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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Welcome to the Bridge of the USS Crap You Already Knew: Star Trek

First, everyone either looooooved or haaaaaateed Watchmen, and I thought it was ok at best. And now Star Trek—this would be the same Star Trek that has a 96% at Rotten Tomatoes—well, it was ok.

I mean are we getting the subpar Midwestern cuts?

I suppose I should begin by praising casting: They certainly prepared me to watch Chris Pine for a couple of hours by casting two astonishingly ugly people as his father and as his younger self. On the other hand, is wholly unbelievable that these eyebrows, this blank stare sprang forth from the loins of Jennifer Morrison, who is quite gorgeous. I'm not sure I'll ever feel the same about Cameron again, though.

We'll be kind and leave the aberration of casting Winona Ryder in any role for any reason and say that casting really did quite a good job.

  • Zachary Quinto as Spock is rather a no-brainer. I do wonder how many times daily they had to stop filming to remove his 11 o'clock, 11:15, 11:27, etc., supraorbital shadow. Also, the back of my mind kept screaming that Kirk had obviously stolen Sylar's eyebrows.
  • Zoë Saldana was a good Uhura, and she had a promising start in the movie. Actually, I'll reserve my reservations (ha, do you see what I did there?) on this front for later.
  • I like Anton Yelchin. Have liked him since !Huff, although he took a while to grow on me. Sadly, all Chekov is to Abrams is an ambulatory accent joke that, in retrospect, is kind of a slam on Walter Koenig.
  • I was not feeling the love for John Cho as Sulu. I didn't dislike him or anything about his performance, it was just kind of a void. And, yes, it bothers me that he's Korean not Japanese.
  • Simon Pegg was completely flawless and wonderful for the 8 minutes that he is actually in the movie.
  • Karl Urban. I can't remember if it was an Onion joke or something from Peter Sagal or others on the WWDTM crew, but I chuckled in my usual sophisticated manner at the thought of Karl Urban losing it and lapsing into Eomer. Whoever it was appears to have been joking on the square. Ok, so he wasn't Eomer in the scene where he and Kirk meet, but he was like some awful DeForest Kelley impersonator. Certainly he was better later, but I don't know what kind of director yells "Cut! Print! GOLDEN!" after those shenanigans. Oh, wait: I do.
  • Bruce Greenwood's good. He even manages to sell the line about Kirk being the only "genius-level repeat offender in the Midwest" while looking into the terrifyingly blank eyes of Chris Pine.
  • Pine. Other than cheap shots about how unattractive I think he is, how was his performance? Kind of irrelevant. Abrams' approach is to catapult Kirk through a series of masturbatory Adventure!Scenes! Really, a crash-test dummy could have played Kirk, so there's not a lot to judge Pine's performance by. I will say that most of the cast managed to have at least one moment of emotional reality, despite Abrams. Not Pine. Not even with Nimoy on Hoth the M-class planet near Vulcan.
  • Bana's Nero was exactly what I imagine they wanted. He outgrowls Bale in The Dark Knight; He yells SPOOOOOCKKK presumably until the entire crew reaches climax; he wears the prosthetics well. I thought maybe there would turn out to be something interesting about his relationship with Ayel (and you should totally go see Clifton Collins, Jr., in Sunshine Cleaning, by the way), but . . . no, they're really just two Romulan miners displaced from time hoping . . . well, I really have a better idea of what the Decepticons' goals were, I guess, because I was thinking that they deserved a trip to Disneyland after getting not one but two Spocks to witness the destruction of Vulcan.

I really should have liked the whole movie more, because the casting really was very good. Unfortunately, the script and direction weren't. Last fall, my sister, my niece, and I went to see the stage version of Dirty Dancing. It was a very strange experience. Not unenjoyable, but strange. The leads were made too look as much like Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze as possible. They were very good dancers. But other than a strange and misguided attempt to inject some more Civil Rights–Era weight into the script, it's basically a stage reenactment of the movie.

The dancer (I deliberately refrain from calling him an actor) playing Johnny had an extremely strange and heavy accent. I remember being very surprised that he was supposedly from Australia, because his delivery strongly suggested that he had learned his lines phonetically. This mattered not a whit. The crowd still went wild when he declared, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner." It's fortunate that this comes near the end, otherwise one senses that the place would have emptied faster than Springfield's Ghery-designed Concert Hall.

The script for Star Trek resembles nothing so much as a series of post-it notes, each with a "must-have" moment scribbled on it. You have the heavy-handed establishment of the "Bones" moniker in Urban's painfully unchecked DeForest Kelley impersonation, and later the mandatory "Dammit, Jim!" You have "I have been, and always will be, your friend," and I admit that Nimoy, as always, pulls it off despite Pine's resemblance to the world's most mentally challenged cocker spaniel. You have the tragically underused Simon Pegg "Givin' it all she's got!" You have the audience fairly shouting "Say it! Say it! Say it!" for Chekov's "Wictor Wictor" and later "Wessels."

