Harry has seen the future of STAR TREK and it will live long and prosper!!!
Published at: April 7, 2009, 8:02 a.m. CST by headgeek
God Bless JJ Abrams.
For the last decade or so I’ve thrown screenings in Austin and beyond. I’ve worked so hard to give people the sort of screening that I always dreamt about as a geek growing up.
As a kid, I saw movies just like most of you do – and that was great. I loved lining up for STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN with my Mom & Dad at the old Highland Cinemas (2 screens). Dad and I held our place in line for 22 hours and there were people in Trek costumes and even then there were people calling the first film the Motionless Picture. But we were there. But I’d hear about premieres – where the stars would come out and that seemed like some sort of distant make-believe thing.
Why couldn’t screening movies be like MAGIC! That’s what BUTT-NUMB-A-THON tries to be. Magic! It’s me letting an audience in that dreams of all the possibilities that could unfold on screen – sometimes they’re right. Sometimes they’re surprised by things they never thought of seeing before and are blown away. Sometimes… sometimes it’s pain they’ll never forget. But it is MAGIC.
Magic rarely happens to me. Amongst my friends and local community, I’m a magician. But I always know the twists, the sleight of hand, the tricks of the trade. There have been times where I’ve rehearsed for an event for days just to nail faux sincerity and a realistic conversation with a pre-taped component. But tonight – tonight was magic.
About nine months ago, the wonderful person at Paramount that I’ve worked with on many screenings asked me if I thought we could pull off a screening of STAR TREK on an audience that was there to see STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN.
I told her – I don’t know if that would be advisable because… well, if JJ’s STAR TREK is anything other than perfect, you run a very real chance of pissing the audience off and having hostility on your hands.
And that was the last I heard of it.
I was scheduled to see STAR TREK on Monday, April 13th. “JJ wants you to see the movie before the big Austin screening” I was told. And then on Monday, April 20th – we were going to do a big screening of the film here in Austin with a possible big after-party that was all themed Trek. Romulan Ale, etc…
That was cool. I was fine with that. Kinda.
You see, I volunteered to paint one of the ENTERPRISE models – the 25 Enterprise models – Mine is ENTERPRISE #7 – it isn’t yet on this site, but it is coming soon. For now – you can see the model at the Alamo Drafthouse South in Austin, in the lobby!
I brought my Nikon with me to the theater tonight – so I could take some photos of my model – and the plaque – because it’s going on tour around and I’m pretty happy with the work I did on it. It looks good, at least to my meager talents.
When Yoko and I arrived, I smiled – because I saw a guy in the gold command shirt of Classic Trek – and a girl in Red trek outfit. I smiled. This was going to be a great audience for WRATH OF KHAN.
Saw my model, then I hurried into the theater to get our seats. And I sat there watching William Shatner tell me that it was a very good year – and I began thinking about STAR TREK.
I love good STAR TREK. I’m fond of some of the bad STAR TREK. But I absolutely fucking hate LAZY STAR TREK.
There’s some powerful thoughts about the future of our people in STAR TREK. That we as a people could be those people in a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years. If we can put away childish notions of borders and differences. If we can culturally keep our differences and celebrate our commonalities. At our best, STAR TREK is our future. Not BLADE RUNNER. Not TERMINATOR. Not any other Science fiction that I’ve seen, but STAR TREK. It’s where I HOPE we’re headed.
It’s the world where we didn’t blow ourselves up, where we didn’t fall prey to the worst of our nature. It’s the part of me that loves reading science journals and reading about the best inventions of any given year.
And as I was thinking about STAR TREK, Tim League came up to me and said our guests had arrived. Now I knew that we had some special folks that were here in town to introduce the special 10 minutes that JJ had selected for this select experience. HONESTLY – I was pretty certain that we were going to see the KOBAYASHI MARU sequence, because of everything that is in this movie, that sequence most relates to WRATH OF KHAN.
