It was sunny and warm in L.A. last Saturday. Despite the lovely weather, both my teenage sons preferred to spend the daylight basking in the light of a monitor, sunscreen not required. I can only blame myself. After all, I did buy the X-box 360, in front of which our 12 year old neighbor, controller in hand, was exploring new worlds and “seeking out new life and new civilizations”—or new deaths and destruction of civilizations.
I have long since ceased to marvel at the beauty of some of those worlds. Computer graphics have improved to the point that I see the TV screen as Alice’s looking-glass—a real universe just beyond my fingertips. And so, “virtual reality” is no longer an oxymoron, but a fact of life. Especially my children’s lives.
Sadly, not mine. As an avid reader of science fiction in my own childhood, I dreamed of the day when I could myself travel to new worlds beyond the boundaries of my imagination. Even if NASA couldn’t take me around the solar system, I was, for a few hours, chauffered to adventure in a darkened theater by Industrial Light and Magic. Like many Star Trek fans, I eagerly awaited JJ Abrams’ critically acclaimed “re-boot” to launch my latest travels.
Then I saw “New Trek” today. It looked pretty, up there on the big screen. JJ and his team did a remarkable job of casting and marshalling the requisite corps of actors, including the Enterprise herself. The special effects were polished, as were the sets. I could even visualize the literal amusement park ride that might follow the summer “thrill ride” of almost continual action in the film. But, like Dorothy’s companions in Oz, the film skimped somewhat on “brain”, and most definitely on “heart”.
Of course, there were moments that were meant to be moving. The opening of the film, James Kirk’s birth, aimed for poignancy, but rang contrived. The villain’s story, exposited sonorously, meant to engage us in both pity and fear, yet succeeded in indifference. A tragedy that shook the foundations of the Star Trek universe was glossed over as a plot convenience—billions of lives extinguished as our camera focuses on the exploits and adventures of our impulsive heroes. (Now that sounds familiar…)
The actors accredited themselves well on the whole, based on what they were expected to be. Chris Pine resonated a touch of George Clooney flair in a few scenes, but came off in the end more a handsome, athletic James West, than an insightful, complicated James Kirk. Quinto’s performance as Spock seemed a bit tinged in figurative “baby fat”, but was credible in context. I was pleased to see a talented young Russian-American play Chekov with a more genuine accent, as well as a charismatic Scotsman play Scotty, again, with more linguistic acuity. Uhura, Sulu, and Bones, were all fine as well. No, it wasn’t the actors on our team that disappointed me, but the writers and director.
I know the reviews have been glowing. I can’t complain. I didn’t look at my watch once in the theater, and I rode the CGI roller coaster with the appropriate exhilaration. But again, I wasn’t moved. I wasn’t touched. I didn’t care. And, now, out of the movie house, I am left with merely a shrug.
I’ve realized that it has been a long time since a film has drawn me in to its world like the Purple Rose of Cairo literally grabbed its protagonists. And I’ve wondered why. Yes, I’m post-prime demographic, having left 35, and even 49 behind me. But, even movies that grudgingly target the middle-aged leave me cold on the whole. What has happened? I believe it is a generation issue.