Director J.J. Abrams puts the Star Trek crew into the Star Wars/Superman Universe with interesting results…just as the Coca Cola corporation gave us “New Coke”
By Joe Viglione
Chief Film Critic, Entertainment Editor
To those of you who can’t wait my review of the film will be summed up in two sentences – as an action picture Star Trek 2009 is a lot of fun and worth the ten bucks or so it will cost you to see it. The Imax presentation will be a buck or two more and well worth it. There.
Now for those who want to know about this film’s place in Star Trek and film history, you may continue as I ramble on.
Given that Star Trek became popular in reruns, those of us who were absorbing the first-run stories have a bit of bragging rights (or is it a more tangible land rights?? ) to our franchise. Where Lost In Space – with so much potential – was fumbled in 1998 by director Stephen Hopkins Star Trek 2009 (or Star Trek XI) could do for the series what Batman Begins accomplished: the prelude to a “Dark Knight” sequel to the prequel. Yes, the film is glitzy fantastic, but the true stars turn out to be Leonard Nimoy, IMax, the Starship Enterprise and the special effects, in that order. And there you have the ultimate dilemma: alternate universe or no J.J. Abrams leans heavily on George Lucas, not Gene Rodenberry.
From a commercial point of view a re-boot of Star Wars by way of Star Trek is a no brainer, and where so many films indulge liberally in the past (taking a cue from the ultimate amalgam series, The Matrix, though that series, by standing on the shoulders of giants, was able to deliver more than its share of new concepts and pioneering attitude), that was never the mission statement of this venerable franchise. What was once as unique an entity as Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits is rebranded to fit today’s expected movie forumla and the end result will be a mixed bag for Star Trek fans. That mixed blessing being – the series will now continue no thanks to debacle TV programming like Voyager, Deep Space Nine and (Quantum Leap meets) Enterprise – ensuring more stories featuring characters we’ve come to know and love. The elephant in the room, of course, is that as a James Doohan became typecast as Scotty, so too did Scotty become typecast with James Doohan’s personality. All that follows becomes more impersonation than inspiration without the development of different aspects of that creation’s persona. Christopher Lee was able to become an iconic Dracula on his own because he breathed a new essence into the character without stepping on Bela Lugosi’s cape. Zachary Quinto may be a big star to the youth watching Heroes today but how many Trek fans watch that show, and vice versa? So mixing metaphors here can be as jolting as those horrid commercials that pop up on internet sites which show portions of the Heroes episodes.
Star Trek 2009 as a film works and will make a ton of money, but that proverbial softball flying through the air at 5 miles per hour that Keith Olbermann talks about is ignored: bringing in Nichelle Nichols, Sulu and Shatner in to spice up the legend even more. Having only Leonoard Nimoy here is almost as blasphemous as throwing Worf onto Deep Space Nine as a desperate measure (or even more crisis control, tossing Walter Koenig onto Babylon 5!) It is satisfying but leaves the door open for more original cast appearances in the next film – if any of the prototype actors are still alive by then.
But At Least It’s Not The Next Generation On The Big Screen
Trek fans can rejoice because despite almost veering off into Timothy Burton territory (and it stops just short of going where no Batman film should have gone before, thank heavens!), Abrams is smart enough to stay true to some of the charm that was Rodenberry’s genius. Bruce Greenwood is a terrific Captain Pike, admirably filling in for the late, great Jeffrey Hunter. Had Captain Pike manned the Enterprise throughout its 60s run things would be different in the world of Trek, not the least of which would be the career of William Shatner. And therein lies the rub, Shatner and Hunter would have made an admirable pair of space captains if Desilu had the budget and if 60s TV studios had the imagination.
That being said, we’ll be thankful for what we’ve got. Now it isn’t THAT hard to make a film more superior to 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier or any of the Next Generation Star Trek films which, really, should be in an alternate universe…forever, but taking liberties with our beloved trademarks is what Roberto did when he unleashed “New Coke” upon the citizens of the world. Now the genius of “New Coke” (which was said to be Diet Coke with lots more sugar than Pepsi) was that the corporation could always go back to their original formula, which they did, resulting in more sales than before. They key for this franchise is to follow in the footsteps of Batman Begins and wheelchair Captain Christopher Pike directly to Talos IV for Star Trek 12.
Patrick Stewart’s brilliant portrayal of Professor X in the X-Men series is the subdued authority he failed to show in any of his ultra-histrionic posings as Captain Jean Luc Picard and if Chris Pine as Kirk (add letter K from “Kirk” to the name Chris Pine and you have Christopher Pike) could have been a little less restrained as, say, Eric Bana is throughout this flick, well, it’s the difference between Jeffrey Hunter and William Shatner leading the Enterprise.
