Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci & Alex Kertzman
Running time: 127 Minutes
“I like this ship! You know? It's exciting!”
An alien walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?" Trust me. When you see the movie, it's very funny.
Paramount Pictures, not wanting to let a good cash-cow go to waste, has commissioned yet another foray into the universe created by Gene Roddenberry. What perplexed me is that it's a film based not on the “Next Generation” and its sister series, all of which are preferred by a large amount of modern Trek fans, but based, instead, on the Original Series, which was oft derided, frequently unfairly, for its cheesy sets, silly plots, and acting of Shatnerian proportions.
The film begins in space, that final frontier, where the Starship Kelvin has encountered a temporal anomaly. Before you can say “opening credits” an intimidatingly designed ship emerges from the anomaly. This ship is incredibly massive, totally black, and all of its protrusions end in lethal looking spikes. Is it dangerous? Well if the above description wasn't a hint, maybe the accompanying ominous music and the fact that it immediately attacks our lone starship will clue you in. We quickly learn that the ship is from the future, crewed by Romulans, and captained by a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana), who is carrying a big grudge for a famous Vulcan named Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Needless to say, Nero's appearance in the past has drastic repercussions on the life of one James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), whose father is stationed on the Starship Kelvin (but not be for long), which brings into question if he can even be part of Starfleet as well as become the legendary starship captain of yore. Nero's appearance and actions also change the life of a half human/half-Vulcan by the name of Spock (Zachary Quinto). While Nero bides his time over the next several years awaiting the arrival of his most hated foe, and finally exact his revenge, the film explores the lives of our favorite Starship Enterprise crew and reveals how this happy band of immortal characters will come together to become the legends of both Starfleet as well as film and television.
I'm not a particular fan of J.J. Abrams. This has nothing to do with his work, it's simply that I haven't had the time to watch much that he's involved in, and while I know that he is very famous in the industry, fame does not a good Star Trek film make. As I understand it, he signed on to this project not a major fan. This isn't the first time this has happened. “Star Trek II” Producer, Harve Bennett and director, Nicholas Meyer, were brought into the Star Trek fold having not watched the show either. But they clearly came across as ones who studied and came to Respect the Trek.
Abrams, on the other hand, came out with offhand comments of “This is not your father's Star Trek.” or “...not for Trekkies.” As a result, by saying these things and by using the word Trekkies, a term originally coined to deride Star Trek fans, he showed an amazing lack of respect towards those who kept the franchise alive for all those years. I just wasn't getting that respect vibe.
So, based on the above comments, was I looking forward to seeing this new Trek film? Beep once for “yes” and twice for “no”.
Sometimes, I love being proved wrong. This is an incredibly fun and infectious film that, thankfully, is respectful to Star Trek. And to my great joy and surprise, although the action is well done and at times emotionally moving , it's not the action that makes this film so good. No, the strongest aspect of the film is its characterization. From the travails of a young Spock dealing with the prejudicial abuse of his peers and Vulcan society, to Pine's Kirk, who is wonderfully and brashly charming, this movie is chock full of entertaining character moments. Indeed, there is only one scene that I can think of where I would run out for popcorn.
And while I usually become less than enthused about reboots, in this reboot, the film does something unexpected by toying with the ultimate dream of fan boys and legitimate historians by utilizing the “What-if Scenario”. By playing “what-if”, the filmmakers have given themselves the ability to move beyond what has been established by changing the historical circumstances of the Trek universe and not put themselves in the position of poo-pooing what has been done before. This frees them up to create a new series of adventures while at the same time respecting the past (of the future). This is a Star Trek that asks, “What would have happened to Kirk and the gang if their history had hit a fork in the road, and instead of turning right, it turned left?”
