The Trek Movie: TOS rides again

I saw the new Star Trek movie last night, and it answers a question I wasn’t sure anyone would ever ask (or want to) – namely, could they find a young actor who could effectively clone William Shatner’s performance in TOS (The Original Series) as the alpha asshole of the future galaxy. The answer is yes.

The script and the new actors do a remarkably good job of replicating the chemistry of the TOS crew. The young Spock is as cerebral outside and volcanic inside as the original, and Bones overdramatizes everything in classic McCoy style and cheerfully slams injectors into people at every opportunity. Entertainingly, Scotty is not quite TOS Scotty but the more jester-like figure of the post-TOS movies; I had breakfast with Jimmy Doohan once, and I felt it was an echo of Doohan himself (and not so much his TOS character) that I was seeing on the screen. We do get thrown one wicked curveball in the person of Lieutenant Uhura, who spends much of her screen time vamping a character whose name I won’t spoil the fun by revealing.

Alas, the movie also inherits TOS’s blithe disregard for trivia like continuity and plot logic and its propensity for menacing villains constructed from flimsiest cardboard. Astronomical distances are treated as random variables pegged to zero when convenience requires it and then widened to AUs or lightyears seconds later. Absurd coincidences abound, as in when Bad Guy’s planetary-core drill just happens to be visible from the Starfleet Academy grounds. The script is, it must be said, deeply silly.

Still, the movie is worth seeing – if only so you can share the almost indecent amount of enjoyment Leonard Nimoy clearly derives from reprising his role as an older Spock from a different history. The actor playing Captain Christopher Pike also turns in a remarkably strong and authoritative performance. We get to see cadet Kirk’s often-alluded-to subversion of the Kobayashi Maru test, which is fun even if he does behave like an intolerable snot throughout. And, oh, yes, Cadet Sulu gets a swordfighting scene.

The set and effects designers also get props for pulling off a difficult trick. The 1960s visuals of TOS look very, very dated today; the actual technology of 2009 actually exceeds, in some relevant ways, anything Gene Roddenbery could have imagined. Nevertheless, they managed to update the look of the future in a way that remains pretty faithful to the original.

Structurally, this movie reboots the Trek universe. Bad Guy’s time jaunt changes Kirk’s back story and sends causal ripples through the lives of the other main characters, giving future scriptwriters a free hand with the next N movies. It remains to be seen what they will do with it.

38 thoughts on “The Trek Movie: TOS rides again

  1. so… sound like it’s worth seeing!
    particularly so i can grok your last para.

    i’d been planning to see it just for the new uhuru’s uhuber-hotness. now i have a more publicly palatable reason :D

  2. Just remember, this review was probably exactly what Paramount was going for; they really tried to strike the balance of alienating the geeks to the point that Joe Sixpack would go and see it, yet not alienate geeks enough so that they stay home in droves.

    I think this movie is best described at the first “Roddenberry Free” Star Trek. All other previous Treks had either Roddenberry’s direct influence, blessing, or by those who had worked directly with Roddenberry. And they all happened in the universe established by Roddenberry. This movie throws that all away to be a true reboot, which the franchise sorely needed. I found the movie very entertaining, but was a bit nostalgic walking out of the theater when I realized the Roddenberry universe was dead.

    However, because they have really rebooted they better never look back. If the writers get lazy (which is a virtual certainty) and start making movies or shows which have this Star Trek universe interacting with the Roddenberry universe I will be very pissed.

  3. “he actor playing Captain Christopher Pike also turns in a remarkably strong and authoritative performance.”

    That was Bruce Greenwood, who played protagonist Thomas Veil in the delightfully paranoid UPN series Nowhere Man.

    Wikipedia tells me that he has appeared in quite a few other movies, including The Core, I, Robot, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

  4. This new universe of Star Trek will be quite different.

    I mean, both Vulcan and Romulus destroyed? So no Warbirds for the Enterprise to confront?

