Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek Rebooted-- An Alternative View (Part I of II)

Last night I finally had a chance to see the new "Star Trek" and got to see what all the fuss is about. If you have read the post directly below this one, authored by Stewart Sternberg, you'll see a purist's reaction to the new "Star Trek." One that has a very good argument that change for change's sake is not necessarily a good thing. That prioritizing action over subtlety is pandering to masses just to make money. And in many ways I completely agree with Stewart. Despite myself, I liked the movie. A lot. The original "Star Trek" aired from 1966-1969, ending its run before I was even born. Yet I grew up with the series and knew James T. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov well. I went to see almost all of the movies in the theatre as they were released and while I can't speak Klingon or spout obscure Trek facts, I have always been a fan. "To boldly go where no man (or "no one" as it was later changed to) has gone before" was the catchphrase that I looked forward to every week. The one that told me to prepare myself for the unexpected. I appreciated the thought that went into the philosophy behind the series and the vision that Gene Roddenberry created. It's easy to see why "Star Trek" has stayed with us for so long and meant so much to so many people. Over the years the show has had many incarnations. Many people hold Captains Kirk and Picard up as the quintessential Star Fleet captains and when asked which Captain do you prefer? it's often understood that the choices are between those two. But Captain Kirk will always be the original Captain of the Enterprise and attempting to recreate "Star Trek" with a new James T. Kirk was something that was going to bring controversy-- albeit of a minor sort-- that was unavoidable. J.J. Abrams, love him or hate him, was in a fairly no-win situation from the get go. A few years back a reboot of "Superman" was attempted when the movie Superman Returns was released. Director Bryan Singer did what many think should have been done with the new "Star Trek;" he attempted to recapture the essence of the original, and basically do a faithful remake, with a new cast-- and many felt that it was an underwhelming effort. Brandon Routh was a likable new Superman but he was no Christopher Reeve. And Kate Bosworth was a brittle, unlikable Lois and the one attempt to update the storyline with the son-of-Superman addition left most people cold. This Superman reboot pretty much died on the vine. Moving forward a couple of years the idea emerges to remake "Star Trek" for a new generation. "Star Trek" is a winning formula, but it has gone stale over the years. As much as I like "Star Trek: TNG" I haven't been enamored of most of the movies featuring that cast, and really, did anyone bother to see "Star Trek Nemesis?" The reviews would suggest that those who did regretted that decision. "Star Trek Voyager" was fairly successful with a 6-year run, though no particular interest seemed to be there for a movie starring that particular cast and "Enterprise," while good, seemed unable to generate the wow factor of the original. So the question becomes, how do you recapture the excitement of the "Star Trek" franchise? and the obvious answer is you go back to what made it great in the first place.. and that means casting a whole new crew for the Enterprise and updating the story for a new generation. Not a small challenge by any means. And it's at this point that many Trekkies are going to part company. The fact is that there is no way possible for any director to make all fans of "Star Trek" happy with this remake. The movie-going audience isn't what it used to be. As obnoxious as it might be, there is no getting past the fact that when people line up to see a movie like "Star Trek" they want to see action. It is no longer enough to present a thoughtful, and sometimes ponderous, movie about exploring space. The original audience is also not big enough to allow a movie like "Star Trek" to compete against movies like "The Dark Knight" and "Transformers" without offering a similar level of excitement. You can be a purist all you want, but it isn't going to pay the bills. I was skeptical when I heard about the casting of the new "Star Trek." I thought the characters were too baby faced and, as Stewart put it, too 90210 to work. But after watching the movie I have had a chance to reconsider my earlier opinion and tomorrow, I will give my full review of "Star Trek" and tell you why I think this movie works, flaws and all.


bloggeratf said...

In reference to the baby face 90210 comment, I think it was almost necessary to make this feel like a new your trek, but also importantly, because if you really want the franchise to last you can't have your cast dying off on you.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I have no problem to a return to the roots. I have no problem with action. I do have a problem with a poorly made film. In your review, you'll have to address the poor characterization, the ridiculous sequences that serve little or no purpose, and the horrendous musical score.

You're wrong. I am not a purist. At all. I remember grinding my teeth for many years as it seemed the only representation of science fiction was a space captain and his crew jumping through the universe. I was delighted to find Star Wars introduce the fantasy and the romantic element.

My complaint is as a movie goer who loves science fiction. I think it is damning praise to say something works because of its eye candy and slap bang action. Even James Bond, my favorite obsession, needs a character, an needs to be aware of the elements that made the original series so successful as the Cold War exploded in the early sixties.

At a time when we are often hopeless, when it seems that science has let us down, this film was an opportunity to give us something special, to return to the spirit of possibility that characterized the original show.

This shouldn't have been about COOLNESS, or about Abram's tremendous ego. It should have been about making a solid motion picture with an economical plot and action pieces that made sense. It should have been about friendship, not based on grinning pretty boys saying "Let's be friends", but about them proving that together they are more than they are separately.

Rodenberry's character could be strong-willed and difficult to deal with, but he knew when to listen to his crew and when to explore his own weaknesses.

I will make one note of hope...I think the next film will be better. I hate origin pieces. Dispensing with the setup, Abrams can in the next film, actually focus on story. At least we can hope.

SQT said...

All excellent points Stu-- and duly noted. I'll give you my take when I finish the piece.

Karen said...

The Superman Returns movie was a completely disaster! Good point.