Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And The Trek Continues...

Sometimes I have to wonder if the Star Trek franchise will ever go away. You can almost break it down into these surges of activity. If TOS (1966-1969) and the subsequent films (1979-1991) was the first wave, TNG (1987-1994) and its films (1994-2002) would be the second, and the DS9 (1993-1999) and Voyager (1995-2001) spinoffs the third. I almost could not believe when yet a fourth wave came in the form of Enterprise (2001-2005), which was a prequel to TOS of which I never watched a single episode. Then, lo and behold, in 2009 I witnessed a teaser trailer for the latest Star Trek film, which appears poised to engender another batch of future sequels. That teaser trailer reminded me of the teaser for the first Star Trek film: The Motion Picture, as have other ad campaigns. It is like seeing the same dream over and over again. In any case, there is a great write-up in Wikipedia on the entire franchise.

My purpose here is to give some thoughts about the latest film, which was billed as a Star Trek reboot. It turns out that word was carefully chosen, and it actually took me until close to the end of the film to figure out the reason. This film was a type of prequel that explored the early Starfleet careers of the original Enterprise crew. The word was that the film was being produced by a group of people that loved Star Trek since they were kids and that they intended to stay very close to the actual history alluded to in the TV series and prior films. They knew that Star Trek fans were meticulous about the intricate details of the Roddenberry created Universe, and it showed. There were lots of things in that movie based on obscure references that even I had forgotten or was not aware of. That deserves some credit.

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But perhaps it is this attention to historical accuracy that threw me off regarding the reboot idea. You see, the film begins with a mission in which George Kirk, the father of yet unborn James T. Kirk, is the first officer and whose wife, also on board as part of the crew, is about to give birth to the future Kirk when all of a sudden, a Romulan warship from the future appears out of a wormhole and threatens to destroy the ship. George manages to save the crew but sacrifices his own life in the process. Now, the key element here is that because this event was the result of time traveling Romulans, it never actually occurred in the original Star Trek history. Thus, a chain of events is set in motion that alters the course of that history. Let me give a few examples. Since Kirk now grows up without a father, he is portrayed as a rebellious youth who wants nothing to do with Starfleet until captain Christopher Pike challenges him to live up to his father's reputation. Yes, that is the captain Pike of the original series pilot The Cage who was originally shown as an invalid, but his history gets altered as well.
Then the Romulan ship, whose captain is bent on revenge against Spock, decides to blow up Spock's home planet, and ultimately succeeds! This does two things: First, the enterprise crew is thrown together much earlier than they would have been as they are called to duty as Starfleet cadets in order to investigate this emergency. Second, the loss of his planet is supposed to be so overwhelming for the emotionless Spock that even he is at his breaking point. This causes Uhura to develop feelings toward him born from empathy for his situation, and Spock actually finds himself succumbing to her. With Spock on edge and Kirk a young punk, this creates some heavy friction between the two otherwise good friends in another life. How's that for a reboot?

So how about the film then? I think it was a really good sci-fi action adventure story that even someone who never watched a Star Trek episode in their life would enjoy. But there was also plenty of nods to the original series for the fans, and maybe even a bit too much. Let's go through the character list. Chris Pine did an almost haunting job of recreating Shatner's mannerisms. Quinto certainly looks very much like Nimoy, especially with the makeup, but there were some glaring inconsistencies in Spock's personality. He always seemed to look angry, which is a pure human emotion, and his comments were often scathingly cynical, which is evidence of the underlying emotion of contempt. Scotty and Chekov looked nothing like their future incarnations, but I think they were chosen for their accents, which were spot on. Karl Urban also did a very convincing McCoy which was a delight to watch, even if he seemed too old for the part. Sulu was probably easy for anyone to pull off, and Zoe Saldana seemed a little too sassy for a young Uhura, but who knows right? The special effects were top notch and the action always kept me on edge, but the story convolutions required to bring Leonard Nimoy onto the screen was not worth the fan value. I also don't get why they had to do something as drastic as blow up the planet Vulcan. If that was just to give Spock a lost boy angst then shame on them! How long will this reboot go before yet another incarnation of Star Trek beams onto the scene once again?

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