Saturday, May 09, 2009

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek (J. J. Abrams, 2009)

Summer is the season of expensive eye-candy. Lifeless, and arguably worthless, trifles by legendary hacks like Michael Bay, Tony Scott, Stephen Sommers, and Brett Ratner are released to the hungry public who, having been rendered near-paralytic for months by pre-and-post-Oscar pseudo-importance, is more than ready to devour them in careless abandon. The opening of J. J. Abrams' Star Trek, where Federation ship U. S. S. Kelvin becomes hapless target to a Romulan ship' tireless bombardment before evolving into a showcase of human sacrifice in the face of desperation, is the initial snowflake of a winter wonderland of loud explosions, heavy computer graphics, lame punchlines, never-ending sequels, mesmerizing gloss and empty spectacle. Fortunately, Abrams' expensive opening is hardly the barren bonanza that summer films are made of and made for. It is instead, a worthy introduction to the hero lore that Abrams' Star Trek is attempting to recreate and reintroduce to this generation of robot-lovers and superhero-worshipers.

The Star Trek series, above anything else, utilizes our uncertainty about the limitless expanse of space to create the foundation of its existence. Its mythology is founded on the idea that what we currently know of space is a mere percentage of the actual possibilities that space may provide; that beyond our solar system are other civilizations, races, creatures, and problems; that beyond our primitive science are technologies like warp speed and time travel.

Thus, a fundamental element that any Star Trek story should possess is the overwhelming feeling of wonderment of possibilities: the possibility that there exists an alien race that purposely eliminates traces of emotionality from their system for logic; the possibility that one may correct a mistake in the past, or exact vengeance against a foe from the past because of technology only theoretically explored during our time; the possibility that world politics are eliminated in favor of the greater threat of intergalactic warfare or planetary genocide. My occasional encounters with the crew of the U. S. S. Enterprise were always infused with that exact sense of wonderment, although in varying degrees, of opened possibilities placed in the most simplistic, if not totally plebeian, manner. Shoddy prosthetics, inconsistent special effects, and melodramatic pseudo-sci fi plotlines consumed a portion of the idle time my childhood had to offer.

Abrams upgrades the visuals for his foray into the decades-old pop culture phenomenon. Perhaps the best features of Abrams' Star Trek is when his camera indulges in the larger-than-life visual concoctions that his team of graphics experts have created for the film, as when a gargantuan Romulan ship appears from a wormhole dwarfing a lone Federation ship; or when James Kirk (Chris Pine), presumably several years before his adventures as captain of the Enterprise in the original TV series, drives his motorbike to reveal a Federation shipyard in the middle of a desert. Abrams understands the value of awe in his attempt to refashion the sci-fi franchise. Without necessarily consuming all creative energies in successfully crafting a fictional universe that satisfies the boundlessness of space that Star Trek espouses, Abrams nevertheless captivates enough for the entire duration of the film, making his contribution to Star Trek lore an ample introduction to a collective adoration for the popular sci-fi series.

The story, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, explores the relationship of Kirk and Spock (played here by Zachary Quinto) which became the subtle emotional core of the original Star Trek series. Abrams removes all notion of subtlety and makes the relationship the driving force of the story, similar to formulaic romances where lovers from different places, backgrounds, and personal circumstances, are pushed together by the invisible hand of fate, only this time, the success of their being together is not fueled by an existing chemistry but by the investment made by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (who also plays Spock, marooned in the past by a crew of angry Romulans, in Abrams' film) through the years in creating a fictional relationship that has become an object of fascination or intrigue. Star Trek primarily succeeds because there is an existing mythology to be mined that will carry the implausible tale to its goal of either plain reminiscence or emotional resonance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the why JJ would confuse audiences by having an alien, Nero, talk in an American accent.