Posted by: gaiusc | 12 May, 2009

Star Trek: the JJ/Spock show

Let me pre-face this blog by saying that I’m a (very) casual fan of the Next Generation series. I’ve seen all the films but it’s partly down to the fact that I see lots of films. I don’t think I’ve ever watched the original series. I watched the Voyager series sporadically (did it really run for seven series?) but I was more interested in Seven of Nine than the storylines! Suffice to say that I’m not a rabid fan of the series so I couldn’t give a hoot if JJ Abrams added 20 new races, combined others and made numerous Klingon grammatical errors. I just wanted to see a decent film and the good news is that he’s delivered and then some.

It all starts off in the early days of Star Trek lore with the very early arrival of the baddie (a somewhat underused but effective Eric Bana) and the birth of one central character. Right away, this flags that the film deviates significantly from previous canon and it’s not all that much of a spoiler to say that time travel plays a major role in this film and rebooting the Star Trek franchise.

One by one, the central characters are introduced and I guarantee you’ll smile when an adult Spock makes his first appearance. Quinto is a revelation in the role, combining force of personality with a quite winning vulnerability. He dominates the film but it’s not just his show. Karl Urban as Bones is especially effective and special mention needs to be made of Chris Pine’s performance as Kirk. He nails the cocky, know-it-all personality without going down the dangerous path of aping Shat-ner’s speech patt-erns or worse, testing the patience of the audience. Perhaps the only (minor) disappointment is Simon Pegg’s Scotty, who is played too much for cheap laughs. That said, fans of Spaced will appreciate the irony of Pegg being in a “good even numbered Star Trek film”. Uhuru works hard with her limited role and will almost certainly get more screentime in future installments. Her wardrobe certainly can’t get much smaller than it already is. Chekov gets one good giggle when the starship computer but his role in this is relatively minor. Likewise Sulu. Another performance of note is Bruce Greenwood’s dignified Captain Pike who adds some gravitas to what otherwise would be a Boys Own adventure.

SPOILER
It was nice to see Leonard Nimoy make a welcome return to the screen. I had deliberately avoided all articles about the film beforehand so it was a genuine (and very pleasant) surprise to see the original Spock make a welcome return to the big screen. It also serves as a fascinating contrast with his younger self and Quinto laps up this god-sent opportunity to make the part his own.
END SPOILER

In terms of big screen spectacle, the film doesn’t disappoint. Abrams is smart enough to give nostalgia it’s due with some stunning shots of the Enterprise. Wisely, he doesn’t degrade the eye candy by going for the retro look of the original series or Voyager and instead makes the ship look as “modern” as possible. The scene with the black hole destruction (you’ll know it when you see it) is possibly one of the most beautifully bleak you’ll see all year.

Now to story and the one glaring fault with the film. For all the delirious action on screen and the clever script, the lack of “big ideas” is something of a failing for a sci-fi film. “Red matter” is a fine MacGuffin but that’s really all it is. Outside of the time travel issues and the smartly written character stories, there’s not a lot else going on. This isn’t a critical failing in a film that has brought an ailing franchise back from the dead. It’s more of a “must do better” footnote on what is otherwise a tour de force from JJ Abrams, his writing team and his cast.

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