May 08, 2009

Review: Star Trek

Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered September 28, 1987. From then until the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise on May 13, 2005, the Star Trek franchise was continuously on the air. An entire generation grew up with new sets of characters and a history that evolved through the series. The new Star Trek film from J.J. Abrams tosses out all that history and brings us back to the original series crew.

I guess we should settle this now: there is really no right way to do this. Like with comic book movies, hewing too close to the extensive cannon of the franchise will impress fans, but will likely drive away anyone without a PhD. in the subject matter. Ignoring the franchise's history will make the film more accessible, but there's a strong chance that you alienate your base. J.J. Abrams leans more to the latter than the former, but I think he did as good a job of balancing the competing goals as was possible.

The cast is just about perfect, and they all tread the very fine line between invoking the famous traits of their characters without pantomiming Shatner, Nimoy, or the other original cast members. The only down side I see to the cast is that by the time the Trek movies of the past were released, pretty much all of the actors were typecast as their Trek character. This allowed them to do several movies with a pretty fixed cast because nobody was getting other work. For some reason I doubt that Chris Pine is going to want to spend the next 10-20 years playing Kirk, but I also doubt that Paramount is going to stop making Trek movies if this one is successful but Pine wants out. I hope that they've signed everyone to at least a three picture deal, but I've got a sinking feeling that we'll start to see new faces subbed in eventually.

The special effects were really fantastic. The newer Trek series had increased their special effects so greatly that the original Enterprise, particularly the television version, looked pretty lame by comparison. This movie restores a sense of awe to the original ship that's been gone for a long time.

It's not the most contemplative science fiction story of all time, but Trek movies have mostly been about exciting space battles, so that's not the worst criticism of all time.

All in all, this is a great (re)start to the franchise, and I'm sure we'll see more films in the next few years.


Unknown said...

I think you vastly over state the danger of "alienating your base". The base isn't important at all.

This film has an estimated production budget of $150 million. The highest grossing Star Trek film to date, domestically, was Star Trek IV, with less than $110 million. If this movie plays to that base, it bombs, and quite possibly kills the franchise.

It's a very hard lesson for most fans to learn, but the fact is, we're simply not important. Job one of this film was to appeal to people who have never seen Star Trek before. To the extent that you can provide some fan-service without undermining that goal, fine. And, in my view, that's exactly what this film did.

But there is a right way to do these things, and that is to ignore the fans, and make a film that caters to the broadest possible audience. Not coincidentally, that is exactly what Russell T Davies did with "Doctor Who".

Nomad said...

it would seem that Chris Pine's Capt. Kirk encapsulates all that Capt. Kirk was meant to be more than William Shatner's version

MosBen said...

It's possible that I overstate the importance of the base in the post, but I think you understate it. One of the chief reasons to use an existing property rather than create a new one is to tap into the fanbase. Fans spread word of mouth. They post blogs, they link to videos, they tell their family and friends about how good the movie is. And yes, if they feel like the movie's not a slap in the face, they go to see it in droves. Can a movie survive on the franchise's fanbase? No, and certainly not a big summer blockbuster. Which is why a franchise needs to walk the tightrope. I don't have enough data back this up, but I don't doubt that there's a connection between the fact that Daredevil bombed and the fact that it's hated by fans. There may indeed be other, possibly even more important, reasons for its failure, but fan reaction ain't nothin'.

Second, Star Trek IV grossed about $110 million dollars domestic...*in 1986*. Based on an inflation calculator that I found with Google, that puts its domestic gross at about $210 million. If this movie nets $60 million it'll be a hit. Granted Star Trek IV cost $27 million to produce in 1986 dollars, so the new movie would really have to do well to catch that, but still.

And you're way off with the new Who. Yeah, of course they changed some things, and there are some fans that will never accept the changes, but the new show was anything but a slap in the face to the fans. For God's sake man, they had Peter Davison in a special that was all about how much the production crew loved the original show! They introduce updated versions of terrible monsters of the week. They're walking the tightrope exactly like I'm suggesting they should.

If you've got control of a million/billion dollar property, the stupidest thing you could do would be to ignore the fans. If you don't care what they think, make the same movie with a new property. The only reason to bring out a tried and true franchise is to dust it off, iron out the parts that drive non-fans away, and keep the parts that work. Slavishly dedicating yourself to pleasing fans is obviously stupid, but no more stupid than completely ignoring your most dedicated consumers.

And Nomad: Welcome! In what way is Pine's Kirk more Kirk than Shatner's? I mean, Shatner's been Kirk for, what, 45 years and Pine's been Kirk for 10 minutes? Before this weekend I pretty much couldn't have separated Shatner and Kirk, so in what ways was Pine's performance more true to the character. Shatner's tendency to overact was always a problem, and it's one that Pine did well to avoid, but upon reflection I'm not sure that he added anything to the character uniquely his own other than restraining the excesses.

Unknown said...

Of course Doctor Who didn't slap the fans in the face. Slapping the fans in the face is hardly consistent with ignoring them. And New Who did ignore us, until the show became a hit and they felt they were secure enough with their new audience to bring elements for the old audience, in a distinctly new Who manner. They retconned the 4th Doctor-Sarah Jane relationship, for instance, to make it more like the Tenth Doctor-Rose relationship, in order to give School Reunion a stronger story. And they brought Peter Davison back in a comedy skit. A sublimely wonderful comedy skit, but still...

I also think it matters what level of non-fan awareness a property has. For Star Trek (and Doctor Who in the UK), it's huge. So what you want to do is take the iconic elements, the things that everyone knows about the franchise whether they watch it or not (including things that have been exaggerated beyond all reason in the popular imagination, like "red shirts die" and "the sonic screwdriver can do anything") and use those to make a completely modern and thoroughly compelling story for general audiences.

With something like Daredevil, which doesn't have nearly the level of cultural penetration of Spider-Man or X-Men or Star Trek or Doctor Who (in the UK), I think your approach of using the fans as the first-wave hype-generators makes a great deal of sense. But in the case of Star Trek, J.J. Abrams actually told the "purists" to stay home. He doesn't need them.

evaberlinerin said...

I'm really sorry if I hurt some people, but I really hate Star Trek, even if I know that most of people enjoyed the movie! I have tried a lot of times to see it, but I find it just uninteresting and boring! Maybe I'm a bit's possible ;)

Eva from Hauptstadtreisen