Thursday, April 16, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Next Generation

Down into town today to see a preview showing of the new Star Trek film, the eleventh, and a major reboot of the series. I've always had a soft spot for the original flavour Star Trek - along with Doctor Who and Thunderbirds, it was an important part of my media landscape when I was growing up. So I was relieved to discover that the reboot dutifully hit all the major nostalgia points while cleverly subverting its predecessors.

The plot involves time-travel, branching universes, and the usual one-dimensional villain (a rogue Romulan called Nero - presumably because he burns down the Rome of the old franchise). Eager to avenge the death of his wife and his planet, Nero attacks a Federation starship and leaves Kirk growing up to be 'a genius-level repeat offender' without a father or any particular direction until he meets up with Uhuru and Captain Pike and joins Star Fleet Academy. So in one stroke, things are changed forever; the previous ten films and six TV series are consigned to the dustbin of an alternate history. Kirk and Spock first cross blades when Kirk is suspended after breaking the rules by reprogramming the famous Kobayashi Maru test. When a crisis looms and the fleet is dispatched, fellow cadet Leonard McCoy sneaks Kirk aboard the Enterprise, and thereafter the tearaway Kirk begins to explore his potential and exert his authority.

The heart of the original Star Trek was the friendship between Kirk and Spock, and both Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) convey the storied essence of their characters while bringing some subtle variations into the mix. The ensemble of supporting characters is pretty good too: Zoe Sanatana's Uhuru has more to do than answer the phone; Karl Urban is a very credible McCoy; Simon Pegg successfully plays a broadly comical Scotty. There are plenty of iconic moments to please the fans; the plot is reliably daft and full of holes; the physics is as dodgy as ever; an ice planet features the usual monsters with no ecological rational. State-of-the-art SFX renders the space battles dizzyingly kinetic, and with a lot of story and introductions to pack into a little over two hours the pace is often frenetic. There's a short scene when we track a hapless crew member who's sucked out of an exploding corridor into the vacuum of space, and the view expands to take in other drifting bodies in sudden silence; a few more moments like that would have been nice. And it would good, too, if we could finally get away from the plot cliche in which the hero has to prove himself worthy of his father - in Kirk's case, not only his dead father, but the father-figure of Captain Pike, and the uber-father of the Academy. Been there, done that, got the Starship Troopers T-shirt.

But despite the cliches and Bad Science, there's a lot more wit and sass in this space operatic reboot than in most of its too-often ponderous predecessors, and you're left with a sense that the franchise is ready to head off into new and unexpected directions. And also, in my case, having seen Winona Ryder play Spock's mother, feeling rather old.


Anonymous ~M said...

And also, in my case, having seen Winona Ryder play Spock's mother, feeling rather old.Oh.

Oh wow. Oh dear, that IS rather sobering.

I wasn't sure about seeing this, having, like yourself, a real soft spot for old Star Trek, but your review makes it sound more interesting and entertaining than I had previously thought. Guess I'll give it a go now!

April 17, 2009 9:35 am  
Anonymous Liz Hand said...

Now I can come out of the closet as well -- I loved the original Star Trek as a kid, and occasionally watch it now as video comfort food. But Winona Rider as Spock's mother? Who plays dad?

April 20, 2009 1:26 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Ben Cross plays Sarek; does the stern and dignified thing very well, but in a crowded film he doesn't have much more to do than that.

April 20, 2009 5:57 pm  

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