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Here’s the review of Star Trek I just posted to Fandango.com:

Incredible! Cast: Pitch-perfect. Pacing: Never drags, too swift in spots. Effects: Plot-driven, stunning. Plot: Holey, but forgivable. Design: Simultaneously like everything that came before and unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Faithfulness: Yes, but. It all seems REAL in an un-Trek way. I mean: Since TNG, Trek has been so sterile. Homogenized, both in design and outlook. Technology. Social structures. Ethos. Pathos. It’s always there. What’s been missing is humanity — ironic since “what it means to be human” is a perennial theme. Until now, Trek has been telling us “what it means to be human — in theory.” So! Didactic! New Trek is the polar opposite, recapturing the verve and (yes) raw humanity of the 60’s TV show. This franchise gets just what it needed: an IV full of New Blood. Here’s a vision of a future I can suspend disbelief in, peopled by complex characters I would love to meet. REAL (ish) people who RELISH their work. And why not? They have the best job in the galaxy.

4.5 widgets out of five, but I’m a very tough grader. I deduct the half star for two things: 1) The plot has some coincidences that are just too pat, and some “No, really?” moments. For example, the villain’s method of attack is very creative,1 but basically requires that planetary defense systems are non-existent. 2) There are a few scenes that are just there for summer blockbuster appeal. Though well done, I would have been happier without the creature-chases-creature-chasing-Kirk sequence.

But never mind all that. I really liked this movie, and what I liked about it can pretty much be summed up by the irony implied by this video from the Onion.com:

I’ve been a Trekazoid since I was a wee lad (Trekling?). I’ve seen all the movies, and most of the TV shows. I even tried to watch Enterprise. I never put on plastic ears, but I did spend a summer learning Klingon. (In some ways, that experience put me on the career path I’m on.)

I blame my mom. Yes, oddly enough, in my family it’s Mom who is the Trekster and Dad who could take it or leave it. She enjoys a good fantasy pic now and again, but he only likes realism, the grittier the better. He fell asleep during all three Star Wars prequels. In the theater. Yeah.

He clapped at the end of this film.

Abrams and company really went out of their way to make the world of this film a believable one. Well, as believable as a Trek movie possibly could be, given the conceits they had to work with. Once you get past the conceptual hurdles, the picture exists in a very comfortable, “realistic” space.

With, you know, real people in it.

That’s always been my biggest beef with the Star Trek franchise, which I hinted at in my Fandango review. Trek presents us a vision of a future that, frankly, I wouldn’t want to live in. It seems like the most ponderous, politically correct, and (quick! think of another word that begins with “p” ... yes!) and perfect place. Too perfect.

It’s as if we finally found that socialist utopia everyone keeps talking about. (Everyone works, people seem to own things, but there’s no money?!)

It’s as if the UN were running the world — no, the galaxy — and (get this) they’re doing a bang-up job. Suspension of disbelief, indeed.

James Tiberius Kirk always rubbed against the grain of that society. Why? Because he refused to evolve beyond his petty human ego. He realized that human nature has no history. People are people, no matter where (or when) you go. Kirk is an un-reconstituted man in a world that is entirely reconstituted, right down to the replicated coffee and doughnuts. (Wait, no. Starfleet personnel definitely do not eat doughnuts. Unless they were square and made of a substance resembling balsa wood.)

Much of the dramatic tension in the 60’s TV show came from the conflict between the adventurer Kirk and his bureaucratic surroundings. Starfleet command is chirping on the subspace frequency? Don’t answer it, Lt Uhura. We have aliens to fry.

Now, I like “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and I have a lot of respect for Patrick Stewart as an actor.2 But then and there, the Trek producers pretty much de-fanged the franchise. Picard is a man settled into his society. Yes, he pops out of gear now and then, but for the most part, he’s a cog in the Starfleet machine. It’s all kinder and gentler. More politically correct.

More dull.

The new Star Trek film recreates the brashness of the original TV show, while at the same time completely transcending it. The characters are people, and they haven’t evolved beyond their essential humanity at all. They’ve embraced it. And they’re enjoying the hell out of it.

One of my favorite scenes involves Chekov: Hearing over the conn that the transporter team is having trouble with a very delicate maneuver, he lights up and says, “I can do that!” Then he leaps from his station and runs through the hallways yelling in his thick “Russian” accent: “Get out of the way!” That’s a guy who won’t quote “policy” at you if you have a problem. That’s a guy who knows when to abandon his post and fill in where he’s needed. That’s a guy who genuinely loves his work and is enthusiastic about doing it. That’s a guy with creativity, courage, and dare I say it, spirit.

That’s a guy I would want on my team.

That’s true of all the bridge crew. They’re professionals, but they’re not boring. They’re all brilliant, enthusiastic people. The sort of people you wished you worked with. (I do, by the way.)

In short: People I wouldn’t mind meeting, in a world I wouldn’t mind living to see. Which is what “optimistic” sci-fi is all about. What the film lacks in logical coherence it more than makes up for in raw enthusiasm. And that’s what Star Trek is all about, again.

Bravo, all.


1 As my sister and I were were leaving the theater, she asked me what “red matter” was. I said I didn’t know for sure, but that it was probably made from pure baloney-um.

2 Patrick Stewart’s turn on the HBO-series “Extras” is some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen in years: “You’re not married and you don’t have a girlfriend and you’ve never watched Star Trek? ... Good lord.”

May 14, 2009 | Eli Evans | permalink | comment

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