Monday, December 21, 2009


Yes, I have fallen way behind the curve--I only saw Star Trek last weekend, a mere half a year after it came out in theaters. Didn't love it--man, did it bring back some stale cliches--but there were a lot of things I liked about it, and I'll start with the positives.

Great cast. I had thought that putting other actors in those hallowed roles would be the weakest part of the movie, but it was completely the opposite. Everyone does a good job, and the only quibbles I had, with Chris Pine and Simon Pegg, aren't really with the actors themselves. Karl Urban, who hammed his way painfully through so many Hercules and Xena episodes, is actually quite good as McCoy, as is Zachary Quinto as Spock, Bruce Greenwood as Capt. Pine, Zoe Soldana as Uhura, and even the actor who played Kirk's dad. Everyone gives appealing, well-rounded performances, which is kind of rare for a space opera.

I said before that Pine could never fill Shatner's shoes, and I was partly right; the Kirk in this Star Trek isn't the same guy from the series. Pine's got the swagger and the eye for women, but not the authority or the air of command. Instead, he's lugging around a mountain of vulnerability, which helps to offset his bad-boy rebelliousness. Blame the era; modern audiences would never sit through a film about a (non-corrupt) police commissioner, preferring instead the adventures of a reckless loose cannon who's always having to turn in his badge.

The new Kirk isn't the only thing we've seen before. The writers give their characters plenty to do, but they stick to a familiar, borrowed script, and the story just doesn't make much sense. By my count, the sins are:

Time Travel Just Happens

A science teacher in high school once pointed out how, in the Fifties, things that got irradiated grew big. Radiation was the 'magic' that made lizards and tarantulas grow into dangerous giants, and the public bought it because, generally, people didn't know much about radiation. Nowadays, audiences wouldn't believe a nuclear test making a termite (or whatever) grow to the size of a mac truck--anyone can tell you that radiation most likely leads to cancer.

I feel like black holes are the new version of this. Since the late Seventies, they've been used in a lot of hack sci-fi as a method of time travel. But the thing is, Stephen Hawking published his widely-read pop-physics book decades ago, and anyone with a library card should know by now that black holes would probably not send someone back in time--most likely they'd rip the traveler and their vessel apart.

Anyway, the time travel in this movie still doesn't make much sense. Why does Nero's ship go back to the moment prior to Kirk's birth? Why does it take Spock's ship 25 years to catch up? And why does another black hole destroy Nero's ship at the end of the movie, instead of sending him back further?

Not Much Vastness In Space

Coincidence plays such a huge part in this movie that I hardly know where to begin. The worst example is where Kirk ends up on some wintry planet, is briefly pursued by some creature that, at the last minute, is devoured by another creature, then is saved from that second creature by--Spock, who just happened to be a few yards away. How big is the universe again? And the two of them pretty much accidentally ended up on the same planet? And Scotty's on the same planet too, again only a few yards away?

Let's Send One Guy to Bring the Really Dangerous Stuff

If I understand correctly, the problem at the heart of the film is that Spock was sent to the Romulan homeworld to create a black hole, and screwed up. Who the hell decided to send Spock--a lone ambassador--on this mission? Isn't this the kind of thing that Starfleet is always sending its fully-manned ships to take care of? This "red matter" that creates black holes seems pretty dangerous, so maybe someone should have beefed up security, maybe sent at least one big guy armed with a phaser to go with Spock.

Two or Three Guys Can Easily Take Out a Huge Ship

So the key to victory, as ever, is to get a couple of good guys into the bad guys' ship, and they'll take it down. I hated this when the Next Generation crew took down the Borg, and I hate it now. First of all, why is the Romulan ship so big? What's all that space for, aside for visuals? If I did a WWII-era movie about a couple of US lieutenants who get about the Japanese warship Yamamoto and take the whole crew down, I'd be laughed out of Hollywood, yet it's a standard part of sci-fi movies--some ridiculous vulnerability that allows two or three heroic souls to overpower an enemy crew and take over their starship in five minutes or so.

We're the Eeeeevilllll Bad Guys

And I didn't think Eric Bana did a bad job, but here again the cliches seemed pretty thick. The Romulans cruise through the galaxy in what looks like a giant sinister artichoke, lit only by mood lighting, helpfully wearing dusters and overcoats to identify them as baaaaaaaad. Even though at one point Nero says his ship is a mining ship, it's outfitted with an infinite number of torpedos. For cave-ins?

So in sum: none of these things would have bothered my too much, except that I was led to believe that this was a special Trek movie, a real departure from the standard operating procedure, when really it borrowed from The Wrath of Khan and several earlier movies. For all that, I look forward to seeing the sequel, given the likeability of the cast and the impressive look that everything had. But could they just come up with an original story?

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