(Okay, I admit that Star Trek Beyond is not technically a fan film. But I’m willing to make an exception if you are.)
There we were last Friday night, several hundred people all crammed into a room where, 50 years ago, the original Star Trek series was filmed. We were all standing shoulder to shoulder, staring at a large projection screen on which the new trailer of Star Trek Beyond was about to be shown. A short introduction from Simon Pegg was played first, and we saw the new trailer.
After the train wreck that was the first trailer released back in December, this new one was so infinitely better that I could hardly believe it was the same movie. And while I still wasn’t completely convinced yet that the new film wouldn’t suck, I was now cautiously optimistic.
And then we all got a surprise.
Director Justin Lin got up in front of the room to announce that he’d brought along some actual footage from the movie to show us. “Would you like to see it?” he asked. Well, duh! (Actually, there was a tremendous round of enthusiastic clapping and cheering.) He explained that some of the visual effects were still being finalized, but these three sequences were complete enough to at least give a flavor of what the movie would be like.
The lights went down, and we all got to see about 15 minutes of Star Trek Beyond…
Fifteen minutes later, I had gone from cautiously optimistic to almost giddy. While there’s still a lot about the JJ-verse that just doesn’t work for me personally, from what I saw from these three sequences of scenes from early in the film, I’m pretty sure I can give my money to the person in the box office without holding my nose or gagging. In fact, I might even see this movie more than once…assuming the other 90% is as entertaining as the 10% Justin showed us. I admit that it’s possible that he showed us ONLY the good parts and the rest of the movie will still suck. But at least I’m now hopeful—excited even—and here’s why…
* MAJOR SPOILER ALERT * MAJOR SPOILER ALERT *
Okay, that’s your only warning. Granted, it’s kinda hard to spoil an entire movie by sharing only the first 15 minutes of it. But some people want to know nothing, so I posted my overall reaction first, and now I’ll go into specifics. (By the way, even though we were not allowed to record the screening with cameras or cell phones, we weren’t told not to discuss what we saw. So I’m assuming this is okay to post. If you come back and it’s been taken down, you’ll know I wrong in that assumption.)
The first thing I noticed, much to my delight, is that the women are now wearing long sleeves! Hooray!!! I was so annoyed that I could never tell the rank of a female in Starfleet in the previous two movies. Granted, the women are still wearing tight, hemmed uniform dresses that show off nearly all of their nylon-stockinged legs, but hey, the original Star Trek did that, so it’s not quite as annoying (just sexist)…and as a guy, I freely admit that I never totally minded that. And these new uniforms are generally attractive garments. They won’t be as cheap to buy as the previous JJ-verse ones, but again, I can live with it.
But hey, this isn’t a fashion blog!!! Let’s get to what I liked so much about these sneak-peek scenes…
The initial segment opened with a captain’s log. That’s right, a captain’s log! Remember those? They used to start out almost every episode of most of the many Trek series. But in the two Bad Robot movies so far, there has been only ONE captain’s log…and it was recorded by Spock about halfway through the 2009 film. (Yep, Into Darkness had NO captain’s log voice-overs at all! Unbelievable, right?)
Our glimpse into Beyond started with a calm and reflective captain’s log recorded by James T. Kirk himself. And like all good logs, it explains to the audience where, when, what, and who. The “when” is 968 days (or thereabouts, I can’t recall the exact number) into the five-year mission of the USS Enterprise? So they’re solidly into year three…and things have settled into a comfortable routine.
The “where” is deep space, as a five-year mission doesn’t allow for regular stops back at earth to pick up and drop off the crew, take vacations, etc. (Just a side note: did you know that, out of the twelve Star Trek feature films, only one movie has NOT featured scenes either on earth’s surface or in earth orbit. Wanna guess which one? In comparison, of the original seventy-nine TOS episodes, only three took place on earth—I don’t count Pike’s Talosian illusion trip back to Mojave—and each of those was a time travel story. TNG only went back to earth six or seven times in 178 episodes, and three of those were Q illusions.)
