I saw the new Star Trek film last night, and was not too impressed. It was certainly a fun and entertaining scifi action movie, but I expected more.
(This rant contains spoilers, but it’s not exactly a murder mystery, so read on.)
My first criteria for the movie was that if I took someone unfamiliar with Trek to see it, would they ”get” Trek. Would they understand why I spent my youth with a Data poster on my wall, practising the Vulcan salute and some Klingon phrases. Or, had I seen this as a ten-year-old, would it have made as much of an impact on me, as the early TNG episodes?
I don’t think this movie has that appeal at all. It caters to us fans well enough, not breaking continuity, delivering enough old catchphrases, reintroducing the retro costumes and so on. It gives your mainstream audience lots of space explosions and planetside fist fights. But it doesn’t have ”it.”
It doesn’t have that special something that made us love Star Trek despite the crappy effects, occasional sloppy writing or lackluster directing. Besides all the technobabble Trek also had human questions, philosophical dilemmas and a bright, utopian view of the future. It gave us hope. This gives us… explosions and fist fights.
I’m not against explosions and fist fights, not at all. I think they’re cool. Especially when they happen while orbiting strange alien planets. But I wanted more.
I realize cinema is not the medium of choice for philosophy and ethical questions, it’s more about visual storytelling. But one thing movies do well is showing close-ups of characters you’ve grown to care about making hard choices with emotional music in the background, and making me laugh and cry. With these characters I already love, I was almost certain I’d get that. But no. I’ve cried to Pirates of the Carribbean and even to the Sex and the City movie. But here? Nothing. Couple of good jokes, and some popcorn action, but my eyes remained dry. Everything that happened just seemed irrelevant.
Many reviews praised this film because it gave us personal storylines we care about: The youth dilemmas of Captain Kirk and Mr Spock. You’ve read it everywhere, so it’s no spoiler at this point: Kirk is a rebel under-achiever who takes up the challenge to measure up to his martyred space hero father. Spock is torn between his emotional human heritage and his logical Vulcan side.
Or so I can imagine the synopsis saying.
Kirk’s story is pretty well told, with acting, directing and writing combining to a pretty good, if uninspired yarn. This is how Jim Kirk becomes Captain Kirk, taking his smug, self-righteous, driven attitude to become a great leader. American screenwriters seem to have some sort of constant Oidipus complex where every white twenty-something male hero has to measure up to his dad, but it works here just fine.
The story of Spock on the other hand, seems to pretend to be something it’s not. I honestly can’t understand how this combination of confused writing and sloppy directing made it on screen. The premise is that Spock hides all his emotions and claims to base all his decisions on logic – just like in the tv series. But that doesn’t get through at all. All the decisions he makes are based on pure, non-hidden emotion. Turn down Vulcan Science Academy because they made fun of your mom? Get annoyed and spiteful at Jim Kirk beating your test? Make out with your girlfriend in the elevator? Constantly lose your temper talking about the smalles things? Leave your command post to go play Indy on Vulcan? Weep over the loss of your mom? What the hell is that? If they wanted to portray Spock as hiding his emotions, shouldn’t they give him some scenes where you’d expect him to show emotion (and there were plenty), and then NOT show those emotions? Until the climax where he finally let’s them pour through, and the audience is in tears, watching the face of stone grimace in pain.
What we got was a story of some really emotional guy with petty grievances towards his rivals, who has lots of bad luck, and then finally befriends his rival. I guess I can live with that story, too, but why pretend it’s something else?
Actually, that pretty much sums up my feelings for this whole film. It’s a nice space adventure, but why pretend it’s Star Trek?
I sat next to Ecyrd in the theatre, and pretty much agree with his review, too.