Thursday, May 21, 2009

Star Trek

Well, last night I finally saw Star Trek.

Here are some initial impressions.

The movie is good.  I think that message has been pretty consistently communicated from every direction.  If anyone had any doubt about going to see it, they should definitely go!

The movie treats the Star Trek mythology well, particularly the original series and (maybe with even more focus) the following movies.

The casting was pretty good.  The Spock character is probably the best cast, in my opinion.  McCoy may be the next best.  The Kirk character is good and well-played but, looking at him, I can't see the William Shatner Kirk.  Uhuru, Chekov, and Scotty were farther off the mark but all well-played.  Chekov's role in the movie was surprising to me and entertaining.

I have to say, though there were many old, familiar aspects and plot mechanisms (approaching cliche) throughout the movie, the story never stopped surprising me.  It was delightfully unpredictable.

There were many tributes to Star Wars and I wonder if they were intentional or unconscious.  Hm, J.J. Abrams was born on 27 June 1966 and Star Trek first aired on 8 September 1966, when he was a bit over two months old.  Fascinating.  Star Wars was released on 25 May 1977 when Abrams was nine years old.

Anyway, I couldn't help expecting to see Kirk to look out over the Iowa landscape and see twin suns setting.

The space craft were beautiful and the space scenes were nicely done.  I've heard the problem posed before:  How do you make a modern Star Trek about technology that predated the original series without everything looking better.  In this movie, they didn't worry about that problem even a little.

In contast to other aspects of the film, the interiors of the Enterprise paid only the slightest tribute to the original shows.  Everyone was sitting in the usual positions on the bridge, there was a captain's chair, science station, navigation console, etc., transporter room, sick bay, but the similarities pretty much ended there.  The interiors were completely believable and certainly well done.  I kept wishing for more of a nod to the past onboard the ship.

The bridge was particularly cold and hospital white.  (Okay, the way hospitals used to look!).  At least that's the impression I took with me.  The instruments and techology served it's function but there was nothing delightful, notable or nostalgic about them, and I find that a little disappointing.  Abrams' take on the engineering decks gets credit for being quite interesting and different, but almost seemed over the top in some ways.

One notable exception was the shuttle deck.  It was very well done, a joy to watch, and was a nice tribute to the past.

The movie moves fast and the visuals are also fast so it will take multiple viewings for most of it to sink in.

I do have this specific complaint about the technology.  Every filmmaker feels compelled, it seems, to completely reinvent the transporter effect from scratch.  It's almost like a rite of passage.  Again, I didn't see the need to depart so far from the look of the original series.  I'd like to have seen more of a nod to the old show there, mixed in with the obligatory updating.

On the other hand, Abrams payed wonderful tribute to the sound effects of the original series.  They were included in subtle ways but you couldn't miss them if you knew them.  That's what I'm talking about.

And there in the credits, Majel Barrett for the ships computer voice!  She died in December of 2008.  I wondered if she had already recorded voice parts for this movie, or if they lifted them from stock or other movies.  Anyway, that was a delightful surprise.

Finally I'll note this.  Most plot lines introduce a series of tangles and then work to unravel them all by the end.  This story left a big tangle unresolved.  Big.   I'm interested to see whether they simply use it as the canvas for an ongoing series of stories, or if they devote the next movie to fixing it.

Speaking of the future, as my old friend and I got up to leave after the credits  ended, I couldn't help thinking about how Star Trek has been going strong for 43 years and wondering what would be done with it over the next 43 years.