Saturday, May 09, 2009

Star Trek: spoiler-free impressions

My dear wife, sons and I saw Star Trek last night in a crowded theater.

Two-word review: it rocks!

I was about 11 when the original Star Trek TV series came out. I loved it, watched every episode. I also saw all or most of The Next Generation. None of the other series held me very long. I also saw all the Star Trek movies. I may be the only one who actually likes the first movie — probably in part simply because it was so wonderful to see it on a big screen, with (at the time) state of the art special effects.

But I felt they should have pulled the plug on the movies years earlier than they did. The team producing Star Trek products had long since run out of gas, steam, and ideas. It was pathetic.

So when I heard there'd be a new movie, I shrugged. Then when I read that J. J. Abrams (Lost, Cloverfield, Fringe) was attached to the movie, I had hope.

Was that hope justified?

Oh. My. Starsandgarters. Completely.

This movie absolutely rocks, from first frame to last. It is a model for how to reboot and reimagine a classic original. The creators respect the givens, but they have fun with them. They approach them with life and joy and creativity.

The Enterprise is the same shape for instance - but instead of two weapons that can easily be taken out, they have an array of weaponry (as Babylon 5 did). The beloved characters are clearly completely modeled after the series' originals, but they're approached with freshness and life and freedom. When you hear the familiar phrases, they're fond and fresh. They aren't stuck in the script due to lack of creativity, or with a sneering wink.

Now, I don't like the crude and sexually suggestive language, and that is a problem in this movie, so be warned. The violence is pervasive but mostly typical fantasy violence, not gory. The rating is appropriate.

But within about ten minutes, my dear wife and I were wiping tears from our eyes from being emotionally moved; then a few minutes later we were laughing. There were lots of marvelous laughs, jumps, suspenseful runs — it just was a "win" from just about every angle.

The actors are splendid, with no exceptions. Karl Urban does an amazing turn as "Bones"; the New Zealander even sounds like DeForest Kelly, though not to the point of an imitation.

So I say see it, if sci-fi is your "thing" at all.

And BTW, this is an example of Roger Ebert at his worst. I read Ebert because he's a fun writer, and I often enjoy reading him even when I don't agree. But this review has to go next to his terrible review of The Fellowship of the Ring as among his worst.

In both cases, he didn't even see the movie he's reviewing. He reviewed his thoughts about the movie, his expectations of what the movie should be — not the movie.

In the case of Star Trek, evidently the movie Ebert went to see is "National Geographic's Documentary on Time Travel, Life in Space, and Complex Plots." So all he wants to talk about is incidentals.

He forgot that movies are supposed to entertain.

Which Star Trek abundantly does.

One stylistic gripe: J. J. Abrams has this "thing" for gleams. Watch "Fringe" on TV, and there are these sporadic gleams, these flashes of light, from no detectable source.

In this movie, he goes nuts. The Enterprise bridge in particular features constant distracting, annoying gleams; so do other scenes. There's even a bright gleam off a lightless mountainside! I sincerely hope Abrams (or his cinematographer) got it out of his system in this movie, and spares us, in the sequel.

I also hope Abrams loses the language.

Because there will be a sequel. And I plan to be there.

(Next week I plan to write briefly on Star Trek and worldview.)

UPDATE: that post can now be found here.

UPDATE 2: some discussion of the annoying lens flares that mar the look of the movie.

 UPDATE 3: now that I own the Blu-ray — yikes! Those lens-flares are incredibly obnoxious. They're in virtually every shot. It's like some kid who's just discovered all those fonts in MS Word, and everything he writes is in distracting, obnoxious fonts. So much about Star Trek is so good, I really hope Abrams has that well out of his system.


Fred Butler said...

Abrams also has a thing for overly long legged monsters with mouths that open like flower peddles. I guess that is cool, but the big monster from the ice planet sequence is virtually the same model as the cloverfield monster.

Can't wait to see it.

I think Ebert is an overrated moron.
that's just me.

Rick Beckman said...

Great review, Dan. Everyone seems to be enjoying the movie, which is great for me: an increased likelihood of a sequel is all good in my book!

