Friday, July 22, 2016

Star Trek Beyond - Review

Star Trek Beyond

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, for some of us who are old enough to remember the very first episode, I reflect with the common refrain “who knew”?

"Who knew” back in 1966 a seemingly unusual fictional story about an eclectic array of international earthlings and peaceful neighboring space aliens would come together as space travelers for a show titled “Star Trek. A future concept show that would eventually become one of the most “fascinating”, smart, and forward thinking franchises about space exploration in TV and feature film history?

“Who knew” that it’s base story of a crew of navy pilots, scientists, doctors and engineers, under the collective umbrella called the “The Federation” would all come together to “seek out new life and new civilizations” with a faster than light  glamorous Star Ship named “Enterprise”.

“Who knew” this fictional idea would come from the creative imaginative mind of a man from El Paso Texas named Gene Roddenberry. A man who majored in Police Sciences at LA’s City College, who joined the Air Force College, who obtained a pilot's license, who enlisted and graduated from the US Army Air Corp as a commissioned second lieutenant and who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. 

“Who knew” after flying for Pan American World Airways he resigned to pursue his dream of writing for the new medium called “television” that would lead him in 1964 to pushing an idea in the form of a sixteen-page pitch. A pitch that was not well received by many executives but was given a chance by a famed female comedienne and her production company to produce the science concept into a weekly show.

“Who knew”, that after its cancellation in only 3 seasons, the show lived on in re-runs with devoted fan commitment to it characters reaching cult like fervor and dedication. An alliance so strong that by the shear will of their enthusiasm alone helped re-imagined the TV series 12 years later as a feature film and subsequently 12 more films and 7 TV spin off series.

“Who knew”, that its combined film box office would reach $3.1 billion. And with that we see the 13th installment called “Star Trek Beyond”,……….. “Who knew” it would be so much fun.  

MY REVIEW: OK, hold your Warp speed folks, hardcore Trekkers, Trekaholics or whatever you call yourself. This “ST Beyond” is not in the traditional dark, gloom – doom and dire dramatic story line format. We – you can tell that things will turn out just OK in the end long before its ending. So, there is no real deep seeded cryptic mystery buried inside the plot to be revealed at the very end. No, the joy of this film lies in its basic simplicity laid down by its new Director Justin Lin, known for his work in the “The Fast and the Furious” franchise films. It is also helped along with its new screenwriter Simon Pegg who also plays Chief Engineer Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott. Together their talents offer up a plot that keeps it simple…………..someone wants to destroy humans.

Now the real plot is this; the crew of the USS Enterprise, halfway into their five-year mission, are attacked by a seemingly unstoppable wave of unknown aliens that look like swarming “metal bees” that force the crew to abandon ship. Stranded on an unknown rocky surface planet and with no apparent means of being rescued, the crew find themselves in conflict with a new and ruthless enemy named “Krall” (Idris Elba). THAT”S IT.  Now there are some interesting subplots involving Kirk and Spock and Spock and Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) on a personal level but I would not spoil that bit of mild melodrama for you.

Running just over 2 hours, “STB” is for people who simply want to have fun at the movies again. The same way Lucas and Spielberg collaborated in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. We didn’t care if Indiana Jones could or couldn’t crawl underneath a moving truck to get back inside to fight the villain at the wheel. NO, we only cared that it looked like fun watching him do it. STB follows the same blueprint.

To his credit Director Jin realized that part of this film as with any other highly visual story you have to keep pushing the envelope about what the future may actually look like. Jin makes good use of computer technology to imagine a Starbase called Yorktown as an intricately elaborate port of call for recreation and refurbishing of the Enterprise. IT’S VERY COOL.

Jin also gives the Enterprise itself more air time than Director JJ Abrams previous efforts. There is one brief scene of the ship going to warp speed with an interesting bit of a ‘Go-Pro” point of view…………….. VERY COOL. You also see the ship in full warp speed that seems to be peeling its way through the cold “dark matter” of interstellar space…………..Again very brief, but VERY COOL.

But Jin’s best directing gift to this new effort is that it’s just enjoyable to watch. It’s playful with itself with fast paced action that is well connected and overall is relaxing to be immersed in. And central to this story is it’s not just about the relationship of Kirk and Spock as its primary focus. Rather this plot involves the entire crew as the POV where everyone’s life on the ship have consequences, have meaning – that all of them matter.  

Now, “Beyond” is not without flaws. Star Trek historically always has done a delicate dance between the general technological plausible verses the not so plausible. And yet somehow as fans we always manage to simply look pass what seems at that moment something so convenient to be able to do “just in the nick of time”. In Jin’s “Beyond” on a few occasions he lays the technology “savior buttons and devices” on a bit too thick for my taste. Also, there are some battle scenes that at times are so frantic you literally may lose perspective on exactly what side of the screen are the good guys verses the bad guys; but does it really matter? NO, this is Star Trek.

With snappy new uniforms and new technology gizmos to see, Director Jin ultimately re-captures the full nostalgia of Roddenberry’s original vision I referenced above. That being Gene’s genius vison of a show that was smart, rooted in science and thinks about the future with a swashbuckling adventurous appeal.  

“Star Trek Beyond” reverts very nicely back to what was old in 1966 without really reinventing itself completely and in the end makes this new saga and its familiar characters feel authentically new, inventively smart and funny and invariably just fresh to see again.

“Star Trek Beyond”…, “Who knew” that once again we get to “boldly go where no one has gone before” with the fabulous crew of the Enterprise NCC 1701.

3 -1/2 Stars

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