Adventures in Geekland – Star Trek and Harry Potter

July 20, 2009 at 4:52 am (Movies) (, , )

I saw Star Trek, with my sister and Nick, a couple of weeks ago, literally at the last minute. Long ago my sister and I went to see Princess Bride, got a little lost (ok, really lost), and arrived after the movie had started and the lights were all off; we went in afraid of sitting on someone. As it turned out, we didn’t have to worry about that: there were four other people in the theater. Star Trek was the same: we took a right turn at Albuquerque instead of that left, and got there a few minutes after the scheduled start time. This time, though, it was still previews, and the lights were up. I whispered, “Gosh – I hope we don’t sit on anyone” – and it got a laugh, because there was one lady sitting in the middle of the theater. Poor thing, probably thought she was getting a private showing. Well, we behaved. Sadly, it was the last night they were showing it – I would have loved to have gone back. I need to see it again. It might go to the El Cheapo theater, but if not – DVD, ASAP. (November 19, it appears.)

I’m still a little stunned.

I was almost completely unspoiled for this movie, except for who played whom and that Scotty came in a little ways in. Otherwise, it was one damn thing after another. (This review is chock full o’ spoilers, but everyone’s already seen it anyway, long since.)

The movie … was … remarkable. Extraordinary. I was rolling my eyes violently in the beginning – oh please. What is a woman that pregnant doing aboard a far-ranging starship? And when I realized that was prenatal Jim Kirk the eye-rolls got even worse. Puh-lease. I raised an eyebrow at that point because I kind of thought Papa Kirk lived to see an adult Jim, but I don’t know now what I knew when I was 18, so I wasn’t sure. I remain extremely cynical about the melodrama of the birth – but later events prove that it was planned that way, and planned to prevent Kirk’s birth, so that’s okay.

Then there’s Kirk as a boy. First – they couldn’t have found a cute kid? Kirk, both of him, is a very handsome man. I think he deserved a handsome childhood. And second – off the cliff? Seriously?? I don’t know what the point of that was, except for things that were made perfectly clear by the Rebellious Youth scenes later: Kirk hated living with his uncle, and was a bloody little pain-in-the-ass challenge to authority. This just made him look like a flat-out idiot. It felt indulgent on Abrams’s fault.

The Vulcan bullies – clever. Very clever. They’re kids, so they haven’t got the emotional lockdown perfect yet – that could be their excuse, anyway – but that wasn’t the root here; these were simply bullies, whatever their genetic and emotional makeup, and needed to pick on the different kid. Hey, maybe it was a scientific experiment, pushing the boundaries of wee Spock’s Vulcanness and humanity. Sure, that’s it. (Actually … not so unlikely as all that…)

And then in a hiccup Spock is no longer wee; he’s taller than his mother. And can someone tell me exactly what the point was in having Amanda Grayson, aged in her late forties or fifties, played by Winona Ryder? Born in 1971 – so she’s 37-8. That’s ridiculous. The makeup they had to pile on her was absurd, when the character could have been much more appropriately played by *gasp* an older actress. Meryl Streep, people. She’s sixty, could easily play an indeterminate Spock’s-Mom’s-age.

Anyway. Spock’s entrance there was strange; a deepish voice answers her when it seems like she’s talking to the Spock who just got sent to the principal’s office, and here comes Jeremy Quinto. As I said, tall, and … hard to get used to. There was a lot he did very well, Spockian, and a lot he didn’t do quite as well… His physicality was very Young Nimoy. When he went down on one knee to beam to Vulcan (and why did he, exactly? Stability?) he looked perfect. Intonation wasn’t bad, though his voice is a bit too light … the main thing is, and this may sound silly but really truly isn’t – he couldn’t do the eyebrow. You’re playing Spock and you can’t raise your eyebrow? Oh dear. But I warmed to him as the movie went on, and ended up accepting him.

Ben Cross was fine as Sarek. Nothing spectacular; he looked right for the part, though not much like Mark Lenard, and … fine. Nothing to protest, nothing to rave about.

Kirk’s next scenes, in the bar flirting madly with Uhura and getting himself beaten bloody, were … again, strange. Chris Pine is very attractive, but I kept being distracted by those pretty blue eyes. Not in a good way. Kirk’s eyes are hazel. Though it’s not a big thing… it’s there. I doubt his mother almost getting blown up while having him changed his eye color. Anyway… there was almost nothing of Kirk, or Shatner, about this performance. He was a handsome boy playing an arrogant SOB who happened to have some reason to be arrogant, and … I don’t know. He sufficed. The story of how he entered Starfleet was, again, clever; given the alternate timeline it worked.

Then McCoy came aboard the shuttle, and I suddenly became much happier. I’ve said before how much I loved McCoy. He’s always been my favorite character, and was in fact one of my first loves. He’s the one with the dryly funny lines, the one to slap the others back to sense when needed, the caretaker for the lot of them with a heart bigger than the Milky Way and a gruff façade, the Southern boy who seems like he should have been a house-calling GP tossed out into the midst of a technological jungle to deal with all sorts of weirdness … And beautiful blue eyes to boot. (And though it may seem funny considering what I just griped about with Kirk, I have no idea whether Karl Urban had in blue contacts. He’s dark-eyed himself. I never noticed. That says something.) I adored McCoy. I adored DeForest Kelley, and mourn his death still. But Karl Urban came aboard griping about space-sickness and threatening to throw up on Kirk, and I was suddenly very happy. I love Karl Urban too, you see – there wasn’t nearly enough Éomer in the LotR trilogy, and I was cautiously delighted when I heard about this casting. And – yay. I loved it. I loved the tacit explanation for why Kirk calls him “Bones” – nothing so mundane as it being short for “sawbones”, and I love it – and, simultaneously, why he ended up at Starfleet at the same time as Kirk in the first place (though I remember nothing about Kirk and McCoy being at the Academy together – AND Uhura AND Sulu AND Chekov, but let it go). (Did the ex-wife ever get a name in canon? And I don’t think he mentioned Joanna here, which I do kind of wish he had.) This New Zealand boy had the Southern accent nailed – just a little softening here and there, a dropped “g” or so, nothing drastic (see Chekov) … He was so perfect, in fact, that in a couple of scenes where he spoke from offscreen I had a little chill. It was as though they dubbed in De Kelley’s voice. I hereby adore Karl Urban more than ever. He worked hard on his role, he knew what he needed to do to play a beloved character and did it, and he was magnificent. For me he was the backbone and the heart of the movie; without him, with a lesser actor in the role, it could have gone a lot more pear-shaped.

Sulu, played by John Cho… I had heard rumors of the actor who plays Jin from Lost being considered for the role. I could have gotten behind that. This was … I don’t know. Sulu as a nerdy, nervy space cadet (literally)? The character acquitted himself well; the actor was, like Ben Cross, fine. The Presence on the bridge wasn’t there; the calm, superlative performance at the helm hadn’t developed yet, I suppose. I missed the wonderful deep voice of George Takei – *that*’s what the problem was! The voice was totally wrong. Also: I don’t fancy seeing John Cho running around the corridors of the Enterprise shirtless waving a sword.

Zoe Saldana was Uhura. Okay. The hair was wrong, but … okay. She needed white eyeshadow. She had the spirit, I think … the only times we ever really saw Uhura off-duty were in Tribbles and the Charlie episode, whereas most of this Uhura was off-duty (pre-duty), so it was hard to say Yes! That’s her! or Oh no, nuh uh… She’s pretty, she’s smart, and she’s snogging Spock … Okay. It was AE who told me the rumor was of a romance between those two (told me when I was prematurely fuming about Kirk shagging Uhura, which praise be No), and I tentatively liked it, even when I thought it was in a normal Star Trek world. They had a nice relationship in the original; she teased him, flirty-like, a few times (Vulcan has no moon), and played his harp in “Charlie X” (how do I know it’s his harp? I can’t remember… seen in his quarters in other episodes? Argh), etc. It felt right. It feels right. I like her comforting him after Amanda’s death. I like it. It would/will make Spock a completely different character from “go” – but it would save redoing all the spadework Nimoy already did in making him a whole, confident, comfortable person. It took Spock Prime retiring to Vulcan, almost completing Kolinahr (not Koh-i-noor, what I wrote first – that’s the diamond. Idiot) and meeting V’Ger to reach an equilibrium; if Uhura can help him get there by loving him, then … again, yay. It’s the one massive change to the story that I really like. Even if it is Wrong.

