Wow. I lagged a lot writing this. On May 7th I watched the best Trek movie of all time. Twice. But I watched different movies. That means… something wonderful. Thursday I watched Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan then I watched the new Star Trek movie from JJ Abrams. I thoroughly enjoyed both.
Wrath of Khan can be summed up in one word: Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaan! Ricardo Montalban acted the hell out of this movie. He plays the title role of Khan: a power mad product of the “Eugenics Wars of the late 1990s.” You see, this character was created in the original series in 1967 in the episode Space Seed, and when they made the second Trek movie a whole 15 years later they brought Ricardo Montalban back as a vengeful villain. This movie is widely regarded as the best Star Trek movie and rightly so. The first movie had far too many static shots of the ship dragging out the experience of what really felt like a mediocre episode. Wrath of Khan involved the viewers so much more because it was about the characters and not about the ship. And what characters! Kirk as the aging admiral who left behind his ship-flying command, Chekov as the deer-in-the-headlights crewmember in danger, and of course Khan as the wildly soliloquizing sociopath driven to upend it all. Action packed, highly dramatic, and fairly tautly directed and edited, this is clearly a cinematic epic and not a tv episode stretched into a movie format. I watched it on blu-ray and it definitely felt just as good. There is some cheesiness to be sure, but even that holds up as enjoyable.
Fast forward a few hours and I’m sitting with my friends in front of a screening of the new Star Trek movie. My expectations were high. I really wanted a new, good Trek. I was disappointed in the turn of events with the TNG movies, and I thought none of the new series’ storylines from DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise would be worthy of a movie. When I heard the movie was set to be placed in the Starfleet Academy days of Kirk & Co. I became worried because generally I dislike derivative work and prequels are usually the worst kind. This movie blew all my reservations away and had enough to get me to come back to the theater twice (twice!) to see it again. The main reason? How they excellently took the movie in a new direction while still maintaining a healthy respect for the source material.
It would have been too easy for them to make this movie without any regard to existing Star Trek as seems to be en vogue today with the word “reboot” now entering my off-limits wordbank because of overuse. To wit: The Hulk, Punisher, Superman, Batman. Hey why are those all comic book movies? OK, how about James Bond and Casino Royale. So why did Batman Begins, Casino Royale, and this Star Trek work? Because they started handled the existing source material well while taking them in different directions. How did Star Trek surpass those?
This movie handles this by making an alternate reality. But this isn’t the alternate reality where we make a weird timeline and have to get back to our own. Instead, this movie is in the “broken timeline.” In fact, it’s even a timeline triggered when the “normal” plot setup (the saving of a planet) fails! This is what happens when… well this never happens! They have never messed up in Star Trek up to this point. There’s always some redemption or reset button that leaves the major setup intact. Not so in this new movie. In fact, they can (and hopefully will) go in almost any direction with the new cast and setups which breathes life into the franchise in a great way, and the alternate reality means all the old movies are still just peachy. Brilliant.
Is that enough to get me to watch the movie two more times? Nah. So what else was awesome? First off, the scale. The Enterprise is a big ship, and this is the first movie that really conveys this. Usually shots of the ship are from uniformly far away or inside corridors. This movie’s camera angles are not at all this static. The camera sweeps from inside to out. Shots of the ship actually have depth of field and focus to give a sense of near and far. The shots of the engineering section were actually filmed at the Budweiser brewery plant to lend some credence to what are the massive tanks and engines that bend time and space. Internal camera angles are never just on tripods; they swing and dip and zoom.
The characterizations are great. Again, the characters are respectfully handled — in fact, every major character has a scene or two that fleshes out some of their history. There is a pretty major deviation in character from everyone’s favorite emotionless Vulcan which still feels slightly out of place for me, but I’ll forgive it.
The action is explosive. Some people see this as a negative, as some say Star Trek is supposed to be more about the science and the morals… well they can watch the episodes and get all the moralizing they can handle. The movies are supposed to be epic, and this one fits the bill.
The music is also well done. Despite one very heavy song cue and the masterfully done end credits, all the music is original and well suited to the mood of the scenes.
I have to stop writing about this because I want to see it again!