Boldly Going Pt 11 (Star Trek, 2009)

ST_Kelvin_2009_PosterIt is often not really a great sign when a franchise seems to go dormant. After the struggle at the box office with Nemesis and a large amount of negative fan reaction, Paramount’s Star Trek team started trying to figure out new ideas, most which put the Next Generation Crew out to pasture.

Eventually, they opted to focus more on the Television side while they tried to crack a new approach.  And then they reached out to J.J. Abrams. He and his team came up with an idea… what if we went back to the beginning? What if we go back and meet the Enterprise crew all over again? Captain Kirk? Mr. Spock?

This seemed like a risky proposition…the original cast was tied to those characters and the idea of bringing new actors in to give the crew new life and adventures had a huge chance of going wrong.

Abrams chose to go back to the start of the series…but with a twist.  On the day James T Kirk is born, his father sacrifices himself as a Romulan ship appears from a black hole. In the original series, Kirk grew up with his father…and with this change Kirk grows into a rebellious and responsibility avoiding lout. But one night in a bar, he meets Cadet Urhura- and ends up in a fight with several of her fellow cadets. The fight is ended by Captain Christopher Pike who convinces Kirk to apply to Starfleet.

Kirk’s recklessness in the academy puts him at odds with the Vulcan Spock.  But when the Romulan ship reappears 25 years leader, Bones helps get Kirk on the  Enterprise and the crew must face the mad Romulan and also deal with interpersonal conflicts.

The casting of the film is interesting, as only Zachary Quinto bears any likeness too Nimoy. Yet, give Karl Urban the right haircut and let him channel DeForrest Kelley and he is uncanny in his likeness.  Really, the entire cast does so well, that I quickly found myself not paying attention to the details that said it is not the same person. This cast is… well, a lot of fun to watch. They have a real chemistry and work very well together.

I confess, I am one of those people who kind of gets annoyed when Trek has a prequel series with better tech than the original series.  I get this is mostly due to budget changes and better tech for film and television. But it always bugs me a bit to see a setting from before the original series with sleeker tri-corders. However, here? I find it pretty easy to excuse this world on the simple “history has changed” rationale.

The Enterprise here is bright and vibrant and feels wide open in a way prior television and film never really managed.

The film took some heat for being a little more Star Wars than Star Trek, and Abrams has openly stated he was always more of a Star Wars guy.  This is true of me as well.  I like Trek, but Wars was always a bit more my jam. And so, I do not really dispute the criticism, but for me it is a bit of a bonus.

The villain Nero is kind of lackluster…Eric Bana is not really given room to flap his wings. He almost feels like an afterthought.  While I enjoy seeing Nimoy return to the role of Spock, I also feel like he is being used in the film to shortcut mountains… specifically the relationship of Kirk and Spock.  Theirs is a friendship that feels deep and real because we got to spend decades with it. Here, Old Spock has to give pushes to Kirk and his younger self in the right direction. It feels a bit like a cheat.

Oh…and all the damn lens flares…

But those points aside, this was an incredibly fun new approach to characters we know and love and begin to get to know again.  It is a blast and a new start that had me very excited for the next film.

Oh foolish youth.

Roid Rage Part 5 (Conan the Barbarian, 2011)

Conan_the_Barbarian_2011_PosterAfter the attempt to (kind of) expand the Conan Universe with Red Sonja in 1985 fell short of expectations, the Conan Franchise went silent on the silver screen. While barbarians and fantasy seemed to have a fanbase on television throughout the 90’s, it was not until Game of Thrones that people seemed to feel like the genre of sword and sorcery could be revived.

Stepping into the loincloth of Conan was Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa.  This film begins a bit more dramatically.  We are treated to a narration by God (an uncredited Morgan Freeman). The film explains Conan was born of Battle and then makes this wholly literal, as his pregnant mother is fighting at her husbands side.  Upon being mortally wounded, she commands her husband to cut the baby out so she can see him before she dies. So, it is a bit…over the top.  Conan is raised by his father, the chieftain of a tribe dedicated to being powerful and wise warriors. But when their village is overrun by Khalar Zym who is hunting for a piece of a mystical artifact that Conan’s father has kept hidden, Conan and his father are tortured.

The movie then jumps ahead to a grown Conan living the lifestyle of adventurer. He finds himself drawn back into the fight to end the dark plans of Zym, who, along with his daughter Marique, seeks revenge on the world for the loss of his wife.  They are seeking a pure blooded virgin for their special sacrifice. This turns out to be Tamara, whom Conan saves, forcing a battle of wills.

This Conan is a bit different from the Schwarzenegger version.  Momoa is a leaner and more verbal Conan.  This is actually more in line with Howard’s writings.  The massive musculature we associate with the character was a development of Fantasy artists and the 1982 and 1984 films.

They are clearly trying to touch on all the versions of Conan.  There are hints of the comics, the TV shows and films.  Here Conan is a more skilled warrior.  His father emphasizes the importance of the mind as a major component of the warrior.

Momoa is certainly entertaining as Conan.  But the story is rather lackluster.  Stephen Lang brings more to his role than seems to have been in the script.  And Rose McGowan is fairly creepy as Marique.

Tamara is a problem for the film though.  There is little for her to be, beyond a damsel in distress.  She spends a good chunk of the final action tied up, and contributes little to the resolution of the film.

Conan the Barbarian is uneven, and this results in a lot of it just not keeping one’s attention. We are left with a rather average film, rather than an epic barbarian adventure.

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