Monday, May 25, 2009

Star Trekking Across the Multiplex

I have now seen Star Trek three times. Yeah. Not because I'm much of a Trek-geek, mind you, it's that this is a genuinely well-made movie and I've enjoyed watching it. And it holds up, although three is plenty for me; I think I'll be able to hold out until DVD now. I think.


It's got the usual pluses: well-directed action, great character moments, excellent pacing, etc, but what really sells it for me is the fact that the movie is over-written. Not that it's overly wordy or that it the script went through seventeen hands, but that there was more written into the story and the world that it inhabits than showed up on screen.

For example, the Iowa in the film is peppered with odd pairs of buildings in the background, but we never learn what they are. Kirk's bike has wheels that are not physically attached, but no explanation for how they work is given, nor is any attention drawn to them. At then end, when Kirk stuns a Romulan so Spock can mind-meld with him, Kirk does something with his phaser that changes the color of the business end from red to blue and then he changes it back (presumably changing the setting from "kill" to "stun"). But their actions aren't telegraphed or explained. Abrams simply had characters behave in a way that made sense and followed (excuse the phrase) logically, and trusted the audience to sort it all out in the end.

In short, things happen for a reason. Maybe it's not an obvious or explicitly stated reason, but it's a reason. It reminds me of one of my favorite bits from the audio commentary on the original X-Men movie (yes, I have favorite bits from audio commentaries, geekhood established, let's move on). Bryan Singer was explaining why--unlike the comic character--Wolverine didn't wear a mask in the film. His answer: he couldn't contrive a reason for him to wear one. It seemed out of character.


There were a few instances in Trek where events seemed to happen at the convenience of the plot, notably the large red monster killing another monster and then ignoring its kill to chase Kirk (which has now been pointed out to me by two different people, including Abby). But most of these were made into gags. My favorite is when Kirk and Spock beam onto the Romulan ship guns-blazing. It's the action-movie thing to do, but it's not at all sensible, so before they go, Scotty says that if the ship is built in any sensible way, he should be beaming them into the middle of a cargo hold. The guns-blazing entrance was, therefore, a joke. A pretty good one, too.

That's right, audiences will forgive plot devices as long as they're funny.

And one has to admire Abrams' respect for Star Trek canon (especially considering it's a canon that pitted Kirk against green women and space hippies). The film is brimming over with homages--here's my running tally:
  • Kirk seduces a green woman.
  • Scotty: "I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain"
  • Bones: "Dammit, man, I'm a doctor, not a physicist."
  • Bones: "Are you out of your Vulcan mind?"
  • Bones: "Green-blooded, hobgoblin"
  • Scotty had a pet tribble on his desk
  • Romulus being split in half is a major plot point, and I believe it's something that had happened in the past during Next Generation films.
  • Scotty mentions Admiral Archer's prize Beagle (reference to the Enterprise series).
  • Uhura orders a Slush-o at the bar in Iowa (this is an Abrams'-verse gag, not a Trek reference--Slush-o was all over the viral marketing for Cloverfield).
I'm sure I'm missing a few.

My only complaint about the film--and it's a minor one--is that Abrams' search for the emotional center of the story delves a little too far into cheese territory at times. Trek never gets as hokey as the wedding scene from Mission: Impossible III, but some of the Spock-Sarek conversations teeter on that line, as does the Spock-Spock converstaion about the power of friendship.

So, is there a sequel in the works? Not that I've heard, but I doubt it (although, bear in mind, I suck at making predictions). First of all, what would you call it? Star Trek II? Star Trek XII? Second, does Abrams even make sequels? Last, what story do you tell? A friend of mine suggested that a movie version of the episode with Kahn might be interesting (the episode that served as pre-story for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn). But would the stakes be high enough to justify telling that story? I get the impression, especially with all the above-mentioned homages, that Abrams' made his reboot and is done with it, but, as in all things, time will tell.

I imagine one of two things will happen: the studio will hire someone incompetent to make another movie and this will continue until they become so bad that people quit watching them. Option two: the Pixar approach. You can make a sequel, but only when there's a good enough story to tell.



Ben said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben said...

Shame on you for missing the nameless man in the red suit getting toasted within 60 seconds of being introduced.

Also, thirty minutes does not ever go by without a scene where Kirk is hanging precariously from a cliff, and I'm pretty sure that like the original, the ships lights do not blink in sequence.

Kurt said...

Yeah, death of the red shirt, can't believe I forgot that one. Another fun one: the song Sabotage shows up pretty early in the film. While doing ADR for the original series, William Shatner had trouble pronouncing that word. He kept saying it "sa-bow-taj" (with short a's). It may or may not have been an intentional reference, although the incident really did happen.