by James Hansen
Already a successful attempt to resuscitate a dormant franchise, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek moves the series back to square one for a new generation of fans. Lest ye Trekkies get offended, desperately grappling for your nostalgiac memories of something that can never be replaced, Abrams makes plenty of unnecessary nods towards the franchise’s past, while firmly moving it onto new, if infinitely more conventional ground. Star Trek shows that Hollywood may not be comfortable with a complete reboot, as the hackneyed script by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman confuses itself by attempting to justify the new franchise’s very existence by pitting it alongside, yet in an alternative reality (2009) than, the series’ first reality (1960s/70s/Vietnam/Cold War era). Perhaps cries of heresy would have arisen if there was no recognition of what Star Trek has already been, but Star Trek (2009) feels befuddled when it starts making referents to its own past that it uncomfortably accepts while it wishes it could deny more completely.
And yet. AND YET.
Star Trek is an abundant success as an action movie and a launch for a modern cinematic franchise. Abrams, ever present as a television power, shows big screen confidence that was absent in his directorial debut Mission Impossible 3. Perhaps a credit to his development with the large canvas of Lost, Abrams’ uneven yet oftentimes dazzling TV series, Star Trek is commanding, loud, and aggressive, all the while remaining visually coherent even if it is a bit haphazard at times. Abrams and cinematographer Damien Mindel clearly want to keep things moving in and out of action sequences, as the camera spins, turns, pans, and tracks as much during both the Enterprise’s assault on Nero’s ship as it does when Spock’s rejects his position from an organization that sees his human side as a drawback. Oftentimes, the camerawork really does nothing other than draw attention to itself ¬– a sure sign of Abrams’ sophomoric direction. Still, the sharp editing (not a synonym for rapid) from Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey layers the action and maintains a visually vibrancy. Though it can’t do much to save large scenes that should have been removed entirely (the script really is the major pitfall, as Joe Schuster as thoroughly explained), there is enough spunk amid some mishaps to make the new Star Trek very alive.
What takes Star Trek beyond being another pretty decent action movie are the terrific, charismatic performances by the young cast. Chris Pine, as Kirk, and Zachary Quinto, as Spock, display the kind of chemistry missing from tech-driven franchises and show flashes of deeper characters beyond what is given to them by the script. While Trekkies undoubtedly know these characters inside and out before they are even seen on screen, there is little information given about who they are – another sign of the movie’s confusion of having one foot in the old series and one foot way out. Luckily, the supporting performances, especially from Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin, are polished, lively, and fun. They provide the support that Pine and Quinto need to carry Star Trek past its weaknesses and to a surprisingly effective high.
And yet. AND YET.
I wonder how well this movie actually serves a legendary series and franchise like Star Trek by means of restructuring the entire product. Without ignoring the original series completely, something fans of the series and the makers of this movie clearly don’t want to do, what direction is the already successful new Star Trek franchise headed in? And do Trekkies out there even care? Is everyone happy enough to see the much beloved characters reunited? Or should there be a stronger desire for some political and social aspects that seem so central to “the Original” to remain embedded in the series? As someone with little connection to the series, perhaps I’m actually the target audience for this – the next generation of fans – and I’m perfectly happy to see a well made, space opera action series. Is that what Star Trek is? Was? Should be? Should I be dreaming of hours of content on the sociopolitical aspects of Vulcan planets? Because, Trekkies, with Abrams at the helm, those days are long behind you. While some may argue this was merely a set up for content to come later, Star Trek, as a uber-mainstream $70 mil opening weekend franchise, isn’t going to suddenly be interested in politics. If anything, the only things that will increase are the recognizable names in the cast, the budget, and the number of explosions, fight scenes, and unnecessary time travel. Perhaps everything new should be accepted as existing in an alternative reality, as the plot of Star Trek (2009) suggests. I’ve got no problem with that. But what does that do to Star Trek (1966- present)? Is this a good Star Trek movie, or just a good movie? Or either? Does it matter? Maybe not. But I suspect if Abrams doesn’t get new Star Trek on some firmer ground next time around, fans, new and old, may be wishing Star Trek lived long and prospered in their nostalgiac minds rather than on the stage its headed towards.
But hey, it’s still a good movie, right?