Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thoughts on 'Star Trek'

Hi everyone! Recently on the weekend I had the opportunity to view the new "Star Trek" film, the 11th film in the movie franchise. I would like to share some thoughts on the film itself, as well as my personal 'Star Trek' history.

I can't recall exactly when I begin watching Star Trek, though a few clues I do remember help me to narrow it down. The first Trek I remember watching clearly is Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the first episode I can remember clearly is the one where Data begins to dream (Birthright, which also happened to be a DS9 crossover). This episode aired in 1993, the same year that a new broadcast station called MITV (later, Global) came to my hometown which aired The Next Generation (we did not have cable television and watched three over-the-air broadcast signals), which helps me pin this year down as my first 'real' exposure to it, at the age of 7 years old. I was immediately attracted to it, and continued to watch the newest episodes until its conclusion in 1994. I have clear memories of watching the TNG finale episode with my brother, something which was very exciting. The following year (1995), I watched the series premiere of Star Trek: Voyager and I think around that time (or earlier) I started watching DS9. I remember that both DS9 and Voyager aired consecutively on Saturday nights at 7 and 8 pm. I watched both of them until their finales, and reruns of TNG were aired Saturday afternoon at 4 and 5 pm, which helped me get caught up on earlier episodes. The Original Series also aired on CBC on Saturday's at 3:00pm which I watched too. Yep, that pretty much means at one point every Saturday I would watch 5 hours of Star Trek. I was quite happy. Anyway, coincidentally in 1995 another of my favorite programs began to air called Sliders. But more on that later, suffice it to say it would around this time my love of the science fiction/fantasy genre (as I also started watching Hercules and Xena around that time) which today continues to be a 'staple' so to speak of my life.

Back to the matter at hand, I consider myself a fairly involved fan of the franchise, buying (and building out of wood) my own Federation starships, toys and action figures, posting on forums and rewatching episodes many times. I even once had a homemade visor so I could be Geordi for Halloween. I'm certain there are bigger fans then I, but I have a broad range of knowledge across all five series and ten movies whereas other people may be more limited to subset. Admittedly, I was not a huge fan of Star Trek: Nemesis. I liked it for sure, but judging that I have only seen it a small handful of times (compared to the many times for the other TNG films at least) it just didn't seem to have as much draw as the other films. I was excited for the eleventh film as soon I heard it was in production, though like many fans I think, most of my hopes were for a DS9/Voyager film.

I think it was in the first year of university I heard the dreaded news: Trek 11 was a prequel. A prequel? You mean like Enterprise? I stopped watching Enterprise towards the end of season two, I certainly didn't hate it, it just wasn't holding my interest (I've since watched the remaining season 3 and 4 and was vastly enjoyed them). But I digress: I wasn't thrilled about the idea of seeing characters from the original series played by new actors in an story line that I suspected wasn't going to feel very 'Star Trek'. But, unlike some other fans, I committed myself to reserving judgment until I'd actually seen the film. Time past and I'd gleam a piece of information here or there, but knowledge was few and far between. Then I saw the first teaser trailer depicting the Enterprise construction and heard Leonard Nimoy's monologue and hope began to stir a new. That scene just looked so cool...maybe they could do this after all? If Leonard Nimoy was onboard (as other news sources had suggested) we might just be going somewhere. The subsequent trailers also raised hope that the movie wouldn't just plain suck, but I still had my reservations. There was one question I just couldn't seem to answer: was it going to be a complete reboot of the franchise (that is changing continuity) or not? I couldn't think of how it could be anything but. I then started to think that 'Star Trek' would be a good movie, just not a good Star Trek movie.

I was correct on the first thought. I was wrong on the second. From here I'll say this: some spoilers *are* ahead but I'll try to keep them to a minimum. I encourage you to see the film first. In a nutshell (I am fond of nutshells, btw), I was blown away by just how damn good of a movie, and of a Star Trek film, this just really was. Now granted these are initial opinions, I can't guarantee my thoughts won't change, at least a little, on subsequent re-watchings. First of all, those worried about changing continuity (as I was) need fear not. 'Star Trek' simply takes place in an alternate timeline/reality (read: parallel universe). In fact, some of my favorite Star Trek episodes involve parallel universes (TNG: Parallels, Voy: Timeless, Ent: In a Mirror, Darkly) so its not surprising that such a story line would immediately attract me (could also have something to do with the aforementioned love of Sliders). I largely judged most works of fiction on two principles: story and line and realistic characters. I enjoy other things as well like special effects (if a movie or TV series) and a decent interpretation of science being used, but these are secondary to telling a good story. Star Trek delivers that in abundance. I found myself relating to these characters almost immediately, and was engrossed in what happened to them. Since it's an alternate reality, you don't know how everything is going to turn out after the film, so really anything can happen. It also shows a very interesting side of Kirk, and answers a "What If?" question (that parallel universe stores are famous for), how might he have grown up without the influence of his father? Now, admittedly, my experience with TOS is not nearly as abundant as my experience with the latter series, so some of the conclusions/analogies I draw might have flaws. Now, the Kirk from the movie shares many of the same characteristics as the original Kirk, but he's not quite the same: he's less controlled then the original Kirk, which I would attribute to not having the experience of his father. I was impressed with just how well that idea worked out. I think Spock's history, on the other hand, is largely unaffected by the alternate reality so much of it is probably still applicable to the original Spock. There was one issue I had here: the other Vulcan's "teasing" Spock for being half human didn't seem very Vulcan-like. I can see them acting superior to him, even excluding him, but outright trying to provoke him? I thought it was odd...but it did set up a very important part of the film later. I loved seeing the Kirk/Spock first meeting at Kirk's hearing for the Kobayashi Maru "solution" (something we heard about in Trek 2 and probably happened more-or-less the same way as the original universe).