Chekov, played by Anton Yelchin… Too young – though they explained that: he’s a math/engineering whiz. Problem with that is he never was a math/engineering whiz before. The accent was too thick; Original Chekov had a comprehensible, albeit somewhat ridiculous, accent; he was young but not a child; and he said “v”‘s as “w”‘s… All in all, this was the least successful characterization. He was a cutie, but.

Scotty, as given by Simon Pegg, was strange. I liked him a lot – but it wasn’t really Scotty. This was like … Scotty’s slightly mad younger brother. I don’t know. It was a completely different character.

Leonard Nimoy was … well, he is, was, and always be Spock. He was warm yet Vulcan, comfortable in his skin (I hate that phrase, but sometimes there’s no choice), and so honestly delighted to re-meet Kirk that it was a joy to watch. His eyes looked like two burned holes in a blanket, as my mother always says, but he’d been under a lot of stress. I guess.

All in all it’s kind of like how it must be for someone who knew, say, Jack Kennedy watching Thirteen Days or something – actors in a movie about people you know. Sort of.

The other most important character: Enterprise. There wasn’t enough Enterprise – but what there was was lovely. There were some long, loving looks – good job. Though not 1960’s enough. I missed the cherry-red ends of the nacelles. And the little dish-thingy at the bow. And the buttons and levers and things on the bridge. Touch-screen technology is more logical considering where technology has come since the 60’s – but it felt wrong. At least Sulu had the lever-thingy to manipulate to go to warp.

Oh, and Nero, the baddie. Um. “Nero”, first of all, not such a great name – not exactly Romulan, that, to me. He was okay. Needs psychiatric help. He served his purpose; I didn’t feel much in any direction about him.

Cameos I need to look for when I see it again:
I never recognized Majel Barrett’s voice. I thought of it a couple of times during the movie, and reminded myself to listen – and then got caught up in the action and forgot to notice. Professor Randy Pausch was a crewman aboard Kirk’s father’s ship – and I completely forgot. I saw the name “Nichols” in the credits – Nichelle’s daughter? And there were more, I think, which I can’t find. I look forward to the commentaries on the DVD…

So, in short – I liked it, a lot – but – but – they blew up Vulcan! Imploded, turned into a black star, whatever – Vulcan is gone! It is no more! It isn’t pining for the fjords, there being no fjords on Vulcan, but – – >poof!poof!< I kept expecting them to – well, to fix it. They killed Spock's mother (oh! Which means there will never be a "Vulcan teddy bear" moment!), and destroyed Vulcan, and … didn't fix it. But Star Trek ALWAYS fixes things.

Poor Pike just can't catch a break even in an alternate timeline. Though he is better off now than originally. Maybe the chair was temporary.

Abrams and co. have one heck of a nerve, though, I've got to say… And considering Abrams's insistence throughout the promotions of the film that he was never a Trekkie, I'm not sure I have a good feeling. OTOH, they crammed so much geeky detail in there how can I have a bad feeling? OTOH – – Amanda! And – – Vulcan! Was that a show of complete lack of respect for the whole canon, or … just a strange way of revitalizing the franchise? I can’t quite figure out where I stand there. I … just need to see it again. And to hear the commentaries.