    And really, red matter? What the f is that? You can make your own black holes? Really?

    But whatever they do, I’ll totally buy in. I can’t resist. :)

  5. Remember, Romulus isn’t destroyed for many years yet. Although, with foreknowledge, its destruction could be prevented, thus preventing Nero and Spock from going back in time, thus undoing the prevention of its destruction, thus…

  6. To David McCabe
    Classic timeline headache. You either consider a static timeline, which clearly didn’t happen since Volcan homeworld was destroyed, or you consider multiple universes, each new one created by the event of timetravel.

    Wikipedia has some nice sources. If you really want to push it, see the mess the TV series «Lost», «Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles» & «Heroes» are in now.

    Lost tries to keep a static one, the other two don’t. It gets messy.

    Anyway there was some scientific experience about sending information to the past as to create a paradox to ‘see’ what would happen. I just saw it once on a documentary and didn’t find it referenced anywhere and can’t remember if it was just a planned experience or a successful one (involved two beams of light, one to distort time and other to send information, e.g. 0 or 1. The ‘machine’ would be an inverter and always send the contrary of what would receive. Basically the idea would be to check the grandfather paradox in much more simple conditions).

  7. Saltation Says: ok, i need to get out more. i read TOS in the title as “Terms of Service”

    No, you need to stay in more.

  8. It’s Not Your Father’s “Star Trek”

    mood: Glad I didn’t Waste My Money.

    Yep, because, if I saw that back in the sixties, I’d have turned it off in a second.
    No, I don’t really like it.
    We know that based on “Fringe” Abrams is more then capable of extensive dialogue.
    What we had here (except for the Spock Mark I dialogue) was a series of sound bites intended to evoke shallow memories and buzz words from the previous incarnation.
    If humanity doesn’t have the attention span of a gnat this will surely move it in that direction.

  9. It did seem like a melange of scenes from the earlier films.

    Like how about when Kirk bangs his head on the shuttlecraft, like Mr. Scott once banged his head?

    Or when they put a space bug in Pike’s head, like was done in wrath of Khan?
    Chekov mispronouncing his v’s like w’s. “nuclear wessells”

    I could go on and on.

  10. I saw the movie and loved it, and I’m a huge Star Trek fan, so I didn’t really expect this movie to perform well (I either expected a full reboot, rather than making the new series an “alternate universe” in comparison to the original continuity, which would have upset quite a lot of people (although I admit the reaction is pretty stupid; ignore the new movie if you don’t like it), or some really massive collisions with the old continuity (I had heard previously about time travel and old Spock)). Oh and a point that seems to be missed by many people; this movie features the Romulans and does a great job at it (compare to Star Trek Nemesis)!

    OK, so I can find plenty of things to nitpick. Anywhere from minor things like whether Admiral Archer was the same as Jonathan Archer from Enterprise, to why Kirk’s stepfather would have a fully-functional Corvette and James is listening to the Beastie Boys in the 23rd Century (seriously, I had a conversation about this earlier today… I had to try my best to convince him that none of it mattered), or even something general as to the ridiculousness of the plot (if I got it right, the bad guy just waits around for 25 years for Spock to show up… he has no other plans like telling the Romulans their planet is going to be destroyed, or even second-guessing his motive for revenge…). None of it truly matters; it was a great film, and if you look at them just right, pretty much any movie is going to have its faults.

  11. John Chapman Says:
    May 12th, 2009 at 1:54 am

    Spoiler alert, much?

    What difference does it make?!! We’ve seen the episodes and movies countless times. And we’ll watch them countless more times. It’s not like we don’t know what’s going to happen.

  12. I got the distinct impression, while watching the film, that a black hole was created somewhere close to the Earth. I was seriously wondering whether the characters would have to travel back in time to prevent their own mistake, but by a stroke of luck the black hole only sucked in spaceships. Our heroes saved the day no problemo.

