November 30, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Star Trek (2009)

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Star Trek (2009)

Today's movie: Star Trek, 2009 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because it was the most anticipated film of 2009, bringing together the venerable science-fiction series and current genre master and Hollywood It Boy JJ Abrams (Lost, Alias, Cloverfield) for a massive franchise reboot, one of those budget-busting spectacles meant to eventually support the weight of the additional billion dollars of merchandise and spinoffs hanging off it. Do I need any more of a reason to watch it?

The reality: AWWW DUDE THIS MOVIE KICKED SEVEN KINDS OF ASS AWWWW DUUUUDE AWWW DUUUDE. And that's because Abrams did exactly here what he did with Mission: Impossible 3 to make that a hugely successful franchise reboot too -- he took all the familiar little elements that original fans are already aware of, then hired extra-smart writers to come up with a character-heavy, intelligent and modern script to go around them, which when combined with cutting-edge special effects is good enough to make action films that at their best moments are better than even Spielberg. And certainly 'Spielbergian' was the unwieldy term I was thinking of much of the time while watching this the other night, one of the first films since Spielberg's heady '80s days that made me want to immediately hit 'play' again just as soon as the movie was over. Essentially staying faithful to Gene Roddenberry's utopian, conflict-light vision of the future (a common complaint amongst Star Trek writers over the decades), but taking advantage of every loophole in that universe that allows for more passion and friction among the characters, like Starship Troopers this takes a look at the iconic crew back when they were hunky teens finishing up Starfleet Academy, suddenly called into active duty because of an unforeseen alien threat.

But here of course is where Abrams regulars Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman start twisting the usual genre expectations, by essentially taking the cutesy little affectations of these characters and building a high-quality, thoroughly contemporary script around them, not so much deliberately trying to create their own new thing (although incidentally doing so anyway) as much as reminding us why everyone flipped out for these characters to begin with, why they've earned such large places in our general culture ever since. Because let's face it, one of the greatest character triads in history was created when the swaggering, sexy James Kirk was brought together with the coldly logical Spock and the cynical, down-home Dr. McCoy, which the reboot crew doesn't even begin trying to tamper with but instead uses as the core of their own movie, lacing the finished film with dozens of minor references to the ten movies and thousand television episodes that already exist, from the obvious (the explanation behind McCoy's nickname "Bones") to the refreshingly obscure (Kirk's college one-night-stand with an Orionite, which believe me is very funny when you're a Trekkie).

But on the other hand, Abrams and company also bring a much needed "yeah, I could see that actually happening" sense of realness to this reboot that's never existed in the franchise before, helped immensely by their decision (much like Peter Jackson while filming Lord of the Rings) to shoot as many effects shots as they could physically instead of digitally, leading to things like an engine room that looks highly similar to an actual full power plant in a small city (which after all is what the USS Enterprise actually is, a small city that can be pushed around in space). Combine with judicious, breathtaking use of CG (mostly to accomplish the gorgeous digital backgrounds), including a shipyard in Iowa that must be seen to be believed, and you have essentially the E.T. moment of Abrams' career, the mega blockbuster destined to turn him from the "high-quality surprise" attached to action scripts to the new go-to guy for them. It comes highly recommended today to any fan of smart, high-quality sci-fi films.

Strangest piece of trivia: Screenwriters Orci and Kurtzman were also staff members of Xena: Warrior Princess, still to this day possibly the greatest low-budget comedic genre show in television history.

Worth your time? Hells yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 2:05 PM, November 30, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |