food and how long he has been stationed at this outpost after his failed attempt to transport Admiral Archer’s ‘prize beagle’ (Kirk notes that he knows the dog and asks how it is, Scotty says he will tell him when it shows up again). They tell Scotty they are actually there to get him to beam Kirk back to the Enterprise using his trans warp beaming technology, which he can only do once Spock gives him his own formula from the future. Spock advises Kirk that he must not reveal his existence to his younger self and that Kirk must get control of the Enterprise from his younger self (he also tells him how to get under younger Spock’s skin so he can be relieved of command). Once ready they prepare for beam out and Kirk notes to Spock that traveling through time and changing history is cheating, Spock notes that he learned it from an old friend and gives him the Vulcan salute. Believe me, regardless of where you sit on the fan spectrum, you will well up when Spock says “live long and prosper.”
Scotty makes a big entrance
(no images from the Spock/Scotty scene in trailer, but this appears to be from the scene that follows – Scotty is wearing same ‘frozen planet’ outfit)
Below are my impressions broken into different categories. It is important to note that this is based on just 20 minutes of a 120 minute movie. So concerns can be alleviated once the whole picture is seen.
Story & script
With only 20% of the film shown, it is impossible to know what the full story of this film is, but you do get the general impression that this film is very much an origin story, and that Kirk is very much the character that is the central core. This film truly is Kirk Begins (with a good amount of Spock Begins as well). So in that sense the heart of the story are the arcs that these characters go through, as we learn how they become the heroes of Star Trek. That being said, the crisis with the Romulan threat is certainly big and we see that this film has major ‘save the world’ stakes written all over it, as a Star Trek film should. There wasn’t enough footage to get a sense of the theme of the movie, but at moments, such as Pike’s speech to Kirk in the bar, you feel the hope and optimism that is what Star Trek is all about.
Like all of their work, Orci and Kurtzman’s script seems very tight and very complicated. Although much of what was shown was action-oriented, the character moments seen in the bar in Iowa between Pike and Kirk as well as the scene between older Spock and Kirk, were both powerful and reveal very real emotion, and yet were totally true to what Star Trek is all about…the family that is this crew. One thing that is a bit surprising was the amount of humor shown, much of which is delivered perfectly by Pegg, but at times the humor slipped into slapstick, like Kirk accidentally grabbing Uhura’s chest during the bar fight (which was pretty funny) or his Mickey Mouse sized hands due to a drug side effect (which seemed silly and out of place during the Vulcan emergency). Being that this is an Orci/Kurtzman script you also get lots of quick references, like the nod to ‘Riverside Iowa’ (the city Roddenberry deemed as the home of James T. Kirk).
There is a bit of a conceit in this film that borders on a bit of a contrivance. It seems like they wanted to do an origin story like the Star Wars Prequels, but didn’t want it to take three movies to get everyone into their TOS positions. In order to get the whole gang together, there seems to be some very rapid promoting going on. Uhura is the only one who can be at comms, Kirk is the only one who can be first officer, Scotty arrives in the nick of time, and McCoy is made chief medical officer because the first one got killed. Of course this kind of thing seems to be a Trek tradition. This is reminiscent of past Trek films where the only ship that could handle the emergency is always the Enterprise.
In the end it is clear that Orci and Kurtzman understand Trek and its core audience well (which tends to be a bit older), and at the same time they understand modern (and younger) audiences well, and they are trying their hardest to cater to both. This works for the most part, but at times it may only work for one or the other.
Characters & actors
James T. Kirk: Chris Pine
Going into the preview, the thing I was most concerned about was the portrayal of Kirk. With all the talk about bringing a little Star Wars into Trek, I was concerned that Kirk would be turned into Han Solo. Nothing is wrong with Solo. Harrison Ford and George Lucas created one of the coolest characters in popular culture and the heart of the original Star Wars trilogy. But Kirk is not Solo. Kirk is not a reluctant hero and he is not a rogue. Now to be sure, this film does start off with Kirk being a bit of jerk, but from the four scenes shown, it is clear that Kirk goes through an arc. The out-of-control (and a bit uncouth) Kirk in the bar is not the determined and thoughtful Kirk you see with elder Spock on the frozen planet. And when Sulu (someone Kirk just met) falls off the drilling platform miles above Vulcan, Kirk does not hesitate, he just jumps after him. If that were Solo (unless it were Chewie), you know that he would jump, but he would give some kind of quip like "I didn’t buy into this" before he went. Kirk’s fast action is the kind of selfless heroism that defines Captain Kirk, the man who would do anything for his ship and his crew. And the key to making this all work is the outstanding portrayal of Kirk by Chris Pine. His much lauded character work to date (in films like Smokin Aces) is put to good use as he creates very real versions of these different stages of Kirk’s growth. You buy into him as the character of James T. Kirk. Pine finds the best of Kirk that was embodied by William Shatner, and yet he never once slips into a parody of Shatnerism.
