Review: Star Trek (2009)

Nearly six years ago I said that Star Trek was dead and we should just move on. I have moved on to shows like Firefly and the re-imaging of Battlestar Galactica. I still have yet to see Star Trek: Nemesis, released in 2002 and probably never will watch it.

The funny thing about Star Trek though is when you think it is dead it is resurrected. It is understandable why the attempt is made: it has proven to be a huge moneymaker for Paramount, which bought Desilu Studios that produced the original series, and is now just a division of Viacom. Millions of Trekkers have not exactly disappeared, just sort of were burned out. What was needed was something to make us care about Star Trek again. What was needed, frankly, was a clean divorce from Rick Berman, who reinvented Star Trek in the 1980s and who shaped its many reincarnations. In this latest Star Trek movie released this weekend, labeled simply Star Trek, we have director J.J. Abrams to inject the brand of testosterone that was sorely needed in the franchise. His idea was to take us back to the beginning. Just how exactly did James T. Kirk become a starship captain anyhow? How did he meet Bones, Spock, Scotty, Uhura and the rest of the gang?

To make it work Abrams had to do a bit of reimagining himself. It is not cool to mess with the Star Trek canon. Granted there have been gaping holes in the canon before but messing with some things will not do. To make Star Trek exciting though a reimagining was necessary, so Abrams essentially created a hole in the space-time continuum so that two versions can now peacefully coexist. Yes, this is all for the good. I won’t give away too many plot points, but let’s just say that in this newest version Kirk’s predecessor, Captain Christopher Pike doesn’t end up a vegetable in care of The Talosians.

Instead, this version of Star Trek is what the 1960s version probably should have been if the budgets had been much larger and much better special effects had been available. Everyone and everything about the original series is improved by many orders of magnitude. If you go back and see the original series, many of the ancillary characters were more stereotypes than people. Scotty, Uhura, Chekov and Sulu showed up in most episodes but we learned little about them. In this movie, Abrams fleshes many of them out rather substantially, particularly Uhura (Zoe Saldana). I never gave a damn about them in the original show, but based on this movie I want to know a whole lot more, especially about Lieutenant Uhura.

For a Trekker, this movie is a great gift: tremendously fun and entertaining, gloriously well acted, and full of tension, adventure and romance. Frankly, all the principle characters are far more interesting and engaging than they were in the TV series. Leonard Nimoy has a small (and necessary) role in this movie but thankfully, none of the other stars from the original series appear. I am so grateful that William Shatner was in no way associated with this movie. Chris Pine, who plays James Tiberius Kirk as a young adult, portrays all of Kirk’s cockiness without Shatner’s dreadful overacting. Pine is terrific and brilliantly cast, but so are all the other principle characters. I never was a Dr. McCoy fan, but casting Karl Urban (he played Eomer in The Lord of the Rings movies) as Bones was brilliant. Zachary Quinto would be an unlikely choice for Mr. Spock but frankly, he outdoes Leonard Nimoy, who was by far the best actor from the original series.

We saw the movie in IMAX. For those of you wondering if you should spend the extra money: save it. The camera is always in motion, which means that in IMAX the film is mostly blurry, but on a much bigger screen. The bigger screen also makes it harder to follow. Moreover, our IMAX theater figures that to get the total IMAX experience you have to hear it at ear piercing volumes. My ears will take a few more days to recover and hopefully I sustained no permanent damage. There is no lack of action in this incarnation so hold on to your armrests for it is going to be a wild ride.

I remember feeling the odd man out when I went with my family to see the Harry Potter movies. They were okay, but nothing special, but then I did not know all the characters. So I wonder how much of this movie will be appreciated by those who are not Trekkers. It feels more like a work for its fan base than for the Star Trek neophyte. Even for a Trekker who understands the long back story, it can be challenging to follow the plot points.

The movie also strains credulity because it brings together many of the characters (including Kirk, Bones, Uhura and Captain Christopher Pike) before Kirk even decides to join Starfleet. I am not sure what they are all doing out there in rural Iowa, but someone picked Iowa as a place to build starships, but not in a hanger, mind you. Bringing them together in Iowa though does tickle Star Trek’s enormous fan base. It is fun watching Kirk try to proposition Uhura, or to be caught while he is trying to bed her roommate. Other plot points make little sense. For reasons I won’t get into Kirk ends up on a very cold planet where he encounters, of all people, the elder Mr. Spock, who lives in exile but is not too far from a Starfleet outpost where we find a young engineer named Montgomery Scott. I also decided that I want to be a Romulan because they age very well. Eric Bana plays a Romulan named Nero who looks exactly the same age although twenty-five years have elapsed. Perhaps it is because of all that time inside his starship meant he did not have to worry about ultraviolet radiation.

Even if you are not vested in the Star Trek universe, you will still have a great time, but you may feel like someone watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show and wondering why the audience is acting out certain scenes. Just why is it so important that Spock and Kirk to have such a deep friendship anyhow? Is there anyone in the first world who has really managed to tune out Star Trek? It seems hard to imagine. Regardless, even if you have little affection for the original series or are just a casual Trekker, you will kick yourself if you miss this latest incarnation. It looks like preproduction is already underway for a sequel.

Of all the myriad Star Trek movies over the years, including some of the best ones like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, this one sails well above all of them. Prepare to be engaged and to have a stellar good time. Memo to the producers: please rush the sequel.

3.5 on my 4.0 scale.

3 thoughts on “Review: Star Trek (2009)

  1. I absolutely loved all the characters except for the new Spock — i liked the original stoic version more than the new condescending version

  2. I never considered myself a Trekkie, but more or less a casual viewer of the original series and as a kid had the occasional Star Trek toy in my room. My knowledge of the complex world of Star Trek is basic at best, but enough to not get lost. This movie appealed to me in every way possible and can’t wait to see it again.

    As soon as Nimoy appeared, everyone in the theater gave him a round of applause out of respect. As you mentioned, his appearance alone was enough, but yet did not overshadow the newer cast members. I also thought Zachary Quinto did a remarkable job as Spock.

    While we did get a more-in depth and somewhat even proverbial glimpse of the characters in this film, Uhura still remains a mystery to me and always will.

    An interesting tidbit I just learned was that Jack Lord was considered for the role of Kirk, but turned down by Roddenberry.

    Excellent review and great blog.

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