DIR: J.J. Abrams • WRI: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman • PRO: J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, David Witz • DOP: Daniel Mindel • ED: Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey • DES: Scott Chambliss • CAST: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg
Through work on television and the big screen J.J. Abrams has been touted, whether accurately or not, as a Hollywood golden boy, who can market, produce and direct profitably. The announcement last year that Abrams had been handed the reigns of a new Star Trek movie was met with much caution; his decision to cast a bunch of unknowns in the primary roles and maintain a iron-clad veil of secrecy over plot details had the internet abuzz with speculation. His contention that he wanted to a make a movie for everyone, as much as hard core fans seemed to signal a wind change in the approach to the Star Trek universe. Abrams had felt the force of online criticism previously in 2002, when a script he penned for Superman was leaked and ripped apart by fans and the project never saw the light of day. Abrams work has continually mixed genres: his Superman script proposed a radical overhaul of a 60-year-old legacy. Would he take similar tack with Star Trek? Star Trek might enjoy a huge opening weekend as people satisfy their curiosity but it might however be excised from fans collective memories if it alienated its core audience for the sake of franchise.
The realisation after 127 minutes is that much of what has given Star Trek a legacy has been safe-guarded, perhaps to avoid risk of death at a comic convention. Abrams has treaded softly. The film is firmly a linear, old-school adventure, respectful of Star Trek of old. Space-set action is coupled with moral debate and personal conflicts and in the background are ideas of identity, respect for difference and growth. Familiarity is also created through recognisable names, costumes and finger-stretching greetings. And a familiar story structure is also applied. We are treated to a rite of passage tale for this generation of Starship Enterprise crew. In fact, the movie is so determined to leave us unchallenged, the question has to be asked whether Abrams’ Star Trek is a meek imitation or a worthwhile effort?
Each of the bridge crew receive respectable introductions and screen time, but the movie clearly belongs to Kirk and Spock. The main tension of the movie, with story otherwise in its shadow, is the conflict between the duo and the genesis of their friendship. The crew as familiar from the original TV show come together with startling ease. They may each be novice cadets but they excel at their jobs from the off and slip effortlessly into talking sci-fi nonsense like a seasoned crew.
Any reviewer that bothers to detail the plot is lazily looking to fill a word count as post necessary introductions the story becomes one as simple as any hour-long episode. This isn’t meant to be a strong criticism but could certainly be a ground for contention. So light-weight is the plot that sci-fi fans may be slightly affronted at the introduction of a time-travel element and a very low-brow treatment of the rules of time-travel. But this is Star Trek and at pivotal points the freedom of fiction is used to the max. While the language may be English, the order of the words will only make sense to people queuing in costumes and are especially hard to decipher when relayed through a Scottish accent.
There is a very clear use of set pieces, some necessary to the story, others not so much. The action doesn’t aim for excessive style but is still genuinely thrilling in parts and the look of the movie as a whole is excellent. Technology has been used to great effect to bring new life to Star Trek – it was never an option to not create a blockbuster-quality movie and they have succeeded.
Wide shots are used to great effect to lend scope to the Star Trek universe, which has often been limited by the budget of weekly TV output. Combat with near mute henchmen, monster chases and CGI-generated planets at times echo the weaker parts of the recent King Kong remake and more worryingly the newer Star Wars movies, however the old world charm of Star Trek, so ably maintained in this movie, grounds the film so that we can engage with it.
A huge part of this engagement is down to the almost uniformly excellent cast. Chris Pine does commendable work, playing an all-American Kirk with a broad grin and unrealised talent to match his wit and temper. Zachary Quinto is burdened with the bigger task of portraying such a distinguishable character as Spock and is excellent. The only redeeming element of TV show Heroes, his work here is measured and the weight of expectation never gets in the way of him performing and never impersonating. This review won’t discuss the worst kept secret of the movie’s plot, however an encounter in the final reel, a brave choice to make, highlights the good job Quinto does. Only Simon Pegg seems to be the Achilles heel of this re-casting exercise, his introduction and mannerisms grate badly. Eric Bana as the villain Nero is neither good nor bad. He is middling and caught up in a plot that doesn’t allow the character to ever present a true threat.
This isn’t a Batman Begins clean slate, neither is it an Exorcist: Beginnings or Hannibal: Origins cash-in; the tone, the nods to the past (or future) of these characters are respectful, humorous and still deliver a story accessible to newcomers. As for puritan Trekkies, this writer isn’t qualified enough to state with absolute certainty that they will be satisfied – Trekkies are after all the original demanding fan boy species. However, Star Trek 2009 applies only to be a quality entry in the canon of Star Trek movies and as the screen fades to black some good entertainment has been delivered which shouldn’t leave too many people feeling aggrieved. Oh, and yes, that is Winona Ryder.
(See biog here)
Star Trek is released on 8th May 2009
Star Trek – Official Website