Star Trekkin'

Like a girdle-encased middle-aged gut topped by a ridiculous toupee kicking you in the face, JJ Abrams' "Star Trek" delivers the goods in spectacular, satisfying fashion.

The Good: The casting, the action, the acting, the spirit, the fun, and the special effects all come through with flying colors. The Holy Trinity -- Kirk, Spock, and McCoy -- in particular deliver performances that are truly inspired by (rather than a copy of) the original cast.

The Bad: The story is more full of holes than a Caddyshack golf course. Luckily it's enough fun that you don't really care.

The Ugly: Eric Bana's bland, utterly forgettable role as bad guy Nero.

More to follow after the jump (spoilers abound!).

First, let's be clear here -- this movie is an action/adventure, not a science-fiction flick with aspirations of Deepness like the very first "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". I mean, look at that subtitle, it practically screams "Take me seriously!" JJ Abrams has no such pretensions, just as his movie has no such sub-title. This is just pure "Star Trek" -- a bunch of cowboys flying around the universe kicking ass. People nowadays make a lot of noise about the "Prime Directive" and how progressive and noble the unity the Federation showed was, but that's horse puckey. "Star Trek" was first and foremost a Western, a morality play of Good Guys versus Bad Guys, with liberal amounts of womanizing and ass-kicking. It just happened to be set in outer space.

Which is exactly what we get in this latest movie installment.

I was reminded of nothing so much as "Raiders of the Lost Ark", a movie that jumps right into heart-pounding action and rarely slows down. This is pure, unadulterated fun from start to finish, a big old-fashioned Saturday afternoon serial featuring big fights, big explosions, big characters, and big fun. Go into it with that understanding and you won't be disappointed, whether you're the guy in the Spock ears at your local convention or someone who thinks William Shatner is just that guy from the Priceline commercials.

Now, having said that, the story is utterly ridiculous on several levels. Time travel always irritates me, and I'm only giving Abrams a pass because he outright admits as much right in the movie, with Kirk calling it "cheating". I get that the writers have done this so they have a clean slate with the very vocal Trek fans who are going to make up the bulk of their die-hard support, but when I'm in a movie I don't want to be thinking about "meta" issues at all. I don't want to ponder how "the franchise" is going to develop, I don't want to worry about fanboi reaction, I don't want to worry about clearing the slate from what went before. I just want to set my phasers to kill and be about my business.

Like I said, I understand WHY he had to do it, I just don't think it was necessary. We didn't have to have a time-traveling Daniel Craig clearing the decks for a "new" Bond, we just were thrown right into the action and we don't worry about what went before. I wish Abrams had done the same here.

Second, you can't time travel through a black hole. The tidal forces would rip you apart long before the overwhelming gravity crushed you into sub-microscopic dust. That's just stupid. And if you WERE going to get sucked through a black hole into another time, why does it take twenty five years between one delivery and the next? And if it's going to take twenty five years between one delivery and the next, why would it come out at the same point in space? And if you're a guy waiting around to take revenge on a whole galaxy and find yourself armed with technology 125 years more advanced than the fledgling Federation around you, why do you park your ass in space doing absolutely nothing for a quarter of a century? Have they never heard of a remote probe parked in orbit waiting for your target while you go off and find some green-skinned chicks to pass the time with?

Third, if such a thing as "red matter" existed, and could be transported in a one-man ship, and it could literally annihilate any star or any planet with the push of a button, I'd say you've got some pretty damn serious problems. Remember how "Genesis" almost started a war for exactly that reason? And it couldn't even affect suns!

Fourth, if Romulus' sun was about to go nova, sucking it into a black hole wouldn't have done jack squat to save Romulus. Last I checked, suns were kind of important to planets in terms of, you know, actually supporting life there. "Congratulations, sir, we saved your planet from supernova death by destroying your sun! Hey, good luck growing plants and supporting weather without one, gotta run, ta!"

But look, like I said, the movie is fun enough that you don't really worry about all that while you're watching it. It's all just an excuse to get the crew together so they can fly around kicking ass without regard for the laws of physics, logic, law, or anything else but Kirk's overwhelming libido. Which is just fine with me!

