Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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"I like this ship! It's exciting!"

Most people who would care to know how I feel about the new Star Trek film already do by now, but it makes sense to take all of the diverse comments I've been making about the movie and combine them into a concise statement about it. So here goes…

I loved the film when I first saw it last Thursday evening. While by no means flawless, I found that it had just the right amount balance between being something familiar and being something shiny and new. J.J. Abrams has climbed the steps of Mount Seleyah and resurrected a moldering corpse and removed the stultifying stodginess that has plagued the franchise since the 90s.

For personal reasons, the escapist qualities of the film brought me back to it several times since, and I can say that not only has the film not lost any of its charm with multiple viewings, but the audience reaction has been extremely gratifying. The new Star Trek movie is a hoot, and to be honest, it is that sense of wonder and discovery that this new version of the franchise offers that made the series so popular in syndication.

Each audience I saw the film with loved it. People were laughing at the character moments and were sufficiently wowed by the spectacle of the whole enterprise (ha ha ha). I do have to admit that I found it particularly moving that there was not one showing I saw where there wasn't applause for Leonard Nimoy's reveal. People are having a good time at this movie, and they're telling their friends to go see it.

Quibble all you want about alternate timelines; the discrepancies didn't bother me so much because despite all of the grousing about 'canon,' it's not like Star Trek has ever had air-tight continuity. I mean, how many different versions of dilithium crystals did we see in the original series? Wasn't the Botany Bay launched in 1996? Is Kirk's middle name Tiberius or Robert? Didn't the Constitution Class Enterprise travel at warp speeds greatly exceeding the "top limit" discussed in The Next Generation and afterward? The best theory I've heard for Khan recognizing Chekov is that the reason you didn't see the young Ensign on the bridge crew in the first season was because he was struck with the spacers' version of Montezuma's Revenge, and so was taking hours in the sickbay head, and at one point Khan was prairie-dogging and when Chekov finally came out of the bathroom, Khan shouted "I shall never forget you!"

I say "to hell with canon," as it has had such a stranglehold on the franchise for so long that it became almost impossible to create new stories in the universe. I approached the film primarily as a reboot, more as a riff on the original series than an alternate reality created by Nero and Spock (which means that it still would technically have to follow Enterprise in continuity, but I'll leave it to those better qualified to judge whether or not it does that; I did notice the reference to Admiral Archer and his beagle). I think that the use of this device to make a loose connection to the original continuity (which was really not very tight after five television series) was more to appease some of the fans who can't let go. Besides, there has been ample storylines in various incarnations of Star Trek that allow for various alternate realities, and the aspects of the Nuovo Trek timeline that don't dovetail as smoothly into the Classic timeline can easily be explained as yet another one. I personally don't have a problem with them screwing around with the universe as long as what they're doing is interesting and fun, and that this movie certainly was.

One of the film's strengths is how most of the important decisions made by the characters, Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) in particular, are ones that also reflect a personal growth or more astute understanding on their parts. It made the plot be character-driven, which meant the story was their characters; sure, Nero (Eric Bana) is the antagonist, but he is more of a MacGuffin than anything else (although the idea that he's a crazy blue-collar worker rather than a military commander is a rather nice touch). The meat and potatoes of the film is these people finding who they are.

The film is an origin story, but unlike most of them, while our central protagonists do indeed have a great destiny ahead of them, they are significantly altered from the characters that we've known for forty years. Jim Kirk takes the loss of his father during his birth and his mother's subsequent remarriage to an alcoholic toolbox particularly badly, and is a particularly rebellious youth. This means that while Kirk maintains his brash swagger, he has a deep-seated anger within him that Shatner's Kirk never did. He would be content to just be a malcontent until he is challenged by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, excellent as always) to rise above the circumstances of his background and join Starfleet and leave the bad boy behind.

Spock has the lion's share of the curve balls, starting with him having had a very different relationship with his parents than was previously depicted; he has not had the falling out with Sarek (Ben Cross) and is something of a mama's boy to Amanda (Winona Ryder). This leads to an adult Spock who is much more comfortable with his human side on many levels (some quite surprising) than Nimoy's. Vulcans are a very violent race, that's true in either timeline. It has been postulated before that classic Spock's difficulties with harnessing his feelings had more to do with his Vulcan blood than his human side, and there are times when he evidences more of a sense of humor than he'd ever admit to ("He simply could not believe his ears"). Nuovo Spock is less concerned about harnessing his emotions and certainly doesn't seem to mind mentioning that he has them. He is more about searching for a medium between his two bloodlines rather than ignoring one of them, a trait that makes him an interesting alternative.

