Weekend at the Movies: Sci-Fi Double Feature (part 1)
Let me just preface this by saying I am in no way a Trekkie, as explained here. While the exposure has always been there, for whatever reason, I never chose to indulge in the franchise. But this didn’t stop me from watching Star Trek and enjoying a great experience. The question is - does it accomplish its mission in recruiting a new fan?
The opening scene of the film is important in ways not immediately noticeable. It serves as a chisel to the plot and to our main character. A massive Romulan spacecraft commandeers the USS Kelvin. The Romulan captain is Nero, played unrecognizably by Eric Bana, and he is searching for Spock. No reason is given, but his anger is palpable. After the Romulans ascertain information from the Kelvin’s captain, their menace is displayed; laying waste to the unmatched starship. George Kirk, next in command after Captain Robau is murdered, is able to heroically evacuate 800 people in 12 minutes, including his pregnant wife on the verge oflabor, prior to his death.
(pics courtesy of EW)
We are introduced to the film in an engrossing visual spectacle - the way modern sci-fi cinema should be. But the effects in this film, and what you see in trailers, though breathtaking, does not define what Star Trek is about. It is character-driven to its core - and the two principle protagonists, Kirk and Spock, do an amazing job piloting.
Chris Pine, as James Kirk, terrifically infuses self-assured swagger, vehement ambition and nauseating ego to a character that displays the potential to be a leader of men, but the overbearing immaturity that can get him banished from a starship. Even better was Zachary Quinto, who portrays Spock, the most fascinating character in the film. Quinto tremendously embodies reason/logic in a tact and self-righteous manner, and balances it all with the tormenting inner conflict any half Vulcan, half human, faces in trying to suppress emotions. The movie is best when these two characters share screen time - whether as a team or at each other’s throats. Their development is the best thing about Star Trek.
The rest of the Enterprise crew - Uhura, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov - all have their special moment to shine. But the character with the most pivotal moment, not only in the film, but in shaping how the story of this franchise can be told in the future, is Star Trek’s worst kept secret. Still, for the sheer spirit of surprises, I won’t spoil who this character is or the plot that surrounds them. I’ll just expand vaguely on their importance. By introducing this character the way they did (I can’t comment on how plausible/implausible things can be in a universe I know nothing of), the writers were able to start with a blank slate with the entire franchise. This allows J.J. Abrams the freedom to be able to satisfy the most dedicated of fans, at the same time incorporate his own brand of narrative that appeals to this generation. The execution was great in my opinion (paradox aside, of course) and future installments will benefit from this reinvention.
An epic ride is not without its bumps. Nero is quite underused. His development takes a backseat to the introduction needed for the main characters. The Romulans in general, while we feel for their plight, come off as the typical, one-dimensional, revenge hungry villains we see in a lot of films. The lighting was also an issue for me, especially in those compact, shifting shots inside the bridge of the Enterprise. They would produce a lot of annoying glares. Now, I didn’t see the IMax version, so I don’t know if these lighting effects were compliments to 3D glasses only, but I wasn’t fond of being blinded.
There really isn’t a good reason why I never hopped aboard the Star Trek starship (see what I did there?) in my life. But J.J. Abrams and company did a fantastic job of introducing the story in a very accessible way to noobs such as myself. Obviously, I can’t speak for the diehard Trekkies on whether or not this film succeeded in capturing whatever expectations they had. It did, however, succeed in giving birth to a potential Trekkie. I find myself more eager to educate myself on Star Trek lore. And in that regard - mission accomplished.
(cross posted at Otakuberries)