Review: Star Trek – Live In Concert

wpid-181055a.jpgMelbourne Symphony Orchestra,
Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre,
31st January 2015

Although it has constantly been changing throughout its numerous television and cinematic instalments, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reimagining of Gene Roddenberry’s classic Star Trek brought with it the biggest reinvention of all. Having cast fresh faces as the well-loved characters helming the U.S.S. Enterprise, the film and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness are currently reinvigorating the cinematic experience with fully orchestral screenings.

With two performances over one weekend, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are the latest, and first Australian musicians to bring this international concert tour to their home city. Saying it’s more than a normal screening may sound obvious, and at the same time it was less than a normal orchestral performance. Halfway between the two, it wasn’t entirely either.

A valuble asset in creating the desired reaction from the audience, music is too often overlooked but would be conspicuous by its absence. Highlighting the moments of action, drama, and tension in Star Trek, it is also highly emotional in places; never more so than the pre-credits destruction of the U.S.S. Kelvin. Despite the intensity of George Kirk’s sacrifice being unmatched throughout the rest of the film, Michael Giacchino’s accompaniment score serves as a great introduction, and the opening title was ushered in with well-earned rapturous applause.

Being played in front you the music was naturally given more prominence than in a standard cinema, but the fact that more emphasis, or even lighting, wasn’t placed on the orchestra themselves was a missed opportunity. As much as it was a film screening rather than regular concert it was still disappointing that so much of your attention was drawn to the screen by design in the first place.

A lack of programme was also highly noticeable. Not only did this deny the fans a souvenir of such an infrequent event, but it also hinders the individual orchestra members from gaining the recognition they deserve (although information on the performers can be found on the MSO’s website).

Not that the orchestra weren’t given their time in the spotlight by the end, as the lights were raised once the action had finished and the end credits were overseen by their rendition of Alexander Courage’s iconic TV theme, and Giacchino’s finishing suite. An encore of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture/Next Generation theme was also a welcome surprise for the audience.

An audience which, not surprisingly, was largely made up of avid Trek fans, several clad in Starfleet uniforms of varying eras, but it was also rather mixed. There were those who dressed smartly and presumably came to see the Orchestra’s latest concert, but as a bastion of geek culture in general, Star Trek also attracted those wearing T-shirts from Alien to Game of Thrones. Even a Captain Jack Harkness was in attendance.

As an award-winning Hollywood composer Giacchino has worked frequently with Abrams, and has also composed the score the for several Pixar features and shorts, including The Incredibles, and Up. It is not surprising a film with his score was chosen for Live In Concert screenings, and the film itself was treated well; even the intermission was well placed within the film’s narrative, allowing breathing room for the impact of Vulcan’s destruction to sink in.

Orchestral performances of well-loved films is something that should occur more often, and will do if the ‘coming soon’ teaser is anything to go by. Just the dates of a future performance might not be much to go on, but being given in the style of a certain DeLorean’s dashboard display garnered a huge cheer.

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Review: ‘Star Trek – Into Darkness’ (spoilers optional)

So, I’ve just got back from the cinema having seen Star Trek Into Darkness. A film I have been waiting a long time to see, a time which seemed to have been made even longer from all the trailers, posters, and clips floating around on the internet. Not to mention a text from a close friend who thought I’d be interested to know about her attending the premiere.

I guess I can forgive her now that I’ve finally seen it myself, but knowing how to describe it, especially without giving away any spoilers, that’s the tricky part….

Blockbusters just can't help themselves can they.

Blockbusters just can’t help themselves can they.

Firstly, the film does have all the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster, and I have no doubt it will go on to do well at the box office. It has action, explosions, spaceships, even the obligatory scantily clad blonde, although it has to be said we do get to see her intellect as well (I think). Whilst not necessarily a bad thing, the film is also perhaps the single biggest argument for audience reception theory there is, as Trekkies, Newbies, and everyone else in between will have entirely different reactions to what they see on screen.

I chose to see it in 2D, and have to say it’s a gloriously looking film. The flyover of 23rd century metropolitan London is so much something to behold that it’s a scary realisation of what our historic capital could actually look like 200 years from now. The Enterprise is also given some amazing set pieces, and I truly hope that the 3D conversion is done properly, and does them justice.

The actors are also praise worthy, and along with the script each continues to bring these characters loved by generations into the 21st century. Zachary Quinto brings us a more rounded character, particularly as this film again toys with the conflict between Spock’s human and vulcan half, even if his sarcasm may at times be more pointy than his ears. This is compensated somewhat by Karl Urban toning down his DeForrest Kelly possession however, and giving a more natural rather than impressionistic performance.