Karl Urban stole every scene he was in as Bones, which is as it should be; it was Dee Kelley's penchant for doing so that got him promoted from featured performer in the first season to full-fledged star in the second and third. His character is probably the closest to his antecedent without Urban performing a straight impersonation. Zoë Saldana is a smart, assured and incredibly sexy Uhura, with her mysterious first name being a nod to her original series counterpart. John Cho essays a very action-ready Sulu, although one does notice with that he does make a standard stoner mistake when first taking out the Enterprise (drunk drivers blow through a red light without noticing it; stoned drivers wait for the stop sign to change). Anton Yelchin brings Chekov back to the "whiz kid' roots he had in the second season ("Oh great, he's seventeen!") and last but not least Simon Pegg injects a burst of fresh energy to the latter portion of the film when Scotty joins our intrepid crew.

Daniel Mindel's Panavision cinematography is marred by Abrams' reliance upon the annoying "shaky cam" effect, but unlike films by Michael Bay, the imagery never becomes incoherent. In creating a visual design for his "bright future," Abrams and Mindel injected lens flares and reflections into just about every shot, an effect which even the director admits he may have overdone. However, as someone who truly loves anamorphic cinematography as much for its anomalies as anything else, I might be the only person in America to have wholly enjoyed that aspect of the film. Industrial Light and Magic has outdone itself with the special effects, which not only are breathtaking in their detail and scope, but also blend quite well with the live-action footage.

Scott Chambliss' production design makes some very interesting choices, not least of which is that the iconic bridge set has gone Apple. I particularly liked the more industrial design to the ship's lower levels; I gather that the 'boiler room' appearance of engineering bothered some people but (working as I do in the guttyworks of many buildings) I found that to be among the more believable aspects of the film's visuals. The redesigned Enterprise itself looks spiffy for the most part, and while I'm not a big fan of the redesigned pylons and nacelles, the new warp drive effect more than makes up for that. The film also has an outstanding sound mix in which Ben Burttt combines sleek new effects with classic sounds from the television series.

While my initial reaction to Michael Giacchino's score was pretty reserved, I have to say that the themes have really grown on me and I appreciate it more with each listen. It works gangbusters in the movie itself. The main Enterprise theme is one that I have found myself humming to myself, and the ehru-based music for Spock is quite moving. The CD is missing quite a lot of music from the middle of the film, including the attack on the drill (which had some jagged passages reminiscent of some of Jerry Goldsmith's action scores), the heroic arrival at Titan and could have used a few more iterations of Spock's monastic theme (the jaunty version for muted trumpet heard in "Enterprising Young Men" is particularly cool, though) but is on the whole a rather decent representation of the score. I'm not sure I disagree with those who have said that the hypercharged rendition of Alexander Courage's original series theme for the end credits doesn't quite fit the rest of the score, but what can I say? I loved it.

When Pike is attempting to recruit Kirk, he observes that the youngster's penchant to leap before he looks is something that Starfleet had lost. Whether or not Starfleet had actually lost that 'seat of the pants' element at that point in time or if Pike just knew what to say to a horny farm boy to get his attention is anybody's guess, but it is clear that it was something that the Star Trek franchise as a whole had lost. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci's script, while clearly having a great love and appreciation for the original incarnation, thankfully takes some genuine risks with the established universe (while there are some plot holes in the final cut of the film, these seem to be products of the editing process and not the fault of screenwriters) and the film is all the better for it. However, the film moves at such a brisk pace that said plot holes rarely become an issue (and are certainly no less egregious than some that have appeared in previous Trek incarnations) and maintains such a sense of humor and adventure that one leaves the theater feeling like a million bucks.

In this era of moody and brooding reboots, it is wonderful to see one that embraces this optimism; despite some very dark and cataclysmic moments, the one word that everybody who has seen this film has used in describing it is "fun."

And isn't that what it's all supposed to be about anyway?
Tags: cinema, michael giacchino, reviews, sandy courage, star trek
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