Thursday, July 28, 2016

Movie Review - Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond took a page out of the James Bond playbook by featuring a song by a top recording artist.

  ‘Beyond’ is the third installment of the current Star Trek movie franchise and made its appearance in the local movie theatres last week. I went with Kathy and our neighbor Don to the local Fridley Theatre in Marshalltown Iowa on Saturday night to see it. The movie ‘only’ brought in around 60 million dollars on its opening weekend which made it the number one box office movie of the weekend but the lowest box office draw of the three Star Trek movies since the 2009 reboot.

  The theatre was sparsely filled on Saturday night which may be because the movie was on three screens along with three showings of the latest ‘Ice Age’ animated movie and two theaters of ‘Ghostbusters’. There was only room for a handful of other movies with 8 of the 13 screens being taken up by just three films.

  The movie starts out in a light hearted vein with Captain James T. Kirk trying to broker a peace deal with ferocious looking lion type aliens who are revealed to be the size of Chihuahuas. The Enterprise is in the third year of its five year mission to explore the galaxy and Kirk is questioning his commitment to explore space which seems to entail less adventure and more negotiation than he would like. As the Enterprise docks at the Yorktown starbase, Spock finds out about the passing of the Spock from the alternate reality that started the reboot (a nice homage to original Spock actor Leonard Nimoy who passed away in 2015) and decides to leave the Federation to help rebuild the Vulcan civilization. Before these ideas can be acted upon the Enterprise is drawn to the far-away Nebula on a rescue mission.

  This is a big budget movie (185 million) and the special effects showed no signs of skimping. The Yorktown starbase looked like something out of Inception or an M.C. Escher drawing with skyscrapers towering at seemingly impossible angles explained by the artificial gravitational fields that allows water fountains to flow normally while at a 90 degree angle to its adjoining building complex. The Nebula was a predictable jumble of asteroids to be avoided or crashed into but soon an epic space battle takes place when a swarm of ships of Krall (the bad guy of the movie) overwhelm the Enterprise and force a crash landing on Krall’s planet. The space battle was a little too frenetic for my tastes but was generally easy to follow.

  From there the crew is split up with most of them captured as prisoners waiting to have their life force sucked out from them to replenish the apparently ageless Krall’s energies. Spock and McCoy are stranded together and exchange some age old Spock-McCoy banter. The other group of non-prisoners comprise Kirk, Scotty, Chekov, and Jaylah the typical gorgeous exotic alien female who atypically fails to fall hopelessly in love with Captain Kirk. The group improbably finds an early generation Federation Starship on this planet on the edge of the galaxy, gets it in working order, rescues the prisoners, gets off the planet, and stops Krall from using his newly assembled doomsday device on the Yorktown starbase.

  That one paragraph synopsis probably makes the movie sound contrived but all the seemingly disjointed plot elements come together well before the end of the movie and in a way that makes sense in a Star Trek type of vein. The starship sequences were great and as I said earlier the wild architecture of the starbase was incredible. The script’s mix of action, humor, character interaction, and an understandable plot would not have been out of place in the original Star Trek television show which was so well written the show became an iconic franchise despite the special effects that were pretty poor even for the 1960’s.

  I found this to be a great movie because the Star Trek characters were portrayed exactly how I like to see them even though the faces were different. The interactions between McCoy and Spock were especially good with the good doctor playing the perfect straight man to bring out Spock’s nerdy dry wit. The changes in the characters from 50 years past are all for the better. Chris Pine isn’t as sure a starship captain as William Shatner or as gifted a fighter but his penchant for risk-taking and inventiveness surpasses the original. Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy is more of an action type than the original and even takes a turn piloting a ship in this film. And as in the original series Mr. Spock steals the show and the movie is written for him to steal most of the scenes he appears in. Zachary Quinto correctly doesn’t try to imitate the classic Nimoy Spock but captures his unintentional humor and occasionally intentional jokes at McCoy’s expense. Chekov, Uhura, Sulu, and Scotty had about the same roles as they did in the television series which isn’t much except for Scotty needing a bit more screen time to keep the ships running.

  The only part of the movie I didn’t like was the juxtaposition between the angst of Kirk and Spock and Krall’s deep seated need to use his doomsday weapon against the Federation. While Krall’s motivations become clear as the movie progresses I didn’t understand how they convince Kirk and Spock to forego their well-considered plans to leave the Enterprise. That is a small quibble for an excellent film that ranks with ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’ and ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ as the best Star Trek movies made. Star Trek is a viable and popular brand. The movies are hits and a new television show (Star Trek: Discovery) is planned by CBS to lure subscribers to their non-broadcast ‘All Access’ platform. With all this success I can’t understand why a profitable movie series like Star Trek needs three and four years between movies. By the time the fourth (already approved) movie rolls around the characters will start getting too old and the series will need to be rebooted yet again. The cast has already lost one member with Chekov actor Anton Yelchin dying in a car accident last month. This is a shame because this version of Star Trek has a great mix of character interaction and action. The chemistry between Spock, Kirk, and McCoy is excellent and may be hard to reproduce with another cast. I wish Paramount and the movie makers would get cracking and give me a new Star Trek movie every year!