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Mon, May. 11th, 2009, 08:11 pm
post-"Star Trek"-seeing thoughts.

Have seen Star Trek, have very mixed opinions. I actually think there was a lot of awesome about it, though also a lot of atrociousness.


The first thing i have to say is, what the hell was up with the product placement? Why would Kirk's brother have a Nokia phone?? We're talking about a time period where the United States of America no longer exists, but NOKIA is still around?! I don't know why they did that - by all accounts, they're weren't hurting for money. And this would have to be the first time product placement has so conspicuously appeared in Star Trek - it's just never made sense before, and it doesn't make sense here, either. It certainly doesn't make sense in terms of the nature of Federation society... we've been through a bunch of world wars, near-extinction, only to finally make first contact with aliens and produce an optimistic, money-less, free society out of the rubble - but an evil multinational corporation is still supplying the phones? Star Trek's supposed to be set beyond the end of all that stuff!

But to the things that worked:

The Good Stuff:

The actors were mostly brilliant, and i really liked the directing, and it had all the ingredients for a fantastic movie.

Abrams brought some actual fear to some of the directing. There was a monster at one stage that could easily have just been another Star Wars thrill-ride creature (and i do love my monsters, but bad directors like George Lucas tend to stretch this love a little bit), but the way it was introduced was actually a bit thrilling to watch. There was also a sense of foreboding created for some segments, that reminded me of the approach of the Probe in Star Trek IV (to make a fanboy-ish reference).

The acting was generally dead-on. Some of the wider cast could have been better (could have been cast better, as well, perhaps...), but the three main characters were wonderful. I utterly loved Kirk. Chris Pine rescued that character completely from the shadow of Shatner's ego. Karl Urban didn't need to introduce himself as "McCoy" at all - everything about him came through just from the delivery alone.

So the ingredients for an awesome movie were all there. And i will watch it again, and enjoy it, just for those ingredients.

It let me down mostly in the plotting. And I'm not talking about it being a "reboot", or about it messing with the established timeline. I'm down with that - i bought it, because it was described well, and because the Abrams-ness of the explanation gave it a satisfying aura, and because it produced some good moments.

It was the Hollywood-ness of it that sucked.

The Bad Stuff:

Unlike every other person in the world, apparently Orci and Kurtzman liked Star Trek: Nemesis enough to almost utterly replicate it. (Well, actually, i wondered if they destroyed the planet Romulus as a geeky revenge for the awful, awful travesty that was Nemesis. But if so, they didn't take any lessons from what made that movie so bad.) As far as the plotting was concerned, this was just 'Nemesis', but with the original characters.

Nemesis (the tenth Star Trek movie) basically took all the wonderful bits, the bits that made us want to come see the film, and just tossed them aside for the last half of the movie. Replacing them with a pointless series of action sequences, and WAY too much focus on a creepy-looking villain who NOBODY CARES ABOUT. No offense to Eric Bana (who plays the Villain That Nobody Cares About in this film), but there was no need to keep switching scene to show what he and his dudes where up to. I don't care. I don't want to see Skeletor obsessing over He-Man's movements in his crystal ball. Only Buffy the Vampire Slayer does that well (and it only works on Buffy because the villains are actually worth watching in their private moments - they're funny, or tragic, or sad, or charismatic. And they're familiar to us. Nero isn't these things).

Why would you craft such a beautiful little portion of the Star Trek universe, and then spend half your time cutting away from it to show a villain we've never heard of and dont have any emotional investment in? And it wasn't as if the villains' private moments were consequential. There is a scene where he tries to torture information out of one of the heroes - but it doesn't matter. It doesn't go anywhere. (There's also some doubt in my mind as to whether it counted as an homage to a nearly identical scene in Star Trek II, or just a plain old rip-off.) It just leaves you thinking, "Why are you showing us all this? Get back to Spock!! What the hell?!"

And there were a lot of things that didn't end up going anywhere. They set off a lot of plot threads, and i think they only set them off because they thought, "this is what you need to have at this stage of a sci-fi movie". They did some major things - one major thing that many fans may never forgive them for! - but they didn't follow through with them. They didn't make you feel them, or feel that these fantastic events mattered. And thats all script-work - the director certainly made you feel this event as it was happening; it had the best set-up possible - the writers simply didn't follow up on it.

And, like i said, the last half of the movie shifted the entire viewpoint away from the characters and situations that were working, and just focused on boring action sequences and explosions. I wonder if this is what Orci and Kurtzman meant by making it more "Star Wars". If so, i was right to say back then; 'all of the worst Star Trek moments are the result of writers thinking it needs to be more Star Warsy'. They didn't bring anything new to the franchise with this Star Warsy focus. They really didn't. And they detracted from a potentially brilliant film.

Interestingly, when i brought this up with a friend at work today, she cited Bridget Jone's Diary as another example of the same sort of thing. And it's true! Watch the second Bridget Jones movie! The first half is generally all the things you love about Bridget, right? And then, inexplicably, they throw her into the climactic jail sentence and have her singing Madonna songs with a bunch of characters we don't care about. They deliberately move away from the very things that make us want to watch it. (My friend also says that the jail scenes in the book are a lot more meaningful and less pointless than in the movie.) Hollywood writers do the same thing with every science fiction movie they get their grubby litle Hollywood hands on, too... it's just that when it comes to science fiction, instead of the Madonna songs, it's the pointless action sequences and meaningless fist-fights that take the characters away from what made them interesting.

On the subject of characters, i feel like adding that I found Uhura really dissappointing - not the actor's fault, but the writing of her character. I thought she was too much of a, im not sure how to describe it. She was Standard Female Character Template #101. I was hoping they might take the original character, and expand on it to give her more depth than her limited screen-time had previously allowed for. (It's not as if there weren't moments in the 1960s series that didn't hint at a bigger character beyond what you saw - remember the rec room scenes? The Swahili-speaking? The general artsyness? Orci and Kurtzman don't.) Instead they started anew, except, instead of genuinely "starting anew", they used a pre-defined female character we've seen about five-hundred times before. The only thing she had in common with the Uhura we know and love was her job and her skin colour, which, seems a bit shallow, considering how well they did the three male leads.

So, what does this all add up to?

I guess, all i'm ultimately saying is that the writing was shallow. The acting is great, the directing is great, but the writing, the plotting... So much went right, so it seems such a shame! The writers had this thing handed to them on a platter, and they just kind, shat all over it. Ideally, i guess i was hoping for something more self-aware. Something that took the elements of the original series, and the original characters, and expanded on it - made it grittier, perhaps, as the writers promised, made it seem more likely. But it turns out that when they said "gritty", they just meant "more charring effects on the space debris." There was none of that sense that we were diving headfirst into an old premise in a new way, with emotional resonance, and depth, and all those wonderful feelings that good science fiction can bring. When you get to the end of the movie, Leonard Nimoy's voiceover says that the idea is "...to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before...", i just found myself thinking - Gee! Wouldn't it have been cool if we saw that happening!