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May 11, 2009

Trek 3.0

(No Spoilers) They got the Romulans wrong. Again. The last Star Trek film, Nemesis, which killed the franchise, made the Romulans stupid. Made them stupid Roman Centurions who get hoodwinked by a piece of bad casting Tom Hardy as Shinzon, a supposed clone of The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Regrettably Hardy, the actor playing Shinzon, couldn’t credibly stand in the same room with Patrick Stewart, the wonderful Shakespearean actor who played Picard for two decades, so the whole “clone” notion never worked, not from frame one. Had they cast Stewart to play his own clone, we’d have just watched the fifth or sixth Next Gen movie, but astonishingly poor choices were made all around and here we are with this energetic and fun reboot. Make no mistake about it: Star Trek is a fun movie and well worth seeing. But is it really Trek?

As with Nemesis, this new Star Trek places a rogue Romulan at the center and then gets the Romulans completely wrong. The entire point of Romulans are that they are liars. That they say one thing then do another. Duplicity is their stock and trade. It is, ultimately, what makes them interesting. TV Show Romulans rarely, if ever, raised their voice. They spoke with an even, calculated tone while never taking their eyes off you. They polarized whatever room they might have been in. They were thinkers moreso than warriors, and they used their intellect to nefarious purposes.

Here, as in the awful Nemesis, the producers made the Romulans simply stooges. Every Romulan in this film is a stooge who screams and snarls and beats people up. Wrong. Romulans don’t beat people up. They outsmart people, manipulating them into beating themselves up. So, right away, I realize this is yet another Star Trek film produced by people whose understanding of Star Trek never makes it far below the Trek epidermis: the bare basics of what the phenomena is about. And, what’s the big deal? many will ask. The big deal is this: the difference between a film and a franchise is how deep the rabbit hole goes. In Star Trek, a fun but ultimately empty-calorie fetish film, that rabbit hole is fairly shallow.

Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful future was not there. It was implied, perhaps taken for granted, but it was not evidenced in any meaningful or significant way. That future—one in which poverty, disease, war, hunger, and most human vices have been eliminated—was what made Star Trek rise above most other science-future spaceship serials. This is something director J.J. Abrams either didn’t realize or didn’t care about. Hope was a huge component of Star Trek, and Abrams left hope on the cutting room floor.

The show also has heart disease. It’s a very clever film with very interesting performances, but the film has no beating heart at the center. Zachary Quinto, whose most compelling reason for being there is his uncanny resemblance to Leonard Nimoy, plays Spock as if he’s never seen a Nimoy performance. Quinto’s Spock is so uninformed—lacking the charm and pristinely calculated wit of the original—that every time he opened his mouth I was disappointed. The Spock we’ve come to know over 30+ years (unnervingly echoed by Tim Russ’ coolly disciplined Tuvok from that awful Lost In Space Star Trek show) would never order Kirk out of his chair (a funny line, but decidedly Not Spock). Thus, Spock’s ongoing conflicts about his divided lineage simply ring hollow: the young actor simply cannot bring Spock home for me, and I’ve been waiting a very long time (thank goodness the real thing appears in two extended cameos).

Worse: Chris Pine’s Kirk cannot hold the center of the film. He simply lacks the gravity of William Shatner’s chronic self-absorption, which informed Shatner’s performance as James Tiberius Kirk. Bruce Greenwood, as Captain Christopher Pike, simply mops the floor with Pine in every scene they share together, upstaging the younger actor with Greenwood’s meaty dimension as an actor and his character’s father figure to the young Kirk. As ridiculous as it was, I actually bought Pike promoting Kirk to first officer, largely on the strength of Greenwood’s performance.

Kirk himself, however, is completely missing from the film. Abrams seemingly capriciously banned Shatner (in both body and spirit) from the production. It felt deliberate. It felt mean. And it tinged my enjoyment of what is certainly a great movie. The whole film felt Anti-Shatner if not Anti-Kirk. It felt hostile to Shatner. With no hopeful future and such unspoken hostility toward Kirk, is it Trek?

Pine plays Kirk as though he’s never heard of William Shatner. I frankly do not know anyone alive over the age of 30 who can *not* do a Captain Kirk/William Shatner imitation. Most every other member of the cast (except Zoe Saldana, who plays a terrific character called Uhura but who lacks the quiet strength and discipline of Nichelle Nichols) seems to have used the original characters as the foundation for their performances. They certainly went their own way and made the characters their own (perhaps most successfully, Simon Pegg’s very funny Scotty), but Pine seems to have deliberately abandoned Shatner. Coupled with the choice to not cast Shatner even in a cameo (the plot re-shuffles the continuity deck so efficiently, no explanation of Shatner’s walk-on would have been necessary), that I’m left to conclude the producers wanted a Shatner-less Star Trek, which is to miss the joy of Trek entirely.

