It’s funny. When the movie started, I was thinking of a couple witty titles I could use for the review on my blog, but I forgot them. As I got to thinking about it, though, I decided to break the review up into these three parts.
There is a pattern to Star Trek films. It’s not the “even/odd” one that’s part of pop culture urban legend (and is mostly based upon the extreme popularity of Wrath of Khan, Voyage Home and First Contact).
It goes like this. Star Trek movies have one of three plots: insubordination/treason/mutiny, madman with an axe to grind, or devastating alien force attempting to destroy earth.
Star Trek the Motion Picture: Earth is threatened with destruction by V’Ger.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan : Khan has gone insane and desires revenge against Kirk. He uses a pretty darn powerful WMD, but doesn’t directly use it on Earth.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Kirk and crew mutiny against Starfleet, commandeer the Enterprise, and try to bring Spock back from the dead. (BTW, if Khan exists in this new continuity, they’ll have to find a new way to bring Spock back from the dead).
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: While Kirk & co. are returning From the events in III, a giant spaceborn alien being comes to earth. It sends messages by these loud soundwaves that are going to devastate the earth. Using a time travel technique they discovered in the series, the Enterprise crew (aboard a stolen Klingon ship) travel back in time to save the earth.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: Spock’s insane brother commandeers the Enterprise to seek out an ancient power.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Kirk & McCoy are sentenced to a prison colony by the Klingons and escape. The Enterprise crew mutiny against Starfleet’s orders to rescue them (and ultimately save the Federation, the Romulans and the Klingons from a pro-war conspiracy).
Star Trek Generations: Dr. Soran, a madman with an axe to grind, wants to tap the power of a massive cosmic anomaly, and destroys a planet in the process. Kirk comes to the future, but it’s not “time travel.”
Star Trek First Contact: The Borg attack earth; Enterprise travels back in time to stop them.
Star Trek Insurrection: The Enterprise rebels against a Starfleet Admiral who is violating the Prime Directive big time.
Star Trek Nemesis: A renegate Romulan has an axe to grind with Picard.
Star Trek: Another renegade Romulan has an axe to grind with everybody, so he travels back in time, and he tries to destroy Earth a massive weapon. Kirk violates orders numerous times, and teaches Spock to do so.
So, here’s the pattern:
Every movie involves either a) a madman with an axe to grind, who’s trying to either obtain some super power source and/or blow up a planet, b) a massive entity or space ship that’s approaching earth and causes some severe damage to San Francisco, or c) the Enterprise crew defying Starfleet orders in some serious way for a higher cause. There’s also some kind of time travel in 4 of the 11 movies.
This movie has all four elements! So, in that sense, it’s the perfect Star Trek film!
All in all, by itself, it was pretty good. I left it feeling very depressed: both to see the entire 34 year continuity wiped out (why bother reading those novels I have stacked on my shelf that I haven’t gotten to?), and at the major disaster that happens fairly early in the film but I don’t want to spoil.
Part of the “pattern” is that, every so many movies, they try to recreate “Wrath of Khan.” For every TNG movie, the writers said, “We wanted a solid villain who would be the new Khan” (I think they mean Darth Vader): Dr. Soran, The Borg Queen, the Admiral *and* the weird alien guy in Insurrection, and then Shinzon in Nemesis. (BTW, Nemesis would’ve been much better if, instead of the “Romulan clone of Picard we’d never heard of before”, they’d have just brought back Denise Crosby as Sela).
But it got me thinking about the *why* of Star Trek films. The usual complaint about Trek films is that they’re “too self-referential.” Indeed, as Spock might say, this film is arguably the *most* self-referential of them all, even while blowing everything up (in some ways literally).
I was thinking about the difference between a sci-fi film and a sci-fi series. Star Trek tends to be a fantastic series because the format involves so many possibilities. In many ways, it’s like an anthology series with the same characters. You can have a mystery one week; a “strannge new world” the next; a time travel plot; even a gohst story. Almost anything involving science fiction, a Star Trek episode can do.
