Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Star Trek (the 2009 movie)

London, 25th May 2009, part 2.

I was never a huge Trek fan, I think. I watched it with the enthusiasm of a young-adolescent proto-geek when it first came up on British television around 1970, to be sure, and then I caught an episode or two when it came round again about 1980 and realised just how clunky it was. I didn't bother very much with The Next Generation, and if I liked Deep Space 9 - which I did - it was partly for having the courage to deconstruct and challenge so much about the Trek that went before. Likewise, I'm not any kind of J.J. Abrams fanboy - I never picked up on Alias, and I was comfortable enough giving up on Lost when it switched from terrestrial to paid satellite channels in the UK, suspecting it of being all flash and no substance.

Which is really just a way of explaining why I took a while to get around to catching this movie, and only really did so in the end to round off a day up in London. With no great commitment to the thing, I could enjoy it well enough as a contemporary Hollywood skiffy action movie, with chase scenes and space battles and ice monsters and stuff exploding. It also got bonus points for finding a cast who, in some cases, inhabited the personas of the original crew unnervingly brilliantly (while giving Uhura a serious job to do, so not all of the Galaxy Quest flashbacks were too painful). I could respect the time travel-based reboot as the smartest solution yet seen for a perennial old-media-property problem. (It raises questions about inconsistent depictions of the nature of time and history in Trek, but who cares? It also solves a basic inconsistency in Kirk's character, in Hollywood-conventional terms; why should the non-rebellious child of a successful career Star Fleet officer turn into a smug jerk with minimal respect for higher authority, albeit also an intuitive tactical wizard, like Kirk? The new Kirk now has Childhood Trauma to explain his jerkiness.) But oh my, the problems that occur to anyone when they stop to think about this movie for a minute afterwards.

Most or all of these have already been hashed out elsewhere on the Web (see, e.g., Twenty Sided), so I won't add to the geekery by listing everything I happened to think of in detail. Some of them may be covered when some kind of director's cut DVD appears (What's with the hole in the middle of Idaho? How long is the journey from Earth to Vulcan supposed to take?), some probably won't (the whole Planet Plotdevice sequence, with its perfect view of Vulcan and Scotty's long-range transporter and all), some are just so deeply embedded in the Trek pseudo-mythos that no one is going to touch them (How good is interstellar communication, and why doesn't Star Fleet issue direct orders to the Enterprise in moments of interstellar high catastrophe and why doesn't the Enterprise warn Earth about what's coming?), and some will only matter to people who know that pseudo-mythos well (How come any Federation citizens at this date know what Romulans look like?). But, well, really.

I've seen it complained that the original Trek was at least sometimes a drama about ideas, whereas this movie is all explosions and no thought, and I might sympathise with that - except that the ideas in the original series were generally pretty simplistic and clumsily handled, so it didn't hurt me to see them lost in favour of a lot better special effects. I guess I worry a bit more about movies in which people see dozens of their personal friends and billions of other people slaughtered in front of them, and get over it quite so quickly, but in the end, action movies are what they are; the Cosy Catastrophes of the video game generation. (And talking of video game style, what the hell is up with Romulan starship design? Naval architecture inspired by the Mines of Moria, complete with no hand rails?) If this thing generates sequels, I may well go see them, if only to discover what if anything Saint Simon Pegg of the Geeks eventually works out to do with Scotty. But it'd be nice if Abrams eventually decided to do something for people who think after the titles stop rolling. Not that I want the sterile puzzles and fake depth of Lost in Trek, of course, although that might be an interesting train wreck.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I figured Kirk's dad rammed the primary life-support section, and the Romulans had to re-purpose an ore-grinding chamber or something.