I suppose sticking to the well-known territory was all for the best. From early on, when the script tried to be a script for the movie in progress, it was filled with "Wait, what now?" moments. It's true that I often have to consult my spousal unit to clarify certain issues about Trek. So when a Romulan shows up on screen and no one on the Kelvin has any reaction whatsoever to what I gather is supposed to be the first-ever sighting of a Romulan in this shiny new timeline, I figured I was misunderstanding something, but it seems not.

When big-handed Kirk (ok, I admit that I got deep satisfaction from McCoy chasing Kirk around and jabbing him in the neck repeatedly) busts on to the bridge and makes his big reveal to Pike, well correct me if I'm wrong here, but our Young Turk has just bust in and said Shit. That Everyone. Already. Knows. The only thing that he even arguably reveals is the transmission that Uhura intercepted, a little fact that would've been common knowledge if Abrams—as every watcher of Lost knows—didn't have some deep fear of periodic staff meetings in which information is added to the common pool.

As the ZK pointed out, I guess Kirk gets Pike to raise the shields before dropping out of warp (which, call me crazy, if I'm flying blind into a distress call–driven situation with no further information, I'm all about the shields). Starfleet really has lowered the bar if that's enough to get you bumped to first officer.

The ZK inadvertently preyed on my shaky Trek knowledge when he started flipping out about Spock's mother dying. I, for one, supporting killing Winona Ryder as often as possible on screen, particularly when she has been inexplicably mummified with half a pony keg over the front of her torso. (In general, my feeling is a giant WTF? about the costuming; nice slash-pocket Dockers on all the boys!) PLUS, I was all "Why is he worried about messing with the fact that Spock's mother is supposed to be alive and well when I am worried about the fact that, as far as I know, VULCAN has never been blowed up real good." But the ZK's Trek priorities, like Tim Conway, defy augury.

It's a shame that the script is such a shambles, because I don't think it had to be. I really like it being anchored in the extraordinary relationship between Kirk and Spock. (I liked it better before the unnecessary scene with Nimoy and Quinto that spelled this out, not because I begrudge either of these two screen time, but because it shattered my last hope for any kind of delicacy in this movie.) But I don't think that centering the movie on that relationship should involve sacrificing your other characters to campy "TCB now! No New Crap!" cameos." And if that IS the center of your movie, then maybe spend a little less time on the Wet Dream Adventures of James Tiberius Kirk and a little more time on WHY that relationship is important (and why it's crucial that Spock be the "bottom" in it).

Let's now talk completely extraneous crap:

  • Hoth the M-class planet near Vulcan? In addition to being silly, what the hell's up with having Kirk climb out of the pod's crater in his Academy jammies? Couldn't help thinking that this looks like the kind of planet where exposure = death in seconds. Also, totally gratuitous use of Cloverfield leftovers. I would like to invite Mr. Abrams to get over himself.
  • I'm willing to give Abrams a pass on the "Why do we even have that cavernous central pit?" for the Romulan ship, because it's de rigeur for all space-faring movies at this point. But seriously, a ship designed entirely around catwalks?
  • I honestly don't know if the Uhura/Spock relationship is extraneous. Sadly, Uhura is practically extraneous, which is made worse by a promising start for the character. I don't particularly object to the relationship (although I don't buy them macking in plain sight on the transporter pad for a minute), but it highlights Star Trek's gender fail. I appreciate that the movie is stuck with a lot of the baggage of the 60s series (especially the costuming, and both the ZK and I agreed that female crew's uniforms were an area where the costuming succeeded pretty well), but I don't get the feeling it was a priority to work their way free of that baggage. I mean, seriously: A "Hope this hick isn't bothering you!" bar fight? Serial "lingually gifted" jokes? I liked the chemistry between Saldana and Quinto. I liked that she is supremely uninterested in Kirk. But it chafes that making her the girlfriend is all they could think to do with her.
  • The scene with the convertible—and again, I feel I must point out the incredibly ugly child.
  • Abrams' directorial "style." Bad bad bad bad bad bad bad and again BAD. Step away from the shakier-than-thou hand-held nonsense. And I SWEAR TO BA'AL if you dolly in and swing 270 degrees around a character's GIANT NOSTRIL HAIRS just one more time, I am going to give you such a pinch. Oddly enough, I had some hopes early on that he'd toned down some things. In retrospect, the directorial moments I didn't hate seem to have been cribbed from Battlestar Galactica.

I suppose that's about it. I could rant about the IMPLIED VIOLENCE AGAINST BEAGLES! But then I would never stop. I could spend some time on "It's a big red ball. I can't wait to tell my friends. None of them has a red ball this big." I could chide Abrams for stealing the Fire Swamp's Flame Spurt gag from The Princess Bride. But that would be piling on, now wouldn't it?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winona Ryder is AWESOME!!!

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, seriously...get a diary and save us all here on the internets the painfully over-the-top opinions of the month.

1:06 AM  
Blogger Admin said...

I really admire Jennifer Grey's tribute to Patrick Swayze. She's doing Dancing with the Stars for him, class.

10:25 PM  

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