Saturday, May 16, 2009

Back From The Final Frontier

OK, I am now back from seeing the Star Trek movie! I present for you my thoughts/analysis/review, which I have rendered pretty much non-spoilery, although I won't blame anyone for skipping it until they've seen the movie, if they don't want to go into it with my thoughts knocking around in their head.

The verdict? Didn't love it, didn't hate it. Which, considering that up until about a week ago my reaction to the whole idea was pretty much "Abomination! Sacrilege! Why must you rape my childhood?!", is actually a pretty darned positive reaction.

Actually, I partly take that back. I did in fact love the movie during pretty much every second when Spock was on the screen. I am kind of flabbergasted by that. Yes, I thought Zachary Quinto was not at all a bad choice for Spock if anybody had to play him, but until today I might very well have said that "Nobody but Leonard Nimoy ever, ever could or should play Spock" was as close to an article of religious faith as I have. And yet, lo and behold, he's the one character I accepted easily as being the character. Period.

Not only was Quinto entirely believable as Spock, with what appeared to be a full understanding of the incredibly subtle nuances of the character, but from the middle distance, he even looked reasonably like a young Leonard Nimoy. It's a pity that illusion was inevitably shattered a bit when he talked, as no matter how fine his acting skills, he simply does not have Nimoy's distinctive voice. But that's not his fault, and the fact that I looked at him and saw Spock anyway is, frankly, nothing short of amazing. It was also, in a way, enlightening. I walked out of the theater awash in the realization that, simply put, Spock is wonderful. Intrinsically wonderful, whoever might be playing him. For this old Trekkie, that sense of re-connection to a character I've loved since childhood was marvelous, and well worth sitting through the movie for, all by itself.

As for the other characters, well... Sorry, but they weren't them. They were trying to be, but whatever transcendent magic Quinto had, he was the only one who did. Then again, Spock, frankly, is the make-or-break character here, and the fact that he worked means that the movie as a whole worked -- or at least, it worked whenever he was on screen. For the rest of the time, though, if I just let myself think of it as a really good, extremely high-budget fan film, I was OK and could mostly short-circuit the voice in my head going, "Dude, that's not Kirk."

Because, really, he wasn't Kirk, and that was pretty much down to the actor. If you'd summarized for me everything Kirk says and does in the movie, I probably would be nodding my head and saying, "Yeah, that sounds pretty much like him." But while the cockiness is there, Chris Pine just doesn't have Shatner's cheesy charisma, and the result is a character who's less appealing than he really ought to be. Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy worked a bit better for me. We really only got to see a couple of aspects of McCoy's personality in the movie, but they were entertainingly done, and even if I couldn't look at Urban and effortlessly see Leonard McCoy, I could certainly see someone doing and saying the things that McCoy would say and do in something very close to the way he would say and do them.

Most of the other characters I don't have much to say about, mainly because they didn't have loads of characterization on the original series, or in the movie, or both. Chekov, for example, is pretty easy. "Excitable young guy with a silly accent" is pretty close to the extent of his characterization, and since Anton Yelchin had the silly accent nailed -- to the extent that I could almost mistake him for a young Walter Koenig if I close my eyes -- he pretty much works. I had more of a problem with Uhura. Again, the character was badly under-served in the original series, so I understand that there's not a whole lot there to work with, but, well, Uhura always had a certain... I'm not even sure how to describe it. A certain graceful, self-possessed quality. But my general sense of her character is the movie is closer to "spunky" than "self-possessed," and for much of the movie it was hard to see any of the Uhura I knew in her, xenolinguistics skill aside.

As for the plot... Well, I did find some of the action sequences a little tedious, the storyline was a bit silly and contrived, perhaps, and the science was terrible. But really, I can't say that any of that isn't Star Trek. A bit less easy to shrug off, perhaps, is the slightly annoyed sense that I was watching a bunch of kids playing at being starship officers with insufficient adult supervision, but it bothered me much less than I would have expected. Seriously. Much less. I've thought the whole "Starfleet Academy" prequel idea was painfully, vomit-inducingly bad since the first time it was ever proposed, umpteen years ago. So the simple fact that I was feeling neither pain nor nausea is, in fact, pretty incredible.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the gazillion lovely little continuity touches, which were fun without being unnecessarily obtrusive. Unfortunately, such careful attention to continuity just made their one big continuity lapse all the more annoying. Actually, there are several things that initially look like continuity errors in this, but they pretty much all shake themselves out as the story unfolds... leaving just one thing to bug the nitpicky crap out of me. Sigh. (People who've seen the movie and have a good knowledge of Original Trek, you may feel free to try to guess what it is.)