20 Responses to Star Trekkin'

  1. Rob Barrett says:

    I’ve seen good arguments that Nero needs to be boring as villains go–because Spock is Kirk’s real antagonist in the film.

  2. Jeff Hebert says:

    I’ll grant that Spock is the real antagonist to Kirk, but if so then Nero is essentially irrelevant except as a plot device. Which I guess makes the completely nonsensical nature of his actions fit, because it doesn’t really matter what he does or who he is or why he’s there, it just matters that there’s something to go out and fight.

    But boy, is he dull. He’s just a big nothin’. Even his henchman was more interesting. I mean throw me a bone, give him a catchphrase or a few seconds of interaction or SOMETHING!

  3. Whit says:

    Some of my comments I left on a friend’s Livejournal:

    Okay, I’ve been looking for the right forum to air my complaints. They’re a little bit different from yours. I enjoyed the movie, but…

    The first thing that got to me was that, if the timeline of this movie is to have any relevance to TOS and TNG, then:
    *Romulus must be restored.
    *Vulcan must be restored.
    *Spock’s mother must be restored.

    I’m hoping that they take care of these issues in future movies. They may well.

    The other thing that disturbed me was the product placement. It seemed annoying but cute during the movie, but after it struck me that it’s in the Star Trek canon that Earth experiences World War Three in the mid-21st century, wiping out 700 million people. And yet, somehow, Nokia and Anheuser-Busch survive the war and are still going strong 200 years later. (Never mind the fact that TNG portrays mid-21st century Earth as positively mediaeval.)

    Another thing, Uhura orders a Cardassian drink–would the Federation have made first contact with the Cardassians this early on? I never got that impression from TNG or DS9.

    Also, that was supposed to be typical mining ship from the 24th century? I never remember a mining ship so dwarfing the Enterprise-D.


    Star Trek’s alternate universes make convenient fiction, but scientifically, they make my brain explode. I know that if there are alternate universes, there are most definitely *not* alternate me’s running around, unless I’m not up to speed on quantum physics or something.


    Oh, and that stupid dwarfish character with Scotty. What was his role? Was he a pet? You’d think he’d be on the crew of the planet’s station, but he seems to have very few responsibilities and acts childish. The whole thing seemed so Star Wars.

  4. Jeff Hebert says:

    Whit, I think that was pretty much Abrams’ point, that going forward this emphatically is NOT going to be the same universe as TOS or TNG. Like or hate alternate universes, that’s what you’re going to get. No more Spock’s mom, no more Vulcan. Romulus is still there in this timeline, the supernova is still waiting 125 years into the future, or whatever it is.

    I see what you mean about Scotty’s pal being too “Star Wars”. In fact, Scotty in general was probably the furthest away from his traditional character. I liked him, though.

  5. Whit says:

    I dunno, I find the whole idea of putting everything from here forward in a different universe a little insulting.

  6. Neil Leslie says:

    Not being a science or tech geek myself, I don’t give a rip for all that stuff about quantum singularities, black holes, temporal paradoxes, blah, blah, blah. I’m with you, Jeff. As long as I get a chance to see Kirk and Spock flying around in the Enterprise blowing stuff up and kicking bad guy butt, I’m cool with it. If you’re interested, you can find my review of the movie here which agrees with yours in most respects.

    Live long and prosper, dude \_//! Pass the beer bong! Woo!

  7. Xstacy says:

    Spock spells it out for everyone in the middle of the movie: Abrams Trek is a completely alternate timeline that has no effect at all on, and will no longer be affected by, the regular Trek universe. The problem is that time travel plots have been abundant in almost all Star Trek shows, and it’s never worked that way before. Why would there be a split to form an alternate universe this time, when always before the mainstream (or should we say, “canon”) timeline has been changed instead?

    I actually like it, though. I like that any future movies can go forward without trying to maintain a status quo for the rest of the francise.

