Friday, 26 April 2013

Review: Star Trek (2009)

Warning: This is probably going to devolve into an article about Trek vs. Wars, so bear with me on that.

Star Trek
2009, Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written 21/4/13

Later this year, I'll be reviewing some Star Trek on this blog. But, as the second of J.J. Abrams' adaptations makes it way into cinemas rather soon, I thought I'd take the time now to explain my feelings towards his first divisive film for the franchise, Star Trek (Or, as we say in Trek Circles, Star Trek XI.) Star Trek XI is the result of Lost's production team attempting to take on the long-running franchise, from producers J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk as far as writer Damon Lindelhof and musician Michael Giacchino. The result can be foretold rather easily; Lostpedia has an entire page of Star Wars references, but a few lines of Trek ones.
     The producers seem to view Trek, especially in its earlier years, as something of a poor child trying to fight with the big boys. The level of contempt that they have for the special effects is perhaps understandable, especially in the American theatre where budgets shot sky high very quickly. However, as an advocate of Classic Who and an ardent lover of all things Trek, I really think that this is the wrong attitude to have if you're going to go in and make an adaptation. The reboot of Doctor Who after 16 years was only successful because the vast majority of the production team grew up loving and respecting the program, and Christopher Eccleston had never seen it, and so treated it as seriously as any other project. The producers of Star Trek XI looked at their new endeavor and immediately thought, and I quote, "What can we learn from Star Wars?"
     The result is a film that is not by its very nature bad, but which is as far from the spirit of Trek as cheese is from milk - both may have some superficially similar origins, but the experience of consuming one is vastly different to the other. If cheese is left to mature it simply becomes stronger tasting - if milk is left to mature it goes sour and inedible. The film attempts to pay homage to the series by maintaining an internal consistency through the creation of an alternate reality in which our main characters can do whatever they damn well want without affecting the continuity of the TV show, but simply referencing a show doesn't make up for the loss of its spirit within the work.
     What do I mean by spirit? Well, we again must look over at Star Wars. Lucas' creation is something that embodies a great number of religious and right-wing values. The universe is controlled by fate and destiny, by a force that unites all things. Morals are staunchly black and white, with the odd anti-hero to keep the viewers interested. The world can be changed by the actions of a few individuals - the tiny good defeating the all-encompassing evil, taken straight from David and Goliath. Star Trek was conceived as something distinctly different - something more humanist. Star Trek is about discovery and diplomacy - about learning lessons about how to improve the future of humanity, about hope and peace and compassion. There are no right or wrong answers - simply ways of getting on and forming a peaceful and constructive way forward. It was Gene Rodenberry's utopian vision.
Okay, so this is gonna be a caption rant. This is an actual
still from the film. The level of lens flare in every shot of this
film is ridiculous. I'm all for style, but when you've got guys
sat on the edge of your set with flashlights just to add lens
flare to your movie, I think you have to look at why you're
a filmmaker. Thanks.
     So let's compare the plot and structure of Star Trek XI with both of these things. Captain Kirk has been retconned into being a poor farmboy living on a desert planet who never knew his father. Maybe I'm just nitpicking, but that sounds awfully familiar. And, away from perhaps contrived parallels in plotting, we find him rising through the ranks on sheer skill alone after cheating the system. We find him piloting the last Federation ship, one small force alone against a massive, all-encompassing evil in the form of the Nerada. It's David and Goliath again, huh. And what a Utopian world where a cadet can be dismissed for cheating on a major piece of training, make his way onto the flagship as an illegal stowaway and then through circumstance rise to the rank of Captain because someone from a parallel Universe says that that's his destiny?
     I enjoy Star Trek XI in the same way that I enjoy Doctor Who's A Good Man Goes To War. As a feat of pure spectacle it's certainly impressive, and up there with the level we've come to expect from modern blockbusters. But as an entry into the world of its franchise it so goes against the core principles of what make that franchise what it is that it feels wrong to even associate it. It's like making a James Bond film where the agent wears his pyjamas everywhere and solves things over the phone. Still enjoyable in its own right, perhaps. But not the thing that we need from a film bearing the Star Trek name. And that's what I think of it.

Thanks.

P.S. Although Zachary Quinto is great, go Zachary Quinto.

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