Star Trek: Film Review

ST09‘This is not your father’s Star Trek,’ proclaimed one of the trailers for the 2009 Star Trek movie.  This counterfactual and somewhat tired statement rubbed some in the Trek community up the wrong way. It’s a specious tagline because actually, this is your fathers Star Trek.

For evidence, just check out this piece of dialog- which could just as easily come from the classic 1966 show as the 2009 movie.

Leonard “Bones” McCoy: Permission to speak freely, sir?
Spock: I welcome it.
Leonard “Bones” McCoy: Do you? OK, then. Are you out of your Vulcan mind? Are you making a logical choice, sending Kirk away? Probably. But, the right one? You know, back home we have a saying: “If you’re gonna ride in the Kentucky Derby, you don’t leave your prize stallion in the stable.”

The 2009 reboot is far closer in terms of spirit to the gaudy, fun sci-fi action format espoused by classic Trek. The task of re-casting archetypal heroes like Kirk, Spock and McCoy must have been daunting. Yet Pine, Quinto and Urban all take to the roles like they were born to them, capturing the essence of the characters without being mere parodies or ciphers. When Spock turns down the offer to study at the Vulcan Science Academy, his ‘Live long and prosper’ put down is a great character moment, but one can’t imagine Nimoy delivering the line in quite that way.

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ILM provided superb special effects for Star Trek 2009

This is the most cinematic of all the Trek movies, from the epic and emotional opening sequence to the action packed finale. Abrams kinetic direction, where he literally bangs on the side of the camera lends a sense of urgency to the film. Incidentally, I like his use of lens flares too because of the sense of immediacy they create. The action sequences are superb, but unlike the recent Star Wars films, its the characters that drive the movie.

From a technical standpoint, the film is excellent – with Scot Chambliss providing superb design work and ILM excelling with strong visuals. Michael Giacchino provides the film with a suitably bombastic score that has echoes of previous Treks. The End Credits sequence superbly reinterprets Alexander Courage’s immortal television theme, providing a highly emotional payoff to the Trek faithful.

The films stroke of genius is to set the movie in an alternate timeline to the previous Star Trek series. This alternate timeline, created by having Nero destroy the USS Kelvin, in no way diminishes the Trek’s that have come before. What is achieves is to free up the writers from the constraints of 40 years worth of mythology. It means that Star Trek can be unpredictable and exciting again. One of the big problems with the cancelled Star Trek: Enterprise prequel was that it had to contend with all the future history that it could not contradict.

The film is not flawless however, for a start, the film’s protagonist is poorly drawn and his motivation seems muddled and unclear. The narrative flow should not have been better structured, without having Nimoy’s Spock provide a convenient expository info-dump midway through the movie. Furthermore, Kirk’s meeting with Spock was far to much of a coincidence and should have been contrived.

For me, the best Star Trek’s are the ones that combine a proper hard Science-Fiction concept with Roddenberry’s humanist values. Star Trek 2009 is primarily an exciting action-movie, but it does chart the emotional journey of Star Trek’s most beloved character – Spock. By the end of the movie, Pine and Quinto emulate the same connection as Kirk and Spock as played by Shatner and Nimoy.

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Kirk and Spock check out the new Apple store…

Trekkers will pointlessly argue over the minutia, arguing that the Enterprise should have been constructed in space and that its warp nacelles are too large. Such arguments are of no consequence the majority of filmgoers and are trivial at best. This Star Trek honors the original series’ legacy by harnessing its best qualities – it’s characters, futuristic setting, ground-breaking effects and action format.

Rating: 8/10

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