Wednesday, May 13

Review: Star Trek (2009)

This is how JJ Abrams directs the new Star Trek movie: Cameras 1 and 4, evasive maneuvers! Star Trek dismisses its philosophical leanings in favor of jittery editing, muscular heroics, and sex appeal.

Rating: 3

Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry's Utopia, an idealistic interpretation of an intergalactic republic of the future where alien civilizations peacefully co-exist under the United Federation of Planets and policed by Starfleet officers who are more philosophers than a military force. Roddenberry insisted on humanoid alien life-forms that had unique cultures, he would have none of the horrors of the apocalyptic science fiction that portrayed aliens as grotesque creatures. The universe he created followed Starfleet's General Order #1, the Prime Directive, which states that there can be no interference with the internal affairs of other civilizations, both of the future and the past in cases of anomalies in the time-space continuum.

Star Trek was never a fun series to begin with. Sure, there were spaceships and phasers (set most of time to stun) and Andorians (insert blue balls joke), but the series---The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise---were exploratory in nature, National Geographic in space. The series highlights were rarely action-packed.

TOS' The City on the Edge of Forever and TNG's The Inner Light indulged in arguments that would define Star Trek and its movie reincarnations: logic versus emotions, culture versus technology, survival versus integrity.

The new Star Trek movie reboots the old-fashioned, thinking-man's science fiction title into a "fun, watchable" jittery-edited, explosion-filled space adventure. It IS fun, no doubt about it. The space battles and action are spectacular, and breathtaking in some parts---the opening was gloriously composed, the small band of escape pods against the surface of a sun (or was it a star going supernova?) is reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica's journalistic eye in framing the frightening vastness of space.

Director JJ Abrams borrows from his own time-jumping series LOST to create an alternate reality where James T. Kirk is a bad-ass and Spock has no qualms about making out in public. It's quite a clever way for Abrams to unload decades worth of familiarity with characters and to rewrite the Star Trek timeline.

But a "fun, watchable" Star Trek doesn't make a good Star Trek. The franchise was rebooted the Michael Bay way (loud and expensive) and doesn't set it apart much from Transformers or Iron Man. Props to The Dark Knight for being stubbornly dark and meandering. I was disheartened to see Star Trek dismiss its philosophical leanings in favor of ADD editing (thanks, Dodo), blockbuster-y heroics, and sex appeal.

I used to love the arguments that would follow the viewing of a Star Trek movie or episode. Did Captain Janeway follow the prime directive? Did the Borgs have the right to survive? I didn't feel the need to even discuss the new movie apart from the Uhura and Spock kissing scenes.

Star Trek was home for a lot of nerds and geeks. It was one of the few sci-fic fantasy adventures where mental and verbal dexterity were favored over brute strength and perfect symmetry. Not anymore.

There's no more coffee in this nebula.


dodo dayao said...

Star Trek is fast becoming the new Dark Knight - - -the pop film of the moment that is drooled over like something you want to have sex with and hailed as if it was the Second Coming of Christ. Not things that are healthy to associate with movies. Fun - - - and annoyingly fast-paced (slow down, JJ, linger on the shots a little, let the characters breathe, gain nuance, not everybody in the audience is a hick nerd with the attention span of a gnat).

I prefer Serenity all told.

Thor Bee said...

And it's also strange how "watchability" often translates to dumbed-down and FX-fried especially for the more cerebral franchises.

And when did the Romulans become Bon Jovi rejects?

I miss the talking heads and the nuances of dialogue. The make-it-so or the-coffee-in-the-nebula.

Faye said...

What's wrong with action and fast-paced? The problem with your review was that you compared the movie to the various ST series. You were right - the series was mostly very cerebral and moral. TNG was specially so with "DARMOK" as the perfect example of how language can be so contextual that universal translators are rendered useless.

But in movies - even TNG became "action-packed" - as defined by the standards of what action was in those days since 1979.

Star Trek movies are often about a catastrophic threat to the universe's existence, time-space continuum, and the peace in the Federation. Often, the target is Earth as it is the base of the UFP and its stellar officers who are intrepid agents of change. The answer to most of these predicaments was to violate or uphold the Prime Directive.

First Contact (1996) got the most approval rating from critics and I think because it the most fast-paced, funny, nostalgic, and thoughtful of the lot. It also got negative reviews of being too fast and too little character development. But Star Trek is not your usual movie. ST Movies aim to tease audiences who are not Trekkies to want to get to know these characters. It invites them to check out the series which will show them character development and that there is coffee in that damned nebula if only it wasn't sentient and would be hurt if it was mined as an energy source!

I loved the new movie because - well because it was action-packed and I am easy to please. And yes, I am all too happy that the ST franchise is alive with Raktijino in its veins. My main bone to pick is that the Prime Directive is thrown out the window. Ambassador Spock seems to have given up about getting the time-line back to it's original path. But then again he has retired from Starfleet and he is getting some booty in the new timeline.

Faye said...

PS. Deep Sapce 9 was not about exploration. It was about a Space Station trying to keep the peace between Cardassians, Bajorans, and the Federation. The also observed and guarded a wormhole which was a conduit to the Gamma Quadrant.

