Posted by: Ken Brown | May 7, 2009

Star Trek: A New Hope?

EnterpriseAs I left the premier showing of Star Trek this evening, I was very tempted to go buy a ticket to the next one (if there were any left, which I doubt). On several levels–acting, characterization, special effects, soundtrack–the film was extraordinary. It was far more exhilarating than any other Star Trek, perhaps than any other science fiction, has ever been. It’s opening sequence is breathtaking and features several courageous acts of self-sacrifice. The story is suitably grand and daring, and the music and visuals are nothing short of stunning. Like on Battlestar Galactica and the climactic space battle in Serenity, the action has a realistic weight and inertia, heightened by the tight frame, frequent light flares and ample space debris.

I think what thrilled me the most, however, was the first jump to warp. For the first time since the original Star Wars, jumping to hyperspace actually felt like you just ripped a hole through space. And that is hardly the only similarity between this rebooted Star Trek and everyone’s favorite space opera. As Jeff Overstreet details, Enterprise interiorhalf the plot seems cribbed from Star Wars–even the corridors on the Enterprise remind me of a Rebel cruiser–yet without feeling the least bit stale or second-hand.

Unfortunatley, the other half of the plot is, well… I’m not sure a series of outrageous coincidences qualifies as a plot, yet that about sums it up: Kirk gets marooned on an ice planet and just so happens to get chased by a monster straight into a cave inhabited by the elderly time-traveling Spock? Now that might be plausible if Spock had traveled back to this planet intentionally, knowing Kirk would be here too. But no, Spock is here for an entirely different reason, and is as surprised to see Kirk as Kirk is to see him. No explanation for their chance occurrence is ever given, nor for the dozen coincidences that facilitate almost every other major advance in the story: how the Romulans ended up in the 23rd century–and at the very moment of Kirk’s birth, no less–how Kirk wound up in Star Fleet, how and when he met Uhura, Bones, Spock and Scotty, and plenty more that I won’t mention for fear of spoilers.

Thus I can’t help but feel conflicted about this new Star Trek. Whatever it’s failings it is epic and fantastically exciting, gritty and beautiful, and most of all it provides a perfect introduction to the central characters. It’s just a shame they didn’t have a better story to back them up, and that is what worries me. That the writers (the same who penned Transformers… yeah) can destroy entire worlds while barely stopping long enough to let us feel their significance, that they can pile impossible coincidence upon impossible coincidence with no more explanation than a half-joking wink, that they can completely disregard the laws of physics when it suits them–none of this bodes well for the future of a series that has always been about ideas and science as well as characters. It will sell a lot of tickets–I know I’ll be seeing it again!–but has it sacrificed story and theme for “sound and fury”?

This is no Phantom Menace, but is it A New Hope?

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Responses

  1. i’m not reading this until i see it (saturday night)–this is one film i don’t want to be spoiled on, heh. it sounds like you liked it!

  2. I don’t know if you’ll read the comments but yeah, I liked it, though I have some concerns.

    There are no major spoilers in the above (though a couple of minor ones), but you may want to avoid reading it just so I don’t bias your opinion of the film’s merits.

  3. The wild coincidences plot line is interesting to me because I just finished watching (finally) Slumdog Millionaire. The entire story there is built on a string of childhood events that all magically fall together for the hero. These things are dealt with in the movie as evidences of destiny (“it is written”), and in Christianity we also believe that God weaves history in various intentional ways to bring about his plan.

    Star Trek has always been completely secular, so I doubt that in this case the writers are hinting at a “force” moving events behind the scenes. But I haven’t seen the movie yet…. Are these just writing shortcuts, or are they hinting at a spiritual cause and effect that is bringing this particular crew together for just such a time as this? What do you think?

    Good review. Unlike Jeffery Overstreet, I always liked Star Trek better than Star Wars. Can’t wait to go see this new interpretation.

  4. Hey Charlie–another Trekkie! Woohoo!

    I thought of the same possibility about destiny, but the film really doesn’t give us any reason to think that’s what’s going on here. The coincidences feel very much like narrative shortcuts rather than evidence of some greater power pulling the strings. It’s one thing for salvation to unexpectedly and improbably arrive at just the right moment–that’s the case in almost every action movie!–it’s something else for every major advance in the plot to be “explained” solely by chance meeting: two people/ships just so happened to be in the same place at the same time (in all the vastness of space). You can get away with that once or twice in a movie, but again and again and again?

    Anyway, I’ve been a fan of both franchises for as long as I can remember, but I’m definitely more of a Trekkie than the latter.

  5. Hey Ken, I’m a non-Trekkie and have only seen a few Star Trek movies (my favourite one was the Next Generation one with the Borg). But I am pretty stoked about seeing this movie! So all I am looking for is some escapist fun with good action and a decent story, so hopefully my (relative) ignorance of Star Trek will not get in the way?

  6. You should love it then! It’s pure adrenaline and requires zero knowledge of the previous series (though obviously there is plenty in there that only a Trekkie would catch–none of it is necessary to enjoy the movie). It’s also surprisingly funny.

  7. ken, i finally saw the film and, like you, i wanted to turn around and see it again right then and there! i found that film one of the best theater experiences i’ve had, heh–probably because i love sell-out crowds and i’ve had star trek in my blood since i was a kid.

    but i must admit that i wasn’t so bothered by the “coincidences.” in fact, i think there IS evidence for destiny in the film. heh, imagine that!