  13. My goodness, you’d think starving people can’t be grateful for crumbs…

    Frankly, I realize there were things to complain about, but I’m seriously quite happy about one major thing; they didn’t mess with the pre-existing plot (with a few minor inferences.) When I heard it was going to be about Kirk and Spock in their Academy days, my face nearly looked like red matter had been thrown in because I thought they were going to try and tie in this new movie with the already messed up timelines, storylines, backstories, and so on. By using an alternate timeline they’ve pretty much kept what little integrity is left in the Star Trek Universe that the Roddenberry’s left behind for us to enjoy. My feeling about Mr. Scott is that it’s considerably fitting that he’s more a goof in this movie considering that in this movie’s timeline he’s been supervising a Star Fleet outpost on some Andorian-like planet. My only wish is that Uhura had been more like her original character, because I really didn’t see much of that even though I enjoyed her none the less.

    I will say this though… It is rather annoying to see that Kirk enlisted and had been told by Captain Pike that he could be an officer in four years and a captain in eight, and therefore when he became captain in three years I was sorely tempted to say, “I hate this movie.” Obviously, they were trying to show something here, but it’s beyond me how a suspended enlisted crewman could become the highly respected Captain Kirk within three years. Oh, and the shameless plug for Nokia, that was kind of a below the belt blow to me.

  14. One thing I liked about this movie was the absence of both ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ style fight coriagraphy and Matrix style fight coriagraphy. What I mean by ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ style fight coriagraphy is a fight (with weapons or hands) using extremely complicated, convoluted graceful movements (which real fighters would never perform) in which the combatents almost look like they are dancing with each other. They are okay in very stylized Chinesse martial arts films, but don’t belong anywhere else. A ridiculously out of place ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ fight takes place at the end of Hellboy 3.

    Matrix style fight coriagraphy is characterized by jerky Kung-fu type moves where actors (for some reason) pause for half a second between each block or punch as if they are thinking about each move individually instead of reacting instinctively to training and opportunity. Jason Bourne (in the movies) tends to engage in Matrix style fighting anytime he comes up against a very well trained fighter.

    Both fight styles are overdone and overly stylized and I enjoyed the ‘Backyard Brawl’ style displayed in this movie.

  15. On the whole, I enjoyed the movie. It delivered what you expect from Star Trek: a ripping good story, with only occasional nods to science.

    However, I’ve got one major problem with it that can be expressed in three words: “chain of command”.

    I understand they needed to get Kirk in the captain’s chair for reasons of the story line. Even so, in no military organization ever formed could someone go from being a cadet on academic suspension for cheating to command of a capital ship with the rank to match (a jump of six grades!), bypassing every officer in between in the chain of command, in a period of days. It just doesn’t happen that way. Even the most obviously able commanders ever seen needed time and tempering and experience before they were given command.

    Roddenberry’s one flaw, IMAO, was that he was deliberately ignorant of militaria, Despite his protestations otherwise, Starfleet is a navy, and therefore a military organization. Looks like Abrams is following Roddenberry down the same path.

  16. Jay Maynard: >Even so, in no military organization ever formed could someone go from being a cadet on academic suspension for cheating to command of a capital ship with the rank to match (a jump of six grades!), bypassing every officer in between in the chain of command, in a period of days. It just doesn’t happen that way.

    well, it is POSSIBLE. there was a classic case in the napoleonic wars where a midshipman cabin boy became captain in about 10mins after every ranking officer was killed. not to be conflated with the rank of post-captain, of course: after the action, appropriate officers were re-instated.

    mind you, i haven’t seen the movie yet, but i suspect catastrophic casualties might not have featured in kirk’s promotion. ;)

  17. mind you, i haven’t seen the movie yet, but i suspect catastrophic casualties might not have featured in kirk’s promotion. ;)
    They didn’t. There were plenty of officers left in the chain of command. In the case you cite, all of the other officers were out of action one way or another.

