Saturday, December 12, 2009

Star Trek: Grade C

Star Trek (2009)
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldano, John Cho, with Leonard Nimoy; Director J.J. Abrams.

This is a competently made explosion film that will amuse boys 8 to 14 years old, and is watchable by others because of nostalgia value. It treats the original (1966) Star Trek television series with respect but imagines the beginning of the story as a prequel. Captain Kirk’s father is killed off by evil others (I never have been clear on the difference between evil Romulans and evil Klingons, but whatever), and his successor, Captain Pike is captured, leaving Spock (Quinto) commanding the Enterprise.

But Spock shows emotion when he punches out Kirk The Younger (Pine) for insulting his mother, so he resigns his position, putting Kirk in the captain’s chair. (This development overlooks the fact that Spock had previously been kissing Lieutenant Uhuru (Saldana), but apparently, not with any emotion – a guy thing, I guess).

Meanwhile, Spock as his future self (Nimoy) arrives from the future to give counsel to both Kirk and Spock the younger. It was great to see Nimoy in the pointy ears again. What a hoot that must have been for him. He looks like his 80 years of age, but the voice still says “Spock.”

Ninety percent of the movie is taken up with ballooning exothermic chemical reactions and swooping spacecraft, which is more Star Wars than Star Trek, which tended to the cerebral (and, like the original, ignored the fact that there is no fire in space because no oxygen, and no sound because no medium to carry it).

Also, they didn’t quite “get” the character of Captain Kirk, who was not simply a wild rule-breaker, as portrayed, but was a master strategist, able to change the grounds of engagement to his favor. Subtlety is not a feature of this movie. It is actually quite unimaginative, relying on spectacular effects and ear-splitting noise and music for excitement. Obnoxious (and unnecessary) as it was, the music was actually complex and interesting. The pace was good, and acting competent if hammy. The "human" relationships were compelling but the "scientific" side of the tale was pure nonsense. Kids won't know the difference.

It was satisfying that the script managed to include nearly all the nostalgic clich├ęs. Scotty frets over the engines, Kirk recites into the captain’s log, and Spock says “Live long and prosper.” I missed only “Phasers on stun,” and the whoosh of the accelerating starship. In a final nod to nostalgia, Nimoy read the preamble (“These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise…”) at the end of the movie, only very slightly updated for modern times. It would have been better with Shatner, but he apparently is done with that phase of life.

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