(author takes a break 12:18 PM May 7, to be continued)
1:04 am May 7…the review continues
Star Trek 2009 is so chock full of Star Wars references that veteran viewers will spend more time making those connections than experiencing flashbacks from the original series. Eric Bana as Nero standing high and mighty on his deck might as well be the Emperor, Palpatine, in The Return Of The Jedi and an annoyingly immature Jimmy Bennett as James T. Kirk racing a car in Iowa mirrors the ten year old Jake Lloyd playing the young Darth Vader/Annakin Skywalker as, yep – the race car driver – from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
The obligatory slipping into the impregnable enemy vessel and inevitable all-out laser vs. laser and starships exploding in space work to give the people what they want. But as The Matrix infused everything from Galaxy Quest (a superb spoof of Star Trek) to Superman, that trilogy did have its own sparks of creative ingenuity. So does this film. The sky diving from outer space is done in a very original way and the swashbuckling swordfight on a suspended death ray combines both Star Wars and Matrix II, so the elements of past film glories are all thrown into the pot, shaken – not stirred. Yes, similar battles were found in The Return Of The Jedi and Star Trek: Generations, but Abrams puts nice twists into the immediate battle that occurs after the space dive. And the director is not afraid to kill off multiple “good guys” as well as bad. Superman is also invoked with Vulcan becoming the planet Krypton and young Spock now a young Kal-el learning the ways of the universe with cleverness and dedication.
The Blending of Genres and Plots from Sci-Fi’s Glorius Past
Perhaps Abrams is forcing the issue by putting the Star Trek characters firmly into the Superman/Starwars/Batman pantheon, and having a cameo by the son of James Doohan is certainly not enough as he has no prior roles and only the most hardcore Star Trek fan will get the connection. It’s cool trivia but not as essential as Majel Barrett’s computer voice is to the series.
Because Nichelle Nichols and Walter Chekov and the late James Doohan and the late DeForest Kelley made such a substantial mark on Star Trek lore. Majel Barrett Roddenberry’s voice was taped for the film just days before her passing. Her presence, as well as Nimoy’s, loom large over the new film.
Chris Pine could be the new Chris O’Donnell, a little more in charge than Robin in the 1990s Batman series, a little more ready to lead. Pine isn’t that bad, but the acting by the main characters, these new young actors, feels a bit like parody allowing villain Bana and hero Bruce Greenwood to shine as the most compelling characters next to Spock. The true antagonist/protagonist fight here is Bana vs. Greenwood (The Hulk vs. Captain Pike?) with Kirk & Spock as the posse coming to save the day. Under utilized actor Bruce Greenwood finally gets to be a major hero in a motion picture just as the/now his under utilized character Christopher Pike had the lead role in (arguably) the very best of all the Star Trek episodes, The Menagerie a.k.a. The Cage.
A re-working of that aspect of the Star Trek universe would have been appropriate because The Talosians were more formidable than The Borg. “They don’t mean to be evil” is the classic line describing them – they certainly didn’t mean to be evil, but as absolute power corrupts absolutely The Talosians were clearly the original draft of the machines from The Matrix with the same exact power – the power to make humans think they were in a reality that wasn’t simulated. They were the ultimate villains which initiated the Star Trek universe and deserve the same opportunity Ricardo Montalbán got to reprise his role of Khan Noonien Singh.
That J.J. Abrams didn’t go where man was only allowed to go twice before is the real pity. Return To Talos IV would be to the Star Trek series what The Dark Knight is to the Batman series.
Purity in moviemaking brought in great rewards for both The Dark Knight and the Spiderman franchises, not to mention Harry Potter. Staying as close to the original storyline as possible is what can save the X-Men, and what has not only saved but revitalized both Batman and Spiderman, two characters from two different universes. Alas, the problem here is that Abrams seems to be heading toward the dreaded Phantom Menace territory and that would be unacceptable. But let’s have some faith…the sight of Christopher Pike in a wheelchair could very well be a beautiful shape of things to come. A glimpse of going back to the future. You see the last time Pike appeared in a wheelchair they whisked him off to Talos IV, where Star Trek really needs to go.
Bruce Greenwood is no stranger to Science Fiction with roles in Cyborg Soldier and Will Smith’s I, Robot. Here he gets to redeem himself from the chilling role of Nick in Double Jeopardy (Tommy Lee Jones unofficial third Fugitive movie), a role that was so dastardly it could have typecast him forever. But as Glenn Close escaped the confines of typecast from her immoral…I mean…immortal role in Fatal Attraction, Greenwood fills Jeffrey Hunter’s shoes with understanding and passion. Star Trek 2009 gives us “a new hope” that this alternate universe is just an opportunity to make some money so that Star Trek’s own “Dark Knight” can become a reality. A Return to Talos IV would be a return to what made Star Trek great.
1:46 AM May 7 with touch-ups 9:05 am.
Copyright (C)2009 Joe Viglione