As annoying and occasionally overblown as Shatner’s performances can be, it is those very qualities which make Spock Spock and McCoy McCoy. The new kid was simply too generic, a pale echo of Tom Cruise’s Maverick from Top Gun (including an homage to Maverick’s arrival at the air base on his motorcycle: Cruise stops briefly, watches the jets, then kicks his bike into high gear, heading for the air base. This is re-created, almost note for note, here in Trek).

The casting, therefore, is out of balance. Pine’s groping, generic Maverick Lite is no Kirk. Not even close. Not even a hint, an echo, of that note in the symphony. So the triad of Spock, Kirk, and McCoy simply does not work, here. Spock’s arguments with McCoy seem strained and flat, missing the fire of Deforest Kelley’s seeming disdain for Nimoy.

Worse, at no point does Kirk save the day. He performs heroic acts but he is not a hero. At no point do I ever feel like he was in any real peril, and the Kobayashi Maru “no win” scenario never plays itself out in the plotline.

The film goes out of its way not to reimagine Kirk so much as to banish Shatner, as if Shatner’s ghost might hold back a new franchise. What might hold back a new franchise is the thinness of the new premise, the performances being satire once removed, and the *lack* of a Shatner at the center. Quinto’s Spock’s lack of charm (not to mention his lack of Nimoy’s classic baritone) doesn’t help. This film could easily have tipped over into the realm of a Saturday Night Live sketch. As is, it teeters on the brink.

There weren’t enough shots of the Enterprise, Abrams again missing a crucial point that the Enterprise herself is a major character in the franchise. We get, at best, fleeting occasional glimpses of the ship’s exterior, and we’re left blinking and wondering what this version of the ship actually looks like.

Ben Cross turns in a simply dreadful performance as Sarek, Spock’s father. The part was played for decades by the inimitable Mark Lenard, who passed away in 1996 Lenard’s Sarek was Spock without the compassion. He was all discipline, and Lenard’s performance had a through-point of self-loathing for Sarek’s obvious compassion for his half-human son, and anger at his son for causing Sarek to so obviously display that compassion. Anger which, in wonderfully nuanced layers from a brilliant actor, humiliated Sarek. Cross’s befuddled, doddering, single-note performance fairly insults the richness of that memory. I mean it, every time I saw Sarek in the film I winced. Ouch.

Finally, God was not in this movie. Not that He specifically needed to be, but Star Trek not only had an innate sense of hope, but was fairly evangelical in Kirk’s sense of faith. If not faith in a specific Judeo Christian God, but faith in the bright future for mankind and, ultimately, the universe. Via his trademark, halting speeches, Kirk routinely pondered the big questions and gazed out at the stars. Whether deliberate or not, he came across as a man of faith, and that hopeful optimism is what made Trek Trek. Most all of that is missing from this new Star Trek, which seems much less concerned about the hopeful future, hitting the action beats squarely while forgetting to give the film an actual soul.

There’s really not much here for young people except action and a gratuitous scene of Uhura in her panties. It was an unnecessary titillation that demeaned the actor’s otherwise terrific performance and something Nichelle Nichols, the original Uhura would *never* have agreed to. The one major female (and black) character in the film, and they made her take her clothes off. The major reboot performances are only interesting if you’re familiar with the originals, which these performances vaguely echo without actually measuring up to. Eye candy, lots of fun, but not enough depth to make the film compelling, no lessons learned, no questions pondered, no hope extended to us. As fun a way to kill an afternoon as any, and I suppose the film will rake in lots of cash. But, for this Trek fan, it serves manly to underscore just how great the original was.



I was curious to see if you would post your reaction to this. I actually haven't seen it yet, despite trying to catch it at the IMAX twice over the weekend, both times it was sold out. I'm sorry to hear you didn't seem to enjoy it though.

But at least, based on the trailers and reviews, it looks fun. Shallow, quite probably, but fun. That's something that Nemesis lacked greatly. It did try to have something vaguely like a contemplative side, but it lacked anything to really tie it together and partnered with the lack of fun and Wrath of Khan ripoffs/homages it made a pretty miserable film going experiance. I have hopes that Reboot Trek will not be that bad.


Just my $0.02. I think it probably was a good idea for Pine not to do a "Shatner Voice." For better or for worse, the way Kirk talks has become a parody. Pine wouldn't be playing Kirk, he'd be playing Shatner playing Kirk, and I'd be completely thrown out of the film.

(I do have to give big love to Karl Urban, who I thought was awesome as McCoy.)


It seems like you hated it? Am I getting you right here? You seem to be hedging your view of liking it.

