Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Galloping Around the Cosmos is a Game for the Young..."

"If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it."

- Chancellor Gorkon, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Okay. So by now, you've seen the new trailer for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie (premiering May 8, 2009). If you haven't seen the bloomin' thing, check it out here and then come back.

Still here? Good. So what do you think?

Here some of my thoughts on the trailer, the film, and this new iteration of the franchise.

Call me an optimist all you like, but to me Chris Pine looks and sounds right as a young Captain Kirk. He has that "eye of the tiger," or something; that peculiar brand of sparkle behind the eyes that Shatner always flashed so easily and with so much charm. You can see it in the trailer when Pine (as Kirk) slides by Spock on the bridge and says -- kind of sideways -- "buckle up." Reminded me of a few moments in Star Trek VI, actually.

I'm having a wee bit more trouble with Simon Pegg as Scotty. Unlike some people, I don't think everything the man's ever done is mad genius. I was even sort of 'meh' on Hot Fuzz. For me, it became the very thing (the very mechanical, empty thing) it tried so hard to parody. Scotty can't be just comic relief here...he has to be smart too. I hope Pegg can pull it off.

I'm not entirely confident with Zachary Quinto as Spock either. Not yet.

I like Quinto very much as Sylar on Heroes, and think he's a good actor...I just haven't really "seen" him as Spock yet in these particular clips. Oh, sure, he's physically perfect for the role. But Klinton Spilsbury was also physically perfect for the role of the Lone Ranger.

Specifically, these clips don't reveal the cool iciness of Spock; the curious intellect; the finely-formed sense of irony. The sense of gentleness. The respect for life. All matter the shape or form. I sure hope all of that is present in the movie.

Getting to the hardware: the "new" U.S.S. Enterprise looks damn fine in motion; not so damn good in still photograph. In other words, she looks like a beauty in the trailer, when she's in action warping about and firing weapons. She's not as sleek as the NCC-1701 model in The Motion Picture, but I would say this Abrams Enterprise is far more beautiful than the dreadful Enterprise E design featured in First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis. Or, for that matter, the NX model from Enterprise.

In total, I dug the trailer (though I could have really, really, really done without the kid doing gymnastics while leaping out of a speeding car, going off a cliff...).

Random thoughts about the film, vis-a-vis the trailer:

1. This has to be a Star Trek for 2009, not a Star Trek for 1966 or 1979 or 1987, whathaveyou. Otherwise it fails.

2. The visual changes in the Trek universe seen in the trailer don't seem any more drastic or radical than the visual changes we saw between the original series and The Motion Picture. The bridge, the Enterprise, the corridors, the costumes -- they are all still immediately identifiable as "Star Trek." So far, so good.

3. Next Gen, Voyager, DS9 (to an extent) and Enterprise all proved that the "new crew"/"new ship" approach is washed up. Not one of the new character ensembles ever matched the mythic nature or chemistry of the original crew. Example: when Data said "the hell with our orders" in First Contact it didn't seem organic, much less seemed like a rip-off of Spock saying "go to hell" to Star Fleet Command at the end of the Undiscovered Country. My point? The best the other crews could ever muster was an imitation of the Kirk crew. So, instead of doing the same thing again -- giving us another new crew -- and expecting a different result (the very definition of insanity) Abrams did something different here. He may well fail (and fail big time...), but we already know what's down that other road (Insurrection, Nemesis, etc.). So if it's between this or another Next Gen movie, count me in, J.J.

4. It looks to me like Abrams is not so much re-defining Kirk; but trying to actually define Kirk. Which is a good thing. Kirk's history has always been somewhat contradictory. He cheated on the Kobayashi Maru test...but in "Where No Man Has Gone Before," Gary Mitchell said young Kirk was positively "grim" in the Academy (a stack of books with legs, or some such thing). Tell me: how do those two images of Kirk jibe? Was he a positively grim cadet, hassled by Finnegan ("Shore Leave") or the brillant, improvisational rebel who cheated on the Kobayashi Maru test?