DS9 broke free from Roddenberry's vision - the dark nature of aliens was tackled as the Founders were ruthless and amoral. The Dominion War occurred which devastated the Federation as Betazed and a number of planets were devastated and occupied. The Klingon Empires' military strength was cut down considerably. Even Cardassia - the Dominion ally - suffered from 800 million casualties.

La lang.

Thor Bee said...

The Wrath of Khan the sequel. Reviews are subjective, dear sister. But thank you for submitting your own.

DS9 sucks Andorian balls! Hehehe.

Faye said...

You know that I am excitable and there you go! And why are you so fixated on Andorian balls? Hehehe!

Thor Bee said...

Ehm, how about you update na lang your excitable blog?

Thor Bee said...

Duhn-duhn. I'm back from patrol.

"The problem with your review was that you compared the movie to the various ST series."

This is the direction I chose to take since I always go back to the source material much in the same way that I go back to comic books when reviewing a comic book adaptation in whatever format.

Like in Watchmen, I was looking for the "soul" of Star Trek in the new movie in which I found only glimpses of. The Romulan character was flat, which is a surprise because the villains are usually given a distinct point of view, too, and are humanized in the process.

And my appreciation of Star Trek is more space drama; I dwell more on the morality play. In this case, action should be a plus and shouldn't be the bulk of the movie.

We obviously approach Star Trek differently even if we did grow up together. Like our mother said, you are the doer, and I am the thinker. Hoe's that for contextualization?

Having taken it up in writing classes (Thanks, Kristine!) several times, I'll always consider the text first before the execution.

Go read Roddenberry's last interview. You will appreciate his vision more.

Faye said...

The difference with ST Movies and comic adaptations is that comic adaptations retell an existing storyline. ST Movies tell new stories and add to the cannon. Because of this characteristic, I view the ST movies as "specials" like the Doctor Who Christmas and Easter specials and Naruto movies.

These are stand alone stories that build on existing story lines but at the same time they are entry points for new viewers. It wants to leave a good first impression. Thus, the movies will always fall short of the full in-depth story telling of a TV series where they have the luxury of story arcs. Especially for thinkers like you. Hehe!

dodo dayao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dodo dayao said...

Saya nito a. pwedeng sequel dun sa Marienbad dialogue. Hehe.

And it's also strange how "watchability" often translates to dumbed-down and FX-fried especially for the more cerebral franchises.Not as immersed in the franchise canon myself so my main beef is how generic the filmmaking is, which probably all boils down to how much I wanted to see more of the drill platform duel - - -JJ can't direct action to save his life. And given the hype building up to this, given that Abrams has some considerable filmmaking skill, given how many envelopes he pushed in his show Lost - - - him turning Star Trek into a Michael Bay movie was a bit of a letdown for me.

I agree, though, that this is entry-level stuff but it also assumes that the only way for non-fans to get this is for it to overload it with adrenaline, as if that's the only way to make sci-fic cinema become absorbing and immediate - - -Joss Whedon with Serenity, Danny Boyle with the first two-thirds of Sunshine, Steven Soderbergh's remake of Solaris and even Ronald Moore and his cohorts in Battlestar Galactica all proved that it isn't, that being character-driven and even deliberately paced , without having to be expansive and elaborate, is also pretty exciting.

Oh well, I did like it. Casting was spot-on. But part of me wishes they gave it to Joss Whedon instead. Hehe.

Thor Bee said...

@Faye: Coming from your analogy, the Doctor Who specials and Naruto movies still basically imbibe the same flavor of the TV show. That was all I was looking for. What's wrong with action-packed? What's also wrong with decent characterization or a little intrigue?

I liked the movie. Loved it even a little. Laughed on cue, my heart fluttered with the music.

But then again, this isn't much different from Transformers as a movie and that's why I brought up points that could've made this venture more uniquely Star Trek even if it were an alternate reality.

@Dodo: "Generic" was the word I was looking for. Serenity had a distinct texture. Sunshine was in most parts absorbing because it played up the emptiness/fear in/of space. Star Trek Hehehe.

dodo dayao said...

Yeah - - -and Joss Whedon can direct action like a master. :)

dodo dayao said...

Also, Cameron is Kirk's mother. :)

Faye said...

Yuhoo! And saya!

I see both of your points about Whedon and Moore. But I think Boyle and Soderbergh are on a different level - they made classic sci-fi movies which are not connected to existing universes. And that is the challenge that the ST franchise, Serenity and BSG had to overcome.

Now, BSG did make a movie but this went straight to DVD. Thus, less pressure, more freedom to make it as closely linked to the series as possible.

Serenity on the other hand only had to wrestle with ONE season of continuity. (But I do agree that Joss is the new Master now.)