The remainder of the story line was well done: Nero was believable as a villain, and though the whole red matter/sucked into a black hole/time travel thing wasn't exactly believable, I learned looong ago that suspension of disbelief is important to enjoy fantasy as much I as I do (though its a plus when it's unnecessary). I think my favorite actor-character portrayal was the new McCoy: I loved how his character was interpreted (I think his 'Astrophobia' was downright hilarious), I also liked Scotty, but he wasn't in it as much as I would have liked to see. The rest of the characters were enjoyable to watch as well.

Now onto an important question for probably no one else but me: why was the alternate reality's Enterprise/technology seemingly more advanced then the original? Consider how the NX-01 seemed more advanced then the NCC-1701. One idea is this was at least indirectly due to some change in the original timeline (Borg incursion in 2063, 29th century tech, etc, etc). Of course, in Trek, sometimes time travel changes a reality, and sometimes, it creates a new reality. Now, assuming the NX-01 resulted from a reality change (not new) there are a number of ways we could transition from the NX-01 to the NCC-1701, but I think the best explanation is summed up by "In a Mirror, Darkly": just because the NX-01 looked more advance, doesn't mean it actually was. Now, assuming that the the NX-01 occurred in both realities (Scotty's Archer/Beagle comment seems to support this), then the new Enterprise is a logical transition from the NX-01. Anything that happened between the NX-01 and the building of the 1701 could have changed the design of the ship (Nero's incursion for one). But more importantly, both the NX-01 and the new Enterprise are 'futurized' versions of our technology, where as the original ship were of course futurized versions of 1960's technology. Now anything changing the future technological course between 1960 and 1990's (ahem, Starling anyone?) would impact the rate of technological advancement. In some realities, it would result in our 1701, and in others, a different one.

A few other small plot hole issues: Spock, in a rush to regroup with the fleet, just decides to thrown him off the ship onto a frozen planet? Yea, I don't think so: it was a waste of time and illegal. Should have just sent him to the brig/sedated him. But of course it was an important way to advance the story, so forgivable. A curiosity really. Oh, and exactly how long was Spock stuck on that planet before Vulcan was destroyed? I could be wrong, but it seemed to me he was stuck there a while, long enough to at least try and get some help.

The movie has something for everyone: for sci-fi (but non-trek fans) its a great stand alone sci-fi story: you really don't need to have any pre knowledge of Trek. For action-film people you've got plenty of that too. For others, there's lot of comedy, drama, relationships and a good story. And for the Trek lover: you've still got the ideology that Trek brings to our hearts: hope for the future, survival in the face of danger. Plus, there a number of clever (and not so subtle) nods to 'Trek' in the film: at one point someone will die, and you'll pretty much know who he is and why he'll die the moment you see him :). And there's plenty more.

The last few minutes of the film I kept expecting to see two things that didn't happen, but I thought would have been nice. Originally I expected Old Spock to try and return to the future (that is, his future, not the future of the alternate reality), but the I realized he is better off staying where he is, given what happens to Vulcan. Still, although its implied, I would have liked to see a more direct reference that the original reality Old Spock came from is, indeed, still intact and functioning (minus Romulus of course). And, something I thought would have been a funny line somewhere at the end of the movie:

Kirk: "So they gave us five years huh? We'll do it in three."

All in all, great movie. You might not like it (I know a few people who simply don't like science fiction regardless), but I think many people, old fans and new alike, will enjoy it. If this is the future of the franchise, as long as it continues to be handled well, I for one won't be unhappy. As Picard once said to Data: well done. Don't get me wrong, I'll always hold out a little hope for a new TV series, either in the old reality or the new one, and/or a continuation of the DS9/Voy story line, but we do also have other mediums for those.

Take care everyone.

1 comment:

  1. I happily quoted my way through "Space... the final frontier..." line by line as the people I was sitting with stared. The ill fated nameless extra who always seems to go on the important mission... I picked him out at first sight. Although the cast wes perfect, I did have a little difficuty with some, for example why Harold and Charlie Bartlett were aboard the Enterprise. Some characters you just can't see past. I thought Zachary Quinto did a spectaculat job in the role of Spock, and they couldn't have picked someone closer in both character and looks to Leonard Nemoy. He did such a good job, as he does in all of his roles that he involves himself completely; and I was able to see him, for once, as someone other than Sylar. The movie was appealing to all moviegoers, which is a fresh angle that I think the Star Trek series needed.