Despite this however, there are a small number of instances where the film is let down by common sense, at least for established Trek, and has to make way for artistic license. There and back in a day does seem to be pushing it even for warp (let alone the beaming), but having actually thought about Chekov’s red shirt a little more (it was in a trailer, therefore not really a spoiler), it isn’t as out of place in Star Trek common sense as you might think. 

Continuing director J.J. Abrams’ new vision to the screen, Into Darkness has Star Trek running through it like the stick of proverbial rock. So much so in fact, that it makes you wonder how many of those references were included just to show off either the writers own knowledge/research, or how eager they were to make sure they pleased hardcore fans. Let’s just say it’s a long road getting from there, to the Admiral’s desk.

[Like I said, it’s tricky, but I’m still trying my best. If anything is getting too spoilery for you though, now’s the time to press that little x in the corner.]

'Into Darkness' continues the logic vs instinct of Spock and Kirk's central relationship.

‘Into Darkness’ continues the logic vs instinct argument central to Spock and Kirk’s relationship.

This is much like the film as a whole, in that rather than seek out new life and new civilisations in a new timeline, Into Darkness does choose to use more than just references to what has come before. Revenge is hardly a new concept to cinematic Star Trek (see The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, Nemesis, and even Star Trek)let alone the whole of the franchise. My review of it’s predecessor tried to list the ways in which it adapted the series it was spun from, but for it’s sequel it seems I should add “Mirror” to that list.

Where Star Trek took the series and gave it a twist, Into Darkness carries this round to a full 180 degrees. Many aspects of Trek are turned on their head, each with varying degrees of success. I have to admit at one point the sight of a Tribble made me facepalm that Picard himself would be proud of, but on the whole, even the sharpest of turns is perhaps only comparable to reading Shakespeare; an academic exercise that conveys interesting and debatable ideas, but doesn’t hit the mark that was intended. Just as Shakespeare wrote plays to be seen performed not read from a page, so too here are several ideas that perhaps may have worked better in speculative transmedia prose than a canonical feature film.

I also have to point out that this review is coming from the mind of an unashamed Trekkie (hence receiving the boasting premiere text), and like I said, everyone will have different opinions. Overall though I would say that it is definitely a film worth seeing, and does have something for everyone. With it’s fiftieth anniversary only three years away or not, I’m sure that there will be another outing for the crew of the Enterprise, but this time I’m be mulling over the most recent release for a bit more time before eagerly awaiting the next.

[Ok, I’m gonna give this a try, for anyone who has already seen it, or just doesn’t care, highlight the rest of this post, to reveal the spoilers in white text.]

So, it seems all those rumours were true after all, Benedict Cumberbatch IS Khan. For those who don’t know, not only was original Spock right, in that he was the meanest, baddest and brightest of the Enterprise’s adversaries, but his place in Star Trek history was assured by the flawless performance of the late Ricardo Montalban, and you can be sure there will be those sending hate mail simply at the idea of his recasting. 

Personally, I have to admit that I too am annoyed that John Harrison’s true identity wasn’t someone else, but for different reasons. As much as I can see what Abrams and co. were thinking, anyone passionate enough would have been following the rumours, and therefore not surprised. Likewise those who weren’t, probably wouldn’t find it that much of a big deal. In fact it’s most likely those occasional audience members somewhere in the middle that get the most out of it. 

‘Revelation’ aside however, the idea of Kirk and Khan fighting shoulder to shoulder was certainly an interesting one given the nature of their previous relationship, but as I mentioned earlier, is possibly one that should have remained speculative rather than canonical.

And the mirror doesn’t just end here. Seriously, anyone who hasn’t already, really needs to go and see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Carol Marcus, the radiation chamber, almost half the new film seems to copied and pasted from the old

Although Scotty’s sabotage of Starfleet prototypes and miraculous resurrection stem from Star Trek III, I don’t really want to talk about Kirk’s death, let alone his revival.

And as for Spock’s scream. Really?????

Film Review: ‘Star Trek’, The New Current Old Generation

'Star Trek' was the start of a new chapter in the franchise's history.

‘Star Trek’ was the start of the latest chapter in a substantial history.

Just ahead of next week’s cinema release of Star Trek Into Darkness, last week saw the retail release of the Star Trek video game. Both follow on the tradition of Trek‘s new style, brought to our screens by J.J. Abrams in 2009’s feature film, Star Trek. A film which had the difficult job of pleasing everyone from hardcore addict to complete newbie, but did so remarkably well and is regarded highly by pretty much everyone. I don’t know how fondly Hollywood considers each years top ten most illegally downloaded films, but that’s one list that Star Trek boldly topped.

