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Star Trek: Alas, Count Me Underwhelmed
kateelliott
I was pretty meh about Star Trek. And my sons also found it kind of boring.



I feel like I missed the entire re-boot aspect of the film. Where was it? In the end, everything became just exactly like what was broadcast 40 years ago, only with shinier special effects and more cliched writing. There was a single moment where my ears perked up, feeling a sense of unpredictability--when Young Spock is captain and has Young Kirk tossed off the ship for insubordination--but, indeed, it was but a temporary aberration and we soon returned to the rightful triumph of How Things Ought to Be. In fact, this was yet another film about American essentialism.

In terms of rebooting, Battlestar Galactica was a ton more interesting (disclaimer: I have not seen Seasons 3 or 4), even with its dodgy gender elements, and by comparison it had a much more diverse cast in the major and secondary major roles.

So let's take a few points. The point of a re-boot is to, um, well, update the premise, right? Get new curtains. Redecorate. Make timely the issues involved; ask different questions than in the original because of changing circumstances and a new century.

I found none of that in this film. No new questions were asked. No chances were taken at all, in fact. A more diverse cast? Not really. Better gender representation? We had two vanishing but actually unimportant mothers. Uhura, who is given some interest in the opening part of the film, is reduced by the end to a love interest (worse than in the original series). Zoe Saldana is gorgeous, and she has real presence; I wish the writers/creators/whoever had treated her as a person instead of a foil.

But there's the thing. If they really meant to reboot the series, why didn't they do so? Forex, having a Chekhov in the original series was risky because of the Cold War. Now, they have a Young Chekhov because, um, there was one in the original series. And he is young, and a genius! Amazing how they are all geniuses. Either this film is the product of a generation swollen by a sense of its own entitlement to genius, or by a generation convinced its children are all geniuses. I can't tell which.

Back to Chekhov. So we have the kid with the cute Russian accent. Why? Why must he be Russian? Because he was in the original? But that's baloney, because Sulu, played by a Japanese-American actor in the original, is here played by a Korean-American actor. So why couldn't the Chekhov character be of, say, Nigerian ancestry? Or Brazilian? Or Indonesian? Why does he have to be the same, but we can switch out the Asian dude?

If they really meant to reboot the series, why not do a film about the Young'ns and show them in their first positions in a way that reflects actual circumstances? No way Young Kirk gets his ship at the end, even if he was a battlefield captain (which aspect one could believe). He might get an early promotion to Lt. for his battlefield heroics, but command of the flagship? This is just ridiculous. I could enjoy a trilogy of films in the vein of, say, Hornblower, where we see the Handsome Young Cast make their way up through the ranks more quickly than one normally would due to the exigencies of, say, war. But no. The essentialism of the subtext remains: Kirk must be captain. Spock must resign his captainship and gladly accept his subordinate position for reasons that make no logical sense if you examine them for even one instant. Uhura must wear short skirts, because, um, it's a homage to the original--yeah, that's the ticket--even if we throw a scrap to the dogs of the 21st century by suggesting she has Special Linguistic Powers (which we are only ever told of but don't actually see except in kind of passing like).

Females. Let me see. Two mothers, one useless and absent. The other, played as a middle aged woman by an under 40 who is aged to fit the role, has no personality and no point except to die. And Uhura, who is gamely given Special Powers but who doesn't actually really get to use them because she is more important to the plot as a love interest. The Orion girl offered a flash of interest, a moment of turnabout as fair play, but there was, naturally, no followup on her. Otherwise, any female roles were strictly incidental background filler. Pass the Bechdel Test? No, not really. It could have so easily.

What did I like?

I do like Zoe Saldana and if a sequel is made, which I expect it will be, I would hope she actually gets to do something.

Chris Pine was good as Young Kirk, I thought; he has real screen presence.

Eric Bana.,in a thankless role as a villain so bland and pointless that he was the filmic equivalent of gruel, was certainly handsome to look at. But how is it that the sole surviving Romulans were all white males between the ages of 20 and 40? How weirdly coincidental is that, eh?

