Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek

The new Star Trek movie is a triumph. Not just because of what it is, but also because of what it isn’t.

The makers of the new Star Trek get it. They know the single greatest element of a movie like Star Trek is that it’s got to be fun, and Star Trek delivers fun by the bucketload. For the first time in quite some time your correspondent wished that he were ten or twelve years old again, because if you see this picture when you are that certain age, it stands a strong chance of being your favorite movie until you die.

The movie is over-plotted slightly, but it is a small complaint. It’s no easy task to reinvent something that’s as established in the culture as Star Trek but the makers of the new Star Trek have been as successful in this as the makers of the Daniel Craig Bonds, and for that you can only take off your hat to them.

They are blessed in their casting also. Zachary Quinto is a marvellous Spock, taking advantage of the fact that this is a re-imagining to look at the character in a different way. When Leonard Nimoy invented the character his super-rationality was the novelty. But now, because the Spock character is so large in the culture, forty years after the TV show first aired, Quinto is able to focus on Spock’s repressed emotions rather the no-longer-novel idea of Vulcan logic, and Spock is very much the centre of the show in consequence.

The writers have to take credit also for a very witty and well-judged script. There is one scene early in the movie, when the child Spock is being bullied by the other Vulcan kids for being half-human. “Spock,” they say, as they gather behind them. Spock knows their game. “I presume you have prepared fresh insults yet again for today?” he asks, wearily. “Affirmative,” says one of the bullies.

That slew me.

The movie is gloriously and unapologetically shallow. Chris Pine’s James T Kirk is an uncomplicated alpha male who wants to get his way and isn’t too bothered about anything outside of that. Anybody looking for messages will have to pop down to Spar or Centra instead.

In one way this is slightly off-brand, because Star Trek was always seen as the thinking man’s sci-fi. But the producers have two reasons for going with the uncomplicated approach.

The first is that The Dark Knight was weighed down with strum und drang more than its ability to carry all that philosophising. It’s a comic book, not Schopenhauer. As for Watchmen, that was just rubbish. Far better that Star Trek takes the delivery of an uncomplicated good time at the movies as its remit, and piles on the thrills.

The second reason – and this is just a guess – is that the first Star Trek movie in 1979 had one of the most thought-provoking plots of all the Star Trek movies, but nobody noticed and the movie is generally considered a disappointment. Unfairly so. They boiled it down to brass tacks for Star Trek II, which is about some crazy bastard out in space and the Enterprise is sent out to blow him out of the sky. Exactly the same as the plot of this year’s movie. No daws in Paramount pictures, you know.

There will be sequels – the box office and the almost universally ecstatic reviews dictate it will be so. It will be interesting to see if they can keep the magic, or if, like the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises, they disappear under the weight of expectation. Here’s hoping the new Star Trek lives long, and prospers.

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