As I approach the models I catch sight of Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman (who I’ve met before) and Damon Lindelof (whom if you mind melded with you would know everything about LOST). And we instantly began geeking about WRATH OF KHAN. Now – I LOVE STAR TREK II. I honestly feel it is one of the greatest B movies ever made. It’s a small film, a straight forward revenge story in space – that takes on epic screen chewing awesomeness at every fucking turn. It is the best acting that the original cast has ever done. It isn’t just Ricardo Montalban, but… EVERYONE. Like Scotty when he says, “He stayed at his post, when the trainees ran!” Chekov was great, and Chekov was hardly ever great. I mean, do you remember that first time you saw Spock die… When there was no bullshit SEARCH FOR SPOCK – but when you his photon tube on the GENESIS planet and you hoped and prayed that the Genesis wave might work its Science/Magic on the soul inside? I did, but when those bagpipes play and Kirk chokes on the word “HUMAN” – shit, I still cry at the thought of it.
And then there’s KHAN. Pauline Kael even loved KHAN. That’s how great Ricardo was in this role. Pauline Kael who hated STAR WARS and all this silly scifi bullshit… she loved KHAN. Because Montalban transcended his own Latino Lotharios and became something astonishing in that role.
We were talking about that sort of stuff – and then I saw the PRESIDENT of Production at PARAMOUNT STUDIOS and I thought – that’s odd. Shouldn’t he be in Sydney?
But I’ve known Brad for years – he was the exec at Dimension that was always in Austin on Robert Rodriguez’s pictures and the notion hit me that perhaps he came to town to woo Robert on something. I was talking with Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof – we were pretty intense in geeking out about WRATH OF KHAN so I didn’t dedicate A LOT of thought to it.
We all head into the theater, we begin working out the who is going to introduce who sort of thing – and Tim League was introducing me, I was introducing them – and they’d introduce KHAN.
It worked like that. I rushed back to my seat so I could snap a few photos – I didn’t bring the right lens, dammit – so everything is a bit further away than I’d like. But snap snap…
They really exhibited a sincerity regarding their love of KHAN – and how being here in Austin, to watch THE great STAR TREK film with an audience that was this fired up… Well, they wouldn’t trade places with JJ in Sydney at that Opera House for the WORLD PREMIERE for anything.
That was sweet. The audience whooped and hollered and made their appreciation known.
I did notice though that after the lights dimmed, Brad Weston was standing along the wall – at the side of the theater – but when the film print came up… and it was WRATH OF KHAN – the audience cheered and it was GORGEOUS. Crystal clear. Beautiful. And I was in a good place. When I went up, I asked the audience how many of them had never see KHAN on the big screen and about 2/3rds of the audience hadn’t!
PARAMOUNT – can we screen WRATH OF KHAN before STAR TREK opens please?!
This theater was filled to 100% capacity by folks, some of whom, drove hundreds of miles to see WRATH OF KHAN.
Then – as Saavik begins barking commands – green lines appeared on what I was told was to be a brilliant new print of WRATH OF KHAN – and I thought… “A Tim League Special!”
I was told that Paramount printed a special 6 minutes of KHAN to do this to – and this was not something being done to an actual print of WRATH OF KHAN! Whew!
Now – if you’ve read Quint’s review… You know what happened next. Tim League takes a mike saying he has to go kick a projectionist’s fucking ass and asks Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof to bide time. At this point – I knew we were seeing STAR TREK. I’ve pulled this exact gambit many times in the past. It’s my fave. I love surprising an audience. But I have to admit, I was enjoying the show the guys were putting on. I believe it was Kurtzman that began singing the original Trek theme into the mike…
And out of nowhere – I saw SPOCK.
I lost it. I’ve seen every other Classic Trek actor in person. I had drinks with Shatner. But I’ve never seen Nimoy in person – and I just started to cry I was so happy. It’s SPOCK! He’s Here! That’s all I could think. I couldn’t really hear what he was saying – and I couldn’t even see him because everybody was standing and I was stuck in this fucking wheelchair – but GODDAMN IT – I knew I was sharing airspace. And that was enough. That was goddamn amazing!
When the 3 rows in front of me finally settled down and Nimoy began performing his bit. Scoffing at Tech problems – and asking the audience wouldn’t they rather see the NEW movie – and how they couldn’t let the film’s first audience be in Australia – But right here with a fiercely geeky audience of domestic Trek lovers!
Tears rolled down my face. People where slapping high fives – and I, for once, was one of those people. For once, I was really caught up in it all. And my fears about JJ’s film disappointing an audience geared for WRATH OF KHAN? 100% unfounded.