The trick with the movies, of course, is that they try to make them epic, and not just “an episode write large.” That’s a reason for the alternating “giant entity trying to destroy earth” plots. They also try to compete with Star Wars. And one of the main reasons for the movies is to satisfy the fans’ demand to see their familiar heroes (which this movie kind of addresses but in a new way).
Us TNG fans largely felt cheated by Nemesis and have hoped for a proper send-off for our favorite crew, only to see our favorite crew potentially erased from history.
I’d hoped, when UPN started in 1994, that they’d use the opportunity to play around with Star Trek. Write some TV movies with one shot stories about different crews or sitautions we hadn’t seen, or maybe give one-shot appearances. After DS9 ended 10 years ago, I’d hoped they’d come back and do some kind of reunion movie on UPN (though the hopes from that were met with the fantastic follow-up novels).
I guess the thing is that, ironically, the big screen is knidof limiting to Trek. They *could* introduce a whole new crew for a film, but fans probably wouldn’t go for that. They can’t really explore teh possibilities that an episode provides, because they need to focus on characters. They feel bound by “epic” storylines because of the one-shot status, or because of the need to show off movie-style special effects.
I think those are the real reasons Star Trek films are classically “disappointing”.
Other thoughts on the film itself:
As I’ve read in other reviews, the casting of McCoy was the best: the guy gets the accent down, the personality, and looks a lot like DeForrest Kelley. I’m not as impressed by Zachary Quinto’s Spock as others are, but he’s OK.
I’m not sure whether Scotty is supposed to be Scottish or Irish. Both a ship’s surgeon and an engineer get killed early in the film, to give those guys their jobs. Not sure if those names were from the original continuity or not (there was one surgeon in The Cage, Dr. Boyce, and a different guy in Where No Man Has Gone Before, the second pilot).
There was one moment, though, where the writing just caught me as blatantly not right.
Pike asks for people who know hand to hand combat. Sulu volunteers. Pike calls for Kirk, saying “You’re not supposed to be here, anyway.”
On the shuttle to the away mission, Kirk asks Sulu what his hand to hand combat training was in. “Fencing,” says Sulu. Kirk responds with a look.
When I heard that dialogue, I thought, “Sulu’s gonna do something cool with a sword. Then, when the time’s right, Kirk’s gonna say, ‘Fencing, huh?'”
It never happened. Yes, Sulu showed impressive swordsmanship and saved Kirk’s life, and, throughout the scene, I was noddnig my head in anticipation of a nonchalant, “Fencing, huh?” But it never happened. That would have been an iconic Kirk line.
I liked Bruce Greenwood’s Pike probably the best of the characters.
Leonard Nimoy as Spock again after 18 years? Priceless. Has it been that long?
A 200 year old car that made it through the Eugenics Wars and the nuclear holocaust of World War III? Definitely an antique.
They still have Nokia in the 2240s?
The underwear scene: OK, we all know Kirk’s a womanizer (though it’s one of those overdone cliches; I think I read it pointed out that, in the series, there are actually relatively few episodes where Kirk carries on affairs with women). The original series had Kirk. TNG had Riker in its first two seasons, till the creators found out that women though Picard was sexy, and they started giving him romantic storylines. Data even had a date or two, as did Worf (most notably his affair with k’ehlar and relationship with Troi, then his marriage to Dax on DS9). DS9 was a regular soap opera. Voyager had its share of relationships.
I’ve only seen a few episodes of Enterprise, but part of its claim was to offer a slightly “sexier” show. But, with the possible exception of Enterprise, there’s always been a certain level of family-friendly decency to Star Trek.
Thus, one of my biggest complaints about this film by the sci-fi team of Orci and Kurtzman is the same one I had about their Transformers: it’s not kid friendly. The plot certainly isn’t. It’s incredibly violent and a bit graphic. And there’s the underwear scene, which is gratuitous.