Star Trek 891: Star Trek

891. Star TrekFORMULA: Enterprise + The Wrath of Khan + Nemesis

WHY WE LIKE IT: It rocks.

WHY WE DON'T: I know What If, this is no What If.

REVIEW: First things first. I don't expect to talk a lot about the effects, because they are clearly impeccable. Nothing looks fake, perspective is clear... excellent across the board, if it goes a bit heavy on the flaring. Way too much flaring in fact, but along with juddering cameras, it helped sell the illusion. There was always a camera there, even when there wasn't. Now that that's out of the way...

Make no mistake, this isn't actually "What if Kirk's father had died?". It's not. Trying to make sense of the changes in the timeline that way will bring you nothing but tears. The untimely destruction of the USS Kelvin may cause a number of problems with the timeline, but it can't explain why Captain Pike is so much older than Kirk, why Delta Vega is now in the Vulcan system, or why there's an Orion joining Starfleet. When Uhura blurts out something about parallel universes, that's how it should be taken. The black hole didn't take anyone to the past, it took them to an alternate universe's past. Remember the Mirror Universe? It was just like ours except Spock was evil and had a goatee? Well, this is a universe where Spock has a really bad temper. So breathe and relax, the adventures you loved so well are intact on the other side of that wall. New Trek is its own animal. It's either that or accepting (as I have long held) that TOS, TNG et al. never happened as a consequence of Enterprise's Temporal Cold War anyway. That timeline's been fooked for a long time now.

Using time travel, in my opinion, was a mistake exactly because it couldn't possibly hold up. I think we were totally up for a reboot à la Battlestar Galactica, which this is, but they still tried to cater to Trekkies who needed (did they, though?) a canonical explanation for the changes, which this isn't very good at doing. It's overly convoluted, and was also a mistake Enterprise made (again not helping diehard canoneers accept the updating of the technology). Meddling with history also makes the meeting of all the characters suspect, doesn't it? They once met under certain circumstances, and now that everything's changed, they also meet each other. What is this, destiny?

Yes. Why not? It's a story essentially about an aborted destiny, and the characters' struggle to fulfill that destiny despite Nero's attempts to stop them. In a sense, that's why the film can endure such a light weight villain. Nero's not the real enemy. History's pressure on the Enterprise crew to become themselves, to meet abstract expectations, is the real antagonist (and the metatextual one as well). But is "destiny" actually a force in the Star Trek universe? I dare say it is. Every ship on the various shows has been a ship of destiny. Think about it. Any other ship that meets opposition has been destroyed (in this movie too). They should paint them in red, quite frankly. But the Enterprise-D has survived multiple encounters with the Borg, Voyager returned from the Delta Quadrant, and back on Deep Space 9, Sisko became a god (don't tell me there's no destiny in DS9). The TOS/New Trek characters were always meant to meet, to become a family and to do great things together. And since they must meet, this is how they do so. (Which leaves only Kirk's awkwardly staged coincidental meeting with the elder Spock as a weaker element.)

Of course, while I can drive my own starship through the plot holes after the fact, the fact is that the film moves way too fast for me to think about it during the experience. Abrams' direction is a tour de force on that point. There are so many set pieces that you can't really think about the flaws in the script too hard before you have to move on. He had me at the opening sequence, really. And I know it was total manipulation through editing, music, silences, but George Kirk's sacrifice intercut with Jim's birth got a lump in my throat. The only one I got, but it made me care, damn it, for that James Kirk who would grow up without a father. And though I'd call the monster chase on Hoth pretty gratuitous, the film's nonetheless tightly constructed at times. For example, Sulu makes a rookie mistake with the warp drive. It's a cute moment, and meant to remind us that these are cadets. BUT it's also the reason the Enterprise is spared Nero's surprise attack.