    I also had to laugh at myself in the theater, realizing how Astronomy 101 ruined the magic of black holes in science fiction for me, as my mind revolted at black hole time travel, yet easily accepted space ships with artificial gravity traveling faster than the speed of light and “beaming” people massive distances (so long as they held still). Maybe singularities created by red matter (scientific designation: plotonium, my brother solemnly informs me) are different than regular black holes. *shrug* But yeah, you’re right, having a black hole instead of a supernova isn’t an improvement for the nearby planets. I guess Nero has a better cause for hating Spock than people give him credit for.

    Speaking of Nero, I really feel kind of bad for Bana. He had just about nothing to work with in that script. And unlike every other major player, he couldn’t look for inspiration from how somebody else played the character. I also wonder if, to some extent, he was supposed to be bland, to better set off the exciting and eccentric heroes–the same way that humans were made to be bland in the various TV series so as to show off the rich cultures of the aliens they encountered. I dunno, it seems a little unfair how much of a pummeling Bana’s taken from critics for being bland when that’s apparently what was asked of him.

  8. Jeff Hebert says:

    I agree, the blame doesn’t like with Bana, it’s just a really boring part. You’re right, he had nothing to play with, it was (for me) a problem properly laid at the writer’s feet, not the actor’s in this case.

    I think you could say that the “Mirror Universe” plot line is the same as a separate timeline. Maybe calling it “traveling to a different dimension” is the same thing as “alternate reality timeline” but it sounds different, I dunno.

  9. Bael says:

    Personaly, I think a new timeline is a good thing. The Star Trek TV shows and earlier movies are simply too contradictory to hold together anymore. Seriously, Kirk & Co. go to the center of the galaxy and back, but over a century later, Voyager takes years to get home, even with all the shortcuts they took? TNG couldn’t even agree one episode to the next how the Borg thing worked/thought. If there is any race in Star Trek history that should really, logically, be written with consistent behavior, it is an all consuming hive mind. Don’t get me started on a gestalt mind with an individual running it. Calling it a ‘queen’, like they were insects or something really doesn’t help.
    Sorry. Pet peeve exorcised. End of rant.

    Now if they can only dodge the trap of letting offended fanboy writers force their favorite stories back into the cannon in future movies, it might stay good.

  10. Jeff Hebert says:

    On re-reading my review, I don’t think I was very clear. So let me say I give this movie an enthusiastic thumbs-up, it’s well worth a full-price ticket. It’s a fun romp and eminently satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  11. Thomas Heaven says:

    Nero is only lame until you read the comic prequil and relise that he killed Worf before time traveling

  12. Bael says:

    Jeff, did you ever read any of William Shatner’s Trek novels? In one of those, he and his ghost writers suggest that the Mirror Universe is a timeline where Picard warned Cochrane about the Borg, and the Terran Empire arose preparing for the mother of all wars when they inevitably met. Of course, that was before the Mirror episodes of Enterprise. Oh, well. That has always been Star Trek’s problem. There is too much material out there for the writers to know it all, even if they did care. They’d much rather force their own story into the Star Trek world to take advantage of the prebuilt audience.

  13. Jeff Hebert says:

    I think at some point a franchise becomes so burdened by the weight of its own history and canon that you have no choice but to blow it all up and start over. Trying to keep track of all of those intricacies can actively hinder good storytelling, which is what it’s all supposed to be about.

    You see it in all sorts of media. Comics blow themselves up and start over every year nowadays. Can you imagine trying to have kept up the extensive Superman mythos for this long without it? They had to do it with Bond in the movies. At some point I bet they’ll have to do it with Star Wars.

    Having a consistent universe should help you tell good stories. When it stops doing that and instead devolves into endless mummery between only the most learned of sages as to obscure details of history, you’re sunk. You just can’t tell good stories under that kind of burden.

    I do think it was a good idea to start over for Abrams. I just don’t think they had to do it so blatantly, but that’s just me — I don’t have to deal with hordes of angry Trek fans every day. At least this way he can say “Dude, all those years you spent learning about our fake history were NOT wasted, they’re still real. This is just different.”

