Sunday, May 17, 2009

Boldly going...or is it going boldly?

Top fifteen things I like about the new Star Trek (and please note that the following list may contain spoilers but will do so somewhat incidentally and is not a plot summary):

15) Has the courage to split the infinitive and go with the original "to boldly go" construction. FYI, I am with that faction of writers and grammarians (probably because I am more writer than grammarian) that accepts that in certain situations a spit infinitive is an entirely acceptable thing to do and may, in fact, have dramatic, narrative, or stylistic advantages (such as here, where "boldly" gets more emphasis by virtue of its placement).

14) Captain Pike shows Kirk up as a girly man. More seriously, I liked the contrast between the old (but somewhat free thinking) commander and the young (and entirely free thinking) commander. Pike is what Kirk will become after he cooks for a few years...and Pike I suspect sees Kirk as what he was like before he'd had a chance to cook himself.

13) No Borg. I was afraid that they'd try to have some Borg backstory going on -- they are a fantastic enemy but are very much a product of the latter instances of the show. And besides, First Contact already did a pretty strong time-travel-Borg themed story (and did it very well).

12) The alternate-history reboot meant that I actually thought some of the principle characters might die. Gone was the easy ability to predict which characters would live and which would die.

11) Speaking of alternate histories, they avoided the "and the boy woke up" conceit and decided to stick with the new history that they created, rather than having some dramatic event result in a bright flash of light and a cut to some scene that made it clear that we were back in the traditional Star Trek history (e.g. Kirk graduating from the Academy with his father proudly looking on).

10) Speaking (more) of alternate histories, I applaud the decision to "reboot" the show. Just as Casino Royal did for the Bond franchise, it is sometimes necessary to clear the decks and start from scratch. The Star Trek timeline had grown so polluted with interpretations, inconsistencies, and conflicts that this was an almost essential move. I know many old school Trekkies were displeased (and I know some of those old school Trekkies who I know were displeased), but (don't take this the wrong way, old school Trekkies) I think there is a degree of curmudgeonly resentment, as if new Trek fans haven't "served their time" dealing with the hideous stretch polyester costumes and Shatner's bizarre speech patterns.

9) Finally breaks the "naval combat" two-dimensionality of the Star Trek space combat scenes. Granted, Star Trek II had the "he only things in two dimensions" moment, but notice that the "descending Enterprise" that ambushes Kahn was settling like some sort of blimp, and not really utilizing the third dimension. Prior to this point, the only true excursion into that wacky third dimension is in the wonderful All Good Things wrap up to The Next Generation when the refitted Enterprise is seen "flying" 90 degrees out of plane to the Klingons.

8) I honestly liked the blue collar villain. I know some weren't as taken, but for starters the guy looks and sounds remarkably like Kevin, one of the trainers at the gym where Erica and I work out (great guy, Kevin). But I really felt for this character -- here he is, some Romulan miner who'd rather just head home, have a few pints of Romulan Ale, and spend time with his family. Instead, an unspeakable tragedy (and a very human-like desire to focus his rage and loss on a single object) drives him mostly-mad and on a quest for vengeance that drives him the rest of the way mad. Quite a change from Christopher Plumber's wonderful Shakespeare-quoting Klingon General to have this plain-talking "Joe the Romulan Miner" character.

7) I was very pleased to see many of the "background" members of the principle cast get stronger stories. E.g. Uhura is now portrayed as a brilliant linguist and Checkov as a math whiz. The Original Show was pioneering for including a black woman and a Russian in the crew. Now we can actually give them some skills. And I thought that Checkov the 17 year old math whiz was actually played relatively well as a 17 year old math whiz -- somewhat geeky but not entirely so. But then again, we live in an age when even geekdom is socially acceptable.

6) I can't possibly express how pleased I am that the Beastie Boy's Sabotage continues to exist in the 23rd century and to serve as an anthem for rebellious midwestern youth.

5) Played with a lot of humor -- and a good balance of action and humor. Star Trek is not an action movie franchise, but it has always incorporated action into the stories. Primarily it has been about ingenuity and clever escapes and the power of friendship and loyalty -- something that is harder to think of and harder to execute than a good shoot-em-up sequence. All was well balanced here. And the humor was, I thought, quite wonderfully played, for Star Trek has always possessed a real wry sense of "eyebrow raising" humor. From the slapstick Dr. Strangelove homage of Kirk's "puffy hands" sequence to the generally well played "signature moment" taglines for each crew member to the dry wit of Spock, the humor was great.

4) No Shatner. 'Nuff said.

3) My favorite moon, Titan, played a significant role. The background shot of Jupiter in that sequence is, I presume, based on a Cassini shot that has often been my little MacBook's desktop background.

2) in their characterization of the original actors. Some, such as Chris Pine's portrayal of Kirk, stopped short of going all the way (e.g. avoided the speech patterns). Others, such as Karl Urban's McCoy ran with the original and gave it some added depth.

1) And the number one thing I liked about the new Star Trek: it breaks the "odd number curse" of the Star Trek films.

Top five things I don't like about the new Star Trek:

5) While most of the "young" characters had a pretty good physical resemblance to their "old" originals (this is starting to sound like the "New Originals" scene in Spinal Tap), Sulu was a pretty wide miss. It turns out (thank you Wikipedia) that John Cho (young Sulu) is Korean-American, which goes some way to explaining the differences of physical build. I'm willing to run with George Takei (old Sulu, if you are ignorant of such things) and his logic that since Sulu was stuck representing for all of Asia in TOS (and, as it would turn out, all of the GLBT community, a group for which I think Takei is one of their finest spokespeople), it was OK to show a little license there.

4) Age, a decade or so of obscurity, and a painkiller habit have not been kind to Winona Ryder.

3) The conceit of having most of the Federation fleet away fighting some action in some other chunk of space, thereby allowing for the convenient crew-of-academy-punks was a little convenient. But, then again, this is Star Trek and such convenient conceits seem to be a integral part of this universe.

2) While I generally really liked the way that the technology was portrayed (generally a little clunkier than in the "later" shows, lots of warning labels, etc., I did think that there were some points where it looked like the bowls of the Enterprise had been converted into a brewery or a winery. I actually seriously think that one scene was shot in a winery, one of those big ones with lots of stainless steel for making low grade white wine.

1) Just one too many of "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a..."


Fifteen points in favor, five against...most of which are moderated to some degree. I'll make it easy and just come out and say that I loved it. A very well balanced film, two hours that passed quickly and have produced a lot of good musing, thinking, and discussion afterwards. Recommended, and worth the theater trip to see it in the full spectacle. I'll be queuing up to buy the BluRay when it comes out!

1 comment:

Erica said...

I agree! This hits the pro's and con's quite nicely.