Though the destruction of Vulcan sends this Star Trek story careening into uncharted territory, this is basically an origin story. So it spends most of its time reintroducing the characters with fresh faces. Who they are, where they meet, how they bond. Here, I was looking for two things: That it be a reinterpretation on the part of the actors (and in part, the writers) and that the performance also have something of the original character. As if you'd given two actors the same role 45 years apart.

Chris Pine is the biggest surprise. I was wholly unconvinced from the publicity shots, but he completely sold me on it. He's not doing Shatner, which history has proven can only be done successfully by Shatner, but that smirk is all Kirk. Quinto is acceptable as Spock, though it's too bad he comes with all that Sylar baggage. It tends to undercut Spock's new volatility with memories of something else. I was real happy to see Uhura's expanded role, not only showing her as Uhura at her most capable, but also as a shade of Hoshi. The relationship with Spock is new wrinkle, one hinted at on the show where she was clearly his favorite, though nothing of this sort ever happened. In a world where Spock embraces his human half a lot more, the relationship becomes viable. It also adds fuel to the Kirk-Spock rivalry. Karl Urban's McCoy is getting a lot of kudos, but he left me a little unsatisfied. More an impression than his own interpretation, so the chemistry felt forced. Sulu got a chance to be action hero, but also got some competent moments on the bridge. Scotty is perhaps the most changed, his sometimes dour fatalism turned into excited comedy relief. Simon Pegg delivers quite the funny performance, but he's the most off-model. The same could be said about Chekov, who's a real whiz kid here, but we should remember that he was Spock's protégé on the show, and his relief at the science station when he was on a landing party. And look! A stupid haircut! I've always hated Chekov, but I liked this one. Go figure!

I should mention a couple of other characters. Bruce Greenwood, for example, was perfect as Captain Pike. He had only a few scenes, but still managed to become the father figure Kirk never had. Real presence. Our other major character is Nero, which I've already characterized as light weight. A "blue collar" Romulan, more familiar than officious, is an interesting direction for such a character, but he's very much kept in the background. You can't really hate him, cuz he's in pain, and you can't really like him, because he doesn't have any panache. His plan is just wanton destruction and nihilism. He's akin to a force of nature, perhaps closest to the Whale Probe in the canon of Trek films. I also think his name was ill chosen. Nero denotes an emperor, but this guy is anything but.

And what about the Enterprise? Well, on the outside, she looks much the same. It'll take me a while not to see hair dryers when I look at the nacelles, but she looks good, not too fiddled with. The bridge is fine, like Pine, not as distracting as I thought it would be, but neither is it iconic. I couldn't possibly draw its layout based on one viewing of the film. Most offputting, however, is the engineering deck. Why no design coherence? It just looks like a factory full of pipes, with no attention paid to scale. The new warp is a closer to Star Wars' hyperspace in practice, which looks dangerous, even if it's pretty dramatic. Going to warp is a violent, shocking event. Intense!

Now the crew and the ship are all assembled, destiny is back on track. However, two things damage the ending of the film. One is that the film is much too impatient. It hardly makes sense that Kirk would graduate from the Academy and immediately be promoted to captain of the flagship. AND get all the other raw graduates to sit on the bridge crew. Since the film spanned more than 20 years already, how about making those end scenes happen a few years later still? The other problem is with the end narration. Why is Leonard Nimoy, and not Chris Pine, reciting the famous "Space, the final frontier..." speech? First, I've never liked his version with "life-forms" in place of the more poetic "life", and second, having Pine say it would have confirmed what the film already made us believe: That he was indeed James T. Kirk.

