Monday, April 13, 2009

Skite Trek

Thanks to a few extraordinary cases of good fortune, I was able to see new Star Trek, Red Dwarf and Doctor Who over the long Easter weekend. God save the Geek in me.

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No spoilers here, because that would be mean.

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At first, I thought I would be the last person in the world to watch the new Star Trek film, when it came to people who were really hanging out to see it. The world premiere date turned out to be the worst possible day of the year for me, due to a spectacularly unavoidable bit of international travel. If it was a day earlier or later, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but that May release date was painful.

And then somebody at Paramount decided to have a NZ screening two days after Sydney got the world premiere and I owe that person a beer.

I hadn’t given a damn about Star Trek since Picard dealt that last hand in the closing seconds of the Next Generation, despite a couple of good films and a nice stretch of DS9 that followed. But right from the start, the new version looked like it was doing everything right, from a stripping down to the core appeal of this franchise, while adding something bright and new and sexy.

I think the sex appeal is something that’s been missing from Trek for decades. While there were actors who made those Starflet uniforms of the last couple of decades look bloody good, they were the exception, rather than the rule. Some of the performers who have appeared on Star Trek in all its forms over the past few years are undeniably attractive people who still manage to look like sacks of potatoes in those one-piece suits.

(It’s notable that the most blatant attempt to sex up the franchise in recent years saw the introduction of Jeri Ryan to Voyager doing her very best to play a sexy, sexy robot. Whether this says more about the creators or the fans of the show remains a mystery for the ages.)

But it quickly became obvious that the new Star Trek had sex appeal in spades. Not just in the obvious good bodies way, but it had the sexiness that comes with youth and vigor and excitement and intelligence and eagerness, attributes that Star Trek has often forsaken in the name of professionalism and technobabble.

JJ Abrams and his crew went back to that raw sensuality of the original series, where Kirk is too much man for any shirt and green skin just adds to the erotic appeal. This sexuality in Star Trek has come back to life with the new movie and cast. While the focus is still on explosions in cold vacuum, the enduring nature of friendship and inescapable destiny, the latest version also has everybody giving each other the glad eye and they all seem to be one step away from a giant space orgy that would send Leonard Nimoy’s eyebrow into the stratosphere. There is at least one interesting relationship among established characters that casts a new shadow over their entire histories and came as a genuine surprise.

The surprise factor in the new Trek is, well, surprisingly high. While still part of a vast continuity that stretches hundreds of years, a time travel plot shenanigan means anything could happen, but it doesn't invalidate 99% of all the other Star Trek. It's still one part of one big saga, while also offering the flexibility of unexpected plot twists. There is a humdinger of a kick to Trek continuity's nuts half an hour into the film, but these are still the same great people doing the same great deeds. I really liked that.

Acting is very strong, right across the board. Each actor captures the charm of the original portrayal without falling into impression, with Pine and Quinto doing nice jobs of making the characters their own. Pine isn’t Shatner, but is Captain Kirk, which is the way it should be.

It’s not perfect. The plot is a typically dull Trek affair and has holes that you could pilot a starship through, the whole thing is sometimes complete nonsense and has a propensity for going for cheap laughs. It is stuck in high gear for the vast majority of the film, which gets things going at a sprint, even though it starts to run out of puff 90 minutes into it.

But everything else is shiny and new and alive. Production design is stellar, from those marvelous costumes to the best engine room Star Trek has ever had, it all looks spectacular, even if they overdo it with the lens flare.

While it's not perfect, there are a thousand little touches that make up for the few dud stretches, from the excellent use of a piece of 20th century music at the start to the final fate of Captain Pike at the end.

If you ever liked Star Trek at some point, this is for you. Now I have to go to the DVD store and hire some Star Trek, because I like it all over again.

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The new Red Dwarf isn't very good, but it is very nice to see the old crew back together. And if I take off the beer goggles of nostalgia, it was always a bit rubbish. Fantastic ideas, terrible execution.

Sad but true: I once cried because I fell asleep in front of the television and missed an episode of the fourth season.

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And Doctor Who?

Well, it’s still an absolute pleasure to see some new Doctor Who. After that decade and a half of dormancy, to see those opening credits flare up on a brand new Doctor Who adventure in time in space is actual bliss.

With that much good will, it takes more than a couple of slightly irritating characters to wipe out that buzz. Russell T Davies is still a deadest legend at writing some sharp characterization and comes out with one really bloody good scene with the chops and gravy moment.

It’s also nice to see UNIT be UNIT and while Lee Evans is guaranteed to annoy the piss out of many Who fans, I still find him just hovering on the right side of irritating, (he sold me with the Bernard bit.)

Now I’m looking forward to The Waters of Mars and the inevitability of the Doctor’s death. The last few episodes of any Doctor’s incarnation are invariably my favourite periods of the show, right through its history. It is just so nice to be able to enjoy another transition.


Over the long weekend, I also watched The Nines, which was pretty fucking good, and The Signal, which also impressed. Who needs to go on holiday when there is all this mind candy?


Zom said...

I liked the Nines for much of the movie, but disliked the sci-fi twist. Resolution in art is often a problem for me - I dislike the way so many stories feel compelled to explain themselves. Probably why I'm so keen on Lynch.

I could probably write a very long essay on this

Mind you, I'm a big fan of masterfully articulated plot.

Also, want to see new trek muchly, which is kinda weird because I've never been that hot on the show, which is even more weird because for someone who isn't that hot on it I've seen an awful lot of trek over the years.

A man: a web of contradictions.

Bob Temuka said...

I really liked the way The Nines veered into sci-fi territory at the end, partly because I genuinely did not expect it, and mainly because I was a bit drunk at the time. At least it wasn't the usual OH MY GOD HE WAS DEAD THE ENTIRE TIME kinda twist.

But yeah, give me vague ambiguity and unanswered mysteries any other time. I'm still a bit disappointed that Mulholland Drive has been so thoroughly dissected and explained...

Zom said...

But the explanations are good ones and leave a lot of room for ambiguity and deep, deep strangeness. Also the subject matter is deeply unconventional and not entirely penetrable. We can know what the film's about - (roughly) the subjective state of someone who has killed their lover - without it losing its mystery because subjective states can't ever be fully summed up in words and Lynch doesn't try, instead he does the sensible thing - the thing he always does - and guns for atmosphere, ambience and feeling. Much of it generated by the use of deliberately irreducible surrealistic devices.