Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jesse Gray's "Star Trek" DVD Review

As a prequel, Star Trek manages to do in one film what the three latest Star Wars movies could not: create a solid connection between the past and future, and flesh out its main characters in a way that makes you want to find out what happens to them later on.

To be fair, Star Wars did have some disadvantages from the get-go. The lead characters first meet in Episode IV, so there’s no way to show them interacting before then, and the action is scattered across a galaxy. In Star Trek, the adventures pretty much focus on the crew of a single starship, so it’s easier to bring more familiar faces together in a recognizable setting. There is also the fact that Star Wars is more linear in its storytelling while Star Trek is more episodic; it’s easier to make a prequel when there are fewer plot parameters to work with.

Those setbacks aside, Star Trek just goes to greater lengths to be a story in its own right, while also being a believable prelude to the stories that follow. Some of the elements are subtle production-oriented details, such as choosing to forsake the digital craze and shoot the movie on film. The Star Wars prequels were shot digital in HD and then transferred to film, whereas Star Trek was shot in the classical way. Also, the original Star Trek used tangible models and locations, and Abrams tried his best to use real props and settings as often as he could when making the prequel. The Star Wars prequels were made when CGI was all the rage (and overused), and so digitizing as many things as possible was the way to go. There is a difference between using a green screen and having the real thing, and Star Trek does a better job of melding the technological differences from a production standpoint.

The bulk of the improvements aren’t as subtle. First, Star Trek introduces its main characters at the right time; Kirk is in his twenties and on the brink of becoming who and what we all know him to be. In Star Wars, the main character, Anakin, is a child, and doesn’t become remotely interesting until the third film. Because of this awkward starting point, the audience has to be introduced to a slew of new characters so that the story can be moved along with any kind of effect.

Another difference between the prequels is the fact that Kirk and the crew also grow noticeably as people through the story, changing because of the actions they choose. Whereas in Star Wars, Anakin and the Jedi are stagnant; time passes and action moves the story along, but the characters don’t seem to be affected by it. Anakin is rebellious and whiny, the Jedi council is aloof and removed, and Obi-Wan seems to be the only one trying to get anything done.

Star Trek also seems to handle the technological gap better than Star Wars. The Enterprise is modified inside and out, as are the uniforms, but the changes don’t jar you from the story. In Star Wars, the ships and equipment look far newer and more advanced in the prequels than in the films that are supposed to follow. There is a hazy point where the technology of the real world has to parallel the technology of the film, and Star Trek just seems to find that balance better.

Ironically enough, Abrams mentioned how he wanted his film to mimic the original Star Wars movies in terms of the plot and pacing; he knew that the classic Star Trek style might fail to reach a new audience if he didn’t modify its presentation.

Apparently Abrams also learned what not to mimic by watching the Star Wars prequels, and so was able to create a fitting preamble to a successful franchise.


Your Cup O’ Tea:
If you enjoyed Star Trek the series, you’ll probably find this an enjoyable romp. It’s relatively clean in terms of language and sexual content; it doesn’t boldly go where no other Trek film has gone before in terms of an escalation in violence, gore, nudity or vulgarity. Not a bad pick for youngsters; if they could handle the new Star Wars films, they could handle this. It’s not terribly complex in terms of plot, and the story is relatively straight-forward. It’s an easy watch with a suitable amount of action to keep you engaged.

Steer Clear:
If you didn’t enjoy Star Trek in any of its earlier forms (tv shows and movies), or if you like more of the horror-ish flicks in the Sci-Fi genre like Alien, Predator, Event Horizon, etc..,

Nothing New Under the Sun:
It’s very much akin to it’s Star Trek ancestors, and it has time-travel elements similar to Back to the Future, Time Machine, etc.., The movie doesn’t revolve around time-travel, but its premise is based around it. Think of an amalgam of all the Star Trek shows but with higher production values and faster pacing.

Buy or Rent:
RENT. There just aren’t enough bonus features to necessitate a purchase; you can enjoy all the material (commentary included) in under three hours. The Blu-ray version would be worth buying, but for those interested in the standard definition version, you can get everything you want in a rental. The features are good, but there’s not nearly enough volume. Unless you want to own the movie because of the film itself, save some money and visit a RedBox.


-Scene Selection

-Language Selection

-Commentary with JJ Abrams, Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, and Robert Orci (Director, Producer, Writers, Executive Producers)

-A New Vision:
Approx 19.5 minutes. This feature examines the overall vision and filmmaking philosophy of the film rather than getting into detail about casting, plot, etc.., The characters and story aren’t touched on at all, but there is a lot of discussion about the project itself and what elements were important in bringing a new Trek film to the screen. Abrams’ approach to special effects seems to be similar to that of Peter Jackson’s (Lord of the Rings), and there is some sleight of hand that went into creating some of the shots that hails back to the pre-computerized days of cinema. While this feature seems to graze the surface of what was clearly a well-thought-out piece of work, it is a solid piece of behind-the-scenes exploration with very little time spent on the obligatory praise of the personnel involved.
DUH! FACTOR: 1 out of 10

-Gag Reel:
Approx 6 minutes. It’s rare to find a serious Sci-Fi movie that’s willing to show a comical side, but Trek actually makes a production out of it. The feature starts off with full-blown picture credits (complete with the original Star Trek theme), and maintains a level of quality that almost seems wasted on a gag reel. Different segments are accompanied by different musical backdrops that enhance the humor, and the types of bloopers are the classic missed lines and physical screw-ups reminiscent of “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes”. There’s even a short cut of a scene where Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) run their lines with a Scottish brogue.

Transformers 2, GI Joe, Fringe (TV series), Star Trek D-A-C (video game)

-Woulda Been Nice:
If the copious amount of features on the Blu-ray release were available on the standard DVD. The two-disc version has no extra bonus features—it only adds a digital-copy-disc. It’s always nice to have more of a good thing.

- Jesse Gray


Just Being Josh said...

Good to know. This is just Hollywood's way of forcing everyone to go the Blu-Ray (fortunately they suckered me in on that one already). Ugh

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