Concerning characters, most of the press has been covering Zachary Quinto's Spock. Already famous for playing Sylar on “Heroes” and personally approved and introduced at ComicCon by uber-Vulcan, Leonard Nimoy, Quinto did have a heavy task at hand. Feel sorry for any actor that takes on a role that was created and defined by another actor, especially when that original actor happens to be in the film. To pull off a satisfying performance is a nigh impossible task, but in his performance, Quinto is more than up to the challenge. He creates a Spock that is steeped in the inner conflict of trying to live down his human half without projecting an ounce of disingenuous imitation. All of his actions, statements, and, yes, emotional reactions are very real and Quinto comes out from under the shadow of Nimoy's Spock even while sharing the role with him.
But as good as Quinto is, Chris Pine's Kirk comes off as even better. Pine, in crafting his Kirk, had to accomplish more than just being a better actor than William Shatner was. Pine's Kirk masterfully captures all of the major character aspects that Kirk embodies. He's bold, completely confident in himself, brash, woman obsessed, but always focused on the mission. Not for a second does Pine come across as one who could not be the leader to those around him and I loved watching every minute of his performance.
It was also a pleasure to see that Abrams took great care in the casting, and that Carl Urban's McCoy probably achieved the most accurate portrayal of DeForest Kelley's original McCoy, while, again, not being an imitation. If there was any problems with the character, it's that he was saddled by having to utter the necessary McCoyisms. Though they are amusing, the fact that Urban was required to say, “Are you out of you're Vulcan mind?” as well as the other well known exclamations, pulled his character out of being a real person and pulled me out of the film as I mentally checked off each phrase.
With the role that Uhura was given in this film combined with the wonderful acting of Zoe Saldana, the film created an Uhura who was actually a very relevant character. And though her role creates one of the most surprising developments in the film, it was also one of the most enjoyable. I must admit that I actually liked this Uhura better than the original.
While there are some lovely nods to Sulu's history from the show, and John Cho does get to show his action chops, sadly, the character is fairly bland. Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is mostly there to get some yuks from not being able to pronounce the letter “V”, an old joke in Trek. Simon Pegg's Scotty is the best of the minor characters, and the only reason I could think of that would make me want to see the film going in. Overall, however, they all come off well but not incredibly memorable or essential.
And what can be said of Eric Bana's Romulan villain, Nero, except that he looks intimidating, but ultimately, none too impressive. Though his performance does give the impression that he could have been a good villain, sadly, the way his character is written leads to his ultimate undoing as any kind of interesting threat. The fact that Nero has deeply changed the lives of Kirk and Spock should have led the screenwriters to mine vast amounts of potential conflict. Bana is given a moment to rant about why he's mad but that's about it. And his “I'm a simple worker who loved his wife and wants revenge for her unfortunate death” not only seems Court TV but brings a new low to Blue Collar vengeance. The rest of the time, he exists to create events that move the plot, and the film suffers.
The film also suffers from a less than impressive set design. Though there was design, what they did not create was the sense that the Enterprise was almost another member of the cast. This was something that was always a focus in Classic Trek. The ship was not just a machine, but, like a classic car, was something that was valued and loved, especially with Kirk and Scott. But like the sterile and bland interiors that were from the Motion Picture, this new Enterprise, for the most part, comes across with the same lack of warmth. The bridge of the Enterprise does almost feel like the world's whitest and brightest Apple store, with components that look to be extremely breakable. The ship's engineering section looks like a large sewage plant and nothing like the high tech locus that powers the ship. There are some impressive touches, most notably the bridge's forward view screen being an actual window, but some of the lapses cannot be forgiven.
But who cares? This is a breezy film, so joyously taking the audience from one set piece to another, that I'm willing to forgive its shortcomings. I don't know how it happened, but the end result is that the respect is there. And that's what the success of this Trek film ultimately stems from. It respects the universe. It respects the characters. And finally, it respects the fans. This film nails what I find to be one of the most important aspects of the original Star Trek, and that's the characters; specifically the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. And when I see that respect is there and honestly intended, I am willing to forgive and overlook much.
As for myself, I will be taking multiple treks.