Trey Garrison called me on Saturday. He had a pass for an advance screening of the new STAR TREK movie. I got to be his "and guest." This would be our third date. Trey and I first met when he read my essay in MAN FROM KRYPTON. He liked it, and invited me to write for D Magazine. We had lunch at La Duni to discuss, and it just happened to be Valentine's Day. We had another meeting to introduce me to Tim Rogers, and set up the comic with D Magazine. The meeting happened to fall on my wedding anniversary. Obviously, the universe was telling us something. We arrived at the North Park AMC an hour early with Joshua Warr, his friend, and my friend (who I happen to see everywhere) Jennifer Meehan. Already, the line wrapped around the lobby. We had decent seats when it came time to rush the theater in an organized manner. Trey bought some snacks, while I saved the seats from the slower guests still looking for a place to sit. Trey and I shared nachos. While waiting for the movie to start, Mark Walters from bigfanboy.com gave out some free swag. Trey, Joshua, and I all got matching Star Trek ball caps.
Let's talk about the movie. First, the boring non-spoiler stuff: It's a good movie. Set your expectations as high as you want. J.J. Abrams did the seemingly impossible. He brought new life to the STAR TREK franchise. I'll admit a few years ago I was ready for the Trekkies to give up and go home. Your universe of spin-offs is over. But now? I'm ready for the sequel (more about that later). The characters are the selling point. They could've added another hour to this feature, and I would happily watch crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise play cards for that hour. The actor playing James T. Kirk gives us that "maverick action hero" without it feeling derivative. He's witty, flawed, and fun. He was the best part of the movie, which is good since he had so much screen time. Keeping things in perspective, this movie does not redefine the sci-fi genre. The plot is serviceable. It doesn't take many risks or offer any twists. If we're going to debate: "Which Star Trek movie is the best?" This movie may be the most entertaining, but WRATH OF KHAN is still the best written. There's plenty of wink-wink moments for the fans, and plenty of stuff to make new fans out of the formerly uninitiated.
I always considered myself more of a STAR WARS guy. However, with George Lucas repeatedly crotch-stomping on the sacred trilogy with digital remakes, prequels, and Clone Wars merchandising, I may need to change my loyalty. I always liked the original STAR TREK series and the Next Generation. I would watch it, if I stumbled across an episode on TV. I liked most of the movies. I fell asleep during the first one in 1979, but I found out that was an acceptable response. The new STAR TREK makes me want to revisit the TV series.
The opening scene is incredible. We witness the birth of James Kirk and get a sense for who his father was. The naming of "Jim" is particularly sweet. I got misty-eyed. The LOST-esque score by Michael Giacchino certainly helped push the emotion. I don't think it was necessary to tie it all back to Nero, but whatever. Hollywood thinks the villain needs to kill the protagonist's father or mother to personalize their rivalry, but it's been overdone. We get it. They really don't like each other.
Speaking of LOST, I think the caption text is the same as the LOST font.
My only WTF moment in the movie: Winona Ryder is Spock's mom? Why? Was there a reason they needed her? She looked odd in the old age make up, considering she has such a youthful face. They could've cast an older woman to play the role, and it wouldn't have taken me out of the movie.
They smartly introduce the characters throughout the film, instead of all at once. Scotty doesn't appear until the second half, and it gives him a special, albeit convenient, role. (A better review than mine goes into more detail.) Scotty was great, and like most of the cast: I wanted more.
My favorite moment was a simple one. Spock assumed the role of Captain. For reasons I won't reveal, Kirk isn't really supposed to be on the Enterprise at all. Spock walks the bridge, contemplating their situation. Kirk casually sits in the captain's chair. Clearly, he feels comfortable sitting there. Spock tries to maintain protocol like a worn-out parent: "Get out of the chair."
Through the magic of black holes and time travel, the writers offer some logic for the re-boot. Anyone who is sensitive about continuity will be happy to know this is a whole new reality (an "Ultimate universe" for STAR TREK). We get Leonard Nimoy reprising his role as an older Spock. It was cool, but I was ready for him to exit stage left. J.J. Abrams, I think, was too intent to "pass the baton" with the franchise. For this reason, we need a sequel. Now that we've spent two hours re-introducing and rebooting, fans have been pacified; it paves the way for a better follow-up movie. Two things: (1) Let's hope Scotty's lovable alien friend (the Jar-Jar Binks of this movie) does not return. Thankfully, his role is small and does nothing. (2) Also, we could use a better villain than Nero. He's adequately menacing and villainous, but he doesn't grab us by the throat like Heath Ledger's Joker or Ricardo Montalban's Khan.
The STAR TREK reboot works for one important reason. The characters from the Original Series are iconic, while the characters from Next Generation (and the other spin-offs) are merely archetypal. You can go on and on with spin-offs: The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, etc. At a certain point, you're only banking on the good will and patience of your fans who love the universe. To find a new audience, you need to return to what made the original characters so appealing -- and something iconic lends itself more easily to re-interpretation. This movie does that skillfully.
Thanks Trey for our date.