For fans, small innocuous references are half the fun of a movie like this, and there are plenty. For the most part, I don't think they call undue attention to themselves. They charm, they don't pull you out of the story. There are, of course, the classic lines (though they left some for the sequels) and character bits (Sulu's fencing, Pike's wheelchair), but the less glaring references are those that interest me most. Like the throwaway line about Admiral Archer and his prized beagle (that can be Archer, but it is NOT Porthos, don't worry, not unless the lifespan of pets has been greatly enhanced). Or Kirk getting it on with a green girl, which up til now was something of a myth (he's not really into the crazy one in Whom Gods Destroy, and that's Pike with Vina as the original Orion slave girl). The Kobayashi Maru, but also the Vulcan tests that reminded me of the start of ST IV. Kirk eating an apple during his test, as he did while explaining it in ST II. The look of the Kelvin uniforms being a halfway point between the Enterprise flight suits and the gray jackets in The Cage. The mystery of Uhura's first name played out on screen as opposed to in fan circles. Various name checks, etc.

Is that... Winona Ryder?


LESSON: Be all that you can be in a parallel timeline where you were.

REWATCHABILITY - High: With its breakneck pace, it's easy to miss all the details, both in dialogue and imagery, so yeah, totally rewatchable. I can't wait for the DVD (which will have the deleted scenes that explain where Nero was for 25 years). Though some felt the film was lacking in "Roddenberryism" (some great allegory, or moral fable), it did relaunch the franchise for a whole new generation. With the characters in place, we now wait with baited breath a more ethically complex installment.

18 comments:

rob! said...

I loved this movie. I've seen it twice already, and I think I might go a third time today.

I think the film is a nigh-perfect balancing act between the old Trek--which was on its last legs, let's be honest--and a new one for a new era.

Yes, maybe Kirk should have done the end narration--I didn't really think of that--instead of Spock, but it feels like old Spock is sending the new Enterprise off, so when they're back in Star Trek 2, it'll be all theirs.

SallyP said...

I saw it and it was good. Yeah, there were a few plot holes, but I was having so much fun that I simply did not care.

Tom Bondurant said...

On balance I thought it was more appropriate that Nimoy do the closing narration. For one thing, I think if Pine had done it there would have been greater fan outcry. For another, as Rob! said, it was a nice sendoff from the old school. Personally, I would have been OK with Pine, but I can understand using Nimoy if you have him.

Justin said...

I wrote the same thing on my blog about not caring for time travel facilitating the reboot. It also *theoretically* prevents them from reimagining things like the Klingons and Khan too drastically because their history shouldn't have been changed, which is a shame. I'd be happy if they just left the "divergence" thing by the wayside in future movies and feel free to make sweeping changes to "continuity" if it would facilitate a new and interesting story.

Oh, and that uncertain surprise was my reaction to Winona Ryder, too. "Huh, they got a very attractive actress to play Spock's mum. I wonder why; the age-makeup's not that convincing, and why does she look familiHOLY CRAP."

Nik said...

I've been wondering what you thought of this! I loved it myself, although I have to admit, in the end there is no real reason for any of the time travel stuff except to appease the old guard -- and heck, I sure enjoyed seeing Nimoy one last time, his valedictory was a heck of a lot better than hambone Shatner's was in Generations.

rob! said...

Btw, George Kirk died the way I thought Capt. Kirk should have in Generations--aboard a crumbling Enterprise, pulling off one more life-saving act. And with a smile on his face.

snell said...

Most inadvertantly hilarious moment of the film: it really took the Vulcan bullies 35 TIMES to come up with "Yo mama"??!

rob! said...

"What you call 'The Dozens' is highly illogical."

De said...

I chalked up many of the changes to the Butterfly Effect resulting from the divergence created by the Kelvin's destruction.

And thank you for bringing up the Mirror Universe. I am astounded that fandom had no problem accepting that for 40+ years, but this parallel timeline is somehow an alien concept (at least to the local fandom I interact with daily).

Jeff R. said...

I thought that the Enterprise-D was the first of that line to be the Federation's flagship, and that this Enterprise was just one ship among many.

