I've been rewatching the original series of Star Trek in the week since I saw the latest Star Trek film and I'm amazed by how uncannily the new film captures the spirit of this 1960s television show. I've been keeping a tally sheet next to my recliner and I make a little tick every time someone gets socked in the face in the original series. It happens a lot. At least once per episode and sometimes five or six times.
True to its source, the new movie has lots of fist fights. Young Spock fights Vulcan bullies ala Ralphie in A Christmas Story (if Ralphie would have had green blood on his lips) and young Kirk fights everyone else. For all the splashy effects, sexy new actors and summer movie gloss, the real reason that Star Trek is connecting with audiences in 2009 is that it emotionally uncomplicated, good versus evil stuff and lots of people punching each other. Watchmen and the Dark Knight are examples of where scifi/fantasy films have gone lately and they've gotten very dark, very sticky, and very violent. People punch each other and they leave teeth in countertops and they remove arms with saws. It's like what happened to TV after the X-files: all the darkness, blood and angst and none of the subversive politics and inherent goodness of ordinary people just trying to do their jobs that made the darkness bearable. It's all extraordinary people killing people in extraordinary ways and then feeling really bad about it in place of emotional development or character growth.
When Kirk gives the order to destroy his enemy at the end of this new movie, he gives the bad guy a chance to surrender and he doesn't feel too bent out of shape that the guy didn't take him up on the offer. What would Wolverine do in that situation? The new Doctor Who? Captain Picard? You can bet they'd milk it for all the drama possible. Kirk just leans in his chair, in that special way of sitting that Kirk has that is a really very studied kind of lazy, and gives the order to fire. So much of this movie is waiting for Kirk to get into that chair, all the bumps and snags along the way. You are waiting for Kirk and Spock to be friends as well. If there is one element missing here it is that odd chumminess that those two had. We are dealing with alternate realities, a time line where Kirk had no father and Spock has big daddy issues as well. Hence Kirk is just that snot nosed hot shot who defeated Spock's Kobiashi Maru program in Spock's eyes and Spock is just a pointy-eared bureaucrat to Kirk. All that starts to change, weirdly enough, when it comes out that this new Spock is sleeping with this new Uhera. Any Kirk, from any time line has to respect that.
One thing I never really noticed the first half dozen times I watched the original series is how flirty Kirk and Spock are with each other. There are lots of scenes where they remind me of the love/hate relationships between couples in screwball comedies and it seems that part of the tension between Spock and McCoy comes from jealousy of Spock's relationship with Kirk. In The Enemy Within there is a scene where Kirk and Spock are in Kirk's quarters and he's shirtless. The whole conversation has this very awkward, stilted feeling, and they look like they might start to make out at any second. How I missed this before, especially given that there is a vast genre of fan fiction dedicated to this very point, is beyond me.
This new film has really first rate effects, a passable script, and for a Star Trek product, a breakneck pacing. In this respect too it is reminiscent of the original series. Though the effects look bad and campy, now, you have to remember that for their day they were considered very good and I'm really appreciating how spare and clean those old episodes were. You get in, set up the plot, complicate it a bit and get out. No two and three and four parters necessary. This new movie is tight in that same way. While J. J. Abrahams does draw a page or two from the George Lucas: If One Waterfall is Good than Seven is Better book of filmmaking, at least the story is relatively uncluttered. Mostly it's about these characters, solving a problem, having an adventure and saving the Universe. What's not to love?
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