I also wish that they'd paid as much attention to making the other non-human character in Star Trek -- the Enterprise herself -- look and feel familiar as they did the characters with speaking lines. The exteriors were lovely, but the interiors? Look, I really wouldn't expect them to entirely re-create the 1960's aesthetic, because that would be... bizarre. But the bridge of the Enterprise should at least look and feel a little like the bridge of the Enterprise, in more than just the placement of the chairs.

But, anyway, again, I didn't hate it. It's not the Trekpocalypse. I can't really accuse it of raping my childhood. It was... a pretty good fan film, into which, astonishingly, a real-feeling Spock happened to wander. Hey, I'll take it!

Actually, I'm thinking I may very well want to see it again, just so I can give myself a chance to experience it on its own merits, instead of obsessively analyzing and drawing comparisons, as I was inevitably doing this time.

By the way, I'll be happy to discuss the movie at even greater length in the comments, and to hear what the rest of you think, but I ask that people please use spoiler warnings on anything that gets more spoilery than this review.


  1. Okay, here's my first guess as to which continuity error (out of the many, many such errors) stuck in your craw:

    Captain Pike is leading the bridge crew of the second pilot episode, not the first pilot episode.

    Here is my second guess:

    Vulcan apparently has a twin planet named Delta Vega that we've never heard about before -- because there is no other possible way in heck that anyone standing on the surface of Delta Vega could have seen Vulcan loom so large in the sky. (And why does this twin planet have a Starfleet outpost rather than a Vulcan outpost?)

    Here is my third guess:

    While it is technically possible that Admiral Archer might have lived this long (he would be 146 during the events of this movie, which isn't too far off from the age that McCoy was -- 137 -- when he had his cameo on The Next Generation), it is doubtful that his prize beagle would have lived this long. Unless Scotty is referring to a different beagle than the one we saw on Enterprise.

    Here is my fourth guess:

    Spock being the one who programmed the Kobayashi Maru simulator is just a little too close to Darth-Vader-building-C-3PO-out-of-spare-parts-when-he-was-a-boy for comfort.

    Here is my fifth guess:

    It takes at least four days to get to Vulcan from Earth, and in all that time -- between the distress call and the arrival of the Enterprise -- virtually nobody figures out that Vulcan is being attacked and is not merely undergoing natural seismic activity. (Kirk does manage to persuade Pike and a few others that Vulcan is being attacked mere moments before they arrive there, yes -- but why didn't they get a message from Vulcan? Yeah, sure, the "drill" inhibits some forms of communication, but, um, Vulcan did get to send out a distress call, yes?)

    Here is my sixth guess:

    McCoy being nicknamed "Bones" has everything to do with the old "Sawbones" nickname for battlefield surgeons and nothing to do with McCoy's divorce.

    Here is my seventh guess:

    The Enterprise was built in San Francisco and/or in orbit, not next door to some cornfield in Iowa.

    Here is my eighth guess:

    The stardates are now identical to Earth years -- even the basically consistent five-digit stardates used in The Next Generation have been replaced with four-digit Earth-years. (When Spock asks the computer on the spaceship from the future when and where it was built, it says it was built by Vulcans in 2387. Why would a Vulcan spaceship follow Earth years?)

    I'll stop there, for now. :)


    Heh. Actually the answer was "none of the above," although most of those are things that bothered me in one way or another.

    Actually, to take those in turn, just for the fun of it...

    Guess #1:
    Didn't bother me -- except in that "oh, gosh, it's a bunch of kids playing at starship officers" way -- because this was an alternate universe scenario that never happened in the series, anyway. (Besides, if we're being nitpicky, it wasn't the second pilot crew, it was the second season crew.)

    Guess #2:
    I wasn't even cataloging that as a continuity error; it was mostly just a moment where my brain went "THIS DOES NOT COMPUTE" and shut down before the smoke could start pouring out of my ears. Although, y'know, now that you mention it...