I’m not going to open up the bottle of worms and say this film is better than STAR TREK II – because nothing can be better than STAR TREK 2. That film embodies everything that every Trekkie and Trekker loves about STAR TREK, except those crazy people that prefer the goddamn whales – which I love because it’s the best cuddly Star Trek that there has ever been. BUT DAMMIT, It ain’t KHAN.
OK… So we’re 1800+ words in and I haven’t talked about JJ’s STAR TREK yet. Don’t worry – I’ve got a lot to say – starting right now!
At the top of this story, I said, “God Bless JJ Abrams!” And I went all weepy about “Magic” and how I experience it from the perspective of the magician in terms of events – but you see… Pulling off a surprise… That’s relatively easy. It’s about the economy of who knows what. PARAMOUNT was very good about not letting anyone domestically know till today. And they only let Tim League know. And TIM. I guaran-fuckin-tee ya – Tim relished the notion of pulling one over on me. This is like his dream.
BUT – ultimately – the movie has got to fucking deliver.
This film is the first full fledged A-level STAR TREK movie since STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and the first truly successful one.
The film works on emotional levels, time-travel logic levels, hard science levels, action levels and at tackling the very goddamn tricky notion of recasting icons of a beloved series!
Let’s see if I can describe a scene that will give you a notion of just how awesome the science fiction action is.
There’s a moment during the attack on the KELVIN at the beginning of the film, where you’re on some anonymous deck of the KELVIN when a torpedo smashes into the hull creating a vacuum. It’s sound and fury – and we track along through the fury with a crew lady as she’s sucked out into the vacuum of space… And suddenly – it is silent – but you’re seeing explosions and phaser fire and torpedoes ripping away at the ship – and it is silent – and the science GEEK in me died of happiness a bit.
Later during the SPACE JUMP sequence – we revisit the device - as they fall into the atmosphere of Vulcan – it goes from silence to the ferocity of wind shears and a really fast fall. And again – it’s using the science of what is happening.
When you see the pull back shot of the KELVIN at one point – you can see the zero G debris. The way we go from characters talking next to a window to a beauty pass of the shuttle craft as it approaches the station where many Federation ships are docked… It’s the sort of thing that harkens to those beautiful mastershots of the Enterprise as Scotty takes Admiral Kirk aboard the Enterprise… Only more accomplished.
JJ’s STAR TREK has a singular purpose at its heart, to reboot the STAR TREK franchise in such a way that you never have to deal with continuity issues… where you can play with these characters without being beholden to everything that came before… but with the spirit and the love for that Universe clearly entrenched in every frame.
The actors are not mimicking the originals, necessarily – so much as becoming those characters. This could very well be the most accomplished REBOOT of any major series I’ve seen. It is confident and sharper than you can imagine.
The lead off sequence of the KELVIN encountering the big bad Romulan whatever that Nero (Eric Bana) controls is so much better than I ever could have hoped for.
When I first saw part of this scene in the editing bay with JJ – he told me it was part of the birth of Kirk sequence – and I thought that sounded like something that could suck… BUT I really loved the look of the Kelvin approaching something – that I didn’t know what was. BUT I had no context really of what that scene would be.
Unless you’ve read Trek novels – you really don’t know that much about Kirk’s background. I knew he was from Iowa. We know he cheated at the Kobayashi Maru. Something happened between him and Carol Marcus at some point. And we know he became Captain of the Enterprise after two others. BUT that’s about it.
The history you see for Kirk here is not the history of Shatner’s Kirk. Shatner’s Kirk was raised by two parents and had a strong father that inspired him to go to Starfleet. Here… In a magnificent opening sequence, we see Kirk’s father be a fucking hero. This sequence is FANTASTIC! After it, the movie officially begins and man… It flies.
The device for time travel has nothing to do with CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER – it has to do with something that Spock created to save Romulus from a Supernova in a truly tremendous sequence which you’ll see via another wonderful stylistic revision of something we’ve seen a lot before, but never produced like this! Wait for that Mind Meld… it is awesome!
Anyway – after the KELVIN sequence we see a bit of both Kirk & Spock’s childhoods. We see Spock being teased by older Vulcan elitists that test his human side through torment. We see Kirk rebelling against his Step-father. We also see that he’s tough.
The first character moment that I just fucking loved, that I hadn’t seen before tonight, was the introduction of Leonard “Bones” McCoy. He’s a character that has led another entire life before joining Starfleet. He’s already cantankerous and a bit fucked over by life – and he is a technophobe and when you see this scene. It’ll likely be the 3rd or 4th time the audience will involuntarily clap or cheer. There will be many more such moments for the audience to chime in.
