Star Trek: Playful, Exciting, Character-driven

spaceball-12947135322_30ab2b2c4fStar Trek has come a long way and just when you thought there were no surprises left, they show up.  I’ll admit, the last few Star Trek movies left me cold.  Nemesis bombed because the writer tried to copy too much from ST2 but without any of the heart.  Insurrection was a trite story line.  Abrams’ Star Trek reinvigorizes the franchise by giving us both old and new–it completely satisfies this Trekkie.

If you go, you will get a thrill ride, and you will also be reintroduced slowly to characters you thought you knew. Yes, everyone looks young and the sets look like Apple designed them, but that’s what it means to restart the series.  You will get your money’s worth from this movie.  Most people know these characters even if they aren’t fans–but they are reintroduced to us here in great detail.  And there’s lots in here for fans of the show–little touches that show that the writers know the whole series.

I’ll try to keep out all of the surprises.  But you already know that there is time travel involved, and it shows up at the very beginning.  And because of that, events are altered.  “Our destinies are not what they would have been,” says a young Spock.  This is okay.  Star Trek has thrived on the “might have been” storylines.  The Mirror Universe got a lot of play in nearly every incarnation of Star Trek; Tom Riker was a might-have-been Will Riker; Voyager had the two part episode “Year of Hell” and the Finale which changed and altered timelines.  Even ST: First Contact imagined a Borg-filled Earth.  So, it’s nothing illegal–it just gives the writers room to wiggle.  They got to play a little with the histories–legally –because a villain altered the timeline.

But that’s the premise.  The cool part of the movie is not what they changed, but what stayed the same.  We get to see some fine actors inhabit these characters and manage to put a bit of the former actor’s style into it.  You watch Chris Pine–slowly he becomes a bit of William Shatner; Quinto is a fantastic Spock.  I swear I can hear Kelley in this new McCoy!  Uhura shows her inner Nichols in a turbo-lift.  Sulu, Chekhov and Scotty all have their moments of channeling as well.  But the writers also let the actors play—play with these histories and parts.

The plot allows each character to be introduced separately. This is a brilliant maneuver.  instead of just dumping them all on the stage at once, we get to know each character in their context.  We meet Kirk and Spock as children, Uhura in a bar, McCoy on a shuttlecraft, Scotty in a Starfleet Outpost, Sulu as a pilot and in a fight, and Chekhov in a funny homage to ST4.

I wish Wolverine would have been this good.  This had just as much action as Wolvie, but ST had a unified plot, and well-developed characters we thought we knew completely.  In the same way Wolvie failed–by being a prequel with no surprises at all–Abrams managed to give us a bit of parallelism in the lives of these characters and the ones we already know.  And there are so many great and interesting surprises–what ifs–that are allowed to play out.

This is what revision should be.  The series was great, but Myth can revise a story and get to its essence, even if the details have somewhat changed.  I can accept both Roddenberry’s original and Abrams’ version–because this isn’t an arbitrary version.  It fits in with the timeline because Nero changed the timeline.  I’m cool with that.  Just as I’m cool with Janeway’s original arrival back on Earth, and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (a fan favorite).

And J.J. Abrams, a big high-five to you and the writers from a long-time fan!  When I was seven, I took my photo with the wax figure of Mr. Spock, my dad on the other side of Spock.  I don’t have a costume–but I was once Spock at Halloween.  I don’t know Klingon, nor do I collect the series, or any of the paraphenalia, but I loved the stories, and I recognize Star Trek as American Mythos.  You’ve done a great job at bringing that to the surface.  Well done.  Do a sequel.

3 thoughts on “Star Trek: Playful, Exciting, Character-driven

  1. Dave May 12, 2009 / 9:59

    I agree completely with everything you’ve said here. I like when you said “The cool part of the movie is not what they changed, but what stayed the same.” I usually like to see some growth or change in characters, but I was cheering them all along as they were pretty much doing what I thought they were all going to do.

    There’s a post on Kung Fu Monkey: http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2009/05/star-trek-and-breaking-rules-spoilers.html that has an intersting take on the difference between character arcs that are transformative vs. revalatory.

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