The new Star Trek movie had to tease new viewers and please old Trekkies. After all the discussion, I think that to answer both needs, JJ did become - I have to admit - become generic. It's like the recent X-files movie. (Yes, I loved it too.) It didn't tackle the alien conspiracy which was the heart of the series - it tackled a generic X-file case aiming to introduce X-files to new viewers and please old Mulder and Scully shippers. But even if both movies were generic, most of the ingredients that make the franchise unique ARE there. Yes, not ALL of the ingredients are present but what is important is that it will lead viewers - old and new - back to the series. Where one can drown in characterization and intrigue. Hehehe!

Yes, Whedon is the master with action scenes and yes, Cameron is Kirk's mom. :D

dodo dayao said...

I actually liked the X Files movie more than Star Trek myself. The filmmaking is . . . functional more than generic and I've watched it twice and the second time was even better than i remembered it. :) But I thought it was a bit more fan-centric, a kind of valentine to the show's ardent followers rather than something they just casually toss off to the non-fans, specially since it played off the one unresolved wrinkle,after all the mythologies have been more or less settled, of the series for nuance - - -where do Scully and Mulder take their romance? Good stuff, that. Although the public didn't wet their pants as much as they did on the new Abrams movie. Wala kasing spaceship na naghahabulan. hehe.

On one message board I go to, everybody seems unanimous about how wonderful the Trek movie is. Half of them didn't get the story, the other half were not even familiar with the characters. All of them love the action and effects and the spaceships and talk about PQ and AQ and can't wait to buy the Blu-Ray so they can test it on their home theater speakers. And they all admit to this without shame. :)

Faye said...

Oh, I watched the X-files thrice and was still so giddy about Mulder and Scully finally ending up together.

Nakakatuwa naman yun board mo, Dodo. Sosyal at me home theater speakers! At sila nga "new viewers" talaga. :D

dodo dayao said...

Mismo sa mga "new viewers" . Tumatakbo na ng ilang pages ang Trek thread halos wala pang pinaguusapan tungkol sa kwento - - -puro kung magkano na ang kinita at ang galing ng effects lalo na kung sa IMAX.

OT: May isang thread ba sinimulan ng isang Roman history buff na hmihingi ng reco of any Roman Empire movies, ang sagot nung isa na walang kakurap kurap at may smiley pa- - -Troy. Hehe.

Faye said...

Ahahaha! TROY! Napanood nya na ba yung HBO's ROME?

dodo dayao said...

Malamang hindi pa, wala 'atang version yun na pang-home theater e. Hahaha.

Faye said...

Hehe! The DVDs are on 5.1 surround - home theater ba yun? Syempre di ko alam. Yan lang ba yun blu ray?

dodo dayao said...

Pwede na ata yun. Hindi ko din kabisado yung mga technical shit nila. Hehe. Kahit mono yung speakers ng TV, OK na sa kin e.

Thor Bee said...

I haven't read a decent review of Star Trek which actually praises the story.

"But even if both movies were generic, most of the ingredients that make the franchise unique ARE there."

I can see this in X-Files clearly. Pang fanboy/girls/bakla/tomboy yung movie. But in Star Trek? Apart from the visuals (costumes, eyebrows, USS Enterprise) and the very basic logic vs. instinct, Spock/Kirk (Yes, they originated slash fiction, wiki it!!! Gulat ako.), I can see nothing else resembling whatever was unique to the franchise. Even the Prime Directive isn't prime anymore.

May new fans nga, puro action lang naman ang napuna. Do you think these new fans will actually go back to earlier episodes of Star Trek (TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY) or read up on Roddenberry? They'll be bored out of their skulls I think because the precedent (in this case the new movie) set up an "action-packed" space adventure. Puro pala matatanda na nag-uusap. Si 7 of 9 lang mapapansin siguro nila if ever. :p

I just wonder how older fans feel about the movie.

Thor Bee said...

Story summed up under a minute. Nuff said. Heh.

dodo dayao said...

A critic I know is ambivalent about the movie but loves how it revived sci-fic TV's most enduring love team since Mully & Sculder: Kirk and Spock.

Here's the review in full.

dodo dayao said...

I know people who actually went ouit and bought all the previous Star Trek movies after they saw the Abrams verstion.

On one hand, they do say they're Trekkies so it's not as if they were new viewers lured in by the reboot. On the other hand, how Trekkie can they be if they still don't have any of the movies on DVD?

I think, by the time Transformers rolls in, these so-called "new viewers" will lose their ineterst in anything Trek in the same way none of them are talking about Iron Man now, after wetting their panties over it sometime back.

Thor Bee said...

Maybe all the raves are just getting to me. Mahirap talaga pag tumatanda na, mas nagiging iritable. Hahaha.

dodo dayao said...

Palagay ko ako din. Nakaka-irita ng konti tuwing may ganito at biglang ang daming "instant fans" na tatahi-tahimik naman noon. Hehe.

Faye said...

On the other hand, how Trekkie can they be if they still don't have any of the movies on DVD?No self-respecting Trekkie would do that! Hehe!

So, umm, di ako naiirita. Does that mean di pa ako matanda? :D

dodo dayao said...

May mga tumatandang humahaba ang pasensya. . . .hehe . . .

dodo dayao said...

What if some else directed Star Trek?Fun wishfully thinking read. Clicky clicky.