    Guess #3:
    Presumably he replaced the Beagle, and it was really just there as a joke, and I don't consider Enterprise canon, anyway. So, nope.

    Guess #4:
    Nah, I was OK with that. Spock's done a lot of stuff.

    Guess #5:
    That wasn't really a continuity error, just part of the plot being kind of dumb.

    Guess #6:
    I don't think the origin of the name was ever established in canon, so also not a continuity error, but, yeah, I didn't like it. "Sawbones" is just so... him. And makes much more sense.

    Guess #7:
    I couldn't quite remember whether it was ever established in canon where the Enterprise was constructed, so I was counting that as a science (or perhaps an engineering) problem, not a continuity one.

    Guess #8:
    Stardates in the old series never followed much of a system or made any real sense, anyway, so I barely noticed.

    No, what bugged me was the Romulans. The Romulans, whom everybody knew all about, to the point where Uhura spoke three different dialects of their language. I just... I want to beat somebody over the head with a copy of "Balance of Terror." Gaah. (I could wave my hands around and figure that the time-traveling Romulans somehow profoundly changed things so that the Federation found out all about them and their relationship to the Vulcans much, much earlier but... I don't feel like that should be my job as a viewer, doggone it. Plus, I get the impression that they were just skulking around, not doing much of anything, anyway.)

  3. Ah, I thought it might be that, but having seen the film twice so far, I don't quite consider that a continuity error -- yet. For one thing, Nero has arrived in the 23rd century some 33 years before 'Balance of Terror' would have taken place; and for another, there is a 25-year gap between Nero's arrival and the main story. So who's to say what might have been learned by the Federation in that time -- with or without the help of the Klingons who imprisoned Nero in the interim?

    Re #4: Do you think the dialogue in ST2:TWOK allows for the possibility that Spock programmed the Kobayashi Maru?

    Re #6: According to Memory-Alpha, Kirk used the full term "Sawbones" in the episode 'A Piece of the Action'.

    Re #7: Hasn't the Enterprise always had a plaque that says it was built in the San Francisco shipyards? I think the main debate has hinged on whether those "shipyards" were on the planet surface or somewhere up in orbit -- or perhaps a combination of the two, with the components being constructed close to Starfleet headquarters and then assembled in space. Certainly nothing we have seen before has hinted that the entire ship was constructed on a patch of Iowa farmland.

    Re #8: FWIW, the stardate thing bugs me because the prequel comic-book mini-series Star Trek: Countdown (which takes place eight years after Star Trek: Nemesis and fleshes out the destruction of Romulus, among other things) uses the five-digit stardate system that all the shows have used since The Next Generation. So if you just put the movie together with its immediate prequel, you've got a continuity problem there.


    As for who's to say what he might have been up to, well, it would have been pretty darned nice if the movie had bothered to say. Y'know?

    Re #4: I probably ought to remember those scenes verbatim, as many times as I've seen them. :) I don't entirely, but from what I do recall, I'd say, yes, it's an obvious retcon, but one that can perhaps be accommodated.

    Re #6: So he does! Although that's not firm proof that that's where he got the nickname from. If firm proof is what we care about.

    Re #7: I'm too damned lazy to look it up at the moment, but you're probably right about the plaque. But yeah, it was definitely not Iowa. In fact, that whole thing did seem quite poorly contrived simply in order to have young Kirk be able to meet Starfleet people without ever bothering to leave home.

    Re #8: I'm amazed I was able to get myself to care about this movie even a little bit. I so do not care about the comic book.:)

    Oh, by the way, going back to #2, that one actually may be more reconcilable than we might at first assumed. I have heard "Well, it's actually a double planet" as an explanation for why, when Spock said that Vulcan has no moon, we see some huge body hanging in the sky in ST:TMP.

    Although, honestly, they might just as well have had Spock magically staring at Vulcan from a planet halfway across the universe and the whole sequence wouldn't have made much less scientific sense. My brain really did sort of shut down for its own protection during that whole scene, pretty much from the moment the word "supernova" came up. :)

    Anyway, yes, this movie is full of crap that can be nitpicked, but basically most of this stuff I can shrug off because... Well, at best this is some wacky alternate universe. But the Romulan thing bugged me as I was watching, because it just seemed to scream that OK, somebody really did no do their homework about something really basic to the whole, broad history of this particular universe. Which is on sort of a different level, really, from questions like where the shipyards are.

  5. Presumably he replaced the BeagleYour capitalising "beagle" made me realise for the first time how appropriate it was for one to have been Archer's dog, given that you could draw a parallel between the missions of the original Beagle and the Enterprise. I wonder if it was a happy coincidence or deliberate.

  6. Heh. I don't know, but it may well be an indication that I have science on the brain. :)

  7. Re: what Nero was up to during those 25 years, they actually shot an entire sequence in which Nero breaks out of the Klingon prison on Rura Penthe -- it is during this sequence that his ear is wounded -- but they cut it out of the film at the last minute because they felt it slowed the movie down. Bits of that sequence do appear in the trailers, though -- and the finished film does make a few references to the fact that Uhura overheard some Klingon ships being destroyed by Nero's ship.

    But yeah, I agree that the movie could have been a heckuva lot clearer on this point -- and on many other points, besides.

    Re: objects in Vulcan's sky, I don't know if you saw the "director's edition" of ST:TMP that came out on DVD eight years ago, but in there, they replaced a few of the special-effects shots, and they made a point of eliminating that huge body hanging in the sky.

    In any case, the theories I have heard about that "double planet" have generally involved a body that was named something other than Delta Vega -- and I'd still like to know why Delta Vega has a Starfleet outpost rather than a Vulcan outpost in this film. (For now, I shan't complain that the Delta Vega we saw on the original series was situated right near the Galactic Barrier; it may very well be that more than one planet goes by that name.)


    Well, that does indeed explain that weird bit with the distress signal, which otherwise made no sense. OK, seriously, I think they should have cut some of those interminable action sequences and added back in some more, y'know, sense-making, and actual supporting structure. :)

    And fiddling with special FX in the director's cut is a serious case of closing the barn door after the horse is out. Sorry, dudes, that think in the sky was there. I saw it. :)

    Anyway, whether clutching at that particular straw helps any or not, the whole thing is still pretty WTFish, there's no denying it.

    You know, there are reasons why I spent most of that post talking about acting and character rather than continuity and plot. One of them rewards a bit of thought and analysis, and the other just makes me wish I really hadn't started thinking about it. :)

  9. Ok I haven't seen the movie. But I had known that the Romulans were the bad guys in the movie and made the assumption this was the continuity error. It's been a while since I have seen the episode, but I believe that in "Balance of Terror" it was made clear that no one knew alot about the Romulans and no one had seen one before?

  10. Ha! The one person who hasn't seen the movie gets it!

    Actually... Without saying too much about the plot or the premise, it's perhaps not nearly as much of a continuity error as one might think, especially if you're willing to imagine that certain (although IMHO highly implausible) stuff could have happened that the movie just doesn't bother telling us about onscreen. That seems to satisfy most people, and as far as I can tell, I am the only person on Earth who was bugged by it. But I was, doggone it. :)

  11. Personally I liked that they went on the alternate reality made things a bit freer for them to do things and not have to be nuts about continuity.

    My main complaint about the film wa the monkey man guy with Scotty. Other than that, I was pretty pleased...but then I'm a star wars kid not a trekkie so much. J (who is a trekkie) liked it overall...said it was a nice fresh start for things. About time a movie was made to be *good* not just have known characters in it.

    And I *liked* Uhura. i always found here to be terribly underwritten and a rather silly character all around. They gave her some depth. The guy who was McCoy was great and they nailed Spock I think.

    But, seeing as my childhood memories *were* raped by Mr. Lucas, I'm pretty pleased wiht how this turned out. It was *not* The Star Wars prequels. It was *good*.
    For that I am very glad :)

  12. I agree. The choice of making it an alternate reality really helped. I know that for me as a viewer, it helped me relax a little bit to know that I didn't even need to try to figure out how to fit this stuff in with the characters' established continuity.

    The "monkey guy" with Scotty didn't bother me, except for the fact that he did so little that I sort of wondered why he was there.

    Anyway, whatever the movie's faults, I definitely agree that it's way better than Lucas' crap, and that is, indeed, worth being glad about. :)

  13. Making it an alternate reality does help in some ways. But given all the continuity errors we've already discussed, I am frequently tempted to argue that it isn't alternate enough.

    As for comparisons to Lucas's work...

