Saturday, June 06, 2009

A 60s Kid Watches Star Trek, 2009

I don’t know if he liked the movie or not, but my brother asked me to review the new Star Trek. Okay, so be it.

Divine and I try to go see a flick every Monday, arriving before noon to catch the first show. That way, usually we have the whole theater to ourselves. Its just another way I go about avoiding people. Truthfully, I don’t much like being around other members of the human race. Generally speaking, I think people suck. But I digress.

It came down to Wolverine or Star Trek. I left it up to Divine, and surprisingly, she went for Star Trek. Normally she tends to shun those types of space adventures on the tube, but I think the scary images on the Wolverine poster had a lot to do with her decision.

The basic hook of 2009’s Star Trek: to show how all the original characters from the 60’s TV show came to be shipmates on the Starship Enterprise. As I think about it, it was pretty ingenious. It’s never been done and with the huge cult following of the Star Trek franchise it’s bound to make a lot of money for a long time.

So, is it any good? Well, strategically, I sat down with my popcorn in lap purposely not expecting much. Admitting that, I definitely got more than I expected. How much more? I think quite a bit more. I actually enjoyed it from start to finish; but I have to say that at my age, and being a child of the 60s, I was predisposed to like it. I wanted to like it.

I was 9 when the original TV series came out in September 1966. At the time, along with the rest of my family, we lived on or near an Air Force base in western Turkey. Why is that something to know? Well, believe it or not, there was no TV there. We had AFRTS (a single radio station) and that was it. I doubt if any American under the age of 60 can even imagine such a thing. Anyway, we lived there quite happily in our TV-less condition from ‘66 till we moved to San Antonio in ‘68 I think it was. So we missed all but the last year of the show when it was on in primetime.

Once I finally did see the show though, I was hooked. I never missed an episode if I could help it. Back then, you had just two shots at catching a TV show; miss the first one and that was it until the summer rerun. At the time I never dreamed that I would end up seeing every Star Trek episode in syndication several times over during the next 20 years. But without benefit of that foresight, back in ’68 and ’69, missing a single episode was a tragedy to the Star Trek loving 6th grader that I was. Oh, and my other favorite show on TV at the time was Batman. “...Same bat channel, same bat time...!"

I didn’t get the chance to be stunned when Star Trek was cancelled in 1969 because I wasn’t aware that it happened. By then the Air Force had already moved us back to Karamursel, Turkey. Star Trek was already in syndication by the time we got back to “TV land” USA late in 1970. I was delighted to find on TV every day after school one of my favorite shows ever.

I imagine the idea is quite intriguing to certain of us 60s kids that a movie now exists with insights into the time when all those beloved TV characters, first created 43 years ago, came to be together as young Federation Starship crewmembers. Kirk, Uhura, Sulu, “Bones” McCoy, Checkov, Spock, Scotty—all the primary cast is in it, but portrayed about a dozen years before we got to know them as “Shatner’s crew” on the TV series. Kirk and Spock are shown even younger, as 12 year old “wild childs,” each going through their own unique character-defining tribulations.

Now, I’m not a Trekkie—I doubt that I even spelled it right; I just know I’ve loved the TV show from the beginning. Truth is though; it was the character interplay that inspired my interest, more so even than the show’s science fiction adventure scenes, which were pretty darn cool for the time.

Having said that, my few beefs with Star Trek 2009 are with certain character portrayals, along with some issues I have with a couple of the relationships.

For instance, let’s start with Scotty, the loveable Scottish engineer. The young Scotty in ST 09 is nothing at all like the older Scotty from the TV show, and that deeply disappointed me since I loved the concept of the original older one. The young one can be best described as a bit of an eccentric nutcase genius. That makes no sense. Why would the young engineer Scott be so far over the top compared to the more levelheaded man he evidently becomes? It just doesn’t work that way. I have to say I do not like the newest interpretation of the young Scott. Sorry.

The new Uhura is just too physically hot. The original one was a babe but not a Barbie model like this new girl. She loses credibility for me. As you can see, I’m a purist. They should have found an actress that more closely resembled the Uhura from the TV show.

As far as Young Spock, I just don’t think he matches up well physically with Leonard Nimoy, who even now at 78, seems wider and more robust than the young wannabe Spock. I don’t know, the ST 09 Spock version comes across as a petulant insubstantial butthead. The writers have him give the young Kirk a hard time, and I realize the plot calls for it, but it didn’t sit well with me. I liked the old Spock against whom the younger one just doesn’t measure up. Take their voices for instance. Nimoy speaks in a distinctive baritone, while the young pretender’s voice lacks a similar resonance that would make him believable. Again, sorry, it just doesn’t work. Find a new Spock for the next one. It ain’t just about the ears and a vague resemblance.

New Sulu matches up pretty well with the old one, although the original Sulu, George Takei, has a much more distinctive voice. So again, it’s similar to the Spock voice comparison problem, but I’m not as worried about it. The ST 09 Sulu has a couple of spectacular daredevil scenes with the young Kirk, which were very cool and very well done. So thumbs up for new Sulu.

The new Checkov is not as good as the original. The 60’s Checkov showed more natural humor and flare. Perhaps I’m not being fair though, since Checkov doesn’t have a lot of lines in this flick. Even a long movie doesn’t provide enough time to develop all the characters. Oh well, sorry new Checkov. Better luck in what I hope will be an ST 11?

