Hmmm, where do I start?
I left the cinema yesterday afternoon not knowing whether or not I liked or truly despised this movie. However, my main feeling as I walked out was that it simply didn’t feel like Star Trek, and that worried my greatly. I’ve been a fan for over 30 years, since early childhood, and to not have the feeling for the first time ever was very disappointing. However, I’ll deal with that at the end of my review.
I think the best way to summarise my feelings about the picture would be to list the good and the bad:-
- The special effects were stunning, particularly the opening battle. There can be no question about that.
- I warmed quite quickly to the exterior of the new Enterprise – at least when shown at a distance anyhow.
- I liked some little touches in the movie, such as how the Kelvin’s communicators looked like the old TOS ones, Scotty’s tribble (complete with the correct trilling), Kirk’s apple and Majel’s voice on the ship computer.
- As a general action movie there was enough in it to keep the pace chugging along throughout without moments of boredom.
- The main Starfleet uniforms were great. AT a distance they looking just like TOS uniforms. I also got a kick out of the similarities between Pike’s admiral’s uniform and Kirk’s TMP version.
- I liked the Nero character, even if he got little to do. I would have liked to see more of him and learn more.
- I liked the fact that Nero’s ship interior was relatively consistent with the look of the Scimitar from Nemesis. It made me believe that the ship originated from the same sort of grudgey, lower class mining background that Shinzon did, thus I could accept that Nero was from the post-Nemesis era.
- Nimoy!! What can you say. I was overjoyed to see him on screen again. Some people posting reviews have suggested that he was out of character in his scenes. I disagree. In fact I felt that this was the closest we had seen to the Spock I remember since Star Trek V. Nimoy seemed to go through a phase of having Spock be extremely grumpy in TUC and Unification and it was refreshing to see a return to the character I properly remember from the golden days of Trek. Hats off to Leonard to still pull it off. He easily acts Quinto off the screen, but then I feel a bit sorry for Quinto having to play alongside the original, unlike his cast mates, especially Leonard as of all the characters I’d say that Spock is probably the one most unique to the original actor. Nimoy just has something about him, and almost alien quality that inhabits the character that, quite simply, only he can do.
- A great score. Top notch, although I would have like to hear the fanfare earlier on, but I understand why it came at the end.
- Khan style eels! Great stuff.
- Not exactly part of “the good” per se, but a lot of people moaned about Spock & Uhura’s lovebird act. Have to say I had no problem with it keeping in mind that these are alternate versions of the characters. In fact that only thing I was curious about was how it came to be as otherwise there wasn’t much point it in being present.
- Recasting. Now, I promised myself well in advance that I had gotten past the recasting of iconic roles, helped in part by Nimoy’s endorsement and, more importantly, the alternate universe which allowed me to treat them as different characters. But despite the throw away line about alternate realities it was clear to me that the movie was trying to remind me on a regular basis that I was supposed to be watching Kirk Spock and McCoy and I was supposed to accept the youngsters, many of whom are younger than me (not that I should let that prejudice me), were the same iconic characters that I had grown up with over 30 years. For me, I just couldn’t do it. Maybe I am like Kirk in TUC, I’m struggling to get past my prejudices and move on, but for me the original characters are more than a few episodes and movies, they have been friends to go to when times were bad. Friends who allowed me some escapism. Friends who taught me about morality and difficult questions in life. The people that brought those characters to like are those characters. A character is more than what is written on a script page, it is also part of the living breathing person that plays him or her. For instance, Karl Urban did indeed give one of the best performances in the movie. But I just couldn’t believe it was McCoy, all I could believe was that it was a young Starfleet officer doing an impression of McCoy.The same for the others, all good actors, especially the wonderful Simon Pegg, but I just couldn’t help wanting to see my beloved personalities of old. I think it will take me a long time to get beyond that, if I ever do.
- The set designs. The Kelvin was ok and I could believe it was pre-TOS. However, I despised other sets, most significantly the Enterprise interiors. Abrams has spoken about his desire to do what Dick Donner did on Superman: The Movie, have the believability factor to what was on screen. Versimilitude Donner called it. Well here Abrams makes a fatal mistake. We aren’t just talking about a superhero in a costume, with everything else looking like 20th Century Earth, we are talking about how society will look over 200 years from now. In that respect I cannot accept that the Enterprise needs manual handles to go to warp and an absurd looking engine room that looks like the lower decks of a World War II submarine. Aside from a few trendy touchscreens thrown in, everything else on the Enterprise looked years behind the TOS version, and even looked less advanced than the NX-01, which was are to believe still existed as we know it in this reality. Not convinced in the slightest and Abrams better think carefully about this one for the sequel. It’s absurd that will such a budget that couldn’t create something truly futuristic looking, especially since they had gone to all that trouble of making the exterior of the ship more advanced than its sixties counterpart.