I read the trivia for the movie yesterday on IMDB; apparently the "gleams" (lens flare from nowhere) was the idea of their cinematographer who wanted to give the movie ... well, I'll just quote it here:

Taking advantage of the 35mm 2:35:1 anamorphic stock film, cinematographer Daniel Mindel caught as many lens flares (a photographic effect where light sparkles everywhere) in the film as possible, to create a sense of wonder that enhanced the film: "There's something about these flares, especially in a movie that potentially could be incredibly sterile and overly controlled by CGI, that's just incredibly unpredictable and gorgeous." Mindel would create flares by shining a flashlight/pointing a mirror at the camera lens, or using two cameras (and therefore two lighting set-ups) simultaneously.

See, they weren't from nowhere... They were from a *flashlight* off screen! :P

(Following paragraph contains a minor SPOILER for those who have not seen the movie... )

And you're right about the sexuality, but whether we like it or not, that *is* what Captain Kirk is famous for, and that it was with a green alien is all the more fan-service (although I am to understand that the green woman in the Original Series seduced Kirk, not vice versa).

In any event, a good movie. I'm 20 minutes away from seeing it for a second time, this time with my Mom.

William Dicks said...

Thanks for the review Dan! I was wondering if I should see it or not, due to budget constraints. But, it definitely seems worth it!

The Squirrel said...

Mrs Squirrel and I have this one scheduled for a matinee showing one afternoon next week. We're both really looking forward to it, as the trailers are great. Now, you, Matt Gumm, and Fred Butler both like it... so, yeah, we're so going to see this movie!


The Squirrel said...

So, three people both like it? Great grammar there, Squirrel!

So make that Dan Phillips, Fred Butler, and Matt Gumm all liked it...

Oh, and Dan, I really liked the first (1977) feature film, also, so you're not all alone.

~Squirrel Trekker

GrammaMack said...

"Watch 'Fringe' on TV, and there are these sporadic gleams." So, you watch "Fringe"? What do you think of it?

Sandy said...

Good review, thanks. I was wondering about this re-make, and I think I'll give it a try.

--a fifty-something in Virginia

P.D. Nelson said...

Dan of bloggers who review movies I have to say I trust your reviews most of all. I was hesitant about seeing this movie being a die hard TOS fan. But now I'm going to go see it.

ChosenClay said...

"within about ten minutes, my dear wife and I were wiping tears from our eyes from being emotionally moved.."

Dan you are starting to scare me!

DJP said...

In that case, CCbe afraid; be very afraid.

All the rest of you: now you have to come back and tell me what you think after you see it!

Want to see it again. In IMAX.

Rachael Starke said...

One of the first things my husband and I discovered we had in common was a love of TNG because of the acting and the finally-plausible SFX. Neither of us could watch Shatner without wincing.

This sounds cool - my m-i-l is flying in Monday for a few days, so this sounds worthy of putting in a request for a little babysitting! Haven't been too many lately that I could say that about, let alone were worthy of paying a sitter!

DJP said...

GrammaMack — I like "Fringe." I've watched it from the start. It still seems to be slowly gathering speed, but it's grown on me.

It's taking a good long while to warm to the actress who plays Olivia Dunham. I wonder why she was given that anchor-position. She isn't a stunning beauty (meaning nothing cruel), and she is at best a fair actress, not a breath-taker like X-Files' Gilian Anderson. (If you've ever seen Anderson as herself, you know how far-removed she is from Dana Scully.)

So we're sticking with it to see where it goes.

Have you watched it?

lee n. field said...

"It's back from the dead, Jim"?

Fred Butler said...

It's taking a good long while to warm to the actress who plays Olivia Dunham. I wonder why she was given that anchor-position. She isn't a stunning beauty (meaning nothing cruel), and she is at best a fair actress, not a breath-taker like X-Files' Gilian Anderson.

(Fred) Everything you said about the gal who plays Olivia is the reason why I liked her from the first episode. She is "plainish" and believable in the role she is in, particularly now that as we wrap up the season we understand more of why she is the way she is.

JohnBrianMck said...

Saw it yesterday with my daughter and we both loved it. The current actors played the original actors playing the characters (if that makes sense), but with their own style. It brought back good memories of the old, but was very new as well. I look forward to the sequels.

Pat R said...

thanks to this new Star Trek installment, I will now start remembering the name "J.J. Abrams" and look out for anything else he might had a hand in

Al said...

Saw it Friday with my son. We both loved it.

