Monday, December 14, 2015

"Well Played."

NOTE: Film coverage like this made possible in part through donations to The MovieBob Patreon.

I'm a confirmed "hater" of the JJ Abrams STAR TREK reboots so far. Bent over backwards trying to like the first one so as not to be judged as a change-averse reactionary, openly and utterly hated INTO DARKNESS on every conceivable level (mostly because it was bad on every conceivable level) and have pretty-much written the series off. And yet, the trailer for STAR TREK BEYOND just dropped and... I kind of like it? A lot?



...and I seem to be in the minority on that.

I won't say that I don't "get" why this has people apprehensive. The feel of the trailer, as an individual piece of work apart from what it's selling, is aggressively "anti-fanservice;" especially in that it's structured (seemingly deliberately) among the most obnoxiously in-your-face "Not your father's Star Trek!" things from the first reboot movie i.e. the anachronistic Beastie Boys track and super-obvious "extreme!" action beats (motorbike-jumping, in this case.) And yeah, that I can see - just like I can already hear the rage coming as people make the connection between "I saw a vehicle-stunt" and "Director from FAST & FURIOUS movies." The pitch here is entirely "Star Trek as an action flick," and if the very idea of that is anathema to you, well... yeah, anathema. There you go.

For me, though, the issue with Abrams' STAR TREK was never that he made it "action-y." Frankly, after multiple Generations (see what I did there?) of Trek being ponderous and navel-gazing, I was more than ready for a deliberate return to the "big ideas plus exciting pulpy space adventure" stylings which, from where I sit, defined the original series and was thus the true heart and soul of the franchise. Which is why it was all the more disappointing that Abrams' vision (over two movies) was not only not particularly exciting or adventurous, but also had nothing in the way of big ideas beyond references to better previous films, convoluted self-justification (the first one) or inane 9-11 "truther" allusions (INTO DARKNESS.)

Now, to be certain, the BEYOND trailer isn't exactly promising any big ideas (yet); although I am intrigued at hearing Idris Elba's (I think?) unidentified alien character talking about "The frontier pushing back" - If TREK has an under-explored element to itself, it's recognizing that it's Utopian progressive self-image is somewhat at odds with the Colonial/Expansionist undercurrent of the "To Boldly Go..." business. But so far that's just an inkling of potential in a trailer that's mainly selling a big-scale action/adventure movie in the TREK universe.

So why am I so enthused by this (and puzzled to the point of minor irritation that so many others seem to not be?) I'll be honest: It could just be that seeing actors in TOS-style uniforms scrambling around on colorful boulders with aliens in weird/elaborate makeup feels aesthetically closer to "Classic Trek" than everything else in the reboots so far and that I'm an unapologetic mark for exactly that, but mostly I just like that it looks like it's trying to be fun. And if there's one thing that's been missing from this series so far, fun would be it. Sure, there was plenty of action; but of the portentous, grim, "People sure seemed to love that DARK KNIGHT picture!" type - and that's never been STAR TREK, even at TNG's mopiest low-points.

What I think this exposes, at least to a degree we haven't really had to "confront" in awhile, is that there's still a fundamental split in STAR TREK fandom. For a long time "Trekkies" (or Trekkers, or whatever) have been treated like a monolith in the popular culture, particularly as the post-TNG aesthetic came to dominate the ancillary arms of the franchise and the revival of "Wars v Trek;" but it isn't. TOS vs TNG/etc is still very much a thing, and I feel like you can really see it (and will see more of it) in the reactions here.

See, I'm TOS/Kirk all the way. So for me, the mere presence of some bike-jumps and martial-arts (that's Sophia Boutella from KINGSMEN as the lady alien, incidentally) doesn't in itself undermine anything essential about STAR TREK - especially since it's the Kirk-era that's being rebooted here. Original-recipe TREK ("my" TREK) was always at its best balancing adventure and intrigue with big ideas and forward-thinking vision. Yes, it would explore out-there sci-fi concepts like parallel-evolution or time-travel and grapple with issues like race, class and philosophy, but it would also "hook" you with action, melodrama, alien monsters, etc. TOS would frequently (an unapologetically) use whatever space-magic it could conjure in order to throw Kirk and company into old-west gunfights, gladiator arenas, monster battles or whatever else - if they could've afforded a motocross stunt, I'm sure they'd have done it and Shatner etc would've been all over it.

But that's me, I'm a TOS guy. If you're coming from the (totally legitimate) place where THE NEXT GENERATION and it's progeny are the "true" STAR TREK, well... firstly I'm always interested to hear how that squares with the now widely-understood revelations that TNG was only able to flourish creatively when other writers and producers were able to wrest control away from Roddenberry. But beyond that, I "get" where this looks like a total pass for you.

Or I could be completely wrong. Right now, I'm digging the audacity (which is a different animal from from the plain "not getting it" of the Abrams movies) at play here, and it's not difficult for me to see where the mix of solid action chops and team-dynamic skills that Justin Lin brought to the FAST & FURIOUS movies could turn out to be what the franchise needs to salvage itself, even as its biggest liability (Chris Pine remains a charisma-vaccum in everything other than his INTO THE WOODS comic turn) continues to be present. But this could just as easily be a bad idea all-around. For now, though, I'm feeling good about it.

NOTE: Film coverage like this made possible in part through donations to The MovieBob Patreon.