Wherever they came from, and however they were watching, Abrams had his audience in the palm of his hands right from the start, in possibly the most effective opening of any film I have seen. The distinct atmospheres of the eerie arrival of Nero, the action packed destruction of the Kelvin, and the emotional exchange between a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth and House‘s Jennifer Morrison set the scene for a film in which all three don’t compete, but compliment each other throughout.

And this is where Star Trek stands out, not because it achieved the feat of pleasing multiple audiences, but because of how it achieved it. Utilising multiple ideas simultaneously, which includes a Spock/Uhura love story that doesn’t just fill modern cinema’s need to have one, but which also adds an extra layer to Spock’s conflicting personality.

But more than what happens on-screen, its very nature combines more elements than even Spock’s mixed heritage, and with people describing it as a reboot, prequel, spin-off, etc, it really is all these things and more. So much so, the only word I can ascribe to it is simply an ‘adaptation’. Such a broad term is needed due to the many different ways in which it relates to what came before….

TV -> Film
Like the ten films which precede it, 2009’s Star Trek was a film adaptation of a TV series, 1960’s Star Trek, and later The Next Generation. Where it differs from the original films however, is that it simply takes what was on the small screen, and makes it bigger. Released ten years after the show was cancelled however, The Motion Picture and its successors moved with the times, and changed pretty much everything from the uniforms, even to the ship the crew were serving aboard. Without these changes however, in many ways Star Trek is simply one of a tradition of television adaptations from the recent 21 Jump Street, and Get Smart, that goes through The Dukes of Hazzard and Charlie’s Angels, all the way back to 1991’s The Addams Family and most likely beyond.

Prequel
Taking its inspiration from the series rather than films, the story of Star Trek goes back even further however. Despite spanning a modest twenty-five years, with most of the action taking place in 2258, the first season of The Original Series was set some years later on in ’65. This however, is done for a rather specific reason…

Origin Story
Perhaps not a term that is considered an adaptation as much as it should be (which, to be fair, is any story which isn’t original), Star Trek nevertheless fills this role by showing us exactly how the trio of Kirk, Bones and Spock comes to be. We even see the Enterprise itself being built, and as individual Starfleet officers make their way aboard, we see them become the crew we know and love. Even more than this however, it also shows us James T. Kirk himself being born, and you really can’t get much more of an origin than that. (Without being icky at least.)

Reboot
A rather popular term these days now that Hollywood seems to consider its output dispensable (I know Spider-Man 3 was hardly Peter Parker’s finest hour, but did The Amazing Spider-Man really have to start from scratch?), but which Star Trek is a responsible example. Not just because it was introducing them to a whole new generation, it’s fair to say that it had to show us how the band got together, considering it introduces us to a what is essentially a new band in the first place. It may be the same crew, but one played by fresh faces, each of whom needs the time to shine and prove to audiences why they deserve to fill the shoes they’re filling.

Sequel
Much like the cinema audiences who have been transported back in time, so to has Mr (or even Ambassador) Spock. Last seen on-screen in the two-part The Next Generation story Unification, Spock was living on Romulus trying to forge a peace between the Romulans, and his half-native Vulcan. Not only holding the same title but still dealing with the same aliens, his personal story through the film is one the writers are continuing from where previously established Trek left off.

Not since 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' has a chalk board been so important to science fiction cinema.

Not since ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ has a chalk board been so important to science fiction cinema.

Spin-Off
As anyone who remembers Back to the Future: Part II will tell you however, travelling back in time has consequences. Most often this results in a parallel timeline, something which the Enterprise crew themselves surmise (as much for the audience’s benefit as their own). Leaving the original timeline of William Shatner and his successors to continue intact elsewhere in the multiverse (generally in the paperback section of your local bookshop), this new timeline begins with something of a bang. One that occurs in the centre of the planet Vulcan, Earth’s closest ally, which drastically alters what is to come, from that which we have already seen.

The film even had its own transmedia comic mini-series, Countdown, which bridges the gap from the Next Generation era of the previous film Star Trek Nemesis, but I think you get the picture.

The nature of 2009’s Star Trek as a production mirrors the very nature of Star Trek as a 47 year old institution. A film that continues Gene Roddenberry’s vision that everything from the crew of a spaceship to humanity itself is so much more than the sum of its parts. That as individuals we can join together to solve problems that range from a Romulan invasion, to war, poverty, and disease.

A noble vision that is shared by many throughout a fandom spanning the globe. Although we may be waiting a long time for Roddenberry’s lasting vision to become a reality, at least we don’t have to wait much longer before discovering Abrams’ latest, Into Darkness.