Now, the fun thing that comes into play in this universe is how that initial encounter between the Kelvin and Nero has affected the flow of this timeline. All of a sudden, BALANCE OF TERROR is not the first Federation encounter with Romulans. All of a sudden, characters are being put together through different events – and some through the same events. But there is a degree of destiny at play here that I love. Nimoy’s SPOCK is fascinated by how it plays out. BTW – Nimoy rules. Just had to say that. And dammit! I still haven’t met him. I was close. About 3 feet away, but I just couldn’t bring myself to approach him. The last time a human affected me that way was Carl Weathers, believe it or not, and that was during the wrap party on THE FACULTY. That’s been a long time, since I was starstruck like that.
Anyway… These characters were meant to serve together. There’s something exceptionally comforting about that notion.
The cast uniformly does an outstanding job of fulfilling their terrifying tasks. The STAR TREK 90210 fear is understandable. Only two audiences on the planet have now seen the film, the rest of you are woefully underserved by what you’ve seen so far.
The trailers tend to be nothing but BIG MOMENTS. Lots of furious stuff going on – and you can’t really imagine how it can all come off, and I’m not gonna tell you to trust me – you won’t and you shouldn’t. I just had a really fucking amazing version of seeing this film for the first time and so did everyone that saw it with me in that blessed theater tonight.
And you probably shouldn’t trust anyone other than yourself, because anyone that sees it before you. Well, they’re a lucky fucking bastard that aren’t you. And just on that basis alone, you shouldn’t trust them. BUT… I will tell you this – if you’ve ever loved anything about STAR TREK, you’re gonna love this. And most likely, if you’ve never loved STAR TREK, you’re about to. This film truly has the potential to win over an awful lot of folks that have thought STAR TREK was Wagon Train in Space. And not the Space Opera of STAR WARS. For the very first time in the history of STAR TREK – no expense was spared and the story has action and situations far more exciting than anything we’ve ever seen in STAR TREK before.
Are these actors better than the originals? Well, nobody can say that based on a single film. They’re different, but with the same spirit.
The hardest two jobs in the film belong to Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Of the two – Chris Pine has the even harder task – because he doesn’t particularly look like Shatner. He definitely doesn’t sound like Shatner – and he isn’t in make-up or even a hair piece to look like Shatner.
So how does Chris Pine do it? Through Actions. And the first real actions by Kirk that felt 100% full-blooded Kirk… well it is the Kobayashi Maru. You know how in Star Trek II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – when Kirk has been marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet – he’s just as calm and pleased as hell? Remember when Saavik is quite insistent that he tell her how he beat the no-win scenario of the Kobayashi Maru – and Kirk tells her with a cocky smile? And ya know how later, she asks if he’s playing out that scenario right now? And Kirk calls Spock and you realize that Kirk and Spock had been speaking in code and that the Enterprise and its crew are fucking the balls?
Well, Chris Pine on the Kobayashi Maru… He’s that Kirk. And he IS THAT KIRK! Not how he looks, but how he is. And I ate every blessed second up. No matter how you ever thought Kirk acted when he knew he had rigged the program… You’re probably wrong, but how it is played out here… It is perfect! Absolutely perfect!
Then there’s Zachary Quinto’s SPOCK. In a way, he’s got the toughest job of all, because he not only has to play SPOCK, but he even has to play a scene with the REAL SPOCK. An awful lot has been said about the “Anger” displayed by Sylar in the trailers. Astute fans have noted that Spock is in fact Half-human and in his youth – he had trouble checking his feelings, which are in Vulcans – albeit buried deep as to not compromise their belief in acting Logically. But as we have seen in many episodes, Spock does get caught smiling, he has cried and he has been angry. In this film though, something happens that has never happened to the SPOCK we have known. And well, that pissed off half of SPOCK bubbles up. And I have to say, if Spock was ever compromised by his emotions – it should be in this movie, for the reasons he is. His emotional response is… perhaps logical.
Quinto doesn’t have the gravitas of Nimoy’s voice, but he is great in the role – perhaps playing with the duality of his logical & emotional soul more than Nimoy ever did outside of an occasional Vulcan Glandular situation which caused radical emotional reactions or an occasional smile here or there. But it is an absolutely fascinating take on the character.