I suspect Abrams and his people looked back at the TV show and decided that they had to pick one Kirk or the other; either the "grim," "studious" Kirk...or the Koyabashi Maru/"I don't believe in the no-win scenario" Kirk. They picked the latter. We might quibble with their selection, but I respect that they had to choose. I do hope the new movie remembers that Kirk is an intelligent guy too...well-educated and knowledgeable. He was a student of history...

5. With a huge budget, plus recent advances in special effects, this movie provides the opportunity to visualize Star Trek on a Star Wars scale...and I'm thilled about that possibility. The values of Star Trek (optimism, brotherhood, etc.) coupled with the visuals and pace of Star Wars? Should be awesome...

6. Finally, it looks to me from the trailer that Uhura, Sulu and Chekov are no longer window dressing, but valuable characters and important movers in the stories. This is actually an improvement over old Trek.

7. Leonard Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy. How bad can the movie be if Leonard Nimoy signed on? I mean, this is the guy who worked so hard to improve the scripts for The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier. The guy who turned down Generations. But he chose to do this movie. Let's have faith in Leonard.

I understand why there's considerable trepidation about this new Star Trek. I do. This is the true "passing of the torch" moment for the franchise. Oh sure, Kirk passed the torch to the Next Generation at the end of The Undiscovered Country, but that happend in Star Trek's universe, not ours. This moment is the passing of the torch in reality: moving Star Trek beyond what it has been to Boomers and Generation X, and transforming it into something new. Starting over with a new sensibility; with a new generation -- not me! -- as the intended audience.

Accordingly, even if the new Star Trek is a great movie, my generation is going to have a tough time living with it. Personally, I'm trying to stay optimistic. My mission is to boldly go into that movie theater on May 8, 2009...with an open mind and open heart. I want Star Trek to continue. I want it to live long and prosper. I want Joel to have a Star Trek in his life, and I want it to speak to him the way my Star Trek speaks to me. If the movie achieves that, I should be happy, right? Right? IDIC and all?


  1. I feel much the same, John. I recognize that the franchise has to keep moving forward, keep moving up, if it wants to remain relevant (although one does have to ask why it's necessary for Trek to stay relevant -- many great things have existed in their time and then stayed there).

    I'm not as sold on Kirk. For one thing, while I appreciate the Iowa license plate on the car in the intro, where the hell was he driving that had a giant canyon? I'm from Iowa and we have *nothing* like that. Chris Pine might be able to pull off adult Kirk, but he hasn't shown me much more than a steely gaze and a challenging stance.

    As for Pegg, I think he's brilliant and Hot Fuzz is one of my favorite movies that came out in the last five years. He also has a talent for underplaying and dry humor that will benefit Scotty immensely, especially when giving those repair estimates.

    I have no idea what they're doing with that shot of McCoy doing a crazy bibble about disease and darkness in space. That's not the Bones I know. He might have said those words, but he would have been much more cantakerous, less freaked.

    The main thing I'm trying to reconcile is the dynamics of ship combat. In all the Treks thus far, ships have been like submarines, taking potshots at each other from afar, plotting strategies over the course of minutes. It has its limitations, of course, but even those have been used to Trek's advantage (remember that great moment in Wrath of Khan where they reminded us all that space is three-dimensional?).

    Here it looks like Abrams is going for more of a fighter jet approach. The brief flashes of space battle that we got reminded me quite a bit of the chaotic Reavers vs. Alliance space throwdown in Serenity. It's not a bad thing, per se. Abrams has stated he wants to make a Star Trek as exciting for today's audiences as Star Wars was for him, and space combat in Star Wars was very much about the three-dimensional flight groups and barrel rolls. It's exciting and it's dynamic and it'll probably look amazing on screen. But it'll be an adjustment for the rest of us.

    I just hope Abrams manages to get a good story in there and that he doesn't short-shrift it in favor of shinies.

  2. Good comment, Nate.

    If Abrams gets us involved in the story and characters, the bells and whistles will work all the better. If not, it'll all be empty sound and Transformers.