Saturday, May 9, 2009

REVIEW: Star Trek...

This is how you start off the summer film season.

Over the past 5 years or so, the realm of science fiction has been relegated to schlocky Sci-Fi channel D movies, and big budgeted superhero films. Films like the X-Men franchise and Spiderman have made science fiction a household name, and things TV movies like Blood Monkey have made it a joke.

However, this past Friday saw the release of the grandfather of the genre, in rebooted form. And it gives the genre more than its fair share of credibility.

Star Trek is the newest film from J.J. Abrams, who is most famous for creating television shows such as Felicity, Alias, and Fringe. Now he is back in the directors chair to bring us the story of James T. Kirk and his USS Enterprise crew, before they became the group we all know and love.

After the death of his father at the hands of the Romulan leader, Nero, Kirk became a rebellious young man, until a fateful bar fight with a few Star Fleet cadets. After meeting their captain, Pike, he decides to enlist in the fleet, and after some run ins with the authorities of the federation, he finds himself in the middle of a battle with the same leader who, 22 years earlier, took the life of his father.

This sees the first Star Trek film since Nemesis in 2002, and is the attempt to reboot the dead franchise.

In an attempt to do this, Abrams has done something quite controversial.
He’s made a Star Trek film for Star Wars fans. Honestly, he’s made a Star Trek film for fans of phenomenal, and action packed films.

In discussing Star Trek, the conversation must start with the man they call Kirk. This time, the classic role is portrayed by Chris Pine, best known as one of the Tremor Brothers from Smokin’ Aces. If this role doesn’t make him a house hold name, then I don’t know what will. Pine is able to bring the constant swagger and arrogance of Kirk, and yet you feel as though he has something to prove. His father died while being the captain of the USS Kelvin, and in turn saved over 800 people.
During the first real scene between Pike and Kirk, Pike finishes the discussion by telling Kirk to enlist in Star Fleet, and dares him to do better than his father. This dare seems to drive him to do as much as he can, and that is perfectly played by Pine.

The other truly classic character portrayed here is Spock, who is played by Sylar, uh, Zachary Quinto. Where I thought Pine brought something new to Kirk, bringing him out of the cheesy and cornball 1960’s, I don’t feel completely the same about Quinto. He’s fine here as the Vulcan genius, but he doesn’t totally work here. He has his moments, particularly once he learns to take his emotions for what they are, but he just falls flat in the interchanges between he and Kirk, and especially in the haphazard love story.

That said, the rest of the supporting cast is quite good. Anton Yelchin is great as Chekov, Simon Pegg is solid as Scotty, but Karl Urban steals the show as the medical expert, Dr. McCoy. McCoy is the closest friend to Kirk, and the interchanges between the two were some of the best moments, and kept the film moving when the action wasn’t.

The true star of the film however, is the look. Abrams brings a very glossy look to the film, similar to that of say, Michael Bay films, but just to the nth degree. The colors are vibrant, especially while on the deck of the Enterprise, where the stark contrast between the bright hues of computer screens and Star Fleet uniforms, popped against the snow white, Apple Computers style, deck.

The only problem with the look of the film is the copious amounts of lens flares. Sure, I believe Abrams when he says that he wants to give the feeling of something important going on off screen, but the only scenes without the flare are the ones of the deck of the Romulan mining vessel, and even then, the lens was sometimes flaring up like a McG shot herpes outbreak. It doesn’t kill the experience, but it just left me more annoyed than anything.

Over time, the Star Trek franchise has become more of a joke than a real sci fi franchise.

In a recent Devin’s Advocate article for CHUD, Devin Faraci wrote the following about superhero comic books:

They're like 50 year old hookers chainsmoking on the corner: used up, their best days behind them, appealing only to the most debased, most awful people. The fanbase for superhero comics in this day and age tends to be a devolved group clinging to degrading psychosexual power fantasies that take them away from their daily powerlessness. White males on the sidelines of society who are attached to juvenile escapades and repetitive, stunted storytelling.

I kind of feel as though this fits what was the Star Trek franchise, pre-Friday.

The one thing he attempts to get across with the article is that the world in which comics exist, including the stories and the stores, is not an environment that allows for new viewers to easily get into this universe. However, what Abrams is able to do here is to not only give us a stellar story written by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman that brings the everyday moviegoer into the Trek universe, but it also gives rabid Trekkers/Trekkies/Whatever-the-hell-they-are-ies a story that they can dig into. It hints at previous adventures in the series, while giving non fans something we can understand, and allows us to get into this world.

The only fault in the story comes with the villain. Nero, played by Eric Bana, doesn’t work here. The performance is to over the top and non-threatening, and his motives are never really played up. His planet was destroyed, and instead of being really menacing and dark, he plays it like the little kid in elementary school who would always be picked on. It’s a really annoying performance, and one that, in a perfectly acted film, fell flat.

Overall, this is a phenomenal film. Sure, there are a few flaws, particularly in the performances of Nero and Spock, but as a whole, this film is superb. This story is compelling, the look is stunning, and this is a truly user friendly Star Trek film. It’s hilarious, action-packed, and while there is a bit of a confusing time element, it’s handled so well, that the film really works on every level. Not the best film of the year, but it’s damn close.

STAR TREK – 9/10

Go see something good!

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