Pine helps Kirk earn the chair
Mr Spock(s): Zachary Quinto & Leonard Nimoy
Quinto has Spock down in his look and mannerisms, including the eyebrow raise (which shot up when Pike made Kirk first officer). It is clear this he has studied under the great Leonard Nimoy. Yet in the two scenes that were shown, we don’t see a lot of Spock being logical. We know Kirk and Spock as having a bond best defined by Spock’s Star Trek II utterance "I am, and always shall be, your friend" which we get a notion of in this new movie when elder Spock talks to young Kirk about his "old friend" and addresses the Kirk as "Jim." But like many great relationships in the movies, this film sets up Kirk and younger Spock as adversaries to start. So in the few scenes we catch of Spock, he is clearly not happy about Kirk and so we saw a lot of Quinto’s Spock struggling to balance his two halves and to keep his cool. You can see a bit of Sylar (his Heroes villain) in his portrayal. And when he was shown in command watching his home planet getting obliterated by Nero, this struggle for emotional control was apparent. I only wish we got to see more of Spock’s journey as we did with Kirk. For now it is clear that they got the Spock struggling with (and losing) his emotional control down, and I can only hope that we also see his arc towards the more logical Spock we know and love.
As for Leonard Nimoy, what can be said? After almost two decades he stepped back into the role without missing a step. Yet it is also clear that we are seeing a Spock even later in his life. Nimoy brings us a Spock that has come to an even greater peace with his two halves and, while still remaining eminently logical, clearly has an affection for his friends (and the worlds he is trying to save).
Quinto’s Spock is working on that logic thing
Capt. Christopher Pike: Bruce Greenwood
Greenwood’s Captain Pike in the new Star Trek movie is one of unexpected highlights of the night. Of course it is no surprise that the veteran actor delivers a strong performance as a leader, what is surprising is the importance of the role in the film (or at least in the parts scene in the clips). This is no cameo. Pike is both the consummate take-charge commander and at the same time a compassionate father figure. Bob Orci once told me in an interview that captains in this movie would not fall into the trap of past movie captains like Styles (ST: III) or Harriman (Generations). Pike is in no way a weak foil set up for the audience to be begging for Kirk to get the big chair. Greenwood’s Pike exudes the confidence and fast decision-making that is the model of what we hope is the future of Captain Kirk, but when he puts Spock in command and makes Kirk first officer the audience will be thinking ‘oh god no, Kirk is barely out of the Academy and Spock is barely keeping his s–t together.’ Pike will be leaving some big shoes to fill, which only raises the stakes even higher.
Greenwood’s Pike gets a big ‘one beep’ for yes
Uhura: Zoe Saldana
Uhura was in two scenes, and in that time that we can see she is smart, sexy and sassy, just like she should be. And in the few bits that were shown, Uhura will clearly have more to do than just answering the space phone. Her chemistry with Kirk (they appear to know each other well by the time they get on the Enterprise) is great, and she is the key to helping convince Pike. While clearly an homage to Nichelle Nichols, Saldana’s portrayal of Uhura is more subtle and very convincing as a younger version of the Uhura we remember from The Original Series.
Hailing frequencies are open to Saldana’s Uhura
Dr. Leonard McCoy: Karl Urban
We know Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy as irascible, sarcastic, Jim Kirk’s friend and confidant, and a bit of a needler for Mr. Spock — and that is exactly what you get in the new Star Trek movie. More than any other cast member in the film, Karl Urban seems to be channeling the original actor, but Urban as DeForest Kelley works because he has experience doing character roles (with different voices) and his love for the material is obvious. Maybe the only concern is that in the one scene we have of him actually performing medicine he seems to be struggling a bit to cure Kirk of the disease he gave him to sneak him on board using the "I can bring a patient" ruse. This is played for comic relief, but hopefully we see Bones doing some heroic life saving elsewhere in the film.
Urban channels Kelley
Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott: Simon Pegg
Simon Pegg has made it clear that he is playing the role of Scotty from the script and not going to imitate James Doohan’s portrayal and that is very much in evidence. Pegg makes the role totally his own and the script clearly calls for him to carry much of the comic load, as he did in Abrams’ Mission: Impossible: III (whic was written by Orci, Kurtzman and Abrams). Pegg was only seen in one scene and it was being played for laughs and it works. There was just a hint of Scotty as the genius engineer, and so hopefully in the rest of the movie we see him begin to earn that reputation as a miracle worker.