  14. Joshua says:

    Jeff, thank you for your review. “Star Trek” was– with few exceptions– how I had always envisioned the franchise. With all due respect to the cast of the Next Generation and DS9, Kirk and his crew are the only ones I have ever associated with the awe and adventure of the final frontier. Granted, my all-time episode of any and all Trek’s was “Best of Both Worlds” and I agree with Bael, what happened to the Borg Collective? The “powers-that-be” need to decentralize the Collective and return the Borg to a species above The Queen’s petty schemes and emotions. Some type of A.I. needs to infect the Borg, be it a sentient virus or a machine culture from the future (…not V’Ger), but Orci & Kurtzman: do something! Anyway, I believe Abrams brought back what was missing from Star Trek. Truth be, Rick Berman had turned Starfleet into a survey crew in space. There was no sense of wonder to it, just “Scan it and catalog it”. Even though we’re all familiar with Star Trek, because it’s now in an alternate reality what’s old can once again become “…strange new worlds with new life and new civilizations.”. It’s time to boldly go!

  15. Xstacy says:

    Good point about the mirror universe. That does come off like an alternate timeline, regardless of what they called it. And the fact that the canon universe could interact with it throws a bone to fanboys wanting to see the Next Generation universe again–in a future movie, there could be a cross-over! (Though I really hope not. More fun would be a cross-over with the (alternate?) mirror universe, but really, why recycle plots when the universe is wide open!)

  16. redvector says:

    I would like to see in the next film the Romulans take advantage of the chaos of Vulcan’s destruction and the decimation of the Federation fleet by launching an attack. Causing the Federation to make overtures to the Klingons to form an alliance.

  17. Jeff Hebert says:

    Neat idea, redvector!

  18. Worf says:

    What? I’m not dead. See? Still here. Not in Sto’Vo’Kor. That lame Nero did not kill me and my 14 weapons hidden in a starfleet uniform that has no pockets.

    Now I have to say that it is a good movie. But, as a friend said “if you were to plot realism in Sci-Fi having Star Wars at one end of the scale and 2001 at the other Trek was alwais somewhere in the middle… Now if has definitely moved towards Star Wars”. I also have to say:
    @Whit: there’s no way to fix it unless the next movie involves someone time traveling to destroy Nero’s ship just as it arrives and before the USS Kelvin gets there, or coming from even greater into the future to destroy the ship before it falls into the “time traveling plot device”. Now we’re stuck with no Vulcan, no Amanda Grayson and no 6 billion Vulcans to influence the federation.

    That they got good actors and got the Kirk-Spock-Bones interplay SO right is the true saving grace of this movie. Also, was I the only one that didn’t notice right away the guy playing Bones is Eomer from LOTR?

  19. Xstacy says:

    I didn’t trip to that at first either, Worf. I attribute it to the fact that he didn’t look as if he was sucking on a sour candy during most of the movie.

    (Of course, LoTR is never the first thing I think of when I see Karl Urban anyway, much as he’d probably like it to be. Instead I always remember him as that dude that played Ceaser on Xena. Oh, well, every actor should have something they look back on with a bit of shame….)

  20. J says:

    How do you know you can’t travel through a black hole? It’s all just theory. No one really knows what would happen. That’s why its called Science FICTION. Perhaps they developed technology that prevents the ship from being torn apart. I don’t think its that far fetched in a reality where they have transporters, phasers, warp speed, Borgs, etc. If you listen to what science says today there is no way that a being could ever reach another distant planet in their lifetime. We have no clue what kind of tech an advanced civilization might have.

    As for your fourth: The planet may die after the sun is destroyed but at least the Romulans would have enough time to get off the planet and go somewhere else.

    This concept isn’t hard to grasp. Nero went back in time and changed some things that created an alternate branch of the timeline. The other one that existed in the series and the movies is still there. The only thing I want to know is where are those time traveling Federation people who police the timeline and make sure it stays unaltered. Wouldn’t they have seen this coming?

    Anyways I liked the movie even though I never liked the original series. My sister even liked the movie and I could probably count the number of episodes of any of the different series that she has seen with one hand.