  18. are we talking about william sitgreaves cox — USS chesapeake, war of 1812? the gun-crew lieutenant who took his wounded CO below decks without knowing that the captain’s injury had made him ranking officer? (that story is used to such good effect in “starship troopers.”)

    kirk in the captain’s seat is where the plot must go, so in this case the end drives the means, although there is a point at which command has been delegated down three or four times — and then THAT guy-in-charge goes skittering off the bridge; here i began to question starfleet’s credibility.

    in fact, the more i think about the movie, the more plot holes i come up with … and yet, they don’t seem to diminish its stature in my mind. i think perhaps “trek” needed a thrill ride to reinvigorate the characters and the myth itself; if this is to be a series of films, i could deal with it maturing slowly — so long as it eventually does so.

    does anyone else think that a “trek” series with a hard-military focus might be of interest? i keep envisioning a “BSG”-like show about a vessel on the frontier in a klingon/romulan/cardassian-war milieu — enough of this peace corps crap; blow up some ships. “TNG” approached this with some of its borg scenarios, but backed away too quickly for my liking.

    wired.com has an interesting take pointing out plot holes here , while another posting analyzing the movie from a military perspective is here .

  19. I thought the Nokia bit, although jarring, had a purpose and served it well: After a fanciful battle between great starships in deep space, hearing the Nokia ringtone reminds us that the story is set in our future — in case the Corvette and the setting in Iowa weren’t enough. Star Trek, unlike that other popular franchise set in the stars, is about the better civilization that we might achieve.

  20. does anyone else think that a “trek” series with a hard-military focus might be of interest? i keep envisioning a “BSG”-like show about a vessel on the frontier in a klingon/romulan/cardassian-war milieu — enough of this peace corps crap; blow up some ships. “TNG” approached this with some of its borg scenarios, but backed away too quickly for my liking.

    Watch DS9, it will blow your mind.

  21. By the way, are there cliffs in Iowa?

    Apparently, not like that one.

    My grandmother lived in Cassville, WI, with bluffs on one side and the Mississippi (and Iowa border) on the other, so I’ve reason to believe that it’s not a total flatland :)

  22. And, oh, yes, Cadet Sulu gets a swordfighting scene.

    Because the token Asian guy always has a katana somewhere on his person. :) I still cheered when Sulu busted out his telescoping version and proceeded to cut shit up.

  23. >Because the token Asian guy always has a katana somewhere on his person. :)

    No, that’s not it. It’s a reference to a TOS episode in which Sulu somehow got stuck with the delusion that he was a Musketeer from the Dumas books and ran around challenging “the Cardinal’s guards” (everybody else) to duel. With an epeé, not a katana, thank you very much. And the sword in the movie was a straight blade with a tanto-like tip, not a katana. More like a late-medieval backsword than anything else, from the glimpses I got.

    The funny part (well known to Trekkies, it was in one of the early behind-the-scenes books) is that George Takei loved those TOS scenes so much that he wandered around the set for days afterwards trying to get anyone to fence with him…

    Checking…The episode was The Naked Time; the Wikipedia page even has a picture of Sulu with his epee on it.

  24. I heartily second the notion of a Star Trek with a hard military focus. I like DS9 very much, it was my favorite of all the new treks that came after the original.

    I hated Next Generation sometimes because it seemed like characters were always talking about their feelings. I found the Deanna Troi character especially irritating in this regard. Jeez, quit talking about your feelings and phaser something!

    I remember an episode of Voyager that was particularly irritating: The Chakotay character was in a shuttlecraft, being pursued by a hostile alien in another small ship shooting at him. (I think the actor was the same guy who played Nog the Ferengi on DS9.) So he’s shooting at him, and Chakotay gets on the subspace radio and says something like, “No, no, I just want to learn about you and your unique culture and people. There is no reason for us to fight.”

    God it would have been so refershing to hear him explode in profanity and shoot back! But no, they wind up becoming friends, holding hands, and agreeing that all cultures are more or less the same. Gahd I wanted to puke. No wonder that show failed. The writing crew led by Rick Berman was so bland and dull.
    This new Trek looks far more promising.