Pegg plays Scotty for laughs
Hikaru Sulu: John Cho
Besides seeing the back of his head at the helm, Sulu was only seen at the preview in the attack on Vulcan scene. Cho was not kidding when he said Sulu was a ‘badass’ in this movie. Sulu (who, in another one of Orci & Kurtzman’s continuity callouts, tells Kirk he has an expertise in fencing ) really raises the action bar in his fight scene. In fact, it is actually Sulu (and his cool Katana) who has to save Kirk, who didn’t have a weapon to fight off his Romulan. Cho shows that mix of confidence with a bit of whimsy that we expect from Sulu, with maybe a bit more ferocity than we are used to.
Cho’s Sulu goes from helm to hero
Pavel Chekov: Anton Yelchin
Anton Yelchin’s Chekov is introduced in the scene where Kirk is warning Pike about the Romulans. We find him at his console with the computer not responding to him due to his accent, and I got to say, I am with the computer on this one. Yelchin is a talented actor, as can be seen in films like Alpha Dog. And the role as written, fits the character perfectly as he is a young and shy seeming officer, but also enthusiastic and good at his job (all of which are portrayed as he goes running through the corridors yelling "I know how to do that" as he heads to the transporter room to save Kirk and Sulu from being turned into jelly on the surface of Vulcan). Yelchin does a great job with all of that, but he sure is laying on the Russian accent thick. This film is not supposed to be going into parody (and I know he is from a Russian family), but it was a bit much. In talking to others outside the theater after the event I found people were split, with some thinking he was cute and others agreeing they needed to dial back on the "Wessels" knob.
Yelchin’s Chekov is wery wery Russian
Nero: Eric Bana
Nero was only seen during the attack on Vulcan, and only for a few brief moments so it is impossible to get a full sense of the character. However he does appear different than your typical Star Trek villain. Bana’s Nero seems to be much less bombastic and larger than life, he just seems quietly, cold, calculating, and ruthless as he and his crew methodically destroy an entire planet. Much of this is probably the result of Bana not coming from the same kind of theatrical background as Trek guest villain actors like Christopher Plummer (ST:VI – Chang). I haven’t seen enough to make a call, but even though Bana has a background in comic acting, his Nero is as real as a heart attack.
Nothing funny about Bana’s Nero
Sets – Enterprise
Although much of the talk of the film is about the ‘iBridge’ that is just one facet of the Enterprise. The interiors of the Enterprise in this film make the ship seem bigger than ever seen since TMP and one thing that is different for Trek is the variety of different looks. Sickbay is much less bright and seems much more like a modern medical facility. The ‘realism’ and industrial aspects go up even higher as you go into the transporter room, the workspace where Kirk finds Uhura and the area outside the shuttle bays. Unlike the past on Trek where there is pretty much a uniform design aesthetic to the ships, this Enterprise is more like a ship where the bridge deck is a gleaming first class, and as you get deeper into the ship the more industrial it gets until it is all metal and pipes and ducts and valves with a periodic LCD screen. I am no Canonista and open to change, but I found the variance a bit jarring. It was hard to imagine it was all the same ship. Each individual set was well done for the most part. I like the bridge in general, although I wish it were less busy and had a few less flashing lights. Transporter room was seen briefly and looked more like what we are used to in the TOS movie era. Sickbay was good. But some parts of the ship were clearly shot on an industrial location which worked for me sometimes and other times just looks like you are in a factory with a few sci-fi add-ons.
Sets – other
The rest of the sets and locations were excellent and provided a very realized world of the 23rd century. The Bar in Iowa had just enough sci-fi gizmos added in to make it futuristic without making it seem too Star Wars cantina. The shipyard where Kirk boards the shuttle was also shot on location somewhere, but here the industrial look mixed with some futuristic items worked perfectly. Probably the most interesting set was Nero’s bridge which was only seen a few times, but was unlike typical Star Trek bridges. There was no real sense of what was what and it almost seemed cobbled together with spare parts, but that all added to the menace. You could see that Abrams wanted the ship to be another ‘mysterious monster’ both inside and out.
This is just the high class part of the Enterprise
Wardrobe, make-up and creature effects
One of the areas this film goes into new territory is in terms of costumes. Again they seem to be finding the right mix of realistic and futuristic. What is also good to see is the variety. In just the four scenes shown, we see Kirk in four different outfits (five if you count the gold shirt seen in the trailer). I love the new uniforms, which are a great call back to the originals. The only thing seen so far I am not a big fan of is the sky diving suits, which seem a bit too ‘typical sc-fi.
