Star Trek (2009)

Way back in 2009 I was asked to go review Star Trek. Only problem was the review would be live on air, on national radio and I had about twenty minutes between the end credits starting and my segment, which was mostly spent trying to get to the BBC studio instead of absorbing the film. Since I didn’t get a chance to properly absorb what I’d just seen into a ten minute segment, I wrote this. Then lost it when I accidentally deleted the whole blog. But thanks to John Eaves, who reposted, I found it again! So here it is! And I’m not even checking for typo’s!

When I first found out about this film I didn’t know if I’d be excited or not. Star Trek has become a pop culture icon and grown way beyond it’s cult status in the 60’s.

Since it first aired back in 1966 Star Trek has launched a successful movie franchise and given birth to four spin off series with each one of them giving the nod to their origins, my favourite being the crew of Deep Space Nine traveling back and inserting themselves into one of the classic episodes, interacting with a young William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in a 30th anniversary special. Beyond TV and movies it’s generated billions on merchandise, grown a following bigger than anyone realises and inspired people to do incredible things with their lives. Don’t believe me? Google the name Dr Mae Jemison.

The last two spin offs, Voyager and the prequel Enterprise failed to impress most fans and casual viewers. They seemed lacking in something special, the humour was off, the stories rehashed and bland. Now, however, things are a little different…

JJ Abrams revival Star Trek movie received rave reviews all round and when I got an email asking me if I’d be interested in reviewing the film for BBC Radio Scotland’s movie cafe, well, it was the quickest I’ve ever said yes to anything. The hype for the film was unbelievable and being a fan I was just as excited as anyone. Where there’s hype there is often disappointment. But the more I learned the more anxious I was to see the reinvention of this sci fi classic. With Robert Ocri and Alex Kurtzman writing and JJ Abrams directing my high hopes were met with a wonderful film that had me in awe.

If you heard me on the radio I had twenty minutes between leaving the cinema and going on air and I was still stunned. There was so much to say and so little time to say it Needless to say – this movie lived up to the hype.

Lets get the geek stuff out of the way first…

Years ago my father told me that the Motion Picture hooked him as the scale inside the Enterprise opened his eyes to how huge and technical a beat it was. Dad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! I was apprehensive when I heard about that part of the ship being filmed on location but seeing it on screen was amazing. In harsh contrast to the small, safe environment of Next Generation or previous movies the film opens up the whole hull as one giant industrial area that you could see Richard O’Brian running around in whilst playing a harmonica. It took away some fantasy technology of the Enterprise and replaced it with something real and believable.

The shuttle bay visual was also some stunning CGI work, with the geeky twist of the shuttles mirroring the 60’s version, and the interiors were just as industrial looking as the Engineering hull which was superb. Above all that though we have the bridge, in an unfamilier place but seemingly with much easier access than before. The ‘Apple Store’ brightness of that set, and everything in the saucer, was a harsh contrast but also very nicely put together giving a nu-retro feel to the whole thing. Some of the superfans looking to hate the movie can’t quite grasp it’s new look but it successfuly brings a whole new image to the Enterprise finally taking it’s design into the 23rd century! And I have to say it looks far more stunning and functional on screen than in the released photos.

In the bigger picture the Enterprise looked amazing. While other ships seen just seemed to be patched together and a little ‘off’, the Big E looked spectacular from all angles. Ryan Church has done some wonderful work keeping it’s design elements and giving it a modern, yet retro, feel. Then we have the effect. Warp was how it should be. Zap! and she’s gone. Then just like that she appears out of nowhere into the middle of all the weckage Nero caused when she catches up with the fleet that went off to save Vulcan.

The new-look transporter beam was also stunning to see, as was every CGI element on screen from the touch screen panels around the bridge to the destruction of Vulcan itself which showed up in the trailers, shocking the fans.

