Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek, Reviewed (no spoilers)

(Well, no spoilers except minor framing plot details that were already discussed by the NYT and Slate)

My initial reaction: IT WAS AWESOME.

My secondary reaction: Except for the parts that were not!

Yes, the action can be a little schlocky. An extended scene where Kirk has to be separated from the Enterprise to meet Old Spock seemed nonsensical and unnecessary and dude, writers, you could not figure out another way around this problem? The use of portentous opera music was heavy handed. The beginning Hamlet/Lion King-esque scene in which Kirk's birth is matched in time by the simultaneous death of his father so that he can grow up with a huge chip on his shoulder and the burden of destiny is just so...overdone. It has some gaping plot holes, and a central plot device is something that doesn't exist in the current understanding of physics and is not explained in the movie.

But it was AWESOME.

I was super excited by the movie and sat on the edge of my seat and got so worked up I had to take off my jacket and scarf (it was night, people, and air conditioning makes me cold). The time-travel plot device worked well. If a movie can't compare favorably to time-traveling episodes in Star Trek history (many of which were excellent: the one with Kirk and Joan Collins, the "All Good Things" series finale of TNG), then what's the point? Fear not, fans: the time travel plot worked really well. I was mildly disappointed by the gratuitously short mini skirts the female cadets and officers were forced to wear (seriously, WTF, IBTP). But I made up for that by turning my objectifying female gaze on Zachary Quinto, a smoking hot young Spock. Chris Pine as Kirk was appropriately boyish (with a very boyish voice), daredevilly, and sort of like a genius frat boy with too much to prove and too high a drinking limit. But he was very cute, so if illogical and brash is your thing, then more power to you. They are all very likable and empathetic characters, and you get to be on their side, and you totally otherize and demonize the evil and genocidal Romulans (who have tattos, making them easier to otherize, causing you to do an autoethnography at your own xenophobia). Oh, and that Novikov self-consistency rule/grandfather paradox of time travel is summarily dismissed, which is nice. Because it's super annoying, and serves only to stroke the beards of fan boys who fancy themselves armchair philosophers and allow the script writers to do two parallel plots as if they were getting paid by word.

This is not a useful review, I admit. I don't want to reveal any spoilers not already reported in national media reviews. I figure, if you're reading this, you know Star Trek, and can understand it when I say "not as good as Wrath of Khan." Well, a bit unfair to compare it to the old movies. Yes, I know it's based on the original series, but as a ploy to jumpstart a dying franchise, it would be best to compare it to the most recent Star Trek As An Action Movie type movies starring the cast of The Next Generation, or the crew of the NCC-1701D. So, it's wayyy better than Insurrection and Generations, a fair amount better than Insurrection, and comparable (if not better than, gasp) First Contact.

Again, sorry for the not-useful review. Go ahead and comment, with spoilers if you wish, more useful reviews. But I generally think that a review of any fan boy movie will be limited. The problem with things with a fan base (like Star Trek) is that the fans come in just different stripes of fervent--the purists too devoted to The Canon and thus likely to be too critical of any endeavor; or the grateful mildly obsessive fans (like me) who are generally so happy to see some new incarnation of their Most Favorite Thing Ever that they are way too forgiving of the flaws and thus express too much enthusiasm in the reviews to be useful. Hence, "it was awesome! except for the part that was not!" So it's hard to find a detached, objective, "useful" review from a fan. But the problem is, critics and mildly interested non-fans just don't get it. Those reviews are usually frustrating to me. I usually enjoy movie reviews as either good/bad exercises of criticism and analysis (although my favorite remains James Agee's review of You Were Meant For Me: "That's what you think"), but occasionally, when I'm reading a review of something I know and care about, I get into fits of irrational rage: "what do you mean, starting off this review stating that "you were never a fan" or "you never saw the original/don't know the canon"?! Then the review sounds ignorant to me and feels useless: I need comparisons to things that I know matter! "Is it better than The Wrath of Khan? How different is it from the original?" It's irrational, because I blithely read reviews of movies based on books and don't think it's necessary that the reviewer read the original work, for example.

Anyway, from one Star Trek fan to another, I would recommend it, with the reservation that: yes, it will have plot holes that make no sense and exaggerations that are eye-rolling, but ALL Star Trek episodes/movies have suffered from that, including stuff that defies the laws of physics. (Oh come on, like you know how inertial dampeners or Heisenberg converters would work.) What it does well, it does really, really well. The actors are competent, and believably expressive. The action-packed plot is really enjoyable. You will love seeing things blown up, and you will love the fight scenes. You will love seeing good looking people be awesome and good-looking (especially Harold/Sulu/John Cho and the aforementioned Zachary Quinto and the mini-skirted Zoe Saldana/Uhura). Simon Pegg/Scotty is delightful. You will want a sequel, and that's more than you can say about most things (cough Crank cough).

My only other disappointment is that I left my comm badge at my parents' house, and I forgot to wear my "live long and prosper" hand sign pin to the movie.