I haven't seen it yet. This is the first "negative" review I've read of it.

"It was an unnecessary titillation that...Nichelle Nichols, the original Uhura would *never* have agreed to."

Star Trek V? 56 year old fan dancer? Not to say that it wasn't titillation, but I don't think Nichols would have immediately refused.

The fan dancing was hardly titillation, and it disappointed me to see a black woman who couldn’t dance.

FTR: I really liked it. RUN and see this movie--it is lots of fun. I guess I should have said that in my review. I'm just picking scabs. I thought the film was a lot of fun but, was it Trek? Was it a Trek homage? A Trek parody? Or was it Trek done by people who don’t understand Trek?

Where was The Big Theme? Where was the life lesson we usually take (sometimes too much so) from Trek stories? Where was The Big Idea? Where is The Kirk Speech? "Risk? Risk, gentlemen, is our business!"

The Enterprise was never in real jeopardy. The prickly rosebush Romulan spaceship, rehashed from Nemesis, makes a beeline for Earth-- yawn. Kirk does not save the day through cleverness or deceit. The kid is cocky, not arrogant. Kirk is arrogant, not cocky. And I just have a hard time buying Starfleet putting someone so young in the captain's chair.

Remember that sequence of Picard crawling through Jeffries tubes with Alfre Woodard, explaining how, in the 24th century, "We work to better ourselves..." That scene took all of 30, 40 seconds but it reminded us of the world Gene Roddenberry's vision exists in.

And I'm still ticked that I *barely* got a look at the exterior of the Enterprise--fleeting glimpses as if Abrams was going, "They already know what the ship looks like." The ship is part of what I came to *see.*

I'm not saying it's a bad movie--it's a fun, great popcorn movie. I'm saying it's not Trek. It is, at best, Trek Lite.

Rick: I agree, so I guess I’m torn about the whole Kirk/Shatner thing. But the film felt *hostile* to Shatner. Not sure where the mid-ground might be.

"There are times when the command deck looks like Bring Your Child to School Day, with the kid sitting in daddy’s chair." --Roger Ebert

I completely agree w/Ebert's review (he liked he film but only gave it 2-1/2 stars, which is about right).


I'd rather see these characters live in a shallow rabbit hole than forever be relegated to some punchline for whenever someone wants to poke fun of all us under/over weight males that like sci-fi.

To be honest, I'm actually offended at your review. Your asking these people to live up to an impossible standard-- your affection for the original series and stars.

Your relentless pursuit for people to live yup to the dogma of the original completely clouded your judgment on this. A reboot, a re-imagining, is just that. Its not trying to be what you used to love and have routinely criticized on this blog.

Matt Adler:

I basically had the same impression as you; a fun summer action flick, but nothing special.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the Wolverine movie; if you won't be seeing it in theaters, will you see it on DVD? There's a lot of Larry Hama's material in there, incidentally, including the character played by will.i.am.


Having saw it last night, I came away with mainly quibbles but very few real problems with the reboot.

I thought Zachary Quinto reminded me too much of his character on Heroes, who is a power-stealing serial killer and that's not the image you want running through your head while watching Spock.

I didn't mind the actor, per se, but they played Chekov's accent for laughs too much. I mean I love "Nuclear Wessels" as much as the next guy and I smiled at the "Wector Wector" gag, but by the time he said "Wulcan" for the third time in a row I was ready for him to shut up.

I agree with you Priest, Ben Cross couldn't hold a candle up to Mark Lenard as Sarek. I tried not to compare performances too much but that one, for some reason, really stood out as being wrong far more then any of the new cast.

And I would have liked them to at least touch on Rodenberry's utopian ideals. I think, when Kirk offers mercy to Nero and his crew towards the end of the film it would have been a great time to talk about taking the harder path towards peace and equality, etc etc but instead he explains to Spock he did it for political reasons. I don't think you have to have your characters be models of humanity that Gene Rodenberry wanted, but I think they should show an inclination towards trying to become models of those ideals.

That said I thought Chris Pine did a pretty good job of evoking Kirk's swagger. Not his voice or mannerisms, but something about his presense felt to me "Ok, this is a younger Kirk who still has the cockiness of youth but little to back it up." Give him a few years and I think he'll feel a bit more like Shatner's Kirk then you suspect Priest.

Oh and as for the Romulans, I don't suppose you can give them a pass considering that these weren't military or political leaders. I don't recall if we've seen much of the "working joes" of Romulus before now, but to me it makes sense that the guys who would lie to your face and calmly get you to do what they wanted you to do would be in charge and those that wear their hearts on their sleeves be regulated to manuel labor like running a mining ship. Admittedly, if I was in charge and Nemesis never happened it might have worked better if we said these guys were the Remans rather then the vampire looking guys we got in Nemesis.