    Well, one key difference is that Lucas has lied to us for over 30 years about the extent to which the Star Wars films grew out of a larger, preordained mythos. (Darth Vader did not become Luke Skywalker's father until Lucas wrote the second draft of The Empire Strikes Back, for example; in the first draft, written by Leigh Brackett and based on Lucas's instructions, Luke's father was a separate character whose ghost appeared to Luke while he was training with Yoda on Dagobah. And that was just the first, biggest, and most consequential of Lucas's retcons.) Those lies basically came home to roost when Lucas decided he was going to go ahead and make the prequels anyway -- and he still had to make the stories up pretty much as he went, even though he had been saying for decades that he already had the back-story figured out.

    Star Trek, on the other hand, has always been the broth of many cooks. Gene Roddenberry oversaw much of the original show, but different writers and producers contributed lots of story ideas, and Leonard Nimoy famously invented several aspects of the Vulcan heritage all by himself (the nerve pinch, the salute, etc.). And then the movies were made with almost no input whatsoever from Roddenberry. And then Roddenberry died while The Next Generation was still going strong. Etc., etc., etc. No one would dream in a million years of claiming that Star Trek was one man's work, or that it was meant to be fully consistent because it had some sort of unified base; rather, like comic book fans, we have always known that Star Trek is the work of many creators, and so we haven't worried too much when the seams begin to show -- not unless they are really big, gratuitous and perfectly avoidable seams, at any rate. :)

  14. I was really never a Star Wars fan, so comparing them in any depth doesn't come very naturally to me. I honestly don't care very much about the details of SW continuity, nor did I ever particularly listen to anything Lucas might have said about it, but even so, the prequel movies still come across to me as really, really bad in that respect (and in several other respects, as well). Based on that, I have to say that it can't just be feeling lied to by Lucas that's responsible for those movies not working, because they don't work from a non-fan's perspective, either. :)

    I have been finding it kind of interesting, though, to compare my expectations of continuity in Trek to other fictional universes. Certainly, I expect less of Star Trek in that respect than I would from a carefully plotted single-creator work like, say, Babylon 5. On the other hand, I have much stricter expectations for it than I do for, say, Doctor Who whose 45+ years of ever-shifting, constantly reinvented continuity I can often take in stride even when it makes no sense at all.

  15. If Uhura is supposed to be graceful and self-possessed, they should've cast Freema Agyeman in the role.

  16. Aside from having the wrong accent(and not looking much like Nichelle Nichols, although neither did the actor they actually used), she might very well have worked. :)

  17. Great commentary all! I am miffed, in my small Trek mind, how Chekov was there. Didn`t he show up later in the "original"? I`m seeing the movie for the first time Tuesday nite.

    Way to go Kathy!

  18. Yes, Chekov didn't show up until the second season in the original. As for him being there in the movie... Well, it makes no more and no less sense than anything else the movie changes, continuity-wise. It does sort of have an excuse for that, though. :)

    Let me know what you think when you've seen it. I've seen a surprising number of people who loved it to pieces, but I also know a few folks who thought it was complete crap. I think it really does depend a lot on where you're coming from when you go in.

  19. I liked Chekov in the movie. I thought that the actor playing him caught his puppy dog enthusiasm perfectly. And if he hadn't been there, we'd have missed out on one great gag involving him and the ship's computer.

  20. JH, You are so right. The Chekov character was right on, and only 17 yrs old. Urban was terrific as "Bones". Young Kirk`s dialogue as he entered the bridge at the end was classic, as were his mannerisms i.e. legs crossed in the Captain`s chair. Pike was as good as any in the film. I could almost picture him as the original Pike, and the wheelchair mad for a good bridge to the original series.
    Spock was at his best, young and old.
    Over all Janice and I liked it very much.

  21. I do think Pike in the wheelchair was probably by favorite little in-joke. :)

  22. As a continuity-obsessed spoilsport, I feel obliged to point out that, on the original timeline at least, Chekov was born in 2245 and thus would have been 13 years old when this movie takes place. (He was 22 when he made his first appearance on the original series, though he may have been on the ship as early as age 21, since Khan recalled meeting him there.) I suppose it is possible that, on this alternate timeline, a baby with the same name and the same mix of DNA was born four years earlier than the baby who grew up to be the Chekov that we know and love ... but still.