Simon Pegg was good but really had little chance to do anything.

The special effects were nice but they didn't really matter. They didn't act to enhance the story. And, honestly, the action sequences struck me as pedestrian, and the couple of fight scenes downright lame. Can they not hire someone from Hong Kong to choreograph the fight scenes?



You know what? I really love skiffy action adventure films, but these days they strike me as so poorly written and structured that it is quite depressing. It is possible to make a great action film with characters whose character matters to how the plot unwinds. This isn't it.

UPDATED TO ADD:

I was in the theater on a Sunday night with a large crowd, and I was pleased to see the numbers. I hope the film does really well, even if I didn't love it, because the success of big ticket sf films means there will be more, and that seems like a good thing to me.
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I think the reboot factor is that the planet Vulcan is destroyed, thereby negating almost every aspect of the original series. Very little that happened in TOS or the orignal movies will now be able to happen, because history has been changed. Spock's father as Vulcan ambassador? The Pon Fahr (sp?) episode? ST III, The Return of Spock? Nope, none of that's gonna happen now. Essentially, this movie wipes out the ENTIRE original series and movies.

While I agree with your overall analysis, I still thought the film was fun, though of the cotton candy sort. I certainly didn't take it seriously. Sadly, I'm prone to motion-sickness and actually had to keep my eyes closed through most of the film. But I still enjoyed myself.

Oh dear on the motion sickness. I've had this sort of trouble with having to stare at the floor for large portions of action films or to actually leave the auditorium for a while.

Thanks for the warning. I may be rethinking how necessary it is for me to see this movie in a theater.

I too cannot watch films that cause motion sickness on a large screen. After reading Kate's analysis, I can wait for the DVD with no trouble.

They destroyed Vulcan? Was there any point to that other than "see, it -is- different!"

That's the trouble. No, there is no other point. Not in story terms.

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Oh, I didn't mind the Uhura-Spock thing (although I did not think it was well developed and written). I just felt that once she was outed as a love interest, she stopped doing anything else of interest in the plot. In fact, her point in the plot is almost exclusively interactions with Kirk or Spock, but since the film is a Kirk/Spock film, I guess that's true of all the second tier characters.

Chekhov could have been a girl, yeah.

The reboot worked for me. I knew a planet got blown up in the film, but didn't realize it would be Vulcan, or that they wouldn't pull some last-minute time travel shenanigan to get it back into place. At that point the story started to feel truly fresh for me, because we were seeing Butterfly Effect ripples -- no more "Oh, he'll be fine, he survives to meet Khan in movie 2", because now anything goes. I liked that.

I don't think they could've gotten away with a BSG-style reboot, though. The original BSG was too cheesy to retain; it worked in spite of itself, not because of any intrinsic quality. But the original Star Trek was actually good. Didn't have the old BSG's special effects, but had much better writing -- even cliched and method-acted as it was. So I wouldn't've wanted the characters changed too much. I was actually pleased to see the Russian kid -- we still do have a kind of cold war going on with Putin right now. And I didn't mind the new guy playing Sulu, though I also noticed he was Korean. I think that was a nod to Roddenberry's weird old insistence that Sulu represent the entire Far East as a pan-Asian (which was why he was supposed to be Japanese and Filipino by ethnicity though he was played by a pure Japanese American guy, fought using Chinese fencing, and was from San Francisco, arguably the most Asian city in the US at the time -- though I think NYC might top it now). Dunno.

Ditto you on the non-Bechdelness of the story, the silliness of Winona Ryder playing a woman who's supposed to be in her sixties (or so) and WTF happened to Kirk's mother that he grew up like that?? I don't generally advocate spanking, but clearly a few beatings would've done Young Kirk some good. >_<

I'd kind of wanted them to hook Judi Densch as Spock's mom, but I guess the ages wouldn't've worked.

My main quibble with the film was that the action was so frenetic I sometimes didn't know what was going on. For example, why the heck was young Kirk stealing somebody's car? Whose car was it? Why should we care?

