Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Buried Star Trek

Warning: spoilers.

I must be the only person on Earth who didn't think much of the new Star Trek movie. But, okay, I'll say it – I don't. The more time goes by, the less I like it.

I went in there expecting... well, hoping for... a look back at the characters we've all known and loved since before most of us were born. I anticipated young actors, steeped in the history of the show, working with reverence and love to really nail their parts, to put in performances that were tributes to the older actors who laid the groundwork in the 60s, and beyond. But we didn't get anything like that.

I'd heard through the grapevine that the movie was actually going to be an "alternate history". I was disappointed to hear that, because I knew that was Klingonese for "we're going to disregard anything inconvenient in the timeline you love to free ourselves to do whatever strikes us as cool". But, I had similar feelings when they started ST:TNG and the other spin-offs, and yet I found something to admire in every one of them (yes, even Voyager – now stop interrupting). What I mean is, I tried to go in with an open mind.

But they were throwing interstellar babies out with the galactic bathwater right from blast-off. What's the first thing that happens? Kirk's father dies. Now, I'm not the shrewdest guy in the world at picking upon where a plotline's heading, but even I got the message being telescoped here: Jim Kirk's going to be the Archetypal Troubled Kid (trademark, patent pending). You could smell it coming like a Ferrengi. And Kirk was born in space... not Iowa, as we heard time and time again in the TV spots for Star Trek IV... as well as from anyone you've ever met from Iowa (the rebuttal is, of course, "Yeah, but Bill Shatner was born in Canada!"). And I happen to remember that Jim Kirk had a brother named Sam who died in that episode of ST:TOS with the giant flying brain cells. So in the first three minutes of the movie, they had basically told me, "Oh, that guy you loved watching on TV as a kid? He doesn't exist. We've replaced him with this guy." Yeah, a smug, arrogant asshole. The traditional Jim Kirk was self-confident and kind of a pussy hound, but he was almost never what you'd call insufferable. But the one in the movie was. He was the guy in high school you just wanted to pound in the face with a stop sign so at least he'd get the message, one way or the other. I COULD NOT STAND THIS GUY AND WANTED HIM TO DIE... BADLY. Now is that any way to feel about Jim Kirk?

Scotty was completely someone else. I've liked Simon Pegg in the things I've seen him in... loved him Shaun of the Dead, and in Hot Fuzz (till it completely went off the rails half way through and started thinking it was The Wicker Man). But he just was not the Scotty I cared about. Scotty had his quirks, but he oozed professionalism and even a certain degree of stubborn, bullheaded military decorum. This Scotty was an anarchistic, addle-minded, goofy fuck-up with just enough brilliance to get by. He was almost the anti-Scotty.

Leonard McCoy was at least... well, you could glean where it was coming from. He seemed to have his roots in the original character. They never said much about Bones's past, but I still don't get the feeling it was as wild as they put it out to be. That seemed forced. He also seemed too old. He came across as being about 40, when Kirk was barely into his 20s. If there was a ten-year gap between their ages in ST:TOS, I'd be surprised.

Now Spock, on the other hand... his portrayal was for me the only really redeeming feature of the movie. I thought it was spot-on. The new version looked like Spock, acted like Spock (even the kid version had me nodding, yeah, that's him), sounded like Spock... yeah, he was Spock. That one they got right, and really nicely, too. Even so... Spock and Uhura?? Okay, I won't say "no way", but it feels really out of character for Spock, and gratuitous as well. Spock's had romances with human women, but... why another member of the bridge crew? Like we can't see where this is taking us in one of the inevitable upcoming sequels...

So I was largely disappointed in the (mis)treatment of the characters. But where they really lost me is when they blew up Vulcan. This is like doing a retelling of the American Revolution in which the British nuke Philadelphia and kill off poor Ben Franklin, just to make you FEEL something. And it worked: I felt fucking angry — at them. To be honest, once they did that, they'd crossed the line. This was not Star Trek... this was your hyperactive cousin's version of Star Trek on the living room rug, just before he crowns you with the fire engine that's standing in for a Romulan Bird of Prey. After that, I didn't give a shit what they did in the movie anymore. I'd checked out. I was just sitting there because I'd A) paid twelve bucks for the privilege and B) was there with a friend. Otherwise, I honestly think I would have been inclined to walk out.