On to other geekiness:

Last night the three of us went to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I think I only read this book the once, when it came out, and not since, so while I remembered most of what was going on – and particularly the climax – I was feeling my way along for a while. Of course, having read the book prior wouldn’t have helped me with the beginning – what, they couldn’t contract the Dursleys? Or did they just want to streamline it a bit more and simply remove Harry from any other setting right away? It took me several minutes to feel like I had my feet under me – not just because we were sitting in the second and third rows (we cut it a bit fine and couldn’t find three seats together). It wasn’t bad sitting so close. I saw Maverick from the front row, and Mel Gibson’s neck was ginormous. This was actually a pretty good experience. Even the audience, despite being predominantly young, was okay – the one moment I even really noticed the other people was an almighty shriek when Harry got grabbed getting Dumbledore water – and that was completely appropriate. (The inferi were rather Gollum-like… I suppose anything gray and skinny and dead-looking will always be compared to Gollum, but they may have cut it a little close, especially with Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore’s strong Gandalfian feel.)

I missed so many characters. I actually missed the Dursleys. They’ve been in every other film, haven’t they? We had the Weasleys, thanks be – I love that lot, all of them. They’re brilliant – perfect, perfect casting. Here I missed the chance to see Fleur and Bill, and even Percy. (I’m very confused by the destruction of the Burrow; it was very effective, but I don’t know why that was added when so much was excised. And they never spoke of where the Weasleys went after – this is the Burrow, people! It’s like blowing up Vulcan! Well, but smaller.) I missed Hagrid – he was there so little. (And they blew up his hut, too! Ouch.) I missed Neville! I’d have loved more of Remus and Tonks, though I accept the need to jump their relationship straight to “together”. This version of the story very, very much focused on the three friends, Ginny, and Dumbledore, and, next, Snape and Draco and Slughorn and the Weasleys and all – and, thank God, Luna. Her popularity in OOP must have told: she isn’t so prominent in the book. The missing characters are understandable – there was a lot to pack into two and a half hours – but it still hurt. When, on the clocktower, Dumbledore told Bellatrix that introductions were in order, I agreed heartily – it took this reread I’m almost through to remember who the big guy Bellatrix was going about with was (Fenris Greyback). It wasn’t entirely necessary to know during the film, any more than it was necessary to know that the ubiquitous mist was a result of a growing number of Dementors – but it would have been nice.

One missing person I thought was a little odd was: no Voldemort. However, now I’m 2/3 of the way through my reread, and it’s true to the book.

No Dobby = happy.

Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) was perfect. I hated that girl – and I was supposed to. (“Won Won!”) Great, adorable (lucky) little actress – I adored the drawing of the heart on the train compartment door – and the transfer of the breakup to use Ron saying Hermione’s name in the hospital was well thought out.

I loved Alan Rickman in this even more than in the other Harry Potters. He was less oily – which is non-canon, but more fun to watch – and very well dressed; in fact, all the baddies were very sartorially sharp. Draco looked like he was straight from Evil GQ. And Bellatrix/Helena Bonham Carter was gorgeous and deliciously wicked – except – – why on earth did they give her horrible teeth? I know she was in Azkaban for many years – but just because she was being tormented by Dementors doesn’t mean she couldn’t maintain adequate dental hygiene.

I love “Hero Fiennes-Tiffin [who plays the child Voldemort] … is the 10-year-old nephew of Ralph Fiennes, who plays the adult Voldemort in the fourth and fifth films” – nice. He was very creepy, and very good, and so was the teenaged Tom Riddle (who reminded me a little of Pete Campbell.) According to Wikipedia also, “It was reported that Jack Davenport, Stephen Rea, Peter Rnic, Stuart Townsend, and Joseph Fiennes were each offered unspecified roles, although representatives of Townsend and Fiennes denied the reports.” Poor Stuart Townsend. Will he ever get a geeky role?

Why was Luna’s Lion hat… just a stuffed animal head? It was supposed to roar! There were a few things I was really disappointed in – some of the stuff in the movie Weasley shop paled in comparison to how it was described in the book. This is 2009 – more can be done, and should have been. That’s a shame. The quidditch was fantastic, better than ever – was all of the SFX concentrated there?