Also, Eric Bana needs a facial. Poor guy's skin is terrible.

When young Kirk is in the stolen car and takes the phone call from the owner of the car, the gist of the diatribe is "Your mother left you with us to take care of you, and you'll behave yourself in our house, young man!" I assumed Mom was off doing scientific work or something, and Kirk was being raised by relatives.

I think it is reasonable of the filmmakers to want to do an "alternate universe" style reboot of Trek.

What bothered me most was that they blithely destroyed Vulcan (I don't care about Vulcan one way or the other, because our concern for Vulcan is never set up *in the film*--it's an artifact of our prior relationship with the universe) to reboot (6 million people! obliterated! easy and cheap!) but they could not reboot the characters in any meaningful way except to introduce the love angle between Uhura and Spock (which I found intriguing but poorly handled). That's why, I guess, it didn't feel like a reboot to me.

Yeah - the Young Young Kirk stealing the car thing was so out of the blue, as with other action sequences. They needed a choreographer or something. The thing with Young Young Kirk would have worked had we been given even a glimpse of his home life before he tears off with the car (it could also have explained the vanishing mother).

Yeah, I loved it with lots of love. I love the AU reboot . Leaves the original series intact, with its timeline. Gives us a new timeline to play with. We have cake and we're eating it. Yay!

I think the car belonged to his stepfather.

I'm am always glad when skiffy movies do well at the box office. There cannot be enough skiffy movies!

One thing we need to remember: Hollywood is not interested in character driven plot these days. It's never been much for character driven plot, come to think of it, not in the silents, not in the heyday of the studios, and certainly not in today's financial-backer system.

Character moments take up time that should be spent on explosions, is the message I get from most "big" films these days. :-)

Blowing up a planet -- well, they did it in ST 3, the "search for Spock." And of course, Star Wars blew up a planet. Perhaps it's become a theme.

I have recently seen several action films whose characterization was so bad that - I can't describe it.

Actually, the recent DEATH RACE remake was in some ways better, first because it has the awesome Jason Statham, who just *is* because his physical aspect is so kinetic that it is like he was made to be an action film star, but because it makes no bones about everyone in the flick being types running through their frenetic paces.

If they wanted to replicate the edginess of Chekhov on the bridge, they would have made the character Iranian this time around. Or maybe steal a page from Poul Anderson and make him a citizen of the Arab-Israeli Republic, a unified state comprising all the regions now comprised of the Middle East, where Jews and Moslems live in peace. He's half-Jewish, half-Arab, and insanely proud of both heritages. No, *she's* half-Jewish, half-Moslem, etc. etc. That'd piss off all the right people.

Robert A. Heinlein also did a story about a kid given a battlefield promotion to captain of a large starship -- welll, it wasn't actually a battlefield, but rather a disaster befell the ship. Heinlein, an Annapolis grad, knew how that would work out in real life; at the end of the story, the kid is an ensign on another starship. But it's a good assignment, his jacket contains a note that he served with valor, the senior officers who made him captain are now his mentors, and it's all around a satisfying and happy ending.

I argued elsewhere that Kirk never really had to work for anything, or make any hard choices. He gets what he wants by exercising insubordination and wisecracking, and because he's the son of a hero and the alter ego, in another timeline, of another hero. This is really Spock's movie -- Spock is the one who suffers and has to make hard choices.

As long as we're putting a contemporary feminist spin on the movie: The Orion female actually seemed to be a competent woman who enjoyed sex. Did she have to be shuffled off the screen so quickly? At first I thought she was a potentially interesting character only because of my lecherous malehood, but maybe she was *actually* potentially interesting.

Like teriegarrison, I agree with your overall analysis, but I enjoyed the movie a good deal anyway.

I did like the Uhura-Spock romance, although I also agree that Uhura was underutilized.

