Star Trek Review (brief, no spoilers)

Last night, I went to see the new Star Trek movie with a member of the computer science faculty. A math professor was hoping to come, but had a change of plans. The previews suggested it would be a bit intense for me to take the kids to see it, but now that I’ve seen the show, I think it will be OK.  You have to know your kids though — the opening sequence pushes some buttons that I didn’t expect to have pushed in action film, and the combination of tug-at-the-heartstrings and pulse-pounding action in the opening few minutes might be a bit overwhelming.

I haven’t shown my kids the whole run of classic Trek, mostly because I’d rather do other things with them besides watch TV. 

They do know a handful of the best episodes — the ones that are really worth taking time to see (such as The Doomsday Machine and The Trouble with Tribbles). They haven’t seen any of the later incarnations of the show, nor any of the movies.  What with all my wife’s old videotapes of Dr. Who, and the complete run of Babylon 5 (dutifully taped by my sister and mailed to us in batches), we already have a big enough backlog of good TV that we’re not watching at the moment.

As for the remake… I don’t mind at all that they redesigned the sets and models to look futuristic to a 21st-century audience. Communicators and phasers are still cool.  As if to atone for the snail-paced original Trek movie (thirty years ago… 1979), there were no talky briefing room scenes — they handled all the exposition during the action sequences, and the turbolift is still a great location for two characters to have a private conversation.  All the various characters have been tweaked just a bit, so that we recognize their iconic nature, but also see them change.  The movie has more of an ensemble feel, which is something The Next Generation developed well.

My geek-boy katra can’t quite grasp what the producer was thinking when he put Delta Vega that close to Vulcan.  The engine room set was a cop-out. I know they filmed it in a brewery, but I wonder just how much money they spent on the little tribute to Agustus Gloop… was it some elaborate reference to certain characters being wet behind the ears?

Speaking of cop… where have I heard the thrumming sound made by the flying motorcycle?  It feels like an old friend, but I can’t place it. Blade Runner?

The amount of lens flare, especially in the bridge scenes, was noticeably distracting. I think the goal was to tie the bridge scenes in with the CGI sequences, since the space shots also featured lots of animated lens flare. The closing credits even features an elaborate CGI sequence that renders dust or some other kind of imperfections on the camera lens. But I found that whole concept — the shaky camera cinema verite conceit — bothersome. The original series used handheld cameras to occasional good effect… would occasionally march into the turbolift behind Kirk, or the camera would do a 360 around Spock while he is doing a mind-meld.  It used to be far too expensive to do special effects on a moving image — that’s why the actors in the original series stood still while the transporter beam dissolved them away.

When there’s reason, within the story, to watch hand-held footage — someone’s recording from a hand-held tricorder, for instance — then I’d say, bring on the shakies. But surely in the future there will be digital stabilizer. But when I see lens flare on a CGI shot, it hurts my ability to enjoy the scene, because I know the producers aren’t trying to make me feel like I’m there, floating in space with a God’s eye view of the battle. Instead, they’re trying to make me feel like I’m watching documentary footage.

I completely understand the need to dirty down the models and make the props and sets more functional, but I found it distracting to be reminded so often that I’m watching a movie… I just want a direct sensory infusion of space opera goodness… I was annoyed by the amount of effort the producers put into simulating the constraints of modern movie cameras.  When the shaky camera trend has run its course, its overuse in this movie will make this Star Trek outing look dated.

Having picked my nits, I will say that there were a couple of beauty shots of the new Enterprise, some surprising revelations about character backstory (now we know why Spock never took the Kobayashi Maru test), and a bold and brash feel that was just thrilling to watch.

One thought on “Star Trek Review (brief, no spoilers)

  1. Hi Dennis,
    Excellent review of the new Star Trek movie which I recently saw as well. One of the most interesting aspects was ongoing Spock-“Nyota” Uhura relationship. The movie allowed for the possibility of time-travel paradoxes; older Spock seemed to be urging his younger counterpart to open his half-Vulcan heart to romantic possibilities.
    In the original series, the conflict between his two-sided nature seemed more intellectually-based; as if love were a disability from which humans suffered. You may recall the episode, “Mirror, Mirror”, which Kirk, Uhura, McCoy are transported to an parallel universe where the alter egos are savage personalities on the alternate “Enterprise.” Alternate-universe Spock’s ability to mind-meld with McCoy and retain some semblance of logic helps to save the lives of Kirk, Uhura, and McCoy.
    The real universe Spock comments humorously that he preferred the more aggressive Kirk, Uhura and McCoy because they were “the very flower of humanity.” I think in the new Star Trek movie, the writers have decided to update Spock’s character to be more empathetic; implying that the trip through the black hole, his father Sarek’s motivations, and the destruction of Vulcan, were instrumental in creating a “different” Spock than the one in the original series.

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