I was of two minds driving to the theatre to see the new Star Trek movie Friday night. Part of me really wanted to like the movie. The “regular guy” part likes to kick back and relax with his Star Trek DVD’s; it’s like touching base with an old friend. He likes to watch it with Daniel, seeing him react to the Horta and the Doomsday Machine for the first time. This would be the first new Star Trek we have shared together. The other part of me, the “comic book guy”, walked into the theatre fully prepared to dislike the movie. He’s followed Star Trek since Mom was writing letters to NBC while she was pregnant. He’s seen every episode of every show, every film and read every novelization. How would this “reboot” be anything more than a “rip off”? How could they recast the original characters? Comic Book Guy remembered the last time another actor played Captain Kirk. It was the last episode of the original show, Turnabout Intruder. It wasn’t the worst episode ever made, but it was pretty darn close.
However, Comic Book Guy had to admit as we all waited in line at the box-office, this isn’t the first time Star Trek has been redone. There have been four other shows with totally new characters and new takes on the original mythos. Regular Guy enjoys the original series, but is also a fan of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. And when Gene Roddenberry – the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself – was “rebooted” off the Star Trek franchise, his replacement – Harve Bennett – gave us The Wrath of Khan. Comic Book Guy had to agree with Regular Guy and Jerry Seinfeld that – really – that was the best of those movies.
We picked up a “mega tub” of popcorn (more than enough for Regular Guy, Comic Book Guy and Daniel to share) and found a place to sit, just slightly right of center. Regular Guy had some concerns about the movie’s rating. It’s suitable for kids over thirteen, but Daniel is only nine. I remembered when I was nine, I saw Alien for the first time and it basically left me psychologically scarred. I leaned over and whispered that if I thought a monster was coming, I’d let him know and give him time to cover his eyes. However, the alien monster – when it finally showed up in the movie – didn’t seem to faze Daniel at all. He spent more time during the movie covering his ears than his eyes. This movie is loud. If Spinal Tap can hit eleven on occasion, I think Star Trek peaks around seventeen. I expect cosmic spectacles like black holes and supernovae to be loud in movies (Comic Book Guy does point out there is no sound in the vacuum of space; a bit of science the film gets right), but everything else is loud in Star Trek: wind noise roars and electronic equipment squeals and shrieks. Dr. McCoy’s ubiquitous hypo sounds like a shot from an air rifle. All the while, the bombastic score rattled our ribcages. Actually, I liked the music; it reminded me of the over the top musical cues used in the original series versus the new age pablum of the other shows.
The visuals are well done and I liked the retro-future look of everything. The new transporter effect looked right. The warp drive didn’t seem as “cartoonish” as it has in previous films. The design of the new USS Enterprise takes the best of the original design of what Comic Book Guy thinks of as the real USS Enterprise and gives it more detail without going overboard. The interior would be right at home at any Ikea; that’s futuristic enough for Regular Guy. But the whole movie is very jumpy and chaotic. It’s probably unfair to single Star Trek out when most movies look like they were edited by hyperactive mice on crystal meth. Still, it was very difficult to figure out what was going on at times. There was a fist fight near the end of the film. I won’t say who was fighting whom because – frankly – it was hard to tell. The scenes kept cutting away before the punches connected. I realize “motion picture” contains the word “motion”, but – please – could we have just a few scenes that aren’t bobbing and weaving around and around?
There are parts of the movie that were needless. A young James Kirk steals a 1966 Corvette and drives it into a quarry. Comic Book Guy recalled A Piece of the Action, an episode where an older Captain Kirk attempted to drive a car with a lot less finesse. Regular Guy just watched with eyebrow raised. Driving a Corvette that far in the future would be like breaking into the Smithsonian and taking George Washington’s carriage out for a spin. Where does one get leaded gas in 23rd century Iowa (for that matter, where does one get leaded gas in 21st century Iowa)? While it’s possible the car is a replica or something (Comic Book Guy argues replicator technology won’t be available until Captain Picard’s time), this love of “ancient history” runs pretty deep. Two hundred years from now, the clubs will still be playing those thumping techno-metal mixes. The alien monster was unnecessary; all it did was bump up the MPAA rating from PG to PG-13. It chases Cadet Kirk around Delta Vega (which is apparently a moon of Vulcan now). As Comic Book Guy expounds, Vulcan has no moon and Delta Vega used to be located at the edge of the galaxy.
The area of the movie I thought I would have the most issues with – the characters – turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Zachary Quinto has an “old school” take on Mr. Spock, channeling some of the early episodes of the show rather than the later films. Comic Book Guy had to agree that made sense. The Kirk family saga was a bit over the top, but I did like Chris Pine’s take on Cadet James Tiberius. And Uhura’s subplot was not traditional canon, but interesting (one could even say fascinating). Comic Book Guy agreed, remembering how Spock could “not think of anyone more capable than Ms. Uhura”). The movie also did a good job explaining how everyone could have been different ages on the original show, yet all graduate from the academy at roughly the same time. Chekov is only seventeen in the movie. Kirk is a little older than Sulu and Uhura because he’s been a troublemaker and enlists late. Dr. McCoy is older than everyone else. When asked why he joined up, he replies caustically, “She took everything on the planet in the divorce. Space is all I’ve got left.”
Enough familiar lines and mannerisms are there to start a new drinking game. But take the pre-defined characterizations, the sound and the fury of the special effects, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot left. I liked the plot concept. Comic Book Guy liked it in the Star Trek novel Killing Time better. Nero, the movie’s bad guy (no obvious parallel there) runs around the galaxy, wiping out billions of people and permanently changes the universal timeline. He has his reasons, of course, but it ends up sounding like a rehash of another Star Trek movie villain whom I won’t name. We see Romulans torture Captain Pike using a method which looked awfully familiar. Comic Book Guy screams out in frustration, how does anyone know it’s a Romulan ship anyway? The episode Balance of Terror explains no one has ever seen a Romulan. They’ve all been hiding behind the Neutral Zone since Jonathan Archer’s time.
The original show had some episodes that were – shall we say – a bit light on plot and character development. However, you could usually count on Gene Roddenberry to spoon feed a message to those viewers watching “way back in the Twentieth Century” on their new color televisions. If there was any message in the new Star Trek, it must have gone over my head. But in the end, as the Third Rock from the Sun style credits rolled, both Regular Guy and Comic Book Guy agreed it was worth the price of admission. Most importantly, Daniel had fun. He ate approximately sixty four pounds of popcorn, drank about three and a half gallons of orange and wolfed down a bag of Sweet Tarts that cost more than a Happy Meal at McDonald’s. We walked out to the truck together and Daniel quoted me his favorite line; something Mr. Scott says when confronted with one of the most thought provoking moments of the film.
“So, in the future are there still sandwiches?”