Anywhoo, the Enterprise is far out in space, and the crew has bonded as a team and as friends. And, as Kirk notes, there’s been some hook-ups and some break-ups along the way. Indeed, Kirk himself may have been conceived on just such a long-term mission, so there’s certainly precedent for crew members fraternizing. The “what” and “who” are kinda answered there, as well, as Kirk muses that the Federation has expanded to over 200 member worlds, and he wonders what the Enterprise is really doing far out here.
This is a very interesting Captain Kirk, and one much closer to the man portrayed by William Shatner five decades ago. While Chris Pine’s initial two outings as Jim Kirk tended to oscillate between sullen and over-caffeinated, this Kirk is more…well, the best word I can think of is “seasoned.” He’s not brooding, he’s thoughtful—much like the uncertain Kirk we see talking to McCoy in the captain’s quarters during “Balance of Terror” when McCoy says, “Don’t destroy the one called ‘Kirk’.”
Speaking of deep Kirk/McCoy scenes, the log montage intro sequence leads into a very character-defining interaction between Kirk and McCoy in the mess hall. It begins with Kirk taking a few slugs from a familiarly-shaped bottle of Saurian brandy. “That’ll make you go blind,” McCoy says as he enters the scene. Bones apologies for being late, but apparently Scotty’s Oompa Loompa (I forget the character’s name) is starting to ooze some green gunk, and Scotty’s worried that the little guy will sneeze and start a warp core breech (or something like that—my memory’s not what it used to be).
In yet another scene reminiscent of something we’ve seen before, McCoy wishes Kirk a happy birthday and whips out a bottle of something alcoholic. The last time JJ-Trek paid “homage” to a familiar scene from Wrath of Khan, Kirk was dying in Engineering while Spock helplessly watched and then yelled “KHANNNNN!!!!” at the top of his lungs. Fans weren’t thrilled with that scene, but I actually think they’ll like this one. Why? Because it actually goes where Star Trek hasn’t gone before and builds on the new mythology rather than just recreating the old only with characters swapping places.
Sure, we’ve seen McCoy bring Kirk a bottle of booze on his birthday before, and we’ve also seen Kirk moping about getting older. But this new scene adds a lot more flavors to that basic dish. As McCoy takes the bottle of Saurian brandy away from his friend, he says, “Here, try this instead. I confiscated it from Chekov’s locker.” We, the audience, are expecting to see a bottle filled with the clear color of vodka. But instead, it’s a bottle of brown liquid that’s very likely scotch. Almost reading the minds of us confused longtime fans, Kirk says, “Hmmm…I would have though it’d be vodka.” McCoy responds, “Yeah, I know, right?” And while some fans will complain that the REAL Chekov would never keep scotch in his locker and that it should have been vodka, I appreciated the bait-and-switch. And now I want to know WHY! Did Scotty change Chekov’s preference of spirits? Or was this a gift for Scotty or someone else on board? Did Chekov lose a bet, or was someone playing a prank? We’ll probably never know, but I look forward to long Facebook debates on the subject!
“Happy birthday, Jim,” McCoy says. But Kirk’s response takes the scene immediately away from Wrath of Khan. “It’s not my birthday,” Kirk replies. The audience goes, “HUH?” But McCoy continues, “I know your birthday’s not for another two days, but I also know you don’t like to celebrate on your actual birthday because that’s also the day your father died.” WHOA! I never thought about it like that! Major points there, guys. This is a different Kirk with a different past. Thanks for remembering that and letting us discover him all over again.
Their conversation continues, as we listen to this more pensive Captain Kirk, no longer the adrenaline-pumped angry kid with a chip on his shoulder. He’s really looking into himself, into his soul. “I’m now a year older than my father ever got to be.” That line stuck with me. This is also the part of the trailer where Kirk says, “My dad joined Starfleet because he believed in it. I joined on a dare.” And McCoy responds, “You joined to see if you could live up to him.” It’s a beautiful moment between the two men, these two friends. And if the rest of the movie can keep this level of character integrity, we might just have something.