  25. Jay, it’s highly unlikely.

    Anything that telescopes macroscopically/mechanically won’t stand up for a thrust, and likely won’t stand up for a cut. Making a sword blade that *works* for both of those techniques requires some interesting metallurgy.

    Put another way – your car has leafsprings. Would you trust a car with leafsprings that telescoped like that? (One of the few grace notes I have for Stirling’s new series is that he points out that the leafsprings in cars would make better swordblades than existed through 99% of recorded history.)

    Anything that can telescope on the crystalline lattice layer will probably release so much waste heat when it expands/contracts that it’ll melt.

    My own take on the movie:

    Urban’s McCoy was almost parodic to me.
    Kirk/Spock was a nice reinterpretation.
    Visuals were pretty.

    Turn your critical brain all the way into the OFF position before thinking about the science or the plot holes.

    Nero had 25 years to go out and warn Romulus of what was going to happen. In 25 years, he could’ve gotten laid a few times, re-married and made sure that, with a 125 year head start, and updated navigational information, that the Romulan Star Empire could beat all comers.

    Just imagine what Teddy Roosevelt could do if the USS Ronald Reagan, with all documentation, went back to 1902. Speak Softly and Carry A Big Stick, indeed!

  26. >Nero had 25 years to go out and warn Romulus of what was going to happen. In 25 years, he could’ve gotten laid a few times, re-married and made sure that, with a 125 year head start, and updated navigational information, that the Romulan Star Empire could beat all comers.

    Er, and is there anyone who thinks Gene Roddenberry’s Federation wouldn’t have an attack of the humanitarian vapors and warned the Romulans, or done something with their 129-year foreknowledge of the supernova? Or that in 129 years the information wouldn’t just leak out in time for the Romulans to save themselves?

    It was a self-canceling plot.

  27. No, that’s not it. It’s a reference to a TOS episode in which Sulu somehow got stuck with the delusion that he was a Musketeer from the Dumas books and ran around challenging “the Cardinal’s guards” (everybody else) to duel.

    A little more than that; Sulu was originally scripted to run around the ship with a katana and pretend he was a samurai, to fit with the Japanese theme. However, George Takei explained to the production staff that in real life, he’s American, grew up in the USA and all, so any attempt to act as a samurai would be unconvincing and offensive to those that really do study the Japanese arts. As a compromise, George explained that he did have a hobby in fencing, and could convincingly run around the ship as a Musketeer. Source: Star Trek season 1 DVD special features :-)

    Yes, it’s a reference to the original Star Trek, but it’s also directly influenced from the man George Takei, which I think has far more value than a simple nod to the original writers.

  28. >would be unconvincing and offensive to those that really do study the Japanese arts

    By implication, I could do a more authentic samurai impression than George Takei. Forgive me for finding this entertaining.

  29. No, that’s not it. It’s a reference to a TOS episode in which Sulu somehow got stuck with the delusion that he was a Musketeer from the Dumas books and ran around challenging “the Cardinal’s guards” (everybody else) to duel.

    I never saw that episode, sad to say; and ass+u+med that a simple “lampshading” of the original Enterprise crew’s roles was what was going on.

    What you describe is far geekier, funnier, more awesome and more respectful to the character of Sulu.

    I think I should probably go see that movie again…

  30. As for the telescoping sword: is that even possible? Assume any material you like.

    Nanomachines. Anything becomes possible in the movies if you apply nanomachines.

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  32. Ken – have you ever seen “The Final Countdown” – USS Nimitz sent back to Pearl Harbour via a “time storm”.

    Another note on Sulu, the newer actor is Korean-American and was worried that the change could cause a problem. But George Takei noted that most westerners looked at Sulu as being Asian-American therefore the problem did not exist.

    Was there an TOS episode that had a samurai?

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