Screenjunkies’s writer Jim Connelly breaks down selected scenes from the recent J.J. Abrams presentation of the much-anticipated, highly-controversial Star Trek. Check it out, along with the recently ‘upgraded’ internet trailer featuring a cameo from L. Nimoy himself.
Star Trek is dead.
Or at least that’s the way it probably seems to the culture at large. And it’s kind of their fault. After spending decades creating a plausible future history based around the United Federation of Planets, and setting three great series — and nearly a dozen films of varying quality — in that universe, they punted.
In the early 1990’s, it seemed like Star Trek could do no wrong, and suddenly, that’s all they did. First, with Voyager, where they decided to set it outside of their ‘verse, and then with the retcon-filled abomination known as Enterprise, where they ran it all over with a truck. A stupid, boring truck full of long-winded speeches, lame 9/11 analogies, and illogical Vulcans.
In the meantime, the group of nerds to whom William Shatner hilariously said "get a life" not only gave him his third and fourth lives, they decided to take over yours as well. The Nerdosphere has expanded and expanded, and has pretty much permeated our entire popular culture. Think about it. TV shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost are regularly cited in "greatest of all time" lists. Superhero movies kill in the box office. Comic-Con draws hundreds of thousands of people. And the next President of the United States of America collects Spider-Man comics. When the President is addressing the nation via YouTube and a debate is raging over whether or not he is going to give up his Blackberry, you know that nerd culture reigns supreme.
At the same time Star Trek foundered: it turned out that the stellar Next Generation cast wasn’t iconic enough to carry a movie series into the 21st century, and after Enterprise rightfully imploded, the Star Trek powers that be were left without any new product for the first time in 25 years. It even got to the point where the plug was pulled on the official Star Trek website, leaving it to float unattended through the cold space of the web. It became a dead relic of better times.
What to do? Reboot! Reimagine! Reengage! Not another series: too much work to power up a series only to find out that noone cares. Better to risk it on a film. And bring in somebody whose very name would excite the die-hards and intrigue everybody else. Say hello to J.J. Abrams, whose involvement with Lost, Mission Impossible and, yes, Felicity, meant that he might have the right combination of sci-fi acumen, action chops and storytelling smarts to revive Star Trek. Or kill it forever.
And as long as they’re hitting the reset button, why not go right back to the characters of Star Trek: The Original Series. And do an origin story. If it works, then Star Trek is a sci-fi James Bond: such a strong concept that fans will allow the characters to be embodied by new faces every few years. And, will live and die by how the new actors embody those old roles.
This is all of the stuff that is churning in my head as I sat down at the screening Theatre at Paramount Studios, getting ready to watch what was billed as "Special Presentation of Footage from JJ Abrams upcoming Star Trek Film." In other words, a roadshow designed to stir up the blogosphere with good buzz. This is, of course, a key 21st century marketing tactic, and after many many years of waxing and waning Trekkerdom behind me, I’m more than willing to particpate. I’m hoping that what I see stirs up the fanboy embers that made me fall in love with the original series when it was run on a continual loop at 6:00 on Channel 26 in the early 1970s.
J.J. Abrams comes out to introduce the footage, and after much applause, he calls directing the movie a "surreal thrill," and and tells a story of how his industry-connected father took him to this very theatre to catch a preview of the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture when he was but a kid.
After introducing some of the cast — Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, John Cho, and some others — he then introduces the new trailer. Which is the same one you can see online, but I had been avoiding in order to experience it on the big screen. And I fracking got chills. Chills! Good start.
And then, the meat of the presentation: four scenes from the movie. It’s enough to give flavor but not enough to really let us know what happens. J.J. was careful to give just enough context for each scene prior to its showing so that we weren’t completely lost.
It goes without saying that what follows is spoliers and speculation, and if you prefer to walk into the theatr knowing nothing about the plot of this film, get thee away. If not, then you’ve probably read all of this elsewhere already.
