Sunday, June 07, 2009
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban
Director: J.J. Abrams
Runtime: 127 min.
Genre: Action, Sci-fi
In a way it all depends upon how much you enjoy much of the ridiculously contrived sentimentality that is put on television, in the form of sitcoms and in the form of over-stretched series. If we seek to drill further ahead, it all depends upon how much of your movie-going pleasure is sought from aesthetics of the medium, the artistic usage of its formal elements in the truthful observational and insightful exploration of a plot and a film, and how much of it is derived from plain plot-following. If you enjoy the easy trappings of the latter, then you would very much enjoy Star Trek, which is nothing more than television on big screen. Mr. Abrams is barely a filmmaker, with dare I say, no sense of how to make a movie, or how to frame a scene, or how to pace it. All he seems to delight in his slavish indulgences to recreate what he feels is the magic of television, with characters having memory span of five to ten minutes, tops, after which they seem to metamorphose conveniently and completely into what the plot deems fit enough to register as a dramatic development worth the audience’s applause, and also fit enough to advance itself further.
Star Trek is a ridiculous movie. Not that it isn’t involving, but then anything with a whole lot of story with a whole lot of events inside of it is. Does it make it good cinema? Nope. Mr. Abrams film is 127 minutes of melodrama shared by a whole battalion of stereotyped characters, uneasily blended with a whole lot of barely comprehensible slam bang explosions. Mr. Abrams doesn’t know how to shoot an action sequence, or even as much as an action moment, and not even a frame of the film is memorable, even though there’re visual influences taken from as noteworthy a sources as Arthur C Clarke’s imaginations in Rendezvous with Rama, and Kubrick’s 2001:A Space Odyssey, which instead betray Mr. Abrams’ total incompetence with their usage. These are moments when I mocked loudly at the amateurishness at hand, and I believe I under-reacted. Reader, there are good movies, there’re mediocre movies and there’re bad movies. And then there are those for which life is too short to waste time upon. I say, your life and mine are too short to lend it in service of Mr. Abrams.
Now, I’m not a Trekkie, and if you seek such a viewpoint I advice you look elsewhere. I believe that space is a rather inappropriate place to have an opera, and no amount of lightsabers and cheesy dialog could cut the deal for me. Operas, you could have them in regular households, and show them on television and stunt the imagination. But space, much like cinema, is a place to fire our imagination, to stimulate the prospect of an awesome spectacle and flights of wondrous thoughts. Not multi colored lasers zipping by and giving you the faux sense of narration. Space, much like cinema, is an altar for the grand. Not for petty little family disputes fashioned in a ridiculously mawkish manner and filmed with a skill set that could at best be described as crude. I laughed, I mocked and I cringed. Star Trek is such kind of a film.
What’s it about? On an outer level, it might seem about a group of people, presumably from Earth, who experienced rapid and some rather inconsistent strides in science, travel into space far and wide and what they term as warp speed, and discover other worlds. I say inconsistent, because they seem to know how to carry black holes within their pockets, like little hand grenades, but they haven’t yet given upon sword fighting. This is a rather curious time too, because although the worlds are now a federation, they still seem to have a special place for the United States and that is why their space ships have USS prefixing their christened names, which I believe is one of those cute disguises an inclination to television so easily comes up with. Two things – nations still exist, and Christianity still seems to be the dominant religion. Or maybe not, because they seem to have in place some kind of an utopian settlement in place, and it is just that the whole enterprise is cheesy and campy enough not to look beyond it.
You see, Russians and Japanese all work together for the common goal of exploration. Everybody with their varied dialects and accents, which the film considers as humor, and constantly falls back upon. There’s Anton Yelchin playing Pavel Checkov, and his end of the bargain is to pronounce every statement of his in as excruciating a manner as possible, and our end of the bargain is to somehow find it in us to consider this wit, and laugh. I chose to rather let it pass by, though there’s too much of it. There’re other such stabs at portraying a multi-cultural earth too, wherein a Oriental crew member good at fencing conveniently finds enemies with swords, though the film never uses that weapon later on instead resorting to the standard issue little laser beamers.
There’re other planets and other races in the mix too, like the Vulcans, whose difference from us Earthlings is that they are logical than emotional. And the film considers it worthwhile that every line of dialog involving them has to somehow harp over the tussle between the emotional and the logical. Needless to say, we earthlings with out emotions are the winners. Heart always wins over mind you see. It is a classic television message the film wraps and lays on our laps.
Now, these Vulcans and Earthlings together fly something called as the USS Enterprise. And the setting of the cockpit, or the cabin, is a dead giveaway what it is supposed to represent, and why Star Trek is such a cultural phenomenon. What this cabin, circular in shape, has is the chief pilot seated smack in the middle of the room, on a higher platform, in something of a couch with zany buttons, and the rest of the crew sit around him monitoring various tasks on their little computer monitors. What the chief is looking at, and everybody too, is the big screen in front of them. If you watch the film, reader, do pay attention to what it reminds you of. A warm and cozy room with a television set in between and all in the family seated in front of it. Star Trek, the way it might have been envisaged, was for the television. Bringing it on to the big screen might require imaginations that seem way out of the reach of blue collar workers like the team of the director and scriptwriters here.
Consider what they offer to us in the name of wit. I want to kick some Romulan arse. Watch your Vulcan language. These are the snappy dialogs the film seems to prize its many laughs upon. Consider what they give us for actors. Mr. Pine, who plays the character of Kirk, feels like another Tom Cruise wannabe, and his manners seem like those aped from Top Gun, itself a trivial film. He is the rebel, and Mr. Pine, not a terrible actor but not a particularly good one either, plays it with the straight from the manual. Consider what it offers for a plot, some sci-fi hokum wrapped in time travel, and how it uses convenience and garble to fast forward itself. Consider the action scenes, which are unclear at best. Mr. Abrams has a penchant for hand held camera, as he exhibited in the god awful Mission Impossible III, and I suspect three years haven’t exactly enhanced its skills. Everything here, from the spatial arrangements to the plotting, reminds you of the silliness and camp of television, consciously aiming for which isn’t exactly a noble ambition. I repeat, not a single shot in the film is memorable. They are so mediocre Michael Bay feels like Spielberg. He cuts between an explosion and a mother giving birth to a child, and it is all so hopeless one might sink deep within the recesses of his chair.
But then, I believe, I do not want to analyze this film any further, and rather, I want to dismiss it from my memory in haste. This is a film, if you plan to watch, that is fairly brisk and shall keep you engaged. What one ought to learn though, and this is a serious lesson I believe, is the serious dearth of incisive film criticism. I do not mind fanboy frivolities, I myself have been known to indulge in some on occasions more than one, but there is a way to channel them, and there is a need to set them aside to objectively analyze the film at hand. Not just how it stands vis-à-vis the source, wherever it is from, but how it stands on its own. I might love Batman, but I understand that Tim Burton wanted to replicate, in his own imaginative way, the look and feel and tone of a comic book. Doesn’t work that way. Just like when we smile when the Coyote falls from a mountain or Tom slams his head to the wall, but when it happens to something real, it doesn’t exactly feel funny.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 10:10 PM