Review of the new Star Trek film

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

This post contains spoilers.

First of all, the success of this new Star Trek is truly a great thing. Over the past few years the Star Trek universe had been treading water with nothing really new and exciting to its name, and was beginning to look like a relic of the past. If you think of Star Trek: Voyager as the last really successful Star Trek series, the franchise hadn't had any real successes since 2001 when it ended, and so anyone under a certain age (20 or so) wouldn't have known about Star Trek except from shows from the past, a mostly unsuccessful movie in 2003, and the cancelled Star Trek: Enterprise.

In light of this, a movie as successful as this one is a very welcome shot of adrenalin, and the effects from the movie extend far past simple entertainment. As I showed before in another post, the interest in the term "warp drive" also shot up at the same time as the term "Star Trek":

Note that I've combined the two together to show the relative interest compared to interest in the terms themselves before, and it doesn't show the relative interest of Star Trek vs. Warp Drive, simply the increase in interest in both since the movie came out.

Now to the movie itself. How did it fare?

All in all it was very good; I would probably give it about 80%. Just about every character selected carried out his or her role perfectly, from Kirk to Spock to Uhura to Chekov to everybody else. Another reviewer noted that the Chekov in this movie has a thicker accent than the one in the original Star Trek, but this only makes sense as the Chekov in this one is fresh out of the academy and has not had enough time to lessen his accent somewhat. Eric Bana was the only one that seemed a bit out of place, and I would have liked to have seen a bit more background into the character to give him some more depth. Personally, my favourite kind of bad guys are the slightly quirky ones like the one in the TNG episode The Most Toys (played by Saul Rubinek). A bad guy that the viewers half like and half hate at the same time brings about a weird kind of internal conflict when you watch it that is most intriguing.

Which leads into the main problem with the movie: it needed to be about twenty minutes longer. The story was well-crafted, but when watching it the pace seems to be a bit too rapid, and doesn't give the viewers quite enough time to take in just what is going on. Here are a few examples of where it could have used more time:

- Kirk starts out as an overqualified and misunderstood rebel, easily good enough to enter Starfleet but a character that wastes his time starting trouble and picking fights in bars. Pretty much the same as Good Will Hunting. Then along comes Captain Pike, he asks him to enter Starfleet, and Kirk is there bright and early the next morning. This part could have been stretched out at least a little bit with a bit more personal struggle before Kirk finally decides to enter, much in the same way Will Hunting takes a while to be convinced as well. It wouldn't need to take even a tenth as long as Good Will Hunting did, but a bit more time here to show Kirk's troubled inner self would have been good.

- The first few years of Starfleet, as that went by extremely fast as well. Kirk gets on the shuttle with McCoy, up it goes, and out they walk from Starfleet Academy a few years later.

- Making Spock angry. This also seemed to take far less time than it should have. Kirk and Scotty get transported to the Enterprise, Kirk rescues Scotty from the water valves, they get taken to the Bridge, and Kirk is able to make Spock angry enough to lose command before Scotty has even had time to dry off.

One other small problem was Kirk's first encounter with the elderly Spock, as it was remarkably unlikely that he should be able to find Spock's cave without even looking for it in the first place, and after being chased by monsters no less. A much easier way to make the encounter believable would have been for the computer to ask him on the way down where he wished to land (we'll say that though he was forcibly removed from the Enterprise he is still given a choice of landing location within a certain area) whereupon he chooses to land either 1) where the lifeform is (if the computer onboard can pick this up), or 2) close to where the cave is. After that he gets out of the pod and begins looking for the cave or the lifeform, and that's where the monsters appear and he finally makes his way successfully into the cave.

Besides some of these minor points it was very good, and for all we know there may be a director's cut later on that is a bit longer than the theatre version (just guessing here); if so, then the pace could be slowed down to a more realistic level in order to more fully satisfy long-time fans.

One final note: Star Trek has always been a tv show, and it's also at its best as a tv show too where the writers and actors can experiment with different ways of telling a story each week and showing how the characters develop over time. The movies never quite managed to be as good as the shows are at their best, so I think of them more as PR for further tv shows than anything else, much in the same way that movies of novels are almost never quite as good as the original books, but can be very effective in bringing attention to the original works. This movie was about as good as Star Trek movies can get and it has already become a fantastic success, so let's just hope that it eventually results in a new tv series, as well as more interest in the idea of space exploration in general. Let's not forget that we're also right on the cusp of discovering Earth-like planets in other solar systems (just last month we discovered one only 1.9 times the mass of the Earth), so this new film has actually been timed extremely well. For all we know, by the time the DVD comes out we will have already discovered one or two Earth-sized planets elsewhere in the universe and will finally begin to realize just how many planets like ours there are out there.


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