Directed by:J.J. Abrams » Written by: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, 2009 » Region/Time: USA, 127 minutes
Starring: Chris Pine as James T. Kirk » Zachary Quinto as Spock » Leonard Nimoy as Spock » Eric Bana as Nero » Bruce Greenwood as Capt. Christopher Pike » Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy » Zoe Saldana as Uhura » Simon Pegg as Scotty » John Cho as Sulu » Anton Yelchin as Chekov » Ben Cross as Sarek » Winona Ryder as Spock’s mother.
Spock: Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life-forms and new civilizations; to boldly go where no one has gone before.
I will admit upfront that I was never a big fan of the original Star Trek series – I liked my cheesy science fiction in the form of Doctor Who, thank you very much – but as these words ring out at the end of the new Star Trek and the familiar theme music kicks in, it is hard not to walk out of the cinema smiling. Star Trek is, if nothing else, a charming movie. It is inflated with the camaraderie and optimism that pervaded the original series and movies. However, it is a movie enthusiastically made from a terrible script. And did we even need or want a new Star Trek movie in the first place?
I imagine the conversation to have gone something like this:
PARAMOUNT EXECUTIVE A “Damn, Warner Brothers sure did make mint of money out of that Batman Begins—and it looked like that franchise was completely dead.”
PARAMOUNT EXECUTIVE B “Yeah, and they even have The Dark Knight, yet another Batman movie, coming out soon—I’m sure that will make even more money.”
PAR EXEC A “How can we do the same thing? How can we reinvent one of our own franchises?”
PAR EXEC B “Well, we’re not doing much with Star Trek, are we?”
PAR EXEC A “Brilliant! Let’s ask Abrams to do it. Mission:Impossible III came in under budget!”
And so the over-arching point of Star Trek (2009) appears to have been, not to make the best movie possible—or even the best Star Trek movie possible—but to make the best possible reboot of the Star Trek franchise. And I have to concede that Abrams completely succeeded in this respect. I just question whether the reboot was necessary—it certainly adds a lot of baggage to the movie that the general filmgoer could have done without. For example, one of the things I like the most about the new movie is the potential for the next movies. So why not start the film from that point—a couple of throw-away flashbacks or comments and we could have avoided this movie all together.
That aside, the Star Trek franchise is “rebooted” in this movie through a time-travel premise – not all that unusual for Star Trek (see Star Trek IV: The Search for Whales). In fact, it is in trying to squeeze a story around the “reboot” concept that the first holes in the plot appear. Nero, a very angry Romulan, gets sucked back in time through a black hole (which is impossible) and when he arrives in the past kills Kirk’s father (presumably because he is very angry). Thus, Kirk grows up fatherless and, instead of an overachieving, cocky windbag, he is a rebellious, underachieving, cocky windbag who still ends up in Starfleet Academy. This definitely adds interesting elements to the character, and Chris Pine does a fabulous job as this alternate-reality Captain Kirk.
There then follows too many ridiculous coincidences to list whereby the excellent cast all end up on the Enterprise together again, with some doing a spot-on impression (Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy and Simon Pegg as Scotty), some looking like replicas of the originals (Zachary Quinto as Spock) and some subtle reinvention (Zoe Saldana as Uhura). The film is not satisfied with “rebooting” Kirk alone, however, and so the very angry Romulan hangs around doing nothing for 25 years so that he can finally get his revenge at an appropriate point in the movie. You see, because Spock failed to save Nero’s planet from destruction in the “real” future and Nero was forced to watch his planet destroyed, he decides his revenge will take the form of destroying Spock’s homeworld, Vulcan, while Spock watches. Nero, however, neglects to do anything that would force Spock to see this and, instead, it is merely a coincidence that Spock happens to be on the surface of the ice planet, look up and see his home planet destroyed (in fact, while Nero is waiting around for 25 years, perhaps he should have popped by his home planet to warn them of their eminent destruction?).
Coincidences and plot holes like these are the things that spoiled my enjoyment of this movie. Despite that, Star Trek really is a lot of fun and a couple of more passes through the script could have hammered out these flaws. Even the movie itself acknowledges how stupid some of these coincidences are, such as when Old Spock and Kirk meet in one cave on an entire planet:
Spock: James T. Kirk!
Kirk: Excuse me?
Spock (and authors pointing out plot holes): How did you find me?
Kirk (and authors avoiding explanations): Whoa…How do you know my name?
I hesitate to make this final complaint, but it drove me crazy and once I point it out you won’t be able to avoid seeing them: the lens-flares. Lens flare happens when a light is shone directly into a camera lens from just off-shot and was originally considered an unprofessional accident if it was caught on film. That is, until some rebel cinematographers started using it as a deliberate effect to make film seem more natural, usually by pointing the camera at the sun. Star Trek overuses this effect to an insane extent. It is possible that there is not a single shot in the movie without a lens flare. It has even been added to every computer-generated graphic shot and/or model shot of the film. It gets to the point where it is hard to actually see what action is going on in any battle sequences because the light from the lens flares bleaches out the screen every two seconds. This problem is emblematic of the overall film: full of great ideas, but a little less could have improved the final product.
Star Trek is a decent but unfortunately forgettable film—I don’t need to ever see it again. I look forward to the next one, however, especially if Abrams controls the lens flares, which should be fantastic with this crew of actors and universe to explore. This was still a fun time in the theatres, but wouldn’t you rather have seen something new? Even if screenwriters are struggling to come up with original, new, fun science fiction ideas, there are myriad “universes” that have already been created that are still waiting to be explored: Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, Asimov’s Foundation series, Clarke’s Rama series, Vinge’s Deep Space series, McDevitt’s Alex Benedict series, Brin’s Uplift War, Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, Willis’ Oxford Time Travel series, Pohl’s Gateway series, Card’s Ender series, etcetera. Call me, Hollywood!