Star Trek

19 05 2010

“Space: the final frontier…”

So goes the opening monologue for each episode of Star Trek (1966-69), a TV series that paved the way for every serious science fiction series in its wake. And yet, for a show that was so fresh and innovative at the time, its brand has become stale and repetitive over the years, turning into a shadow of its former self.

Enter the cinematic reboot Star Trek (2009), an attempt to revitalise the franchise some 43 years after its debut. Helmed by J.J. Abrams (the man behind Alias (2001-2006) and Lost (2004-2010)) and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who also brought us The Island (2005) and Transformers (2007)), this is obviously not going to be deep or thought-provoking. With those names behind it, you can bet on things being fairly fun, however, at the very least.

The approach taken seems to be akin to recent Marvel origin films such as X-Men (2000) and Spider-man (2002): keep the fans happy while playing-up the novelty of seeing familiar characters meeting, all while adopting a light and breezy tone. And then throw in a few curve-balls to shake things up a bit.

And for what it is, Star Trek is quite entertaining and pleasant while it lasts, but it has an evaporating quality—it’s a totally forgettable experience. Furthermore, inconsistencies, contrivances and ignored plot points bubble to the surface after any kind of serious consideration. Why did they need to skydive at one point when they could have just beamed-down? (In-story answer: because the transporter was disabled; real answer: because it looked cool and added an element of danger.) Where was bad-guy Nero (Eric Bana) for 20-odd years between when we first see him and when he finally reappears? (Answer: in a sequence on the cutting-room floor.)

As a bonus, this is now the second Star Trek movie in a row to attempt to ape elements from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Of course, here Bana as Nero has pretty much nothing to do except look menacing over a viewscreen, and the brain bug that eventually pops up is never mentioned again, but at least they were trying.

The casting is surprisingly solid, however, considering that this could have easily been “Star Trek Babies” instead. Karl Urban in particular seems to inhabit the character of “Bones” McCoy, while Zachary Quinto plays Spock a bit like Dexter Morgan, which maybe isn’t so off-base after all.

In the end, the two main complaints I have of the film both involve pandering to the fanbase. Firstly, it seems that each character must say their respective catchphrase at least once. Secondly, a convoluted time-travel plot is included in order to please the continuity police by creating a new timeline—not only is this a reboot, it’s also a sequel and an alterna-prequel, all at the same time.  Neither of these features are necessary, and in fact they act as distractions, turning the film more into meta-Trek than a Star Trek film proper.

Nitpicks aside, it’s a fun, if frivolous, couple of hours. This Star Trek is for both the masses and the fans, and it’s competent as a science fiction/action extravaganza. Hopefully the sequel will attempt to do something new rather than simply jazzing-up former glories. Will they go where no one has gone before? We’ll see.

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