Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Trek: Reboot

This will be a rather random review--today I'm too tired to think in coherent sequences. There will be minor spoilers embedded along the way, but nothing major (unless you've been living in a hole for the last year, in which case don't read this, go get treatment).

The bottom line: awesome, whether you're a fan or not. Go see it.

The very first thing that struck me was that Star Trek: Reboot steals from/pays hommage to, just about every visual skiffy trope of the last twenty years. The spaceships, space battles, wormholes, explosions, time travel etc--nod to design elements from Babylon 5, Firefly, Star Wars, Starship Troopers, Battlestar Galactica, and many more. They take the hallowed Star Trek building blocks--the Enterprise, transporter beams, phasers--and update them brilliantly. I don't mean 'pretty well' I mean fucking brilliantly. The FX are cooler, the colours and textures are sleeker, the sounds are particularly convincing, and it all feels like the future--but it's still, very much, Star Trek. Hats off to the production designers, set and costumer people, the sound editors and foley artists, the FX geeks, the...well, everyone.

So, within a few seconds I knew the film was going to look and sound awesome all the way through; a practically perfect update of technology for the next next generation.

The cultural updates were also pretty good though the portrayal of women was, sadly, underpar (more on that later). The thing that always bothered me about old style SF was the privileging of rationality over emotion, the whole mind/body dichotomy. (See my essay, Writing from the Body, for more on this.) Star Trek was a prime offender: everything positive was was clean, machined, and logical. The Vulcans (held up as role models for less evolved humans) espoused the excision of emotion; pon farr was something to be ashamed of. The new creative team threw all that out. Or at least tweaked it severely. The message we get throughout the film is that passion is a Good Thing. If you feel, if you take emotional risks, you win. (Winning, of course, is a Very Good Thing.)

So, for example, when Spock-Nimoy comes back through time he encourages the friendship between Spock-Quinto and Kirk because their friendship will (I'm paraphrasing) be the thing that defines them both. That's a strong statement: a relationship between two people which will be the most important thing in their lives, that will shape their development and destiny. The K/S shippers must have been swooning. I was delighted for them. Plus, friendship is a powerful force, and it's just plain pleasing to see one set out for future franchise development. The creative team made a very smart choice, I think, in having the career trajectory/action hero role belong to Kirk and the emotional arc belong to Spock. Lots (lots) of room to play there.

So, the women. The first female character we see gets blown out into space during a battle, and dies. The next has a baby--Kirk--and is never seen again. The next also has a baby, Spock, and does nothing but tell him she loves him, then dies. (And, hello, she's played by Winona Rider who is only 37; Zachary Quinto, her movie son, is 31. But we all know about the weirdness of Hollywood gender crap; I won't rehash here.) The next woman is Uhura. She gets to be fought over in a bar, then watched while she takes her clothes off--though she does get to translate something at some point--and then is the object of a main character's affection. She also wears mini-skirts and boots. In other words, although there are is no egregious misogyny, if you want strong women, watch something else. Eh, one day someone will write Aud in Space, but today is not that day.

This is a story about boys and men--about their rivalries, hierachies, and friendships. And it's a blast.

The creative team, through the time travel device, have simply wiped the board of the canon. The world of Star Trek is now officially off the reservation. It can go anywhere and do anything--and yet the kernel of its appeal, the essential righteousness of Kirk and Spock, and the strength of their friendship, is rich and ready.

This will be a fertile franchise. And therein lie my main quibbles with the film (if you ignore the hand-waving time travel thing, and the cardboard badguy*, and the movie shorthand**). Every now and again, some action sequence would go on too long, to no apparent purpose but to lay the foundations for various video games (hello ice planet, hello Scottie shoots through the tubes). It was a little tedious, but I understand the commercial impulse.

There were a handful of minor slip-ups. (For example, Kirk at the end: "You got it!" was the wrong tone; I think "Fine [shrug]" would have been better. Scotty's alien friend was handled badly, etc.) But I really enjoyed this film. There are some real woo-hoo! moments. Superior entertainment. Go see it.

* Eric Bana did a good job with a thankless role. 'You killed my planet, now I'll kill yours! While you watch!'
** Two examples: the fleet is busy, fill the new flagship with cadets! And Yeah, we're off on a voyage without a 1st officer, release the parking brake--oh wait! here's a guy right now who will do!
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