The prototypical "cocky young man — orphan? — with all the potential in the world and no direction home picks a barfight whilst hitting on a woman with whom he’ll be working with in a professional capacity in just a few short scenes, but after he gets his ass kicked, a wiser older man who recognizes his talent recruits him for what will be his life’s work." Not the most original scene, but absolutely necessary to set up the character of James T. Kirk. By the way, it’s only in movies that people get into barfights by taking on a half-dozen bigger guys with a smartass remark. Nobody has ever done that in real life in the history of the entire world. Ever.
Still, it’s intriguing that Christopher Pike is telling James T Kirk that he needs to get into the game. Isn’t this in direct contrast to the events of "The Menagerie?" Also, there is a nice glimpse of life on Earth, something we never saw in The Original Series.
As in so many great love stories, Kirk & Spock initially hate each other. Sexual tension! At least that’s the way it’s no doubt been portrayed in a zillion fanfics. In this scene, Kirk has been banned from the Enterprise, but McCoy helps Kirk sneak back onto the Enterprise by faking a disease. Kirk realizes that he’s the only person aboard who knows that the emergency on Vulcan they’re warping to is a trap, because of a very Kirk-like combination of intuition, personal history and sound-enough reasoning.
OK, I’M SERIOUS THIS TIME!!! HUGE SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!
Prior to this scene, J.J. makes a joke about how he had a note for Leonard Nimoy, but then demurred, because he realized that he was just about to tell Leonard Nimoy how to play Mr. Spock. Nimoy graciously encouraged J.J. to give him the note, and then no doubt ignored it.
In this scene, Kirk is on an ice planet with Mr. Spock. Not Zach Quinto’s Mr. Spock, but Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock. ElderSpock! I had always assumed that when they cast Nimoy, it would be part of some kind of framing device, where they flash-forward either in the beginning or the end of the movie. Hell no! ElderSpock has traveled back in time to be Kirk’s Yoda. And by the looks of it, ElderSpock has traveled hundreds and hundreds of years back in time, because Spock looks to be about 653 years old in this scene. In real life, he’s only pushing 143.
One of the many services provided by ElderSpock: introducing Kirk to the crazed mechanical genius known as Montgomery Scott, played by Simon Pegg, who is obviously having more fun than anybody in the history of cinema playing one of the all-time geek icons. It was a nation of Scottys that built the internet. After all, who is better at underpromising and overdelivering than Mr. Scott!
Naturally, there isn’t any real explanation for what ElderSpock is up to, and he forbids Kirk to say anything to his younger version. In the midst of all of this, there is a reference to "changing history," which would be a neat way around all of the retcon issues this reboot brings up. And — this is just pure and utter speculation — is ElderSpock’s time-traveling a way to change what happened to Captain Pike in "The Menagerie"!?! Perhaps, I think that Homer Simpson and the toaster let us all know just how dangerous that type of meddling can be. Unless ElderSpock knows something that we don’t. Grade: A+
Action sequence! I barely understood the set-up to this one, and it really doesn’t matter: any scene that starts with Kirk, Sulu and a redshirt spacediving through Vulcan’s atmosphere to a mid-air Romulan platform that’s laying the groundwork to envelop Vulcan in a black hole and ends with Kirk and Sulu being rescued by a last-second Checkov beamup instead of splatting on the hot surface of Vulcan is OK by me. In between, we get Sulu swordplay, Romulan badasses and not one, but two guys incinerated in a stream of plasma. Whoosh!
So did all of this get me excited for the movie? Did my inner 14-year-old fanboy powers activate? Hell yeah! While the scenes were heavily Kirk-centric, they still showed that each of the other major characters of the The Original Series were going to be essential, as well.
From my standpoint, it looks like J.J. Abrams just might get away with his redo. I walked in hoping that it was going to be good, and walked out expecting it to be great.
Star Trek lives.