As for for the aliens, there was one seen in the bar that appears to have a CGI face and it was flawless both in terms of the effects as well as how the character was shot )sitting between Kirk and Uhura and getting an earful from them both). There was another alien in Scotties workshop (his small sized sidekick) who was in full make-up and yet you believed he really was a scaly skinned little alien buddy. The days of slapping some latex on a forehead and calling it a day are over.
The Effects & The Enterprise & Nero’s Ship
You can already see from the trailer, this film is in a whole new category when it comes to the special effects, especially in terms of past Star Trek. The work that ILM has done is breathtaking and you really believe what you are seeing.
As for the new Enterprise, I like it. I didn’t speak about it last week when the first image came out because I thought it was a bad angle. We have a new poll going on the Enterprise and comparing it to the one done before the trailer came out shows a big jump in those who like or ‘love’ the ship. You are going to like it even more once you see it in action.
Nero’s ship is really hard to call a ship. The size and power make it as intimidating as the Doomsday Machine (in "Doomsday Machine") and the organic feel of the swirling mass of chains (and who knows what else is going on) really make it more of a space monster than a ship. No surprise coming from the man behind Lost and Cloverfield.
Now that is more like the E I love
The Kelvin didn’t stand a chance against Nero’s monster
Back in June I noted in my article 10 Things M:I:III can teach us about the Star Trek movie that JJ Abrams is going to be bringing a new modern sensibility to Trek, and boy was that evident. Like that film, the pacing is frenetic with lots of quick cuts and of course the lots of hand-held camera work. The scene on the drilling rig felt a lot like the bridge scene in M:I:III. Unlike that film, Abrams seems to have opened up lens more to give a sense of scale available on the big screen, whereas in M:I:III he sometimes seemed to be forgetting he had the wide canvas and fell back to his TV roots. This style, along with the effects, show where Abrams has brought some of that Star Wars feel to Star Trek, but the poignant moments in the bar and in Scotty’s lab also show that this film still pays attention to the characters. Some fans may not like this new style, but I think that Trek in the last decade (especially on TV) has been caught in a time warp and not kept up with modern film making.
Abrams amps up the action
One thing that all Trek fans seem to agree on is that Michael Giacchino is the right man for the job as Star Trek’s new composer, and you will not be disappointed.
This Star Trek movie is going to be unlike any before. That notion is exciting and a bit terrifying for the true believers. As fans we are familiar with hundreds of hours of a saga spanning centuries and the notion of a team team coming in with a new look and sensibility is not always easy to accept. From seeing this footage it is clear that this is made by people who respect Star Trek, but they are also clearly trying to make a new kind of Star Trek that appeals to a larger community. This means that at one moment you wont believe your eyes when you see an amazing shot of the Enterprise in action, then you may have a tear in your eyes as you see the new young Kirk grow into the role of Captain and interact with the original Spock, and yet in the the next minute you may roll your eyes at some over the top cartoonish gag or overtly sexy moment.
For me it is always about the characters and (mostly) that is working and working well. I am a little concerned about Quinto’s Spock, but it could be that I just haven’t seen enough. I will have to live with the over-the top accent with Chekov. But all in all, I am very excited to welcome this cast into my Trek family, especially Chris Pine’s new Kirk.
I have no doubt that many Trek fans are having trouble embracing the amount of change this film represents for the franchise. But I would argue that Star Trek has no choice but to change. For the last decade, the franchise has been in decline. Creatively it has been running out of steam (with some notable bright spots along the way), and the popularity has been in decline. It is surprising that just a few years after the financial failures of Nemesis and Enterprise, Paramount took the risk of making a big Trek film, and even more surprising that it didn’t go down the full reboot road like the Batman and Bond franchises. Abrams and his team are trying to thread the needle of creating a film that works for the Trek fans and works for a general audience. From what I have seen, it appears that they may have pulled it off.
The C word
You will note that the above analysis does not mention the word ‘canon’, a word that for some fans is paramount (no pun intended). These scenes do not seem to be in a film that ‘slots in’ right before The Original Series. Romulans, Pike, the ship, Iowa construction, etc….there are what appear to be ‘canon violations’ all over the place. However we are assured that “all will be revealed” and that there are canon reasons for everything. We know from previous reports that the film involves Nero going back in time from the post Star Trek Nemesis era and destroying the USS Kelvin a generation before the events seen in this four clips. That alone can explain the differences, and until we see the whole thing, we do not know how this plays out. Until then, it is hard to say what does and does not violate canon, and so it isn’t worth obsessing over.