Two weeks ago TrekMovie presented the first official site review for the new Star Trek movie, but that was just the beginning. We will be presenting a number of reviews in total and today we have one from friend of the site and Free Enterprise writer/producer Mark Altman. [note review contains minor spoilers]
FROM ROMULUS WITH LOVE
Beaming over Star Trek
By Mark A. Altman
When Star Trek opens on May 7th, Trek newbies should be energized and beaming with glee over this reboot of the venerable franchise…or, at least, that’s how those idiots will review it on the local news. Conventional wisdom will say that J.J. Abrams Star Trek is a sprawling, epic thrill ride when they’re not simply co-opting Paramount marketing’s tagline that “this isn’t your father’s Star Trek.” Well, the ironic thing is it sort of is your father’s Star Trek…and that’s not so bad. You see, Star Trek always was thrilling, sexy, groundbreaking and rousing, but after years of bland and boring contemporary Trek shows, people seemed to forget that. Kirk sleeping with a green Orion Slave Girl at Starfleet Academy would have fit right in with the original series and so would a lot of other things in the film (with the exception of some ham-handed comedy, including a silly Willie Wonka-esque scene with Simon Pegg’s Scotty).
You see, the new Star Trek plays like a well-assembled, greatest hits album, retrofitting most of the elements that make Star Trek a great sci-fi franchise and giving them a spiffy, new re-mastered sheen. There’s a hearty helping of Star Trek II right down to a villain intent on revenge for the death of his wife – only this time he’s out for green blood instead of red, a scene straight out of “This Side of Paradise” in which Kirk and Spock go at it on the bridge, a little “Star Trek IV,” and even a dash of “Trek V” (a movie you would have liked a lot better if it had the caliber of this film’s visual effects).
To writers Kurtzman and Orci’s credit after the hundreds of hours of Trek, myriad books and comics, they still have a few neat twists on the conventional mythology, none moreso than those involving the perpetually underserviced Uhura (who remains underserviced no more in more ways than one). There’s also a refreshing dearth of technobabble, that annoying mumbo-science that cropped up in later Trek’s, although the scene in which the film’s macguffin is revealed is a little difficult to fathom (and seems like something out of Alias and not Trek). At least, there weren’t any whales involved.
The movie is kinetically and adeptly directed by J.J. Abrams, whose MI:III was the best film in that franchise by far, warps into action with a magnificent teaser culminating in an operatic climax leading into the film’s title card. Most tech credits are equally outstanding. Costumes look great and pay homage to the original series, but it’s really composer Michael Giacchino’s score that shines the most. The only misstep is the inexplicable decision along the way (not Giacchino’s, from what I’m told) to drop Alexander Courage’s theme from the film’s title card. It’s like having a 007 film without using the Bond theme (which is even more the curious since it was Abrams who resurrected the classic Lalo Schifrin IMF team assembling cue from the TV series for his movie). I also would have liked had they retained the original design of the Enterprise (or something akin to ST: TMP, still the best, sleekest starship ever designed), but the new iteration is close enough to that aesthetic to be palatable.
The film looks far better than any Trek film since Star Trek: The Motion Picture (despite my reservations with the Enterprise’s engine room which looks like it’s powering the Titanic – or a brewery) although I hoped the movie would be a little more epic and galaxy-spanning. Not to mention, there’s really not an unforgettable action setpiece, although the fisticuffs on a Romulan mining platform comes the closest. Numerous homages to the original show abound, small and large, ranging from a brief glimpse of a sign that reads Admiral Komack in the Federation Council Chambers to Kirk casually munching an apple during a pleasantly familiar moment. McCoy aphorisms abound and Karl Urban does a great job assuming the stethoscope (ok, hypo spray) of the late, great DeForest Kelley. In fact, the cast is uniformly solid, particularly Bruce Greenwood as Pike (who figures prominently in one of the film’s best sequences – the barfight that leads to Kirk being recruited into Starfleet). My initial reservations about Zachary Quinto were ill-founded. He make s a very credible Spock although it’s Chris Pine who steals the show as Kirk perfectly capturing Shatner’s deft combination of heroism, humor and hubris. The only thing missing was a flying kick. Admittedly, I truly enjoyed seeing Leonard Nimoy on screen again as a Gandalf-ian Spock although his introduction does strain credulity and that’s the most I can say while remaining spoiler-free.
And for those who value continuity, don’t buy the spin – while the new timeline definitely can explain away some inconsistencies with the established mythology, it certainly doesn’t erase all of them so it’s up to you to either accept it…or not. It’s hard to be a strict purist given the various inconsistencies of Trek’s first season though. There’s also an update on the old “we’re the only ship in the quadrant” chestnut which is even more credulity straining and puts a bunch of cadets into the action and the Federation off-screen somewhere in The Hunt for Red October apparently (you’ll get the reference when you see it, BTW), but as we say on earth, c’est la vie.
Is Star Trek a great movie? No. But it is a good one and a great set-up for a great Trek movie with the entire crew in place and now ready for a piece of the action. When the inevitable sequel is up and running, hopefully we can dispense with time travel, and instead embrace a little more philosophical subtext, metaphor, character development and a lot more going…boldly. And with the great wordsmith Damon Lindelof (who’s currently finishing off an amazing season of Lost) beaming onboard as a co-writer, I’m deeply optimistic that the best Trek film ever is yet to come. With J.J. Abrams in the captain’s chair, the franchise finally has a capable steward at the helm – and hopefully it’s full thrusters ahead. Make it go.
Star Trek is new and yet back to where it started – right down to Orion babes
(Rachel Nichols as ‘Gaila’)
[NOTE: Image from Rittenhouse Star Trek movie card set]
P.S. If you haven’t already ordered it, run, don’t walk to your local DVD store today to pick up the Blu-Ray of Star Trek: Season One. It’s great and CBS/Paramount home video finally gets it right with easy-to-use navigation, discards the unwieldy packaging of previous versions and includes both versions of the series (original and extra crispy new visual effects) on the same disc and gorgeous transfers and lossless audio of such archival value that may very well be the last time you ever need to buy the series on disc. May being the operative word.
Mark A. Altman is the writer/producer of the award winning film, Free Enterprise, and has been called “the world’s foremost Trekspert” by The Los Angeles Times. He has written and produced numerous films and TV shows and is founder of Geek Monthly magazine.