Overall the movie was excellent. It was a model book-to-movie transformation, I think: the action was telescoped in places, trimmed ruthlessly in others; characters were conflated, dialogue reassigned; and it was all done to deliver the essential story in an efficient, clear, and beautiful manner. I’m impressed. The film was gorgeous – so much of the color was drained out of it, reflecting the increasing grimness of the situation. But there was humor too, thanks almost entirely to Rupert Grint. I am mad for Rupert Grint. He is a lovely comedian – the love potion scenes were wonderful. And the handling of the segway from “Ron is falling all over himself because he’s under the influence of a love potion” to “Ron falls down because he’s been poisoned” was excellent. The audience laughed – and then realized. Well done – very well done indeed.

The changes that I object to are in the climax, unfortunately. I think I recall correctly (I haven’t read this far yet – I may be thinking of the incident on the train) that as Draco confronts Dumbledore, Harry is frozen by another Petrificus spell and hidden under his Invisibility Cloak and could not interfere with the murder. In the film, he just stood there and watched; his wand was out, but … he watched. He didn’t do as Dumbledore ordered – he stayed and … watched. If nothing else, I would have expected an Expelliarmus or two. His extreme, over-the-top, somewhat crazed courage in the past made it feel even more odd that he did nothing.

An extension to that disappointment was that the Death-eaters roamed through Hogwarts completely unchallenged. There was a decent battle in the book, and that is as it should be. For them to just stride through the corridors, kill one bystander, and then just devastate the Hall, moving on to destroy Hagrid’s home, with only Harry belatedly tagging along behind … That felt wrong.

In reading, I never, ever accepted Dumbledore’s death, up until the very end. I knew that Snape’s stepping in was planned, that both Dumbledore and Snape knew it would happen, and I was convinced until damn near the end of Deathly Hallows that he’d be back. There was some part of the plan, there was something about Snape’s spell, that would let Dumbledore come back. I was dead sure. I was dead wrong. But even though I knew better in the film, I almost expected a revival. They kept going back to Dumbledore’s face, and I fully expected his eyes to open… That was heartbreaking, but I was tough until McGonagall raised her wand, and then all of the other wands raised, and the Dark Mark was driven away. That got me.

Wikipedia: “The funeral was removed as it was believed it did not fit with the rest of the film”. Huh? Dumbledore – Dumbledore just died, and you can’t fit in the funeral? The flight of Fawkes was beautiful – but closure, please. I wonder if it was filmed – DVD extras!

What lingers with me the most from the movie is the depiction of poor Draco. Poor screwed-up pressured terrified Draco. I deeply admire the imagery, especially the one scene in which several students clear out of a corridor, and left behind is Draco – sitting with his knees pulled up off to one side, half blocked from view by a pillar. All alone. Desolate. Desperate. Scared. In the book it’s hard to feel sorry for him; it’s saturated with Harry’s POV, and his hatred for Draco is pervasive. And I’ve never been overwhelmed with Tom Felton. But here… poor, poor Draco.

Taken all in all, I approve much more strongly of Harry Potter than Star Trek. HP’s challenge was to put a book on the screen; ST had to pick up a pretty damn big torch and carry it forward. They both did it; I want to see both again; I want the DVD’s of both. But HP left me feeling somber because a major and well-beloved character died. ST left me feeling somber because I really, truly have doubts about the intent of the producers. I’m happy about HP because it was so well done, and because it’s just nice to see all of them again, and because I’m excited about the final two movies. I’m happy about ST – sort of – because this could be the beginning of something; I don’t know what the rumors are out there, whether there’s thought of a new TV series, or a series of movies, or if this was a one-off. I’m a little scared of HP because the last story is rather intense; I wasn’t looking forward to Dumbledore’s death, and I’m definitely not looking forward to large chunks of Deathly Hallows. I’m terrified of ST because there’s so very much scope for complete disaster. And disappointment – never forget disappointment.

I wish I was a fan of “Big Bang Theory” – I’m almost tempted to watch a few episodes to see if, or rather how, the ST movie was addressed. The show’s title kind of sums up how I feel about it … like I was far too close to a big bang.


1 Comment

  1. “Star Trek”, so far Into Darkness I can’t even… | Stewartry said,

    […] Meant to put this here before: spoilers abound. Also, I did after all write about the first reboot movie, on the blog intended for posts about, you know, […]

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