The well-cast recast of the original crew of Star Trek: The Original Series coupled with the enviable creative team who helps bring us Lost each week, coupled with a marketing blitz that leaves recent entries in the dust could make this one not only a hit, but also a great entry into the series. On the other hand, the creative team, including director/ producer J.J. Abrams and his writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (both of whom also produced, along with Jeffrey Chernov, David Witz, Bryan Burk and the honorable Damon Lindelof) have gone on record as saying that they weren't really Star Trek fans. Accordingly, all promotional material almost gleefully displayed the changes to established canon. In short, this could be a great film for fans and newcomers alike... or it could be a great travesty that sacrifices over forty years of Science Fiction History in favor of creating an accessible, profitable picture for the PG-13 popcorn crowd.
Having just watched Star Trek I can tell you that this IS a good movie and it's a lot of fun. It's well acted and directed with an amazing arsenal of special effects. There are moments that this film is absolute CLASSIC Star Trek in the true sense of the word. It's as if the Bad Robot team was truly in touch with Gene Roddenberry's vision. Oft times during Star Trek two-plus hour run time I was thrilled with the prequel qualities and was amazed at how close they came to the established storyline. It seemed that the story could continue straight from this film into the first pilot of the television show, Star Trek: "The Cage"!
Other times, however, Star Trek is just a pop movie meant to sell itself (along with the many product-placement advertised items) to the masses. At times the film strays into the territory of the just plain silly, at times the film feels a lot like similar Star Trek films and at times it seems clear that canonicity takes a back seat to contrivances and action... and, at times, Star Trek borders on, but never crosses over to, the Travesty Quadrant. The lapses in continuity are easily explained away by the idea that the events of this film take place in an "Alternate Reality" brought about due to changes in the timeline. Convenient, no?
Yes, once again Star Trek has delved into Time Travel and once again the good guys must boldly go forward to correct what once went wrong and save the future from a terrible menace. This time there may well be no coming back.
We're immediately brought back to a time not only before the beginning of The Original Series, but way, way back to the beginning. Star Trek kicks off with a spectacular battle and display of incredible bravery and sacrifice against a seemingly insurmountable enemy. This is all surrounding the birth of one James Tiberius Kirk to George and Winona Kirk (Chris Hemsworth and Jennifer Morrison, respectively).
Years later, a brash and reckless Jim Kirk (now played by Chris Pine, as much like Shatner as I am to Abe Lincoln) is a scrapping young Iowa Farm boy more interested in fast cars, hot women and fist fights than duty, honor and loyalty. That is until he meets the USS Enterprise's first Captain Christopher Pike (well played by Bruce Greenwood). Soon Kirk, while no less arrogant or virile, is joining Starfleet Academy along side such cadets as sexy young Nyota Uhura (the inter-galactically hot Zoe Saldana) and a cool and opinionated Country Doctor named Leonard H. McCoy (perfectly cast Karl Urban).
Meanwhile we learn a good deal about a young Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the conflicts caused by his mixed human/ Vulcan lineage. His human side is represented by his mother Amanda (Winona Ryder), while his Vulcan side is all around him on his home planet, primarily in the form of his stoic father Sarek (Ben Cross).
Amid the studies, Kobayashi Maru reprogrammings and Kirk's dalliance with an incredibly hot Orion chick named Gaila (yummy Rachel Nichols) a new and terrifying menace arises that threatens to destroy the entire United Federation of Planets! Most frighteningly, this enemy is not only from Kirk's own short past, but also from a nightmarish future of the Star Trek universe.
Yes, we're talking about the Romulans, unlike any Romulans we've seen before. This renegade faction is led by an angry, tattooed captain named Nero (Eric Bana). He's out to not only break the Federation, but also punish the Spock of his own day (as played by a very welcome Leonard Nimoy)!
Luckily the Federation can still count on its Flagship, the Enterprise, its intrepid Captain Pike, logical First Officer Spock and skilled crew, now staffed with some familiar cadets. Naturally they're going to need a Helmsman named Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and a tactical officer named Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) to round out the crew. But something's still missing... could it be... Scotty? Well we get him too as played by the excellent Simon Pegg!
