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Star Trek (2009) May 6, 2009

Posted by gproject in : Cinema, Recently Viewed , trackback

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Boldly going where ten movies have gone before, J.J. Abrams steps up to bring the legendary Star Trek franchise back to the big screen - for the first time - again.  That working titles for this project included both ‘Star Trek XI’ and ‘Star Trek Zero’, prove that this daring reboot will never be able to shake off the ties of its original creation, no matter how hard it tries.  And it tries pretty hard.  Abrams is a defining factor in this effort, bringing with him a modern sensibility, a taste for action-heavy plotting, and most of all, a budget.  It’s amazing how $150 million can help you glide through even the final frontier without so much as breaking a sweat.

The film takes us right back to the very start, as brave commander George Kirk becomes captain of a Federation starship in the fleeting minutes before he must sacrifice his own life to save his crew.  Among that crew is his pregnant wife, who is busy giving birth to their son as George makes his last, fatal stand.  And it is in the shadow of this that James T. Kirk grows up; fatherless but still a skilled academic, Kirk finds himself without direction or purpose.  That is until a Federation captain recognises his name and convinces him to sign up for Starfleet.  It is here at the Academy where he meets a gifted Vulcan named Spock, also a societal outcast due to his half-human heritage.  The two initially lock horns, but end up working together when assigned to the prestigious Starship Enterprise – a partnership that Kirk discovers will be crucial to his future existence.

If there’s one easy way of summing up how this 21st Century Trek outing differs from its original material, then its with a marketing bracket.  This movie has ’summer blockbuster’ written all over it, and while the original release was supposed to be last Christmas, the delay has only helped shift the film into a more natural stomping ground.  X-Men Origins: Wolverine may well have pipped it to the post as the first big budget, marketing-friendly action flick of the cinematic summer ‘09, but Star Trek is likely to put that dog down in the race for sheer spectacle.  Right from the off there are space battles, explosions, and a frantic energy that’s both tiring to keep up with and impossible to tear yourself away from.

In a carry over from Abrams’ last cinematic effort, Mission: Impossible III, the film then moves at a running pace throughout with barely a pause for breath.  Just like the over-stretched marathon athlete, though, when it does inhale, the breaths are too important to waste.  So we end up with sequences that come packed with exposition, merely because there are no other places to impart this information.  One scene towards the mid-point which stops to explain Spock’s future is a particularly over-stuffed diatribe and plot hungry in a way that doesn’t fit the general flow.  The fact that this plethora of origin material finds a place in the movie at all is both a credit to, and a criticism of, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers [review], M:I-3), who pull their usual trick of crow-barring in the details so that everything makes sense, even at the expense of sounding desperately over-explanatory.

The knowledge that we know where things are going, at least in this opening instalment, means the film often plays to a formula, establishing rivalries and relationships that will pay off during the final assembly of the well known Enterprise crew.  Even with this hindrance, it handles the inception stories well, giving its main characters the necessary background to establish their traits as well as their future destiny.  Trek fans will be pleased to see their beloved history treated with, if not exactly slavish reverence, at least enough respect to maintain that overarching friendly optimism present in Star Trek’s folklore - a brooding Batman Begins styled reboot, this is not.  Meanwhile, those who have no interest in the Trek universe can still munch popcorn and enjoy two hours and six minutes of blistering summer fun.

This is where Abrams comes into his own.  The action scenes are plentiful and regularly spectacular.  From an exciting and extremely well put together pre-credits sequence, through the slightly pompous title card, and on to the numerous shoot-outs and imploding planets of the following two hours, everything is expertly constructed and shot for eye-popping visual effect.  Even some potentially redundant young-Kirk material is saved by smart music-led editing that helps establish the hell-raising focus of this new character incarnation.  On the less positive side, J.J. still has the tendency to shoot dialogue scenes uncomfortably tight at times, and if you’re planning on visiting a starship at any point might I advise you bring some sunglasses, as the countless lens flares on display in this film suggest you’ll need them. 

On the casting front, this new generation of talent have a lot to live up to.  Chris Pine takes James T. Kirk and plays him to suit the modern, bar-brawling rebel that only a reboot affords, while Zachary Quinto has the much more difficult job of stepping into the iconic shoes of Spock.  Half fallible human, half logical Vulcan, Qunito handles the role impeccably, standing out as a worthy successor (or is that predecessor?) to Leonard Nemoy.  Then there’s Zoe Saldana playing a fine but slightly underused Uhura, and Karl Urban having a great time as Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy.  With the rest of the cast you can play ’spot the actor’: Simon Pegg in a reduced role as Scotty, Eric Bana playing the misguided evil Nero, John Cho sitting aboard the bridge as Sulu, and is that really Charlie Bartlett’s Anton Yelchin [review] playing a Russian-accented Pavel Chekov?

For all its history and legions of devoted followers, this new era of Star Trek marks its path as big budget, action-oriented fun.  It is not deep or introspective, nor does it ponder any of its larger themes.  Like the drinking habits of its new captain, it isn’t served with a twist, but demands to be taken straight up.  None of this should be held against it, but nor should it act as a buffer for the film’s faults.  It is undoubtedly a “wow” picture, and one which will have its immediate praises sung by fans and critics alike.  As the lens flares clear from your mind, however, it is notable how many of the standard action movie traps the film falls into.  It frequently defies logic for the sake of plot, it loses grasp of character development in the second half, and, for some, what is removed by not making a serious and intellectually considerate Star Trek piece cannot be made up for with explosions alone.  But there are more grounded determiners at work here; like summer audiences, and Abrams reputation, and that $150 million.  Understand that, and you’ll understand why this is an excellent starting block for a franchise that Paramount hopes will live long, and prosper.

Star Trek is in cinemas worldwide from May 8th.


1. John Hodson - May 7, 2009

The 11-year-old inside me (no jokes please…) *really* wants to like this.

2. Paul B - May 8, 2009

The 11 year old inside me (and the 35 year old on the outside) saw it last night and loved it :)

3. Gandi Mohindre - May 9, 2009

I fell asleep. Several times, as my neighbor kept waking me up due to snoring.

4. gproject - May 9, 2009

Thanks for the comments, everyone. If anything, I think it would be the 11-year-old who would most engage this new Star Trek – it’s all attention grabbing action, with very little ‘boring’ ponderous afterthought.

I’m still not convinced by the 5-star reviews in the likes of The Mail and The Guardian (it seems they can agree when it comes to intergalactic adventure). The villain is too weak and the story too inconsequential to be classed as a truly great film. But for summer cinematic fun, you can’t go far wrong.

Gandi – you must have been tired going in, as this movie is anything but sleep-inducing!

5. badblokebob - May 10, 2009

I’d forgotten this was originally scheduled for Christmas! What’s the betting whoever decides these things thought, “Star Trek? Bit talky. That’ll be Christmas then,” before actually seeing it and having a quick change of mind.

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