Star Trek delivers


I made it out to see Star Trek on its opening night and it definitely lived up to the hype. Was it the deepest, most moving two hours of Star Trek ever? Did it strictly adhere to time-honored characters and canon? Did it it really feel like a “Star Trek movie” at all? On all of these counts, no – but the point is, it’s a great movie anyway. It’s been a long time since a movie that looked and felt like Trek did it so well, and without all the usual “Star Trek movie” pitfalls. Warning, spoilers below…

I first discovered Star Trek TNG on VHS recordings kept diligently by my dad (who oddly enough, wasn’t a huge fan but somehow knew I’d like it – me being all of 5 years old at the time), then later discovering TOS in late-night re-runs and eventually tuning in to DS9. For the uninitiated, that’s The Next Generation, The Original Series, and Deep Space Nine. I tried but could never really get into Voyager or Enterprise; the characters felt weak, and often the writing so spotty that it just didn’t seem to do Star Trek justice. Like many fans I saw all the movies, liked some better than others, but over the past couple years concluded that Star Trek was pretty much dead. Yet J.J. Abrams has managed the improbable feat of turning things completely around.

This new Star Trek works because it doesn’t try to be another re-unit-everyone-for-a-final-grand-adventure type of movie. It’s a true reboot, with characters and an environment that, while inspired in small ways by its predecessors, is full of fresh ideas and new takes on the crew of the original U.S.S. Enterprise as they deal with a radically altered reality. It’s to Abrams’ credit that he takes this freshness head-on, with tons of action, beautiful production, and actors who all do an outstanding job capturing the essence of their characters without ever feeling like they’re playing the young version of someone else. There are plenty of nods to canon, familiar lines and scenes touching on nostalgia from past (future?) adventures, but it still feels like a clean slate, setting a wide-open stage for more to follow.

If there’s anything I can fault Star Trek with it’s the breakneck speed at which it does all this, possibly at the expense of digging deeper into our beloved character’s souls – something Star Trek at its best has always done remarkably well. For instance I felt more of an emotional tug in the five-minute opening then I ever did from Spock or Kirk, even as Spock’s planet is destroyed, and the brisk pace from battle to battle was a bit unsettling; this is where it’s hard to really look at Star Trek as a sci-fi action movie rather than “a Star Trek”. It’s mostly for this reason I think a lot of longtime fans won’t let this new Trek usurp Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as “the best”. Honestly, I think the new crew could reach this point in the future; it’s just not possible the first time on screen, at least not combined with all the other objectives this movie tackled. However this is a fair trade in exchange for an all-around great film that’s accessible to hardcore fans and newcomers alike, as long as there’s more to follow!

Overall this would have been a great movie even without the mantle of Star Trek on it, but that it was done so well and forged from the rich history of Trek makes it more so. The closest analogy I can think of in recent times would be Casino Royale or Batman Begins, both well-done reboots of troubled franchises in their own right. Certainly Star Trek takes even bigger risks and they pay off wonderfully, despite the vastly more complex history – both in this world, and its own – that it must navigate.

What I liked most:

  • Fresh takes on the characters, as well as the evolution of Starfleet and the Federation.
  • An Enterprise that’s true to the original design yet revamped beautifully (I think the bridge was built by Apple!)
  • Bigger roles and relevance for all the bridge crew outside Kirk, Spock, McCoy.
  • Big, messy space battles – finally, instead of carefully-consider-and-then-fire-one-phaser, we get to snap out of warp guns blazing, ships exploding all around us!
  • Abrupt death – yes this is an odd one, but one thing I love about Abrams’ style is that anyone can die pretty much anytime; there’s no getting mortally wounded yet hanging on just long enough to deliver a final monologue here.
  • Redshirts dying, Chekov’s accent, classic Kirk/Spock/McCoy banter, and all the other little nods that made it “just enough” Trek despite all the changes.
  •  A Star Trek that stands on its own as a great movie, so much that I can see it with my wife and she actually, really, likes it.

A few things I had to grin and bear:

  • Black holes don’t work that way; invent some other name for them rather than dumb down real science for the sake of a familiar phrase (but good job with Red Matter!)
  • Future Romulan mining ships are epically humongous and brimming with weaponry? And they’re filled with ridiculous tiered bridges instead of a “deck”?
  • Spock Jr. can fly a ship he’s never seen well enough to escape, destroy an enemy weapon, and return on a collision course, but Spock Sr. was captured in it?
  • Instant trans-warp transporter capability where distance is no obstacle, thanks to Spock’s memory… convenient.
  • Spock was content to hang out on a frozen planet and watch his world die, despite there being a Federation outpost nearby, but then has a change of heart when Kirk randomly shows up…?
  • Time travel can do anything, and causality is out the window… though by now I’m used to this on a weekly basis thanks to Lost.

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  1. #1 by Christene on May 8, 2009 - 10:16 am

    One thing I noticed in this Star Trek movie that sets it apart from the rest is the humor aspect. There were several comic relief moments from Kirk having his hands swollen to the size of Mickey Mouse’s hands, to Chekov having a difficult time with the voice recognition software (which we all can relate to!). It was funny, witty and really gave you a sense that these characters had a sense of humor, or at least the director did.

    On that note, the director J. J. Abrams has an obsession with time travel. Being a Lost fan, I should have known better going into this movie and to expect such a thing. So my question is [spoiler alert] we have a young Spock living with the old Spock together at the same time? How is that possible? Apparently in the world that J. J. Abrams lives in you can interact and hold conversations with a younger version of yourself and there are no consequences.

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