- Plot explanations. I thanked god I had read Countdown because without that the plot of the movie seemed very silly. A Romulan comes after Spock because his homeworld was blown up and he somehow blames Spock for not sorting it out in time, all of which we find out in a couple minutes. Great. That’s it? So basically we are to empathise with Nero and understand his plight? Do me a favour. I couldn’t feel for him after such a small and thrown away explanation and saw the character as nothing more than Bana playing a crazy. I would have loved to have seen more. With that the soul was totally ripped out of the movie for me and Nero was just another bad guy of the week. Ironically the one thing I didn’t have much of a problem with was Nimoy being on Delta Vega at the right moment. With the other plot holes, this coincidence didn’t really matter to me.
- Lens flares and shakey cam. I had read complaints about this but went into the movie open minded. I had no problem with it during the Kelvin scenes, but by the time the movie was half way through it began to annoy me. I’m a greater hater of shakey cam out of the two, and I am terribly frustrated that Hollywood directors think that the audience want to see these tired camera tricks all the time. This moviegoer doesn’t and I’m tired of seeing this in every action film I see these days. One of the redeeming features of Indy 4 was that Spielberg shot the movie old style, without shakey cam, and so despite its flaws I find Crystal Skull a lot easier to watch than movies like Iron Man. I like to see what is happening, not get a headache. But then I guess Abrams was just trying to be one of the cool kids.
- Kids in charge of the Enterprise. Talked about many times so I won’t go into detail, but from cadet to Captain? And for that matter the whole crew (sans Spock & Scotty) from cadets to senior officers? Utterly, utterly stupid.
- Ben Cross as Sarek. Bloody awful. I wish Mark Lenard was still around.
- Product placement. No, no, no, no. No room for that in Star Trek JJ. What a cheap shot.
Despite the recasting and the items under my “bad” list, none of what I mentioned above was enough to make me hate the movie. I could stomach them and suspend disbelief to allow me to watch the movie as “just another movie” and take enjoyment out of it and be entertained. In that respect is was a rip-roaring space action adventure and I would recommend it to any non-fan who likes action films. I can understand why it has gotten rave reviews from non-fans and newer fans alike. It will generate a good return, new fans and a sequel. Paramount have gotten what they wanted.
However, here lies the real problem I have with the movie, which is a serious complaint directed at the new “supreme court”. Abrams and his cohorts, including Nimoy himself, tell us Star Trek is about the characters. A lot of fans have bought into this when seeing the new movie and think that if there is a good arc for Kirk & Spock then that’s all that’s need. I respectfully disagree with this on every level. Star Trek was never about the characters, it was about the human experience, as told through the characters. This is the fundamental mistake with movie. It’s something that people like Ron Moore and, dare I say it, Berman understood about what Roddenberry was trying to do, but Abrams seems clueless in this regard. There was no exploration of humanity in this movie and no hint of a morality play. For this fan, that’s just not good enough. I was never a fan of Star Trek because I liked to see ship battles or fancy devices. It was about, for me, the social issues it made me think about. It was the thing about Star Trek that set it apart from things like Star Wars. It had greater depth, more intelligence and more morality than the other things out there. Majel is alleged to have said that Gene would have approved of the new movie, while I hope that he would have I feel that this is doubtful. If you go way back to “The Cage” it is clear what Gene wanted from the show. He wanted to make the audience think. Abrams Trek does not do that. For that reason I felt incredibly let down when I left the cinema. It felt like my intelligent Star Trek had died years earlier and had been replaced by yet another big budget Hollywood action movie for the crowds of lower intelligence out there that has simply had the Star Trek name slapped on it. Well, that’s what sells these days so I understand it. But I am just deeply upset that the market has turned this way and ripped the heart, or more importantly, the brain, out of my beloved Star Trek.
You see without the intelligence Star Trek is just like everything else....and nothing else has lasted this long as a result. I don’t see why people can’t see that. This movie will generate a couple sequels of big action. Paramount will make short term money on its reboot. But it will die out much sooner than the original did, because this nuTrek is far more a product of its time than TOS ever was and simply doesn’t have elements to withstand changes attitudes over the years.
Abrams has a chance to recapture this old fan with the inevitable sequel. He just needs to explore the human experience again – and there is no reason why this cannot go hand in hand with a big budget action film. I implore him to do it as then he really will have done justice to the Roddenberry legacy.