  8. I really resonate with your post, and I think you make a decent case for seeing destiny in the film, but I’m not convinced it really gets at the problem I have with the film’s coincidences and plot-holes, particularly the following (major spoiler warning):

    1. The explanation for why Romulus was destroyed just doesn’t make sense to me. First, there is the whole problem of why the Vulcans would send a ship to try and stop a supernova, but not bother telling the Romulans to evacuate. Besides that, there is the hair brain plan to avert the supernova by creating a black hole–even if that would work, which I doubt, wouldn’t it have wiped out Romulus just as effectively anyway? Further, wouldn’t the Vulcans have at least notified the Romulans about their plan to try and save them, so why is it that the only Romulan ship that survives could somehow think the opposite, that Spock had actually destroyed Romulus intentionally?

    None of that is inexcusable, but what really bugs me is:

    2. The fact that somehow this attempt to stop the supernova sent Nero back to the exact moment of Kirk’s birth, and sent Spock back to the exact moment of Kirk’s near-expulsion from Star Fleet academy. I could buy this if the time traveling had been intentional, if Romulus had been destroyed and Nero went back on purpose to destroy Kirk, and Spock went back intentionally to save him, but to chalk it all up to an accidental side effect of a black hole is a massive coincidence. Even assuming that a black hole can cause you to go back in time (rather than, say, just getting smashed into oblivion as at the end of the film), the chances that it would just so happen to send them to these exact moments beyond infinitesimal.

    Perhaps you could say there was some higher power at work, but that seems a pretty far stretch from the film’s couple of subtle references to destiny (and if this was destiny, what was it the first time around, when things went differently?). In any case, it would have to be a pretty malicious being to allow Romulus to be destroyed, then send the only survivors back in time to the wreak their revenge. I just don’t get this.

    3. Kirk gets marooned on a desolate ice planet and just so happens to be within walking distance of the one person in the whole galaxy who knows what’s going on. He further just so happens to get chased by a monster straight to that person. The two of them further just so happen to be within walking distance of the one person in the whole galaxy who knows how to rig a transporter to beam them onto a ship traveling at warp speed….

    There are other, smaller, coincidences, but those are the ones that really bug me, mainly because they were not really even necessary and smack of lazy writing.

  9. regarding #2, who says there is only *one* higher power at work, heh.

    seriously, while i *could* reason out explanations for each of your points that are plausible (all be it *very* stretchy), i’d really just be skirting the fact that i too think the writing could have been stronger, perhaps, however, less so in the events and coincidences and more so in the addition of allusions or or more overt discussion of destiny, fate, etc. in the film.

    in the end, however, because of the underlying theme of destiny, i don’t have that nagging “argh” i’ve had with other films when it comes to Kirk landing so close to Spock (other than the fact that if i were evil like Nero i’d want to have Spock right with me to witness his agony–like Darth Vadar had Leia on the Death Star bridge) or the timing of the time travel.

  10. Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    A Star Trek quiz…Boldly going where no quiz has gone before
    By David Buckna
    Special to ASSIST News Service

    http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2009/s09050064.htm

    ==============================
    A Heavenly Enterprise

    ‘Star Trek’
    By Ann Hornaday
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, May 7, 2009

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/06/AR2009050603913.html?wprss=rss_print/style

  11. Yes, it was an *awesome* movie. Certainly one of the best Star Trek films yet (and therefore one of the best movies period). And I’m not just saying that because it was my first baby-free date with my wife in ages.

    I surprised myself by loving the completely reworked special effects. I hadn’t realized, until seeing this movie, how little real change there has been in phaser, photon torpedo, or warp drive effects, over the forty-some years of Star Trek special effects.

    *** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

    Ken, I sympathise with your complaints – some of the plot devices were pretty thin. Especially the supernova one. Although I think you’re overstating some of the others. for example, there are independent justifications for Kirk and old-Spock being on the same planet (or is it a moon of Vulcan?) – old-Spock because Nero wanted him there to see the death of Vulcan; Kirk because it was a handy place for young-Spock to dump him as the left the Vulcan system. And it is reasonable that young-Spock would make a token effort to put Kirk near the Starfleet outpost. I know, this doesn’t tie it all up neatly, but at least it’s a veneer or explanation.

    As for destiny – well, although it has always been secular, it has often skated close to religious ideas such as life after death, the existence of gods, and even the idea of destiny (for example, the recurring character of Daniels in Enterprise and his obsession with preserving Archer). Glad to hear there are further films in the works – perhaps they will resolve this question.

    Even if not, it’s a good bet that they’ll be fun and entertaining.

  12. I watched it again last night and enjoyed it even more than the first time. The many coincidences did not bother me as much, and I noticed a lot more destiny-talk than I had before, which is no doubt meant to help explain them. Thrilling, amazing movie!

    Still, the supernova (going to destroy the galaxy??), and the notion that detonating the warp core would be more help in escaping a black hole than going to warp, were even more groan-worthy this time around, and I’m still nervous that they have lost sight of the philosophical core of the series. The new Trek isn’t dumb, but it doesn’t really make you think either.

  13. [...] through time. He will now spend the rest of his life trying to get revenge on… Wait. Sorry. Wrong movie. Unlike Star Trek, my wife actually wanted to see this [...]


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