James T. Kirk is of course the primary protagonist in the new Star Trek, as well he should be. I like this younger Kirk, although for me he’s a reinvention. It would have been great if they could have captured more of the physical essence of the Shatner version of Kirk, but I suppose that is too much to ask. As I think back on the 60s Captain K though, the new guy does perfectly capture the impulsivity of the original. In many ways this is the closest match of new to old, and since this is the most important character trait that means this movie gets a big thumbs up from me.

Now, for the relationship issues I spoke of earlier; I can think of at least three worthy of discussion—first, Spock and Kirk compete for the sexual attentions of Uhura; second, the Spock versus Kirk conflict; and third, the lack of lighthearted friction between “Bones” McCoy and Spock.

Having to watch Kirk and Spock try to bed down with the new “Hottie Uhura” kind of creeped me out. I wasn’t expecting that. I think I dimly remember a brief romantic interlude from the 60s TV ST involving Uhura and Kirk, but for the life of me I don’t remember Spock showing much sexuality at all, except for that one episode where he went into an animalistic mindless "rutting" mode, during which he tried to kill Kirk in mortal combat (remember when Jim Carey reenacted that scene in "The Cable Guy"? Classic!). I don’t know why, but Spock's otherwise complete emotional self-management always appealed to me. I loved his total self control. As an angsty young male teen I wanted to be just like him in that way.

In this movie however; try as he might, Kirk cannot get Uhura interested, and boy does he ever try. Nope, instead, shamelessly she practically throws herself at Spock. And yes, in ST 09 Spock and Uhura do the bedspring nasty. Ahem. I’m still reeling over it. There are some things that should not be tampered with and putting Spock and Uhura into the same rack falls into the “bad idea” category.

In this modern "back to the future" ST 09, Spock and Kirk are at complete odds; enemies even, especially as far as Spock is concerned. Perfectionist Spock is a stickler for following all regs and rules, while upstart maverick Kirk bends rules and pushes envelopes. Spock outranks Kirk in the beginning and the “pointy eared one” even seeks to bust his future friend and eventual superior out of the Starship Academy for "cheating" on a battle simulation test. Interestingly, in the end, Spock’s stoic brand of ever logical genius is beaten out by Kirk’s paradigm popping cowboy style. I loved it, because that is exactly one of the main themes repeated in the original TV series. Perfect.

A minor letdown for me with the movie was the lack of playful discord that I expected to see between Spock and McCoy. I was hoping to see the beginnings of the never-ending argument the two of them would eventually get into concerning Spock’s insistence on the universal application of logic versus McCoy’s endless irritation with that philosophy. It seems like half the TV episodes ended on that note of comedic relief. If ST 09 would have ended like that I would have given it an A+; without it, I grade it a B. And it isn't just for the humor that I so loved the tete-a-tete between those two; the argument they made is an important one and always will be. It appeals to me even now.

Overall, Star Trek 2009 has a good story line, lots of great spine-chilling action, and does a passably fair job with character development. If I’d known what I know now before seeing it, I have to say I would have gone ahead and checked it out. So yes, I recommend it. Go see it if you haven't; especially if you liked the old TV Star Trek. If you did, I predict you’ll likely enjoy ST 09.


Kevin said...

You saw it the same way I did, pretty much. I thought the new Kirk was great. Captured the essence of the character pretty well. The new Spock reminded me too much of Fogel from "Superbad". I kept laughing to myself. Every time he spoke, I kept waiting for him to say: "I am McLovin".. Uhura and Spock hooking up...creepy. Kirk trying to bang every female he sees...yup. Leonard Nimoy needs dental implants. His false teeth click when he talks. I liked the Scott character. He has room to evolve into the the older Scott. There were two pretty blatant ripoffs from the "Star Wars" movies, I thought. The little guy that was Scott's sidekick was just like the Ewocks from Episode VI, and the ice planet they were banished to was called Hoth, I think, in Episode V. Anyway, I thought it was great, and would go see it in the theater again. When it hits my satellite dish, it'll be saved to the DVR for sure.

Opass said...

Kevin said: "Uhura and Spock hooking up...creepy"

Yes, I agree. But before any Liberals get wound up and accuse me of racist thinking, let me explain that it's all about Spock, not Uhura. Spock is supposed to be unemotional, right? Or incapable of emotion. So, yeah, Spock's Earth mother and Vulcan dad got together and produced Spock. "Creepy" is the right word here. Yup, some "creepy" stuff going on. Like maybe similar to a well-known case of a white Kansas girl getting the hots for a Kenyan Muslim student in the USA who already has a wife? Then producing a kid she pretty much ignored and left to gramps and gramms to raise in Hawaii, then the kid, because of his white genes, is sharp enough to get a foothold in Chicago sleeze and eventually become prez? Ah yes, the All American dream, eh?

PhilippinesPhil said...

An Obama Spock metaphor, didn't see that one coming.

Yep, Spock is definitely getting long in the tooth. Didn't notice the denture problem. I'll pay attention next time.

This Scotty is just too nutso to evolve into the "real" one. Not unless he goes on some serious meds.

It looks good for several more Star Treks with this cast. I hope so...

Kat Argonza | Tough Girl 101 said...

Saw it with my Company commander this weekend. I was primed to like it because she and I had a late day and went to the theater in uniform - well, some veteran saw us two officers, Ma'am has her combat patch and has the look of someone who's done more than her fair share in the sandbox (She's spent as much time overseas as I have in College) and the man came in and paid for our tickets. He and Ma'am exchanged a lot of stories back and forth, so I was already predisposed to have a good evening. Even if the movie had been complete rubbish (which it wasn't) I think I would have still liked it.