Kirk was a juvenile delinquent. I think the idea of Kirk having been a juvenile delinquent as a boy could have been terrific, as we watched him learn discipline and the proper place for authority. "An Officer And A Gentleman, In Space." But that would have been a completely different movie.

Heh. My sons made the same observation about using an Arab-Israeli thing.

I was really really bothered by how the famous Kobayashi Maru incident was handled. It does not make him seem special or competent; it just makes him look like a cheat.

And I totally agree that they could have done something with the Orion female, that could be really feminist (she had one great line about the "guys" she had brought back--and there was a potential for a female friendship but . . . no). Maybe they'll bring her back for the second volume?

I have to say, after reflection (see also comment in reply to Kit's comment above), that as far as action flicks go, I actually like the Jason Statham remake of DEATH RACE (cheesy as it was) better. Of course, I am a total Jason Statham fangirl, so ymmv.

Exactly so on Kobayashi Maru -- an essential element of the K-M the first time around (if I remember correctly) was that Kirk himself did the reprogramming. *This* time around, we don't show how he cheated -- maybe he just paid off another kid to do it.

I think that's too completely different situations -- if he did the work of hacking the system himself, versus getting someone else to do it.

When the Vulcan ensign finds out that Kirk reprogrammed the KM scenario, she calls it cheating right out, and she's correct. His only answer is "I don't like to lose."

I don't remember any of that. In that case, then, this movie follows that script pretty well. The only thing is that they don't show him doing anything; it's already done, and we are left to assume, I guess, that he did the reprogramming.

It's in the movie that begins with the KM scenario and the young ensign, a Vulcan woman, in the captain's chair. I think it's 2, "The Wrath of Khan".

I think Karen's "having our cake and eating it too" is exactly what the filmmakers were after -- the cash brought in by the old characters, and then the freedom to go making movies with different plots than the old ones, but the same characters.

As long as people enjoy it, what the hell, I guess. But I wonder how readers would react if Tolkien's grandson, say, rewrote the RINGS with the same characters but a different Evil Artefact and some other difference -- say with elves who'd gone over to Sauron. I'll wager there'd be scorn heaped all round. :-)

I think Trek has become folkloric by now - what with five series, 11 movies (or however many there've been) and gigabytes of fan fiction, they're in the popular consciousness as characters whom we're free to revise and make up new stories about, like Robin Hood or James Bond. The same isn't true of LoTR.

You make a good point. The Tolkien estate knows what it has and has clutched it to its collective breast.

TREK started on TV, which is a collective enterprise anyway. Although there's also a whole shelf of novelizations, they came later, so there's no Sacred Text.

I enjoyed the new ST film while watching it, but left muttering "If they do ONE MORE time-travel-alternate-universe-change-the-past story I will SCREAM!" It was gorgeously done in CITY OF THE EDGE OF FOREVER, salughtered in the Next Generation/DS9/Voyager series, and resurrected only to be killed again in the movies.

I thought the pace of the story was fast and therefore kept it fun, they set up Kirk as an adrenalin junkie very well, Scotty was funny, and the overall look was interesting.

The kvetches...

What the HELL is all that camera-waving supposed to accomplish? Nausea?

Not enough risks taken - why not suck the Enterprise into the black hole and they have to deal with wherever/whenever they end up next time? Why not have Spock as captain and Kirk as first officer? Too much care taken to make sure everyone re-created the original actors' body language, speech, etc., not enough care taken to make them interesting. For example, the actor playing Spock had the right look, but his voice! Compared to the rich timbre of Nimoy's voice? Augh! Better to choose an actor who has a rich voice, imho.

The original cast all had legit theater training, which is possibly why the Young People think TOS is "overacted" or "corny". :-) But there's nothing like theater training to develop an actor's voice. The movies and TV only set don't have to worry about it, and it shows in the poor timbre just as you say, Darcy. Even in the clips I've seen on various movie reviews on TV, you can only think, "that doesn't sound like Spock!"

He sure doesn't sound like Spock. Sigh. Voice training ought to be mandatory.

He was, I thought, the weakest of the new characters. ymmv

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