No STAR TREK has ever looked this good or was this thrilling. The film leaves us exactly where a reboot should leave me, thirsting for more. Pondering the possibilities and hoping we get the chance to see them. This is easily the most expensive STAR TREK movie ever made and it shows on screen.
Wait till you see the phaser battle that Kirk and Spock have with the Romulans on Nero’s Ship and how… in a way, it reminds one of that 3 Dimensional Chess set that some of us learned to play as particularly nerdy children. One – the set is beautiful – and there’s a part of me that longed to see it in 3D, because the set screams for dimensionality. But I suppose IMAX will have to suffice.
There’s also a great deal of great Non-Star Trek aliens. Meaning aliens that go further than ears, nose and forehead appliances. My favorite is this alien that you’ll see with Scotty, when we meet him. His name, I learned, was KEENSTER and he is played by DEEP ROY, yes, the guy that played every Oompa Loompa in Tim Burton’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. He isn’t listed on IMDB as being in the film, but trust me – it is him. Now, what I love about this alien is his full alien look – but most of all… it’s his eyes. They are definitely not human eyes looking through a mask. He has eyes on stalks, but not big EYEBALLS on the ends of stalks, but eyes like those of a snail coming out the sockets. And it isn’t terribly obvious – as it is very very subtle.
In fact, that’s how a lot of the effects are here. There is a lot of hardware that does way cool shit, that has been in previous STAR TREKs, but it just works cooler here. Like the phasers. I’m a big fan of Phasers. I’ve been a raygun freak my entire life. Literally, as a boy my dad started me collecting old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon and Space 1999 and Star Trek and Forbidden Planet guns. Here, the cool thing is the charge cycle on the phaser… it is automatic, it is quick, but it makes a cool sound, and indicates when it is ready – and it’s not something that’s a big deal. It’s just a little thing, that’s cool.
LIKE WHEN THE ENTERPRISE warps just into the top layer of one of Saturn’s moons which would not show up on Nero’s sensors because of some sort of science stuff… But when Sulu manually using thrusters only comes out of the haze and smokey atmosphere… Holy Smokes man, that’s fucking cool!
There’s stuff like that throughout the film. Little things, details peppered upon details. Like – apparently there’s a tribble somewhere – But I’ll be damned if I saw it, because… unlike Lucas, it wasn’t shoved into the front of a frame… I don’t think.
There isn’t a lot of distracting unnecessary bullshit. The film isn’t about the cool whizbangery, it’s about the characters and the story about how… in this alternate time frame, they found each other. The background details and neat little geek shit… STAYS IN THE BACKGROUND, but is there if you look for it.
First and foremost, the film is very aggressive in pursuing a very large scale story about a legitimate and deadly threat to the very existence of Starfleet.
Which brings me to Nero and Eric Bana.
Eric Bana has a very thankless task. His bad guy is not a showstopper. That isn’t what he’s about. I recently saw a very badass REVENGE flick out of Australia called THE HORSEMAN. It’s about a guy that discovers his daughter died of an overdose and left for dead after a porn shoot and he decides to basically kill everyone that was possibly responsible or took part in that porn and in giving her those drugs. And he’s just a really pissed off handyman.
Eric Bana’s NERO is not some insane super genius. He isn’t some Prince of the Romulan Empire. He’s a miner. A futuristic miner. And like THE HORSEMAN, his life really got fucked over by Starfleet (he feels) and it has taken him years to figure out how to pay them all back, but he now has the means and way to exact his revenge – and man… it is a bitch.
It is refreshing to see a Star Trek villain that isn’t obsessed with quoting Shakespeare or Melville, but that just has a fairly basic reason to be pissed off… and who has the skills to exact murderous revenge on a cataclysmic scale! AND is in a movie written and directed by people that do not intend to take those actions back through bullshit Time Travel reset buttons, but will actually create a story and a universe that is informed and dictated by those actions.
This is the STAR TREK that I’ve been waiting for. STAR TREK that is on a grand level of spectacle, STAR TREK that is smart science fiction and STAR TREK that gives me characters that I love to spend time with. That’s the STAR TREK that JJ Abrams sprung on me tonight and for that, I say for a third time, “God Bless JJ ABRAMS!!!”
By the way - I have a Twitter now! Though I update it less than my Facebook.