To me, the overall sensation I have coming away from it is that it was hollow. Far too much history was packed into far too little movie. Kirk went up the ladder faster than Derek Wildstar in Star Blazers, which was laughable even when I was nine — and that was a cartoon. Forgive me for thinking one or two movies about Ensign Kirk that show him learning his craft instead of being born to it might have been preferable. But people don't have time for that these days. Hatch the Kirk, let it dry its wings, then get it killing people! Yeah!


I won't be attending any of the sequels. If I skip the next two, twenty-four bucks buys a bottle of hooch I can use to forget about the first one for a while...


jim said...

I used to read all my younger brother's comic books. From that experience, I could tell right off that this movie followed the old comic-book formula of resetting the entire universe because it had become too complicated. As in the comic books, the characters have to become two-dimensional during the reset. I don't know why; perhaps it's the idiom. But also as in the comic books, I expect the characters to edge toward three-dimensionality over the next few installments.

The Rush Blog said...

But, I had similar feelings when they started ST:TNG and the other spin-offs, and yet I found something to admire in every one of them (yes, even Voyager – now stop interrupting).

What do you mean by "yes, even Voyager"? Are you implying that VOYAGER was the worst series in the franchise? If so, I'm not buying this shit.

As for the movie, it was entertaining in a superficial way, but I've seen better.

Peter said...

Rage, man! Rage!
I really enjoyed this movie - not least of all because, although I really enjoyed watching the original series when I was a child and Next Gen when I was a teen, my tastes have changed and I don't want to go back to those. Have you seen the more recent Star Trek films (ie. the execrable Nemesis)?
No, I think they had to reset the clock because nothing was going to compare favourably with the old series (if faithful recreation was the intention) and I think they did a great job of dealing with the internal (in)consistencies with resetting the series (even if the narrative explanation is metaphysically inaccurate).
Perhaps a more pertinent question is: did this film need to be made? Couldn't J.J. Abrams and co. create something original? Oh wait, I'm talking about J.J. Abrams, Mr Pastiche.

Lone Primate said...

Heya, Pete -- yeah, I'd have to agree that Nemesis was just awful. Maybe as bad as that one where the TOS crew went looking for God. Oyyy. It's funny how they seem to be arranged bad/good/bad/good when it comes to ST movies.

I don't agree, though, that they had to "reset the clock". I think there are enough interesting hints about Kirk's early life that they really could have taken those sketches and fleshed them out and still remained in canon with what came before (or rather, what was to come after). They also never had to make the movie at all. They could simply have decided they had a great franchise with literally limitless, universal possibilities, and gone off to explore some other aspect of it. I think the furthest they went down that road was actually one of the TV series, Deep Space Nine. It was the only one of the bunch that wasn't predicated on the idea of "Wagon Train to the stars", and it allowed them to explore in depth themes that the other shows could only explore in passing. It was the difference between space probes that fly-by planets and ones that actually go into orbit... and while I grew impatient with the messianic aspect of the show towards the end, I cherished the way a location gave them an ironic mobility in mapping out big ideas.

What I'm getting at here, for the purposes of the movies of the franchise, is that there must be million half-decent ST writers out there with great ideas, and ones that aren't tied to the original cast, or later casts. New characters, new places, new situations... but stemming from what's gone before. I personally have little respect for retcon stuff. I really don't care where they take this new thread. To me, it's not canon, it's not Star Trek. It's just a bunch of guys who think they know better than 40 years of other writers and actors. Even then, it's clear they knew had limits if they wanted buy-in. It makes no sense to me that Kirk's life could be so different literally from the outset, but that he would meet the same people, wind up in the same job, and even cheat on the same test. Deterministically, that's absurd. Either follow the canon, or don't... but the mixing and matching was a gutless show of tossing bones to dogs to keep them from barking.

Peter said...

Well, I definitely hear where you're coming from, Mr Primate. I think my capacity to deal with the implausibility of the latest Star Trek was borne by the fact that I simply don't like most Star Trek that much. To me, this film really seemed like a rejuvenation of the whole concept.
But as I say, I hear you.

Lone Primate said...

I expect the characters to edge toward three-dimensionality over the next few installments.

That's an interesting conjecture, Jim, and one I'm compelled to agree with. Every series of ST started with sort of to-type characters, who usually became established in the late 2nd and early 3rd seasons. I would imagine these characters will, too, as the movies progress. And it might even be enjoyable, then, on its own merits. But that said, it's never going to be "official" Star Trek for me. :)