Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Early review of "Star Trek" from the Sydney premiere


Some minor spoilers may be present.

I've never been to a premier before, but last night's World Premier of ‘Star Trek’ was simply amazing on every level. As I think everyone wants to hear about the film and not the red carpet, I'll get right to my impressions of ‘Star Trek.’

I will be there again on opening day. I consider myself an open-minded fan and I loved it, and the more I reflect on it the more I like it. As a fan many of my observations inevitably revolve around comparing the old and the new, and how long-time Trekkies might react to that. I'll try to keep it to a minimum and rate the film on its merits but it really does need mentioning: this is a worthy retelling of the original voyages of the starship Enterprise.

After an intense opening action sequence the title appears – the crowd goes absolutely mental (the first of many such occasions). Star Trek is back, bigger and bolder than ever before and chasing new audiences (no prior knowledge of the franchise is necessary) while keeping the old one happy. How they've done this is a neat bit of story-telling involving sci-fi staples that certainly isn't virgin territory for Star Trek, but is used here to satisfy everyone and – shockingly – it works a treat, thanks chiefly to the legendary Leonard Nimoy. He takes the lead with a grandfatherly ease in every scene.

The film primarily follows the paths of two men – Kirk and Spock – chronicling their childhood trials and growth into adulthood where much more dire trials await. What struck me most was how successfully such well-known characters are introduced in a fashion almost alien to how we classically perceive them, and then over the course of the film gradually become the crew we know and love.

Watching the introductions, the relationships, the conversations between these people is the film’s greatest strength. It offers up not just a healthy dose of geeky pleasure for fans, but many moments of genuine humour that everyone enjoyed. I lost track of the number of times the audience laughed in delight or cheered when a very well-known character or phrase first appeared. While some liberties have been taken (Simon Pegg's Scotty is a good example) most gags are appropriate and true to the characters. Many of these are so ingrained in pop culture by this stage that most non-fans will be in on the joke or the wink to the Trekkies. It really is absolutely marvelous, I can’t stress that enough.

Without going into the minutiae of each role (which I would love to do) fans shouldn’t be worried about the cast. I admit to having misgivings during the screening, but they were all soundly laid to rest by the time the credits rolled and the crowd erupted (J.J. got a standing ovation and took a bow, which was nice.) What I came to realize was that of course these characters are different – we’re watching them become the icons which were refined over decades – and the final payoff, seeing these eerily familiar characters with fresh young faces, is a joy to behold for this fan.

Those worried the new film would be an action-fest should have breathed a sigh of relief by now. The action scenes are amazing, frantic and chaotic (and loud) but they in no way overshadowed the cast. Critics of “shaky-cam” may have some gripes. It doesn’t faze me to be honest. It is here I have to introduce one of my few complaints of the evening though – my seat sucked. The screen was so large, and my position so close, that during some scenes of space combat it was impossible to absorb everything at once.

Both starship battles and fisticuffs are quite unlike anything that's been in a Trek movie before. The film-makers took the Trek canvas and created sequences that belong there, with many truly tense moments such as Sulu and Kirk battling Romulans for control of a drilling rig high in a planet’s atmosphere.

It’s difficult to dissect the plot – I was often so wrapped up in simply watching the characters evolve that I relegated the villain Nero’s actions to a subplot. Unfortunately, I felt that Nero was a fairly weak and barely-there baddy. He is a man clearly driven by deep grief and hatred, and although his motivations are revealed it feels all too brief to have any punch. Perhaps I will review my opinion after a later screening, but I can’t help but wonder if all the good stuff was relegated to the prequel tie-in comic “Countdown” (for a movie which boasts "Forget everything you knew" it seems odd to create supplementary material which actually assists in the telling of the story).

Sound effects were brilliant (did I mention how loud the film was) and readily recall the atmosphere of the original series. A new theme is introduced, which is to be expected, but much like other elements of the film many instances of the soundtrack take their cues from and reflect on Alexander Courage’s original theme.

(Attention! My final words may contain unacceptable spoilers for some!)

The film ends with a classic kind of strength and that definitive Star Trek aura. Everything is present and accounted for: the crew, the Enterprise blasting off into warp, the “These are the voyages…” monologue which here is blessed with the perfect choice for its delivery – and no, I’m not telling. Go watch it.

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