The destruction of Vulcan is one of the key elements in the film and how this new continuity differs from the original. There have been concerns from both the angry fans and even the ones who didn’t care about scrapping Trek as we knew it but this wasn’t like Batman Begins. There was no comic book style retelling or re-imagining. They went out of their way to point out that this film was a parallel universe as much as it was the creation story of the infamous crew. It wasn’t as if they wiped the slate clean without mention of the old time line, key members of the crew pointed out the new line with Uhura even saying outright it was an alternate universe. But the best moment of it all was when Spock Prime told Kirk about the changes. In a very key moment to Kirk he asks if the other Jim Kirk, the man we’ve all seen for forty plus years, knew his father which took the idea of the alternate reality out of science fiction and very briefly into the heart of the movie.

That heart of the movie is James T Kirk taking his first few steps to being a legend.

The Kirk we’ve seen before was inspired to join Starfleet by his father George. In this film, however, George Kirk dies in the tremendous opening sequence. Standing in for his captain, George Kirk fights against the villain Nero losing his life in the line of duty to save his newborn son. Without a father figure in his life to inspire young Jimmy T, he goes off the rails until Captain Pike shows up to put him on the right path. With Pikes support Kirk starts to move his life in the right direction and the world of Star Trek starts to come together.

More importantly Pine didn’t Parody Shatner or try to mimic him too much. There was the odd moment of the old Kirk in there, a cheesy grin, slouching in the big chair, but Pine made the role his own and did a tremendous job.

I was genuinely shocked by Pines performance in the role. I hadn’t seen him in anything before and I couldn’t really find anything with significance of him when I learned he was taking the lead role. But he was perfect for this less matured, arrogant and rebellious young man. He played it all perfectly and better yet, the writing worked really well to show how Kirk’s impulsive personality would ensure that despite it being an alternate reality, he’d still find his place as a legend.

Zachary Quinto, best known as Heroes villain Sylar, played a stiff and conflicted Spock that had great chemistry against Pine’s version of Kirk. Already we can see that this Spock might accept his feelings more easily and get a little background on why he wanted to purge his human side. There are even a few fun moments where you can almost see Sylar peek through in the performance, particularly near the end after he’s learned to work with Kirk.

The supporting cast were equally as brilliant. Simon Pegg speaks Scottish slang better than I do and brought a lot of humour into the role of Scotty which was one of the elements which was missing of too low key in some previous films while Karl Urban… well, as soon as you see his first scene as Leonard McCoy he just takes the role and runs with it. The rest of the crew all have their moments in the film. Sulu and Chekov fill out their roles more than ever before whilst Uhura comes with a surprise or two behind that gorgeous smile. Then of course we have Leonard Nimoy reprising his role as Spock from the future who is justas superb as he’s always been.

Eric Bana’s portrayal of Nero was outstanding. You could see the hatred in his eyes and his will to kill everything, and his back story, while not just, is certainly a strong point for his character. His brief interaction with Bruce Greenwood’s Captain Pike was nice to see, going from a laugh from the audience at first to being a big evil bastard just as he was when he first shows up in the film.

The story itself didn’t seem too far off any previous Star Trek film. It looked and felt different, but at it’s core it was an adventure based around Trek and the pace of the film helpd portray the fact it was a crew under threat. It’s amazing what a big budget and running down some corridors can do. The writers made some brave choices, the boldest of which was killing off Vulcan and showing there was a new path to be followed, but those choices refreshed and updated a franchise dying from a concept worn out by Voyager and Enterprise, as well as the last two motion pictures. In this film we see the crew utilising their talents to come together and trust one another and if this is a success, which it’s likely to be, sets the stage for more.

While preserving and respecting what came before it, even a few nods and secret handshakes to the fans and lines drawn from pop culture that everyone can smirk at, JJ Abrams has succeeded in making the first truly widely appealing Star Trek movie. If you know whats came before it you’ll get a few extra laughs, if you’re a newbie to Trek this is a perfect introduction.

For all the worry and concern that this would be to Star Trek what Phantom Menace was to Star Wars, seeing it on the big screen would set fans minds at ease. What we have is a roller coaster ride, a blockbuster film based around the original Star Trek concept with action, adventure, comedy and most importantly heart.

This film has injected new life into the franchise and I look forward to seeing the crew boldly go… into a sequel.

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