I also came to the conclusion that Starfleet must routinely graduate cadets into fairly high rank: specialists straight to lieutenant or so, and the top command-track students to commander, with only the 'dregs' of that elite group (who still have unrealized potential) enter the service as ensign. If I'm right, Kirk's speedy ascent would only be one jump for saving-the-world level heroism (and in a time when Starfleet appears extremely short-staffed but with plenty of ships and the capacity to make even more cheaply/quickly).

After that, I'd say very little promotion happens other than the battlefield variety, which explains why the show's ensigns do so poorly when everyone ranked above them has protagonist immunity...

Cabin Campbell said...

Great Review, Siskoid! I agree, the movie IS so fast paced, you don't realize the huge gaping plot holes until you have gotten home. The biggest question I have is, if Nero went back 100 or more years before the destruction of Romulus, it seems he should have simply informed them of their impending doom and aided them with his future technology. The same goes for Old Spock upon appearing 20 years later, still long before the destruction of Romulus. I know, I know, that would have ruined the entire movie. Well, if this is the only Trek we'll have in the years to come, it'll do
P.S. Keep up the good work on the blog.

LiamK said...

As they've already got everyone (including writers and director) signed up for the sequel, I doubt it'll be "the only one".

Favourite line: "Your father was captain of a starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including yours. Can you do better?"

Teebore said...

Is that... Winona Ryder?


Ha! I knew she was there going in, but my wife reacted the same way. Somehow, I still don't think she's wrapped her head around it.

Loved the movie, thought it was a lot of fun, and thanks for sharing your thoughts on it; I was looking forward to them.

The big plot hole my buddy and I chuckle about is how Nero hates Spock because Spock failed to save Romulus as promised, yet all the film did to explain his failure was to have Spock say he was "too late."

Why was he too late? Did he get stuck at a red space light on the way to Romulus' sun? Did he stop for a strawberry shake at McDonalds and they gave him vanilla, so he had to go inside the restaurant to get it fixed, thus delaying his deployment of the red matter?

(And, for that matter, how can you be "late" to a star going super nova? Supernovas don't just "happen", do they? Wouldn't Romulus be well aware its star was going to become a supernova decades before it happened?)

Doctor Mi said...

A great review as always, Siskoid. I got to see it last night. I was speechless, and exilerated. Two years without fresh Trek, this hit the proverbial spot! A must buy for DVD.

Jeffrey said...

The engine room is a factory: the LA Anheuser-Busch Brewery (forgot the link). That was my greatest disappointment with the new Enterprise: It was steam punk., except the bridge and a couple of corridors. It also appeared bigger on the inside than the outside.

Overall, it was a pretty good Battlestar Galactica movie.

The Dude said...

the great casting aside, i thought the movie sucked for these reasons:
1. the time travel story line was too convoluted. see Star Trek 4 for good time travel story.
2. the Spock/Uhura romance was BS
3. nero was so uninteresting that he made Shinzon look like the next Kahn Singh
4. the nerod was a lame looking ship
5. if the red matter makes a black hole, why do you have to put it at a planet's core? a black hole right next to a planet will destroy it just as well i think.
6. why exactly did Spock get rid of Kirk in an escape pod to a planet with hostile creatures? was there something wrong with the brig?
7. the whole parasite to extract info. from someone schtick, been there done that (ceti eels in Wraith of Kahn).
8. the flared nacelle tips on the Enterprise looked lame to say nothing about the beer brewery engineering section.

Siskoid said...

1. Agree
2. Disagree
3. Agree
4. No opinion, certainly not enough to make an entire film suck for me either way
5. Uses core pressure and heat as a power source?
6. You don't want Captain Charisma in a position to influence a guard.
7. I've also seen Romulans and fist fights before. Minor detail.
8. Not a fan either, but meh, no big deal to me.

The Dude said...

even people i know who liked the movie didn't like the Spock Uhura romance side story so i'm surprised it didn't bother you. your response to #6 is plausible but if that's the case they should have kinda explained it. but you are the Siskoid. the emissary to the prophets. who am i to argue with you?

 

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