By Marc S. Sanders
Well Batman did it, and James Bond did it. So why can’t Star Trek do it too?
JJ Abrams adopted another franchise to direct when he rebooted the outer space western originally conceived by Gene Rodenberry over 50 years ago. He did well with it too, if you are willing to dismiss the final polish to the look of the picture that Abrams couldn’t resist. Not so much a polish as it is a tarnish, unfortunately.
I was late to the party of realizing that Abrams has a terrible habit of using “lens flares” on many of his films. Now that I’m attuned, I can’t help but notice. I typically get quite entertained by his pictures. Mission: Impossible III is still the best of the series as far I’m concerned. The Force Awakens thankfully carried the original trilogy tradition of the Star Wars franchise. His one original film that he directed, Super 8, is criminally underrated. However, those films were spared the over saturated and very unwelcome lens flare that dominates his first Star Trek film. The film opens with an outstanding special effects battle as a Federation starship is being overwon by a Romulan war ship. The sets of the bridge and decks of the ship are slanted to emote chaos. There are sparks of fire falling all over the place. Crew members are being sucked into space, and falling over each other. And there’s lens flares aplenty which are not so distracting within all the hysteria depicted. The scene climaxes with the birth of one of the two most celebrated franchise characters, James T Kirk. It’s a spectacular opening sequence that seems to uphold the traditions of Star Trek while feeling fresh with outstanding visual effects.
Afterwards, the visual effects stay on course with the updated technology that Hollywood now relies upon. Nothing here looks CGI. It all feels tangible, hot, and operationally functional. Abrams accomplished a great looking science fiction film, but then he and his cinematographer spray painted a graffiti of light streaks that never end. Crew members will be walking down a hallway – there’s a lens flare. A character gets abandoned on a deserted snow planet – there are more lens flares. A bar fight occurs, only to be blinded by lens flares. Every time a guy throws a punch, it’s literally followed with a lens flare. A hearing in an assembly room takes place. Why do we need streaks of light in here of all places? If I were on vacation and taking in the sights of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco within this future, my pictures would be terrible. Apparently, lens flares have taken over the state of California. (I guess I should be thankful knowing the state did not in fact eventually sink to the bottom of the ocean.)
The rebooted story line is fine, yet simple. A Romulan terrorist named Nero (Eric Bana) from a further distant future is obsessed with exacting revenge on Spock. Next to that plot, this film serves more as opportunity for production company Paramount Pictures to reintroduce the beloved seven main characters of the original series of television and films with new actors. Chris Pine is one of the best casting selections. His Captain Kirk is his own performance and yet when he finally sits in that captain’s chair on the bridge, I could recognize the stature and expressions of William Shatner. He gives a nice salute to the character and the original actor who played him. Zachary Quinto is also good as Spock, though this character is distant cry from the original Leonard Nimoy portrayal. I found it interesting. This Spock has greater challenges with emotions harbored in the human side of his brain. Karl Urban is fantastic at taking over the reigns of DeForrest Kelley as “Bones” McCoy, the Enterprise’s eventual resident doctor. Urban is given the opportunity to be hilariously cynical upon his entrance into the film.
While the visual effects and sets are at the top of their game with Abrams and crew sparing no expense, it is a little eye opening to see the sexuality of the characters take a step forward. Abrams is not shy about showing Zoe Saldana as Uhura disrobe into her under garments with Kirk standing on the other side of the bedroom. I’m not offended or prudish about this material but was it really necessary to go with the Porky’s angle? It doesn’t have to be a requirement to take some of the most beautiful actors in the world and get them to strip to uphold a film. Star Trek always had much more to offer than that. Scenes like this come off like a cheap shot. Pine and Saldana are better actors, worthy of favored franchise fare (DC and Marvel films) than just material like this.
There are some surprises in this reboot for both the casual and obsessed fans. It’s kind of welcome actually as it takes the familiar universe of Roddenberry’s conception and turns it on its head. Certain well known locations and characters arrive at unexpected fates. Though, unfortunately, the alternate timeline motif pushes its way through the middle of the picture. I fear for these kinds of stories. All they do, time and again, is open up unanswered and (forgive me for the pun) illogical answers. Marvel and DC films are on their way to doing this with their upcoming films following the year 2021 and I can see the whole thing unraveling at the seams. Was it necessary here, though? I really didn’t think so. Abrams had an opportunity to win back an appearance of an actor from the original series and it seemed forced into the film like a square trying to fit into a circle. The older installments had their moment in the sun. Let that go. Focus on this new cast and this new vision.
Again, this Star Trek is a gorgeous looking film full of color and clean looking set designs all around. The bridge of the Enterprise is something that I’d love to see in person. The cast is actually quite perfect filling the shoes of their respective roles. However, JJ Abrams tried too hard I think with a couple of plot developments, and an extremely distracting and very unwelcome LENS FLARE. I KNOW I’M REPEATING MYSELF. YET I’M NOT BEING ANY MORE REDUNDANT THAN ABRAMS WAS WITH THE STUPID BLINDING PIECE OF LIGHT.
Maybe the next time I watch this picture, I’ll wear my sunglasses.