Saw Star Trek over the weekend and was pleasantly surprised. It’s simply a good time at the movies — funny, fast-moving, occasionally touching, and full of life.
My expectations were not high after the dismal double-whammy of Nemesis and Enterprise managed to suck the last tiny spark of vitality out of the Trek universe, and after a few early previews made the movie look a little too dumb and calculated. Then the reviews were mostly positive, so my hopes rose a bit, but still — the reviews were mostly positive for The Phantom Menace, too. (Sometimes I suspect reviewers of reviewing the movie they wanted to see and not the movie they actually saw.)
What I got was something that delighted me the way the Christopher Eccleston restart of Doctor Who did — something made with love for the original series, but also with a spirit of adventure and playfulness.
I knew Star Trek was a reboot in the sense of revisiting the characters from the original series as fresh-from-Starfleet-Academy newbies, but it also reboots the entire Trek universe through a time/space warp that alters events starting from when Kirk is born. This is a surprisingly brilliant move from a storytelling perspective — it invents a new timeline without forcing a reinvention of every other aspect of the Trek universe.
The film manages to feel like the old series in all the right ways — it’s bright and sexy and really excited to be here — while at the same time making good use of modern sensibilities and modern special effects.
The characters we love are instantly recognizable as fresh young versions of themselves, with a few nice tweaks. For example, emphasizing Uhura’s genius for xeno-linguistics and pattern recognition makes her traditional role on the bridge seem much less like that of an intergalactic receptionist. (And Simon Pegg is awesome awesome awesome as Scotty. Now I’m hoping that the next film has everyone battling space zombies.)
The uniforms look exactly like the ones in the old series, except that the tailoring and fabric is better. The starships are bright and clean and full of giant chunky hardware that both looks cool and conveys a vast scale. The crews have races that differ from each other more significantly than just having a few bumpy things on the forehead. The female crew members wear the groovy miniskirts and hairdos that some of us remember so fondly, but there are more of them in more positions of authority and technical expertise.
And there’s Spock.
Lots and lots of Spock.
Child Spock getting tormented by Vulcan bullies, old Leonard Nimoy Spock in a delightful cameo, and — oh yes — dreamy regular Spock. He gets to do all sorts of cool Spock things, like being really smart and insulting bigots in a subtle Vulcan way and suddenly losing his temper and making out with Kirk.
Okay, he doesn’t actually make out with Kirk. But their relationship does play out like a classic romantic comedy, where at first they can’t stand each other and then eventually realize they can’t live without each other.
Does the movie have flaws? Probably. After an absolutely killer opening scene (I teared up. Seriously.) we waste perhaps a little too much time watching Kirk as a thrill-seeking juvenile offender.
But in this movie I’m not simply left to sit there gritting my teeth and growling about how that doesn’t happen — instead I’m immediately distracted with a funny visual joke and new danger and adorable 17-year-old-Chekov running around like mad with his crazy accent trying to punch in the equations that will save everyone. It’s a lot of what I like about Buffy the Vampire Slayer — no matter what is happening, no matter what emotional torment the characters are going through, things keep moving forward.
Unlike certain other recent big-budget adventure films I could mention (*cough* Dark Knight *cough*) Star Trek seems mostly concerned with telling an interesting story. About people we like. Who are really really good at their jobs. And funny.
And one of them is Spock.