What follows is an eye-popping and entrancing Outer Space Adventure with thrills, chills and derring-do. There are some thrilling twists, big surprises and even a space battle that makes Wolf 359 seem like a few rounds of BATTLESHIP by Milton Bradley!
Let me tell you, it's exciting and fun. Quite often I found myself elated over the accuracy and perfect characterizations that came to life on that screen. There were times that Quinto looked so much like a young Nimoy it was almost eerie. Saldana likewise was believable as Uhura and was beautiful as well. Greenwood does an amazing job of expanding the role of Pike (who's character appeared in only two episodes of the original series). Ryder and Cross do justice to their predecessors' work without simply aping the other actors and even Pine is good at interpreting the role of Kirk... not much like Shatner, but believable enough as a younger version of the Captain we come to know so well later on. It's Karl Urban who does the most amazing and accurate job of capturing his character's four decades of history while adding his own original interpretations. Much more than Quinto, the voice of De Kelley is perfectly captured by Karl Urban. He looks the part and he sounds the part.
These are just examples of the attention to detail that was paid to the creation of this film. Sadly, somewhere around the mid-point the movie collapses under its own weight and becomes a structurally flawed and twisted story that relies far too much on the conceit that "Time Travel Changed the Past". In many ways Star Trek is not a prequel at all, as the events of this film are in direct contrast to what we see later in the series. In this way this "Star Trek XI" is more of a sequel to the life of Spock, showing his travel into another dimension similar to, but distinct from his own past.
More than this, however, even accepting this conceit, about midway through the film the characters become inconsistent and engage in some remarkably uncharacteristic actions that, quite simply, don't add up. Further, the events of the second half exist as checklist items that don't really flow nearly as well as the narrative did at the beginning. Far too commonly, plot points are unexplained, conveniences are relied upon to keep the story going and a decided "because we said so" logic is employed by the producers.
This is too bad, because Star Trek starts out great. To be fair, even in the second half the film is a lot of fun and worthwhile to watch. The special effects (from a series of noteworthy companies, including ILM) are almost complete eye candy, frame by frame. The musical score by Michael Giacchino is appropriately orchestral and expansive, capturing the mood and feel of this cerebral adventure. All the while Giacchino utilizes the original Alexander Courage Star Trek theme. This, coupled with the Sound Design of one Ben Burtt makes for an incredible audio experience.
This (semi-)Prequel does suffer from some of the same design issues as Star Trek Enterprise. The technology and sets look far more modern than those of The Original Series. However, this time out the creators did take more pains to include certain elements from the old program worked into the sets and effects here and there. It still doesn't quite fit (especially that re-designed Nacelle) but it does work.
Star Trek also features one of the best casts of the year. In addition to fantastic re-casting of these familiar characters with some of the most accurately chosen actors out there, the supporting and cameo cast is great. Look and listen to find appearances by Clifton Collins, Jr., Faran Tahir, Oz Perkins, Greg Ellis, Spencer Daniels, Chris Doohan, Deep Roy, Paul McGillion, Doria Baird and even Tyler Perry. I'm happy to report that the Enterprise Computer's voice is once again played by the recently deceased Majel Barrett-Roddenberry!
As good as Star Trek is, and it is, it's hard not to think about how much better it could have been. The time travel can be mind-bending and illogical, causing an ironically illogical story, the events are altered so greatly that there can really be no going back to canon (so much for "whatever happened, happened" and the one trick of "Changing the Past" is relied on far too much to explain the holes in the script and continuity. Still, for its many, many good qualities, this one is a keeper, maybe not perfect, but 2009's Star Trek has got the power to beam up Four Stars out of Five! I like it. In parts, I actually love it... but I just bought Star Trek: The Original Series Season 1 on Blu-Ray. Even with all the remastering and new special effects, they didn't change the look of the Enterprise. I'll probably watch this bigger, faster and probably more profitable Star Trek several more times in the theatre... but the original... that one is, if you'll excuse me... timeless.
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