All in all I found it to be a greatly entertaining film with most of the flaws of the film only popping up when I sat and compared and contrasted it to the original. That is inevitable for any fan of the original Trek, but I'm not sure it is entirely fair. When I take it on its own merits, I think it stands much stronger.


Couldn't disagree more, except about one point...the depth. I really hope the next few movies give us more steak with the sizzle.

I wanted more of the Enterprise, too, but I think we got a good shot of it was McCoy and Kirk arrive. Abrams wasn't hostile to Shatner at all (he and Shatner are on good speaking terms)...he just didn't want to try to cram a ton of things into the first movie. I really believe they'll bring Kirk back. Hell, Orci and Kurtzmann brought back _Data_ in the comic book adaptation which takes place before the events of the movie.

I really don't think we need another Trek movie with 5 minutes of the characters staring at the ship. That's what has killed Trek to some extent. The stately/grandeur aspects that don't allow for fun. What I hope is that we can eventually have both (and a great speech from Kirk in the next one) and watch these characters grow. You're forgetting they're all YOUNG and callow and meeting for the first time 8 years early. Of course young Spock doesn't have Nimoy's gravitas. That's the point.


Also, your mileage may vary, but...



It took this to get you typing here again? :p I wonder what you will say after seeing the obvious next chapter in the Trek movies.


Welcome back btw. Good to see you take a break from the life to juggle words on the net.

David Aspmo:

I think it's very much significant that these were the working class Romulans, rather than the ruling class.

That could also actually address one of the other common complaints I've heard from people: that Nero didn't have enough of a motivation for revenge on Spock and the Federation. Or, at least, that he was jumping to an irrational conclusion blaming Spock and the Federation for the destruction of Romulus, since Spock was actively trying to save the planet.

If, however, the ruling class on Romulus DID practice their deceit with their own working class just as they did with everyone else, then it's entirely possible that Nero and his crew were constantly subjected to all manner of propaganda blaming the Federation for all of the woes of the likely downtrodden working class people - rather than their own empire's failings (which would actually be a nice metaphor for current international violence - and for a lot of domestic partisanship for that matter).

So, of course, they would be more than prepared to believe Spock betrayed them, and that the Federation was intrinsically dangerous.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the writers hadn't put that much thought into the reasons for making the villains working class, but they DID make the decision to do that, so it's not implausible.


I think I'll just let David Aspmo do my talking here for me. He phrased my thoughts on the Romulans much better then I did myself. :)

the next film hopefully will up the ante with some ethical questions alongside the action, and not be just about space combat..

..was 'red matter' dealt with before? I hadn't heard of it..

I want more women in the next film.. Uhura was cool, and it was nice to see an Orion woman get a cameo (she should be made a crew member!).. Where's a young, sexy Nurse Chapel, and also Yeoman Rand (duh!!).. Also, if the filmmakers are bold, they can also include cat-lady M'Ress the Caitian (from the animated show)

Priest! You're alive! Please post more!

(with that out of the way)

It took me about a week, but I agree. I went and saw Sam Raimi's "Drag me to Hell" (funnest movie I've seen in years) and it got me thinking about how much fun Star Trek was, but how much more fun this was because it was actually original. Drag Me to Hell pays plenty of homage to older horror films, but unlike Star Trek, it's fine in it's own right and doesn't require you to know the "real" version of the characters to be great.

Isn't it impressive how good of a reviewer Ebert really is?


Comic Book Resources interview with Peter David:
(In Defense of his first editor, Jim Owsley)



Thanks for the link, Ty.

How are ya doing, Priest?


man...your Black Panther run was EPIC...way ahead of it's time. Damn, I wish you would come back and write again...

Same multiverse, different timeline, and the old versions of the toys are still there alongside these new ones. By and large, I had fun as well. The optimism of Trek...was taken as a given of the background, for all the flaws this bunch put on display in this film.

I want to see these guys in their version of the Trekverse again, as much as I want to see the "classic" Trekverse characters in theirs.

Umbra: Seconded, one fan to another.

Umbra: Thirded, another fan to another.


Priest is missed in comics. As intelligent as he is, I don't think the impact of his work on us fans is fully understood by him.

"Priest is missed in comics. As intelligent as he is, I don't think the impact of his work on us fans is fully understood by him."

That's a pretty good point.

lol- I like how these comment section of these months-old posts turn into a very low-impact messageboard amongst us readers.


Yup. I see that, too. "Months-old" indeed.


*sniff* *sniff*

Do I smell spam-be-gone? :p


Perhaps it's time for a 'capcha' sort of posting set? The bots are runnin the asylum here...


According To Me

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