Sunday, May 10, 2009

Back To The Future: Arturo v. Star Trek!


Let's get the questions out of the way now:

* Is the command structure in the new Star Trek entirely ridiculous? Yes!
* Is the “Red Matter” the epitome of flimsy sci-fi “science”? Yes!
* Is a small, evil part of me disappointed that we didn't see Tyler Perry as Admiral Madea? Kinda!
* Is Classic Spock's entire presence a series of plot-connecting contrivances? Definitely!
* Does any of this make the film any less enjoyable? Absolutely not!

No, the new Star Trek (iTrek, for short) is barely at all like the original series. That's the whole damn point, one that's acknowledged early on. This is a different timeline – doesn't mean prior canon doesn't count; just that the game is different from here on out.

And even then, this story and this ensemble nailed the most important aspect of any Trek movie – the relationships between the Enterprise's core group – while at the same time redefining them. In short: Uhura hooking up with Spock? Good. Uhura hooking up with Spock over Kirk? Very good.

That romantic development underscores the biggest difference between iTrek and 8-Track Trek: Chris Pine's version is decidedly not the Alpha Dog here. In this timeline, JTK is more like a wolf in the old Kipling poem: without this team around him, he's effectively useless. He needs Pike to motivate him; he needs Uhura to confirm he's not talking out of his ass; he needs Sulu to save said ass on Nero's mining platform; and he needs both Spocks and Scotty in order to save the day. Everybody gets to shine, and the ensemble is so much the stronger for it.

Now, people are going to complain that this is “a dumb action movie,” but stop and ask: did anybody seriously expect anything involving this bunch to go smoothly? What did people want, Degrassi in space? The return of V'ger? The Phantom Menace? This story zooms along at a more ludicrous speed than Spaceball One, the heroes constantly cheat to win (the Kobayashi Maru sequence; Sulu's embellishing his “combat training;” Classic Spock shattering about 50 different time-travel tropes) and the villain – Eric Bana's under-developed Nero – gets punked out way too easily.

But the character work was too good to harp on any of that for too long. To wit:

The Racialicious Scorecard:
Uhura: No character benefited more from both the reboot and the re-vamp of their origin. Here we saw her as not just a determined, successful cadet, but one who brought a real skill-set to the table. Bring on the Uhura/Spock slash-fic ... er, and hopefully some insight into how those two crazy kids got together in the first place.

Sulu: Again, Kirk only survives the fight atop the first drilling platform because of young Hikaru – in a lesser movie, Sulu's “fencing” confession would have been a set-up to make him look inept in actual combat. We got quite the opposite here. The “parking brake” bit gave us a chance to see the patented John Cho Frustrated Face. Interesting note about Cho's casting: apparently director J.J. Abrams was concerned about having a Korean-American inheriting a role played by a Japanese-American, but was told by George Takei that the character was meant to represent “all of Asia.”

Spock: And now we come to the Big Other. The nature of Spock's heritage gets addressed early on, and it was a little ham-handed to see Vulcans being so openly prejudicial for two reasons:
1.Would Logic not show racism to be ... well, illogical?
2.We never saw him encounter racism from anybody in Starfleet – weird to think of that as “wrong,” but we'll talk more about Starfleet in a bit.

When it came to addressing Spock's basic inner conflict, though, Zachary Quinto pulled it off. He even brought a bit of swagger to the character (“I have no comment on the matter” and “Out of the chair” were two of my favorite lines in the movie). And when he met his elder self, I recoiled in horror because that's what they teach you on Doctor Who, yet I must confess ... ah, it got a little dusty in the theatre.

Nero: Was anybody else thrown off by us seeing an extraterrestrial villain who didn't sound British? The guy's working-class patois made him sound almost like a Tarantino character, but the fact he was a working-class guy almost made it work. Of course, as a villain with an ugly-as-sin ship, he was no Montalban. But who is?

Starfleet: Ok, so all of the power players were men. This is nothing new, unfortunately. (According to Memory Alpha, of the admirals seen in prior canon, most were men, only four were POC, and the only female was Vulcan. Six women, including Voyager's Kathryn Janeway, were Rear or Vice Admirals.) But the shots of extraterrestrials and POC serving together, without anybody looking at anybody else as weird – Kirk was a misfit because he's just that big of a clueless putz – was encouraging in the sense that, rather than the audience getting the “lesson” of tolerance handed down as a plot point, we got to see it in action. Let's hope for some more active examples as the series continues. One more note: the doomed Capt. Robau of the Kelvin was played by Faran Tahir, an Angeleno of Pakistani decent.

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