Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Shorts Aren’t in a Wad Over Star Trek... But They Should Be

| by Justin Thomas |

I feel hornswoggled by JJ Abrams' Star Trek. It’s big and loud and dumb, and there are things that should really bother me, but I’m not upset about them. What follows is an attempt to get at the heart of why I might look the other way while also confirming I can sniff out writing that won’t be described as Wilderesque. And, yes, I’m going to toe the line of being a fanboy. Fair warning.

Something about the scenes leading up to Kirk getting on the shuttle and heading to Starfleet Academy felt familiar. Our farmboy hero has a spot of bother in a bar. There’s a shot of our farmboy hero staring out at what might be his destiny when he sees the Enterprise being built. Finally, our farmboy hero drives his uber-cool ride to where he’ll depart the farms and gets rid of it because he’ll never need it again. It was something, a presence I’ve haven’t felt since... well, you know the rest. I warned you there were going to be fanboy moments.

But you know what? I don’t care if I’ve seen it before. Chris Pine grabs the Kirk role and does something completely unexpected: he wrestles it from The Shat and makes it his own. I should freak out about the similarities between Kirk’s departure from Iowa and Luke’s departure from Tatooine, but I won’t.

Galaxy Quest lovingly spoofs Trek, but Star Trek doesn’t run from the spoofs and sees them as less-than-groundbreaking storytelling. I’m not even certain Star Trek embraces them, but testing the limits as to the number of times we can see Kirk dangling from a ledge, his life in danger, feels like a tool Galaxy Quest 2 would have fun with if it were made. At least they managed to leave his shirt on.

Okay. I’m going to look the other way on that one, too. It might be because it’s so Trek it belongs, or it might be something else in the film done well distracts me. How about Zachary Quinto as Spock? Does that work? Star Trek is two for two in young performers taking iconic roles and not only surviving but thriving in them, and that’s surprising to the point I ask you, what ledge(s)?

How about the “if you emotionally compromise me I’ll have to resign,” from Spock Prime followed by Kirk on the bridge trying to emotionally compromise Spoke finished with Spock resigning because, per his lines, he’s emotionally compromised? In the span of about five minutes? Yikes.

So what. Karl Urban’s Bones is spot on and, of the three, the most welcome in its lack of departure from the original. Three for three if you’re scoring at home.

What about Spock kicking Kirk off the Enterprise, sending him to a planet where Spock Prime just happens to be marooned and both of them within walking distance of Scotty?

Nah, I’m not going to pick on that one. Simon Pegg plays Scotty, and I’d watch Simon Pegg play an acorn with no lines in a primary school production of “The Littlest Oak.”

The list of what Star Trek gets right goes on and on and that list is paralleled by a list of storytelling devices belonging more to a B-Movie than a David Lean film. Big. Loud. Dumb. And precisely what the Trek franchise needed at just the right time. At its best, Trek provides a lens through which we look at our world and our time to reach a better understanding while tossing in a dash of fun. Did Trek on screen and on television relinquish the latter for the former towards the end of the era leading up to the reboot? Or did Trek suffer from a mismanagement of the property where milking the cow meant more than developing good stories and solid characters? Or was it a combination of that plus more?

Star Trek passes on the brains and goes for the fun ride. It did well at the box office and will open up the franchise to people who hadn’t found a way to embrace it through ten movies and five television series. There’ll be another go from this crew and it would be nice if the next movie decides to think just a little more, but the sleight of hand comes from parting ways just enough from the original Trek ideals to ensure Trek continues.

It’s not the finest example of filmmaking in the world, but it might serve well as a blueprint for future franchise reboots. I hope whomever takes control of Skywalker Ranch when its current overlord settles out to pasture pays attention to Star Trek when the time comes to reboot the galaxy far, far away. And you know it’s going to happen. It’s simply a matter of time because there’s too much money at stake.

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