Next the scenes shifted to the ATTACK! You’ve seen it on both of the trailers. It looks like the Enterprise is getting torn to pieces. (Last spoiler warning!) Let me assure you, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! The starship is demolished, decimated!! The attack by these fast-moving, spider-like boarding craft is like being swarmed by every angry Africanized killer bee ever born! They literally slice off each nacelle at the pylon base. Kirk orders warp speed, “Get us out of here, Sulu!” but the helm is dead. He calls down to Scotty, “Engineering! We need warp power!” The scene cuts to the second nacelle floating away into space. Scotty calls back to the bridge, almost incredulous, “Sir, the engines are gone.” Kirk responds, “Them get them restarted.” Scotty looks terrified, “No sir, I mean they’re completely gone from the ship…”
Things begin moving even faster from there! If you’re the kind of fan who appreciates a more “civilized” space battle like the Enterprise versus the Reliant where each ship takes turns firing while they slowly glide past the camera, well, those days were over about six movies ago. They ain’t coming back, folks. And Justin Lin did direct the Fast and the Furious blockbusters, so you need to expect—and just learn to live with—fast scenes and furious effects in Star Trek movies.
If you can’t, then I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. On the other hand, if you want to see one of the most amazing and heart-pounding action sequences in Star Trek history, you’re in for a treat (as are all the kids with the short attention spans). And hey, if it’ll make you feel any better—and if you’re like me and you hate the design of the JJ-prise—that ship is ripped limb from limb. Nacelles gone…that’s just the appetizer! The secondary hull is blasted to smithereens. The swarm slashes across the dorsal, splitting what’s left of the ship in two. The Enterprise is NOT coming back from this in any way. All the crew can do is abandon ship as boarding parties penetrate the hull and fill up the ship’s corridors like a wave of HOLY $#*&!
And this isn’t just a quick one or two-minute segment. Kirk’s order to abandon ship comes only after some serious whup-ass is unloaded, and even then, it’s not easy to get hundreds of crew (or however many are left alive) off of the remnants of a space vessel…especially when the attack isn’t letting up, and even the escape pods seem to be nothing more than just extra target practice for the bad guys. And of course, we can all pretty much figure out from the trailers that the crew gets separated on the planet’s surface and must find a way, working in small groups, to rescue themselves and stop the bad guys.
Now, I will admit that I haven’t completely drunk the Kool-Aid on this one yet. There’s a lot that can still go wrong. It the movie continues to simply be fast and furious for the next 100 minutes after the attack, there won’t be a lot to justify the hope I feel after seeing those first two segments I described above (the captain’s log montage and the Kirk/McCoy scene). But I learned during the Q&A session that this film features a lot of “smaller” scenes where the characters are teamed up in some interesting groupings. For example, apparently Kirk and Chekov get some decent screen time together. And we’ve already seen Spock and McCoy together (a pairing mostly lacking in the previous two films in favor of more Kirk/Spock and Kirk/McCoy scenes—now the triangle can be completed!).
So I’m hopeful. And truth to tell, that’s all I really need at this point. Oh, excited is good, too, and I’ve got some of that…albeit with my fingers crossed. But let’s face it, back in December when we heard the Beastie Boys soundtrack while we watched Kirk playing Evel Knievel, most of us were dreading a theatrical bomb the size of a warp core beach. We’d lost all faith in these new Star Trek movies and many were even contemplating not seeing the film at all (and some still are). Personally, I can’t imagine being a Star Trek fan and not going to see a new Trek movie…even if I were certain it was going to suck. Heck, I’ll still sit through “Spock’s Brain,” TNG’s “The Royale,” Voyager’s “Threshold,” and even the last episode of Enterprise if it’s on…even though I know I’m just gonna tear my hair out at the awfulness of each episode.
And yeah, I know that not all fans are like me, and for some, the JJ-verse is NOT Star Trek. I get that. But for me, I knew I’d be going to see Star Trek Beyond in the theater on opening weekend. But at least now I can actually look forward to that moment rather than dreading it.
So strap in!