Let me again state that I am not a Star Trek fan or Trekkie (or Trekker). As a red-blooded American growing up in the suburbs I was aware of the 1960’s series and saw a few episodes but it never really grabbed me beyond the cool ship and ray guns. I saw the movies like everyone else and while I dug the first two the rest left me cold. In High School I worked conventions selling T-Shirts and the like to people dressed up as members of Star Fleet (which was bizarre) and still did not get the appeal.
This is not as knock against the classic series, I just want to be clear that my unbridled disdain for the modern film by JJ Abrams has nothing to do with a dedication to the previous version of the program. I did not sit in uncomfortable agony muttering ‘you’re doing it wrong’ as some fans may have, my agony was produced simply by watching a very bad movie.
No man may be an island but I may be a basement apartment of singularity in my dislike of the movie that broke all ticket sales records this Summer. A movie that attempted to revitalize a franchise that had become admittedly tired and uninteresting has a task and a half ahead of it. As a fan of Lost, I had relatively high hopes that JJ Abrams could achieve the impossible.
The problems that faced this movie are very clear.
1) How to make fans of the old franchise happy?
2) How to appeal to non-fans who could care less about Star Trek.
3) How to cast roles that have become synonymous with the actors that played them.
Of all these problems the last one always struck me as the most troubling. I mean, how do you cast Kirk without thinking of Shatner? How will that actor chosen to play Kirk do anything more than an impersonation yet maintain a relative closeness to the character as we know him? When you multiply this problem by 7 members of the cast it becomes clear that you are not going to achieve this with each character.
Surprisingly, this problem wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it would be when I finally saw the finished product. I did not think of how Chris Pine’s portrayal of Kirk did not match Shatner’s in each scene… I was just never that interested in anything he did or said. Abrams had side-stepped one problem only to face another, how do you remake a classic?
The simple answer is that you don’t.
The new Star Trek film is an exercise in bad writing as scenes are strung together by remarkable coincidences and characters lack any real motivation to do any of the things that they do.
While Captain Pike spends valuable film time trying to talk him into it, there is less reason for Jim Kirk who is shown to be only interested in getting laid and rough housing to want join Star Fleet let alone for Star Fleet to want him. Sure, he’s clever but he has no direction other than his fists and his libido. I understand that Kirk is a lady hungry adventurer who laughs in the face of danger but this version of Kirk is simply a moron. Book smart, yes, but I wouldn’t trust him as a night manager of a Denny’s, never mind as a captain of a spaceship. Chris Pine does a serviceable job with a role that should be amazing but is just so uninteresting. Kirk spends more time getting the tar kicked out of him than anything else.
The character of Spock is equally nonsensical and despite numerous attempts to graft on personality, he fails to have any real motivation. With Spock not having any emotions that he cares to express, Zachary Quinto is hampered as an actor to obtain the audience’s sympathy and instead we just get back story. He refuses to join the Vulcan Academy but why then does he join Star Fleet? He obviously has nothing but disdain at best for anyone he meets so why would ever be trusted with the lives of the crew of the Enterprise? It makes no sense.
There are some stand out performances by Simon Pegg (of the excellent BBC series Spaced) as Scotty and Karl Urban as Bones McCoy. However, the success that these actors enjoy in imbuing their characters with personality only shows how wooden Quinto and Pine are. The guest appearance by Nimoy does not help Quinto in the least and serves the script even less. An excellent character actor, Nimoy’s exchange with Kirk is a kick in the teeth for fans of the old series. When he speaks the classic lines from ‘Wrath of Khan,’ my eyes rolled instead of welled up as they should have. The reason was that this new film had failed to capture that special near-magical quality Star Trek has always held.
The plot of the film is so wafer thin that the movie wanders aimlessly around set-pieces. A Romulan has traveled into the past to destroy Star Fleet, Spock has followed to try and stop this from happening… that’s it. Anything else is just watching the crew of Star Trek forced into place. It’s a lot like watching a child playing with action figures placing the toys into their set places in a trance-like state.
Lacking a reason for the crew to come together Abrams instead gives us coincidences and some kind of cosmic fate that demands things be as they are. We are told again and again about how special Kirk is but he never does anything that earns all of this attention aside from having the common sense to listen to Uhura and remember something she should have realized was significant in the first place.
This reliance on the fate of the Enterprise wouldn’t be so idiotic if not for the fact that this movie is set in an alternate reality. If there is such an opportunity for things to be so different why must they be precisely as we know them?
Aside from the unfair challenges on the actors and the sheer silliness of the plot, the look of the film itself is a disaster. It appears that the filmmakers were paranoid that they would lose the attention of the viewers and therefore hired crew members to toss the digital cameras back and forth to each other as they filmed. Shots are framed at odd angles, heads all but fill the frame and the resolution is pumped up so high that almost everything is bleached out. Additionally, any light sources results in a strobe effect that stretches across the screen. EVERY LIGHT SOURCE. I’m guessing that Abrams took one look at his super-modern Enterprise bridge and the goofy retro costumes and realized how bad it looked, but I’ll never know. There is so much white on the screen I thought I had gone blind.
Aside from the technical problems with this movie, perhaps the biggest failing is that it is so soulless. Star Trek has traditionally been about the human adventure. Take that to mean what you will, but this film is all about putting people in seats and saving an ailing movie industry. Even speaking as someone without any real love for the Star Trek franchise, that is disrespectful. I’m not saying that the Star Trek film had to be preachy or some meditation on the future of the human race, but it should at least be about something.
Star Trek of old was about bravely facing danger and exploring the unknown. The 2009 movie is just a vapid experience making no statement whatsoever.