‘Star Trek’ (2009) 1000 Word Cinema Review
May 28, 2009 § Leave a comment
Score: 4 out of 5
J. J. Abrams has done an incredible balancing act: he has revitalised a dying franchise, and all without putting too many fans’ noses out of joint. There have been several “re-imaginings” these last few years – Batman Begins and Superman Returns being two obvious examples – but no franchise is so fraught with danger than Star Trek. If you alienate the fans you miss out on the word-of-mouth hype and ticket sales which can help propel a movie into box office success (and expose yourself to a decade’s worth of hate mail); if you don’t also market it towards the Star Trek layperson, well, the film just doesn’t make enough money – it bombs. Abrams has managed to bridge this gap, giving die-hard fans just enough of the old to keep them happy, as well as providing an exciting, funny and accessible movie to Joe Public.
At its basic roots, Star Trek is an “origins” episode stretched over a film’s length. It is essentially a film devoted to how Kirk and co. meet, but it is also there to establish an alternate canon, effectively erasing everything from The Original Series onwards from Trek history.
The way they do this is through (*sigh*) time travel. Don’t get me wrong, time travel can make a great story, but it is all too often used as a lazy writing solution to wrap something up and, at the same time, renders the story vulnerable to an inevitable bevy of plot holes and inconsistencies. Star Trek doesn’t feature the worst of time travel plots, but it is there to clearly serve a purpose: namely, to act as a giant “reset button” for the franchise and to pave the way for future films. If the time travel plot was interesting in itself then this wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but, as it happens, it isn’t.
The time travel plot line – which also acts as an excuse to squeeze Leonard Nimoy into the film – brings along with it a feeling of uncertainty on the part of the filmmakers. Throughout the film it references the old TV series in sound effects and some of the visual design – even going so far as to precisely mimic some of the dialogue in the old films – but, at the same time, it tries to break new ground, tries different things. Star Trek is like a toddler who wants to be independent, wants to break free of its mother’s grip, but also have her close by for security. Or to use another analogy, Abrams is like the beaten housewife who continually apologises for her behavior in front of the husband so she doesn’t get hit (guess who the husband is). Abrams doesn’t need to justify himself to the fans; this was his film and his take on an old and dying franchise which, quite frankly, deserved to die after Enterprise and Nemesis. But what could he do? Stuck between a rock and a hard place, torn between the expectations of the fans and his own vision, Abrams has acquitted himself as best as he can, and despite the jarring way he tries to reconcile the old Trek with the new, the discrepancies aren’t enough to seriously wound the film. They’re just… noticeable.
It’s fortunate that despite the rather shallow story, everything else works so well. The film’s pace is frenetic and doesn’t stops to catch a breath. The beauty of this is that you rarely have time to contemplate the time paradoxes or the lightness of the script because there is so much going on in every scene. It’s Star Trek on steroids, but it works because it’s all so damn entertaining. The action scenes are jaw-dropping in terms of special effects; the introduction sequence alone is a brilliant bit of high-octane filmmaking and sets the pace for the rest of the film.
But it’s also an intelligent film, and this is no more apparent than in the dialogue, which is smartly written, witty and frequently funny. Much of the po-faced seriousness and righteous indignation of the later Treks has been replaced by a more humorous, bouncy gait, which better follows the spirit of The Original Series.
Whoever did the casting also did an impeccable job, as almost everyone in the film manages to fill the boots of their predecessors nicely. There are several standout performances from Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as “Bones” – all three, arguably, playing the most important characters in the film. Despite his lack of screen time, Eric Bana also makes an impression as the ruthless, embittered “bad guy”, Nero. Additionally, Zoe Saldana’s character, Uhura, has more to do in this film then in all the original TV show’s episodes combined, and while she is, undoubtedly, extremely hot, she is also a fairly well-written character and brings much chemistry to the all-guys club of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
Simon Pegg is adequate as “Scotty”, as is Anton Yelchin as Checkov, but both appear as caricatures rather than real people, the problem lying mainly with their accents. Pegg’s “Scottish” accent frequently drops as he goes into “Simon Pegg Mode” and Yelchin’s Russian accent is so ridiculously impenetrable that his performance comes across as parodying the character. Not helping Yelchin is his strange mannerisms, funny walk and nervous chitter-chatter. John Cho as Sulu is just boring, but there’s not much he can do about this – Sulu has always been a rather undeveloped, dull character; making him an expert swordsman doesn’t fix this.
Hopefully the next film – and there will undoubtedly be a next film – will be a more confident work, and with all the backstory out of the way we can move on to something a little more interesting. As a first film, though, Star Trek is still great fun and a thoroughly enjoyable summer blockbuster.