Here was an odd assignment: “We would like to extend an invitation to you to join us for a Special Presentation of footage from our upcoming film STAR TREK.” It was sent by a publicist from Paramount.
Now, screening 20 minutes of footage for an audience at a sci-fi or comic convention, I could understand. Screening said footage for folks like me, who couldn’t fill a page with their knowledge of Star Trek, seems a little… odd. After all, four scenes out of context can’t help but lose some of their impact when compared to the finished product. And what can I do except review said scenes as if I had seen the full-length movie?
The footage began with the trailer Paramount released two months ago, complete with the Thelma & Louise scene that’s never sat right with me (“What is your name?” “My name is James Tiberius Kirk!”). I realized something: like Paul Greengrass (the Bourne movies), J.J. Abrams gets rapid-fire editing: the images that flash by add up to something, and throughout the footage, I could always tell what was going on. I still would have preferred more conventionally edited action scenes, but c’est la vie.
Abrams himself introduced the scenes in pre-taped segments. The first was of Kirk (Chris Pine) at a bar, clumsily trying to pick up Uhura (Pirates of the Caribbean’s Zoe Saldana) and starting a fight. The second was of Kirk successfully going against executive orders and saving the Enterprise’s crew. The third was of Kirk being led by Spock (the real Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy) to a remote shelter which apparently existed for no reason except to house Scotty (Simon Pegg) for six months while he and Spock waited for Kirk. And the fourth was of Kirk, Sulu (John Cho), and a random officer in a red shirt parachuting from near-orbit onto a drilling platform. Guess whose parachute rips?
I love science fiction, but I’m not a Star Trek fan; I’m a Star Wars fan, and at their best the former favours realism, group dynamics and political intrigue, while the latter favours fantasy elements, action and questions of morality. This new installment attempts to bridge the gap, honouring the inherent altruism and group dynamics of the Trekuniverse while including a number of action setpieces and there-for-the-sake-of-coolness technology (none of which appears to be human in origin, a fact Trek fans will probably appreciate). Both series are at their best, of course, when focusing on great characters, and Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Pegg (Scotty), Karl Urban (Dr. “Bones” McCoy), Cho (Sulu), Saldana (Uhura) and Anton Yelchin (Chekov) are certainly handed memorable roles. Whether they do justice to the originals is for Trekkies to decide, but they feel like the characters of pop culture lore, and since Trekkies aren’t Paramount’s primary audience, that’s probably what’s most important.
While directed by Abrams, a casual sci-fi fan, the movie is unfortunately written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orchi, both Trekkies, who wrote Transformers, Mission Impossible III, and The Island after the first 45 minutes. I’m not a fan of their work; they build their stories around action sequences instead of characters, and favour broad quirks over character development. There’s also that sketchy time travel device, which I bought more easily in Star Trek IV and First Contact.
I have no doubt Abrams’ take on Star Trek will be entertaining, and for most moviegoers, that will be enough; perhaps that’s why Paramount held this non-screening. But as a sci-fi fan, I can’t help but compare it to this season’s other big science fiction release – the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica, which has successfully explored group dynamics, politics, morality, racism, religion, and includes a healthy dose of action – and remain doubtful this new Trek will measure up.
Star Trek hits theatres May 8, 2009