I really loved the feel of the movie. As you said the characters were paying homage to the original cast and included the catch phrases (almost) seamlessly (Bones' "... I'm a doctor, not a physicist!" seemed a bit forced}. The camera angles were right out of the original series as well, so you had the close up of Spock lifting the eyebrow and Kirk turning his head and John Wayne like, walking to the captain's chair. It all felt familiar.

Highly recommended.

DJP said...

Coffee Maker — I think you and I are agreed about that.

And about something else.

DJP said...

Al — maybe, but you had to love "Green-blooded hobgoblin!"

timb said...

Thanks for the review, Dan. As a long time Trekkie, I've been excited about the movie for a while. Hopefully, once the weekend is over all have some time to see it.

Jay said...

Great movie, and great review. I jotted down my thoughts on the movie here. There's pretty much summed up by: "It rocks!"

Anonymous said...

Dan, It's taking a good long while to warm to the actress who plays Olivia Dunham. I wonder why she was given that anchor-position. She isn't a stunning beauty (meaning nothing cruel), and she is at best a fair actress, not a breath-taker like X-Files' Gilian Anderson.My thoughts exactly.

We enjoy the show. My wife jokes that Fringe makes X-Files look plausible.

As for Star Trek (TRUE entertainment), we will be seeing it this week, probably in IMAX.

DJP said...

Yeah, IMAX. I think I'm going to have to find a way.

GrammaMack said...

Dan, I'm a Fringe fan too. Every week my dear husband shakes his head (in the nicest way possible)at the newest weirdness and at me for enjoying it. He just doesn't get it...but I quite enjoy it. Now I can tell him that I'm not the only one. :-)

Jon said...

Got to see it today and I liked it. I thought it was impressive that they let JJ Abrams "adjust" the lore.

I also read the Ebert review before going to see this and I'd have to say that it's a good thing that he's an established critic or he'd probably be fired for his review. He literally didn't watch the same movie I did. All the things he complained about were either not in the movie or explained. I'm not really sure what it is with him, but he seems to always come down on some of the more popular movies, Gladiator for instance, and then give lame movies like Star Wars Episode One 3.5 stars.

But then again I remember that he's a convinced evolutionist... Maybe he accidently through some random process wrote this review without first using his randomly produced brain cells to actually listen and watch the movie.

CR said...

Again, not reading comments just in case spoilers come in, but I did want to comment on something you said. You said other than the original, you saw TNG, and the rest didn't do anything for you.

Voyager started out real lame and really tried to be PC (actually, in some ways TNG tried also to be PC) with putting the woman in command situations like with the captain and klingon engineer. It was just hilarious seeing the captain and the klingon trying to show off their estrogen.

But having said all that, Seven of Nine was a brilliant creation. In fact, it saved Voyager. DS9 was disappointing and so was Enterprise. Look forward to seeing the Star Trek movie in a few weeks.

Kim K. said...

Haven't read the Ebert review. Did you read Jonah Goldberg's in NRO? It is quite entertaining.

SQLSvrMan said...

I saw it yesterday.

What a great film!!
"Tell me something I don't know" said in Bones voice.

There WILL be sequels.

Dan, I too liked the first Star Trek movie.

DJP said...

My dear wife never tires of mocking it, and the long, long sequence of just lovingly looking over the Enterprise. (She has similar observations re. Lawrence of Arabia.)

I think part of it was my just being eleven or something when ST came to TV, loving the series, being disappointed when it disappeared, and then thrilled when it became a big-screen, real-live MOVIE. No more cheap effects, cool music, more relaxed pacing. So it was all-good, the eye-candy, and taking time to say "Ahh, the Enterprise — it's back."

But it was clear that the criticisms hit home, because when ST-II (which I am alone in not liking as well as ST-I) came out, it was just bam! and let's-get-moving.

Jay said...

WOW! The wife and I saw Star Trek Saturday afternoon. My initial skepticism was blown away by the great character development and rollicking action. One of the best "prequel" movies ever!

Here's hoping for at least a couple more of equal quality entertainment Star Trek movies from this cast & crew.

Re: Ebert - a wise man once said there has never been a monument built to honor a critic.

The Squirrel said...

Mrs. Squirrel and I saw it yesterday. Loved it!

But I've got to agree with you, Dan. The lens flares were a little annoying...