May 09 2009

Night at the Movies

We went to see the new Star Trek movie last night.  That’ll come as a shock to people who know me well enough to know that I never go to movies, especially never on opening night.  I don’t like crowds, being blasted with noise, or paying through the nose for something I’ll be able to rent for a couple bucks someday.  The last movie I remember seeing in the theater was Quigley Down Under, which came out in 1990.  (Good movie, by the way.)  I think there may have been one more since then, but I can’t remember what it was.

photo from

photo from

This was great, though.  We went to the afternoon matinee, so it wasn’t crowded at all, and the price wasn’t that much more than a new release rental.  It was loud, but not overwhelmingly so.  I was disappointed that the concessions didn’t have a single low-carb option, no sunflower seeds or even Slim Jims, but fortunately I wasn’t too hungry.  The popcorn sure did smell good, though.

As for the movie itself, I thought it was very good.  (I’ll try to avoid spoilers here.)  I’ve seen most of the original series episodes at one time or another, but I’m not enough of a die-hard fan to recognize or care about all the ways they violated “canon.”  It’s not like the series was always that consistent with itself anyway.  (Watch the pilot sometime to see something really freakish: Spock with a big grin on his face.  They hadn’t really worked out the emotionless-Vulcan thing yet.)  Probably the oddest thing was the relationship they invented between two of the crew members.  There was nothing wrong with it, but it was pretty flat and added nothing to the story, so it felt like the writers stuck it in to get the fanboy forums buzzing.  (Or maybe they were meeting the quota that says when you make a big Hollywood blockbuster, somebody‘s gotta kiss somebody, dammit.)

They did a great job of casting all the young versions of the original crew, and the actors were very good at taking on their mannerisms.  They really did seem like younger versions of themselves, especially Kirk, Bones, Spock, and Scotty.  You could recognize the personalities and quirks they’d develop “later,” but here they’re milder, as if they aren’t that sure of themselves yet, which makes sense.  I’d gladly watch more movies (or a new series) made with this same crew.

I don’t know how the special effects compare to other recent movies, but they seemed impressive to me.  If there’s anything they can’t do with computer animation nowadays, I don’t know what it is.  Still, I’d like to tell movie directors, “Just because you can CGI, doesn’t mean you should CGI.”  At one point, a crew member gets stranded on an ice planet, ten miles from the nearest outpost.  (I don’t think that’s too much of a spoiler, since “someone gets stranded on a planet” was the central plot of 70% of Trek episodes.)  He sets out toward the outpost, and is soon being chased by an enormous CGI monster, which is several times faster than him until it gets right behind him and then slows down, as movie monsters always do.  Like the romance, it has nothing to do with anything at all; and it’s forgotten by the next scene, when he and a guy who was also stranded there to provide exposition, apparently walk to the outpost without any trouble.

Maybe an “animated creature chases hero with cameras at ground level” is a requirement of the special effects union or something, because I think there was a similar scene in every one of the previews we saw before the movie.  I first noticed this in Hidalgo, which came out in 2004.  It’s a fairly good, simple movie about a man and a horse in a race in Arabia.  Most of the special effects in the movie are things like sandstorms, which make sense.  But at one point, in the middle of this grueling journey across a huge desert, one of the bad guys just happens to have brought along a couple of painfully CGI cheetahs that he sets loose on the good guy.  Say what?

Another thing I notice about newer movies is they do a lot of very tight close-ups—so close you often can’t see hair, chin, or ears, just eyes, nose, and mouth.  That makes it harder for me to tell who’s who when the action cuts back and forth very fast.  In fight scenes, especially, sometimes I feel like I’m trying to read a piece of paper that’s being jiggled back and forth two inches in front of my face.  Back it off a foot and it’d be no trouble, but that close it’s just a blur.  I suppose if I watched more action movies I’d get used to it and keep up better.

Anyway, back to Star Trek.  I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t like the movie, because I really did.  Most of my nitpicking has to do with modern movies in general, so write it off as old fogey-ness.  So many things could have gone wrong with a Star Trek prequel being made in 2009, and they didn’t at all.

One nice touch was just enough winks and in-jokes to show respect for the original show and its fans, without overdoing it.  We get to see Kirk with a very green alien girl, and everyone gets in their signature lines without being cheesy.  (Okay, maybe Bones snarls “I’m a doctor” one time too many, but it was still fun.)  The reveal of the Enterprise—which doesn’t look at all like a plastic model on a stick now—had people clapping and really was nice to see.  The movie has a lot of comedy moments and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it does take the universe it’s in seriously, which is the right balance.

I don’t suppose I’ll be spoiling anyone if I mention that Leonard Nimoy is in it.  No one gasped in the theater, anyway, so I assume everyone but me knew that already.  With each new series or set of movies, they’ve used an actor from the previous crew to tie the new show to the past.  Sometimes it’s just been a cameo, like Bones in the Next Generation pilot, but Nimoy is more than that here.  His presence does a nice job of connecting this flashier, faster-moving future to its past.  For a guy who has pretty much played just one role that anyone’s heard of, he’s a very good actor.  It’s funny that many of the most emotional scenes from Star Trek over the years involved the guy who doesn’t show emotions.  He just does a heck of a job of conveying deep emotions without facial gestures, using only his eyes.

I’m still mad that the crew from Deep Space 9 (the best Trek series by far) never got to make a movie, but this was the next best thing.  I’d put it in the top two or three Trek movies, at least.  If they were to make a couple more with this same crew so they get a chance to gel further, I think that’d make this one even more fun to watch again.

I don’t think I’ll wait 19 years before going to the movie theater again.

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