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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Star Trek

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch one of the many movies I own and blog about it, because I don't have much of a life.  Speaking of not  having a life, I'm a trekkie, and back when Star Trek Into Darkness was coming out, I decided to watch every Star Trek movie in anticipation.  Which brings us to almost-the-end, the 2009 reboot, known simply as Star Trek.  This entry is dated in my notes at May 11, 2013.

Star Trek movie poster

Reboot. I don't know why many trekkies found it to be such a frightening term. What's wrong with wiping the slate clean and starting over when your continuity starts getting too big and convoluted? Several Star Trek writers agreed. On both the running commentaries for Generations and First Contact, Ronald D. Moore or Brannon Braga (I forget which one) lobbied that it was time for a reboot of Star Trek. They pointed to the legendary DC Comics mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths as a needed and properly done reboot.

(For those who don't read comics, Crisis on Infinite Earths was DC's epic reboot of their continuity in 1985.)

And if you're going to do a reboot, why not go back to the beginning? Some form of prequel, concerning Kirk, Spock, and all the rest meeting as cadets at Starfleet Academy and having their first adventure was an idea that had been kicked around for some time. Harve Bennett, the producer of films 2 - 5, really wanted to do it for #6, but Paramount wouldn't let him. Reports even surfaced that Gene Roddenberry himself considered the idea, and floated it publicly at cons throughout the 70s. So, with so many producers of the franchise already on board, why was there such resistance?

Well, quite frankly, we geeks can be quite possessive our beloved universes. So when you tell us that you're going to erase everything and start over...well, we get upset.

So Nemesis underperformed at the box office in 2002. Enterprise limped its way through two more season and came to an end at the end of its fourth season in 2005. It seemed the franchise was dead, and had earned a long rest. But, as the decade of the 00s came to a close, remakes and sequels started dominating the box office, so it wouldn't be long before Paramount was calling one of the most durable franchises back from the pasture.

To supervise this reboot, Paramount turned to J.J. Abrams. He'd earned some geek cred as creator of the hit spy TV series Alias, and helped kickstart the Mission: Impossible franchise when Tom Cruise invited him to write and direct Mission: Impossible 3. So, the Paramount brass invited him into their offices one day and asked him, "So...what would you do with a Star Trek movie?" Abrams, not being a trekkie and knowing next to nothing about the franchise, said, "Uh...it would be about Kirk and Spock and...how they met?" And that was enough for Paramount to give him the franchise.

Abrams quickly mobilized his brain trust: Damon Lindloff, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. They began hammering out ideas. So, it would be a prequel about how our heroes met. But, they needed to raise the stakes. So, they brought in the old Star Trek trope of time travel. Someone comes back in time, alters the timeline and thus...reboots the universe. It would be brand new...a jumping on point for new fans.

They got to work with the daunting task of recasting these legendary space heroes. I remember me and my friends at the time going, "Who the hell is Chris Pine?" when he was selected to be the new Captain Kirk. I didn't watch Heroes, but I was told that the new Spock was a bad guy from that show. About the only ones I had heard of were Simon Pegg as the new Scotty and John Cho as the new Sulu.

It's kind of irrelevant to talk about the new characters in this film because everyone is new. Well, they're familiar characters, but we've got new faces and new takes and...ugh, it gets confusing. Our villain of the piece is Nero, played by Eric Bana, a time traveling Romulan bent on revenge. The good ol' revenge-driven villain. Kind of a stock character, but he's just here to get our heroes united.

I remember the build up for this film. I remember following the developments online. And I started feeling something deep down inside that I hadn't felt for a while. I was getting excited about Star Trek again. Each new teaser, each new image, each bit of footage I was reading...it was getting me jazzed. I mean, I, too was feeling worn out by the franchise by the time Enterprise called it a day. But everything I saw was making me feel things I hadn't felt in a long time.

I think it was because I finally got my wish. I had complained before about how all of the Next Generation films just looked and felt like 2-hour special episodes of the series. But everything I was seeing about the reboot made it look like a movie. Vast sci-fi cities, not constructed villages on a backlot. Giant monsters actually roaming alien landscapes, and not just talked about off camera. Star Trek finally looked big and epic and ready for the big screen.

I took the day off from work so I could see it opening day. If you want to see a movie first, but don't like crowds, cut work for the day and catch a matinee on opening day. Even though it's just released, you get those very empty middle-of-the-afternoon theatres. I remember standing in line behind a quartet of teenage girls, 16 or 17, who had cut school for the same reason. As I stood behind them, and overheard their debates about which captain is the best and which episode is their favourite, I just thought to myself, "Where were girls like this when I was in high school?"

The opening scene. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the opening scene. I complained how Nemesis made me feel completely indifferent about Data's death. But, in the opening 10 minutes of the film from when I first saw it, I was trying to hold back tears as I watched the death of Captain Kirk's father. How they could make me care so deeply about a character who bites it before the opening credits was just amazing. And Kirk's father, George Kirk, played by Chris Hemsworth before he grew his hair long and bulked up to play Thor. Just makes sense that Kirk would be fathered by a god.

