by HELEN GEIB
One of the criticisms I heard of the new Star Trek film, a prequel to the original “Star Trek” TV show and a re-launching of the franchise it spawned, was that it was overly focused on action and comedy at the expense of the social commentary intrinsic to series creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision. My informal survey of people who watched the series when it first aired (that would be my parents) produced two responses to this criticism: the first, that action and comedy were just as important as social commentary to the show’s appeal, if not even more so; and the second, that the show was worth watching despite the overt sermonizing, not because of it.
My own take on the issue is that Roddenberry’s most potent social commentary in fact survived his series’ latest transition to the big screen intact; it just doesn’t pack the punch in 2009 that it did in 1966. The bridge crew is still racially integrated and includes a woman officer; earth’s civilizations are still united; Spock is still the product of a mixed marriage. In other words, Chekhov’s funny Russian accent was more than a laughing matter during the Cold War and mixed-race couples are so far accepted in American society today that the film has to work to the point of audience exhaustion to establish that Spock faces discrimination for his “inferior” human blood.
I am not going to say that Star Trek is a perfect movie. There is some very slippery temporal conundrum plotting (I expect better from the next, presumably non-time paradox based series entry) and I was not really taken with the direction of the action scenes. I am going to say that it is a tremendously entertaining film and I have no difficulty at all forgiving the flaws for the sake of everything that went right.
Paramount has catered to casual fans, people who really liked the movie, and die-hard “Star Trek” fans by releasing the film in three versions with increasing levels of extra features. Star Trek is available on DVD in a single disc edition or a two disc special edition, or on Blu-ray in a three disc special edition. By and large the extras sound pretty interesting, despite descriptions (all info here is from the movie’s official site) that frequently stray into the kind of inflated self-seriousness that is begging to be lampooned, and is thankfully absent from the film itself.
The single disc DVD has a commentary track by director J.J. Abrams, screenwriters Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, producer Damon Lindelof, and executive producer Bryan Burk; a short feature called “A New Vision” on Abrams’ objectives in making the film; and a gag reel.
The two disc DVD edition is the single disc DVD plus a second disc of extra features, including nine deleted scenes with optional commentary and four short features. The short features are “To Boldly Go,” in which the people on the commentary track talk about working within a franchise that a lot of people care a lot about (I’m paraphrasing here; the official description is “Taking on the world’s most beloved science fiction franchise was no small mission.”); “Casting,” interviews with the producers and actors about, uh, the casting (and I quote the publicity material again: “finding the right cast to reprise these epic roles” and “the experience of trying to capture the essence of these mythic characters”); “Aliens,” which is interviews with the creature effects designers; and “Score,” an interview with composer Michael Giacchino (“the challenge of… preserving the spirit of Alexander Courage’s celebrated theme” – well, I won’t quarrel with that one). Finally, the second disc also has a digital copy of the film.
The three disc Blu-ray edition includes all of the material on the two disc DVD (slightly redistributed), plus several additional short features and other extras. “NASA News” is about space, the real thing; “Starships” is interviews with Abrams and production designer Scott Chambliss on the various starship designs; “Planets” goes into the film’s combination of on-location and soundstage filming; “Props and Costumes” (“that paid homage to what came before yet were relevant and timeless”); “Ben Burtt and the Sounds of Star Trek,” an interview with the sound designer, who also worked on earlier films in the franchise; and “Gene Roddenberry’s Vision,” interviews with Abrams, Leonard Nimoy, the film’s scientific consultant, and unnamed franchise writers and producers. Last but not least, for the true Star Trek devotee is “Starfleet Vessel Simulator,” views of and specs for the U.S.S. Enterprise and the movie’s Romulan vessel, the Narada.
Other new releases this week: Bruno, Is Anybody There?, The Limits of Control, My Sister’s Keeper, Thirst