18 November 2009

Star Trek 2009 on DVD

Yesterday was the official Region 1 release of the Star Trek (2009) DVD. Amazon.com, with its usual promptness, delivered the two-disc edition right to my door, along with a fresh new copy of the classic Jimmy Stewart Western, Broken Arrow (1950)—a film I promise I’ll give a good going over on this blog some time in the near future. I used watching Trek ‘09 as a reward for making my requisite word-count on my novel for the day. Movie-viewing rewards I’ve found are among the best ways to encourage me to sit down and keep writing. And there’s something about the grand optimism of classic Trek that is conducive to my writing.

Although I enjoyed the new film immensely during its first run, I only watched Star Trek ‘09 once while it was in theaters. You can read my original review here, but I was eager to see how the film stands up on disc and after a few months of pondering it, reading other reviews, and watching the cultural impact.

I’m happy to report that I still get a tachyon particle kick from Star Trek ‘09, while still acknowledging that the film is 1) not classic “Trek” by any means, and 2) is still loaded with script problems and sections that don’t make much sense. Some of the cut scenes on the bonus features provide explanations, but as they remain “cut scenes,” the film still lacks those actual explanations. However, the fun and especially the optimism of the movie remains for me, and in uncertain times—for me and the world—it’s a film that simply feels good. I remarked originally about the film that it allowed me for the first time in many years to really enjoy the Star Trek universe. I didn’t care for Star Trek: Enterprise and soon forgot it was on, never got much into Star Trek: Voyager, and with the exception of Star Trek: First Contact found the “Next Generation” films drags. I wanted the old days back, even if it meant new actors, and I discovered to my joy that having the characters back was enough of a thrill for me—even with the new faces. Star Trek ‘09 is a great sugar high. I won’t even let the astonishment of District 9, the best SF movie of the year, ruin the popcorn pleasure of Star Trek.

Some of my opinions have shifted over the months, of course, and with the opportunity to repeat and study scenes on the disc, as well as the extra information provided by the bonus material, have made me see a few things differently about the film.

First, I’m less enthusiastic about Zachary Quinto’s Spock. I felt when I first saw the movie that he suffered from having to act across from the original actor—an unenviable task—but still felt he had a genuine Spock. Looking at it now, I simply don’t feel much warmth for his Spock, or sense his growing friendship with Kirk. This is a “different” Spock because of the alternate time line, but the pastoral authority I associate with the character seems absent, and I miss it. Nimoy is wonderful reprising his part, and that unfortunately becomes a problem for Quinto. The special features contain numerous behind-the-scenes shots of them together, and Nimoy is touching as he talks about the part and his participation in the new film (and I love it when he tells Quinto that “Trek” will forever be a part of his life: “You’re screwed,” he laughs. That’s the highlight of the special features for me). Quinto seems a bit . . . overwhelmed. It’s something I sense in his performance. He’s good as Spock, but I don’t think he’s great.

On the flip side, I love Chris Pine’s Kirk even more now that I get to watch his nuances: how he sometimes brings in bits of Shatner, but also backs away from those peculiar rhythms that would have made the part a joke. Pine’s Kirk really drives the movie over the many rough spots, using his energy to keep us from questioning how in the world Spock managed to strand him on the same ice planet within only running distance from where Spock Prime happens to be hiding. (And why didn’t Spock simply confine Kirk to the brig instead of shooting him onto Hoth?)

Time hasn’t improved my opinion of Bana’s villain Nero. All the fluff pieces of the special features praise him to the ether—but I don’t buy it. Nero is a by-the-numbers Khan-clone, right down to the mind-control insects, and not much of a threat. I also wonder how Romulan mining equipment got so dangerous. Even in the future 24th century where Nero and the Narada comes from, it seems they could pose as much threat at the Borg.

Karl Urban’s performance of DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy is still the film’s best. Every moment this character is on screen is a thrill. It feels as if the great Kelley is back alive and still entertaining us. “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” is my favorite line in the film, delivered after Spock allows McCoy to speak freely. Urban really nails this.

Here’s a big surprise for me: I’ve suddenly started to like Michael Giacchino’s score. I originally was disappointed with it, but it’s hard to face the Goldsmith legacy. Having listened to the score on CD has given me more appreciation for the various themes, and the violin theme used for the “pathos” scenes is quite powerful. It simply takes a few viewings to really see what Giacchino is attempting to do. However, I would have used some of Goldsmith’s themes as boosters, instead of relying on the Alexander Courage theme at the end.

The action of Star Trek ‘09 is enjoyable, although it gets tangled at the end when it has to jump over the techno-babble problems of the script. A new viewing does get it to make more sense, however. The best action scene is the early drill-attack (the only time John Cho’s Sulu gets to do anything), although again I wonder why the Enterprise doesn’t just fire upon it. There’s probably a techno-babble explanation buried somewhere, because Spock’s ship has no trouble doing this later in the film when the Narada assaults Earth.

The deleted scenes are an interesting lot. A few would have benefited the movie, such as some extra scenes with Spock’s mother (Winona Ryder) that make her later demise more powerful. I do agree with cutting Spock’s birth, although it’s a moving scene, since the movie needs to leap into the middle of the Federation action from the very first. The big cut is the Rura Penthe sequence, which explains where Nero was for twenty-five years. It’s great seeing Rura Penthe again—it’s a key part of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country—but the Klingons are a bit disappointing because we never get to see them under the Uruk-hai armor they’ve got on. The filmmakers explain that this scene got slashed out because it confused audiences. But . . . cutting it out leaves this huge plot hole, making it seem as if Nero arrived in the 23rd-century and somehow wandered around unnoticed for twenty-five years after destroying a Federation starship. It also improves the shaky character of Nero.

However, the cut as it exists did the job it needed to do: it got people to go see Trek again, and mostly understand what’s going on. It restarted the franchise, so that makes it an unqualified movie success, even if it isn’t a truly great film, merely a very enjoyable one.

And, yes, I get teary-eyed when Nimoy is on screen. What a guy. What great guy.