May 10th, 2009


Star Trek

Wow, who knew Star Trek could actually be fun?

Well, to be fair, I knew it back when I was in high school and would catch reruns of the original series every midnight on WPIX Channel 11. The alien skies were always red, and there were monsters (the Mugatu!) and lots of sex and humor and crazy shit like a planet full of 1920s gangsters. But the fun disappeared fast with The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. Everything was treated overly seriously on those shows, and none of the characters were allowed to react like actual people with actual emotions. We always saw "The woman I love is dead, but I will do my duty and man the helm," never "Aaaaaaa! They killed her, those bastards!" Guess which reaction actually makes for better drama? And right there was always the problem with the Rick Berman era of Star Trek. Well, that and the fact that the few instances of humor allowed on the show usually came from someone making a joke or saying something slightly sexual and then being stared at incredulously by the other characters (they do this a lot on CSI too, I've noticed). J.J. Abrams' movie is a return to the fun, anything goes atmosphere of the original series, and as such it's a breath of fresh air for the franchise.

I know Star Trek is supposed to be about Kirk and Spock, and the movie does its darnedest to be that way, but Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy walks away with every scene he's in. He steals the movie by becoming inhabited by the spirit of DeForest Kelley so completely that you can't help but wait with eager excitement for his next scene. Simon Pegg as Scotty very nearly steals the movie too, with every one of his scenes turning into comic relief. He does a great job, but doesn't get as much screen time as Urban.

Another very cool thing about Star Trek is that it's actually three kinds of movies at once. It's a sequel to the last movie, Nemesis; it's an origin story; and it's a complete reboot that tells the audience that what they think they know of Star Trek continuity no longer applies. This mixture of the three is done rather cleverly through the plot, which, oddly, deals with many of the same themes that Abrams' Lost is also currently dealing with. The movie blows up a planet extremely important to Trek mythology and kills off a character you remember as being around both for the original series and beyond, essentially flipping the bird at the audience's built-in sense of expectation and inevitability, and saying, "The rules no longer apply." And I liked that. A lot.

The movie is just damn fun, especially for fans of the original series. I even giggled when they showed Captain Pike in a wheelchair at the end of the movie, then immediately felt guilty for giggling at someone for being in a wheelchair, but you get the idea. It's clever with its nods to being an origin story -- Kirk gets it on with a green girl! someone in a red shirt dies! -- but not so overly obsessed with being one that you can't get sucked into the plot too, which involves Romulans and "red matter" and black holes and Spock's ridiculous-looking spaceship. But really, go see it for Karl Urban's McCoy and Simon Pegg's Scotty. Zachary Quinto does a fine job as Spock -- you do manage to forget he's also Sylar, and very quickly -- and Chris Pine is a passable Kirk, but it's McCoy and Scotty all the way for me. If I ran Hollywood, they'd already be working on their own spinoff.