So, the film opens. The USS Kelvin is on routine patrol, when a mysterious vessel emerges from a "lightening storm in space." The vessel does battle with the Kelvin, leaving it critically damaged. The Kelvin's captain goes over the vessel to negotiate the cease fire, leaving Kirk Sr. in command. When the captain is murdered and the battle begins anew, Kirk Sr. begins the evacuation of the ship...just as his wife goes into labour. Which the automated systems damaged, Kirk Sr. stays behind to battle the vessel and make sure everyone gets to safety. Kirk Sr dies, but the last thing he hears are the cries of his new baby son, and he and his wife settle on the name Jim.

Cue that amazing Michael Giacchino music, the title Star Trek appears, with a bigger than life Starfleet logo behind it, and I think I had an orgasm.

But where is young Spock? We see 10-year old Spock on Vulcan, the victim of bullying because of his half-human parentage. We see young Spock grow up, a victim of bullying all his life, even as a young adult, as he gains acceptance to the Vulcan Science Academy, "despite his obvious disadvantage." With this final insult, Spock says "Fuck you!" to the Vulcan Science Academy and enlists in Stafleet.

We catch up with the now young adult Kirk, getting hammered in a bar, and hitting on a young Starfleet cadet named Uhura. Of course, this devolves into a bar brawl, to be broken up by one Captain Christopher Pike. Pike knows Kirk, or at least knows the name, as we learn that Pike served on the Kelvin when Kirk Sr. made his heroic sacrifice. Pike tells Kirk that he's wasting his potential being nothing more than a drunken farm boy, and that he should enlist in Starfleet. Pike's words strike a chord with Kirk, so he enlists. And on the shuttle taking the cadets to the Academy, Kirk meets another of his lifelong friends.

Man, Karl Urban as Bones is another fantastic one. He damn near becomes DeForrest Kelly in a couple of scenes. But despite being a reboot, it's amazing how much continuity is finally mentioned on screen for the first time, such as Uhura's first name and McCoy's divorce.

We jump forward three years, as graduation time draws near at the Academy. Kirk is taking the Kobayoshi Maru test once again, and despite it being a no-win scenario, Kirk is taking it a third time, believing he's finally found a way to beat it. And, to the surprise of everyone, Kirk does indeed win the no-win scenario. The one most surprised is the one who programs the simulator...a grad student named Spock.

A tribunal is called to answer the charges of Kirk cheating on the Kobayoshi Maru , and Kirk and Spock finally meet for the first time. They butt heads, as Kirk asserts that he doesn't believe in no-win scenarios, and Spock reminds him that how we deal with death is as important as how we deal with life. But, before a verdict can be reached, they get word that Vulcan is under attack, and with most of the fleet on maneuvers in deep space, the cadets are called into action.

Most of our familiar crew gets assigned to the fleet's new flagship, the Enterprise, under the command of Captain Pike. Except for Kirk, because he's on suspension until a verdict is reached. But McCoy smuggles Kirk onto the Enterprise, and they head off to Vulcan. When Kirk hears the attack on Vulcan described as a "lightening storm in space," Kirk bolts upright. He runs to Uhura, working in the bowels of the ship. Earlier, she picked up some Klingon transmissions where they encountered a "lightening storm in space" and did battle with some Romulans. Kirk rushes to the bridge and shares the information. This "lightening storm in space" is a Romulan supership, the same one that destroyed the Kelvin, and their heading into a trap. The Enterprise comes out of warp in a debris field. The Romulan ship hails the Enterprise. Its commander, Nero, is surprised that it's the Enterprise, and wants to talk to Spock. Once Spock is verified as being on the ship, Nero invites Pike over to his ship to negotiate a truce. But while this is going on, Nero's ship is tunneling into the centre of Vulcan. A plan is hatched. Pike will go over to Nero's ship for the negotiations. Kirk will lead an away team to take out the drill. Spock is promoted to command of the Enterprise, and Pike makes Kirk the first officer.

The away team consists of Kirk, Sulu, and a red shirt who quickly dies. This does disappoint me a little bit. John Cho said one of the things he like about Sulu was that, even though he was Asian, he was just a regular guy...not bereft of Asian stereotypes. So, of course, in his biggest scene in this reboot, he whips out a samurai sword and does ninja flips to take out some Romulan soldiers. Anyway, they take out the drill, but the Romulans drop something into the centre of the planet. Whatever they dropped, it will create a black hole at the center of Vulcan and destroy the planet.

The Enterprise begins evacuating Vulcan. Spock beams down to personally evacuate the Vulcan High Council, as they're in an isolated location. Spock rescues most of them...but his mother dies before his eyes.

With Vulcan destroyed and Pike captured by Nero, Captain Spock decides it's best they rendezvous with the rest of the fleet. Kirk, however, wants to pursue Nero and rescue Pike and save Earth, as that's the next likely target. Kirk and Spock's disagreement over what to do results in a brawl, with Spock deciding to eject Kirk from the ship. The put him in an escape pod, and dump him on nearby planet Delta Vega.

