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19.7.16

REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond (film)

Title: Star Trek Beyond
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban
Runtime: 120 minutes
Language: English, Bahasa Indonesia subtitles
Tech Spec: Dolby Atmos, 2D/3D, 2.35:1
Bintang: 4/5 for action, characters, performances

Time out for a little mindless escapism.  In fact, if there's a fault with Star Trek Beyond, that's it.  One of the long-standing pillars of the franchise has been its ability to hold the mirror of the Final Frontier up to our society, without threatening or blaming anyone in particular.

That said, this should have been the second film in the current iteration.  It truly goes where no one has gone before, and does so with far more subtle nods to its 50-year history and some great fun.  The only fault I give the film - in and of itself - is that the pacing is so frenetic, there is hardly a moment to catch your breath and arrange all the pieces of the story.

The film opens where the original series left off, three years into a five-year mission.  Malaise and routine have got everyone in a funk.  In a moment taken directly from the original series' first pilot (with Tab Hunter as Captain Pike), Kirk and Bones mull over the weight of command and self-identity while enjoying a Saurian Brandy.  Anyone who has been around since the first show first aired, as I have, will recognize the scene immediately.

Kirk is morosely questioning his purpose in space after a less-than-stellar diplomatic mission where, finally, humans don't look like the all-wise, all-knowing beneficent Keepers of the Universe, which one might believe from all previous hours spent in the Trek Universe.

We are then treated to Space Station Yorktown, which for hardcore Trekkers/Trekkies, is the original name of the Enterprise when Gene Roddenberry first conceived of the show.  After the introductory montage, one is convinced that all the Klingons and Romulans be damned, space exploration looks pretty damn cool.

Shore leave is cut short in order to go find a missing ship somewhere in the middle of a nebula.  The crew saddles up for a search-and-rescue gig, but on arrival, find a bit more than they bargained for.

The crew ends up marooned on and scattered across an alien planet after a pretty spectacular battle, where we are finally shown what it's like to be in the rest of the ship while all hell breaks loose.  Once on the planet, the crew slowly reassembles itself while trying to figure out just what hit them and how they are going to get back into space and save the Earth.

This allows for some fun pairings and much needed character insights and development.  There are some genuinely good moments as unlikely pairs try to get to the rally point.  Of primary focus are the Bones/Spock team, and Scotty with (presumably) new alien character Jaylah.

There are some fun nods to Things We've Always Wanted to See, like alien mouths not synched to the Universal Translator, or less-than-enlightened break-ups between couples.  The much-touted Sulu-is-gay scene is so generic that one could be forgiven for thinking it was a reunion between old friends.  In all fairness, the Indonesian Censorship Board may have cut out a scene, but I have no way of knowing until I can see an uncensored cut.  By the end, though, we feel like we have truly been someplace new and seen things not seen before.

The plot centers around a McGuffin introduced in the opening scene.  Kirk is presenting a new race an ancient artifact as a peace gesture.  Turns out, a la Joseph Farrell's Cosmic War, that the object is a piece of an ancient weapon of incredible power that was scattered across the galaxy way, way back.  The crew is marooned by an alien (Krall), who is seeking to reassemble the device and destroy Earth to settle an old score - that is really never too clear.

In some ways, this is a rehash of the Wrath of Khan plot, in which the Enterprise is lured by the titular character to obtain a powerful weapon, while at the same time exacting revenge, though it is done with some fresh perspectives.

As mentioned before, the one key element missing from this film, and really from the entire three-film reboot, is the commentary on current events.  One thing that made the original series (half a century ago) so popular was that it dealt with issues, not just action, and took place in the head, not the heart (and adrenal glands).

While the J.J. Abrams rethink has done a fairly credible job of capturing the Next Generation's flair for interpersonal relationships - something set up in the first pilot scene recaptured here - it fails to show us ourselves, in all our faults and glory.  The original series left the viewer with something to chew on, whether it was a commentary on racism, greed, freedom, geopolitics, or any of a number of other moral and ethical issues.

Star Trek Beyond glosses over several ideas that would have made for some very interesting aha! moments.  It could have explored an ancient progenitor race, or Spock's imperative to breed now that his race faces extinction, or even the wisdom of humans mucking about in things that don't concern them.  All of these and more are left dangling, with us hardcore Trekkers/Trekkies begging for some meat on the bones (pun alert).

The original episode that introduced Khan dealt with eugenics and human intervention in genetics.  One episode had two aliens battling to the death of their race because the white and black halves of their bodies were reversed.  Another episode dealt with the wisdom of robotics and greed.  Why can't one of these reboots deal with how a race like the Vulcans deal with near-extinction and the serious choices they face to survive.

Instead, we get popcorn-munching action and adventure light.  All eye-candy with little real substance to take away after the credits roll.  I know it's a summer tentpole blockbuster franchise (and all those other Syd Schienberg mogul phrases), but the one thing that has always distinguished Star Trek from all the other swashbuckling westerns (to mix genres) was its ability to use outer space as a mirror on ourselves.

It is said that no matter how far the traveler goes, he always comes back to himself.  The genius of Star Trek has always been that no matter how many new worlds and new civilizations humans encountered, in the end it was humanity's own strengths and failings that we found.  In this way, the show/films were modern retellings of the ancient hero stories of Man vs. Gods.

Star Trek Beyond stands on its own.  You don't need to be a fan of any stripe to enjoy it with a tub of popcorn.  It leaves us with the impression that this may be the end of this iteration, though there is certainly plenty of Universe left to explore.  The future is open, as it always is  Let's hope that future installments, in whatever form they take, will return to the spark that made Star Trek one of the most enduring pop cultural phenomena ever.

Oh, one more thing: the lens flares are gone!  Hallelujah!

Kudos to the team that handled the Jakarta premier.  It was well-done and having Justin Lin on hand to discuss his experience was great.  Who knew he spoke Bahasa Indonesia?  I saw the 3D version, which honestly I wouldn't have paid extra to do, since it really adds nothing to my experience of the story.  And thanks to Epicentrum XXI for hosting the event.

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