Delta Vega is an ice planet, and Kirk has some run ins with the local wildlife, but he's eventually rescued by...Spock! Old Spock! Leonard Nimoy! I knew fully well that he made an appearance in it, but the guy sitting next to me in the theatre didn't, as I heard him gasp. According to the guys who made the film, they really wanted Nimoy to be in the film, and they figured they'd be screwed if he didn't.

Old Spock talks to Kirk and fills him in on what's going on. 100 years in the future, Romulus is going to be under threat by a supernova, and reaches out to the Federation for help. Spock volunteers to pilot an experimental ship to create a black hole and absorb the supernova. But, they're too late, and Romulus is destroyed. Spock created the black hole and absorbed the supernova anyway, but Nero appeared, vowing revenge for the destruction of Romulus and the death of his family. Before Nero can exact his revenge, though, the black hole throws the two back in time. Nero went through first, which is why he arrived in the past first. Spock only recently arrived. Nero's going to claim his revenge by destroying the Federation, and he started with Vulcan to make Spock suffer. To stop Nero and restore the timeline, they need to put Kirk back on the Enterprise...and into the captain's chair.

Old Spock and Kirk set out for the Federation outpost on this desolate planet, and we meet the only crew member we haven't met yet...Scotty. Scotty reveals his been exiled to this outpost because he tried out his new transwarp beaming method on "Admiral Archer's prized beagle," and Trekkie-kind came to the horrible realization that in this reboot, the only continuity that still exists is Enterprise. With some help from Old Spock, they get Scotty's method working, and Kirk and Scotty beam to the Enterprise.

Old Spock reveals that, in order for Kirk to take command, he has to prove that Spock has become "emotionally compromised," in which case he'll be forced to step down. And Kirk, as first officer, will take command. Kirk arrives, and is escorted to the bridge. Their battle starts anew, and Kirk resorts to tactics similar to Spock's childhood bullying, especially focusing on how emotionless Spock has been about his mother's death. Spock eventually loses his cool, and punches the heck out of Kirk. Only the voice of Spock's father Sarek is able to quell Spock's aggression. Spock then realizes he is emotionally compromised, and steps down. Kirk takes charge, and changes course to hunt down Nero.

After some reassuring words from his father, Spock rejoins our heroes. A plan is made to sneak up on Nero's ship as it enters the solar system, infiltrate the ship, rescue Pike, and disable the vessel. And that's exactly what happens, with lots of space battles and explosions.

With our heroes having saved Earth, Kirk is cleared of all charges from his cheating on the Kobayoshi Maru and even receives a commendation. And, he gets command of the Enterprise fresh out of the Academy. Spock considers quitting Starfleet to help repopulate Vulcan, but his old self encourages Spock to continue, and become the friends with Kirk that he's destined to become. Apparently, this is the scene that sold Leonard Nimoy on doing the film. Nimoy didn't want to come back unless Spock was developed in some way. Many people wonder what words of wisdom they would give their younger selves if they could go back in time, and Nimoy realized Spock was being presented with that opportunity. Spock joins the Enterprise crew as first officer, all the familiar characters take their stations, and they boldly go where no one has gone before!

I know a lot of hardcore trekkies hate this reboot through and through. Star Trek, or at least Trekkies, always bragged about how this was the thinking man's sci-fi franchise...that it was more about the human condition than epic space battles. And they feel that this was more of just another big dumb action film. What did this hardcore Trekkie think of it? I thoroughly loved it. Loved it to pieces. This is the strongest I've felt for these characters in a long time. Granted, there a little different, but that's to be expected with a reboot. And does Star Trek always have to be about debating the human condition? Gene Roddenberry allowed from the comedic episodes of Star Trek because he believed the universe was big enough for humour...can't it be big enough for adventure as well?

Granted, a few things caught me off guard. The Spock/Uhura romantic relationship just seemed to come out of left field for me. But, according to a friend of mine, even before this reboot, it was a popular pairing in Star Trek fanfic. I confided to her that, given the history of the characters in the original series, I'm kind of hoping to see a Spock/Uhura/Nurse Chapel love triangle in the films, and she says, "Oh, yeah, I can send you some links to some very good stories were that's explored."

And Winona Ryder as Spock's mother! She was pretty cute back in her teen comedy days, and seeing her in this, I think she's still go it.

And the music! Oh my God, the music! I adore Michael Giacchino's score in this film. I don't know why he gets so much hate, but I love his stuff.

I'm about all rambled out now.  I just loved this film.  It was the new blood I'd been craving for the franchise ever since Insurrection.  It blew off the dust, brought it into the 21st Century, and several other cliches.  It's just good.  

And that's it!  With this, I have completed my quest to watch every Star Trek film before Into Darkness hits theatres.  According to the countdown clock on my computer, I have 5 days, 2 hours, and 35 minutes to spare.  Will the makers be able to continue the momentum that they began with this film?  I've already read some early reviews online.  The average moviegoer says it's as good as the first one...the hardcore Trekkies are calling it a debacle of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen proportions.  Soon, I will be making my own judgement. 

Soon.  Oh so very soon. 

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