Paramount, 2009
Miscellaneous review
Star Trek
Definite "Star Trek" feel. Better acting than any prior Star Trek movie. Impressive score manages to mostly avoid standing on the shoulders of its forebears
Definite "Star Trek" feel. Storyline is nothing impressive.
Definite "Star Trek" feel. Trekkies. Scotty's pet ewok. Camerawork.
5


Note that this review may contain spoilers although I don't think there's anything material

Star Trek, marking Trek's return after a substantial hiatus (for Trek), is an eminently recommendable, very fun movie. It is not perfect, but it's something you'd want to watch, probably even if you'd never even heard the phrase "star trek" before. It's neither an edge-of-the-seat action movie nor a slow-paced drama; if you're not familiar with Star Trek movies this puts it somewhere in the Star Wars camp, a smart decision.

People looking to take on Star Trek face an impossible challenge in the form of Star Trek's fans, who have a notorious reputation that has been fairly well-deserved ever since trekkies let their "power" (fan response was integral to keeping Star Trek around) go to their heads. The skewering Galaxy Quest delivered is roughly accurate; trekkies (as opposed to "people who like Star Trek", which is a much broader group) are slavishly obsessive and have a very clear picture of what Star Trek is and isn't supposed to be.

You get the impression that for many people, "Star Trek" encompasses the first TV series and its 1987 revival "Star Trek: The Next Generation", both of which blended occasional bright spots with atrociously-acted moralising and fluff (TNG grew up, later, after Roddenberry kicked it, as seen in episodes like TNG: "Chain of Command" and "Lower Decks"). "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," which nuanced Roddenberry's ridiculously utopian views (all the patronising "oh no, you see my people have evolved beyond [conflict/money/racism]" stuff) with the sort of introspection Moore would later use on "Battlestar Galactica" was derided as too dark (witness DS9: "In the Pale Moonlight" and "... Nor the Battle to the Strong", both of them some of the best television Star Trek has produced) and its space station focus too limited. "Star Trek: Voyager," which returned to the "latex-foreheaded-alien and crisis of the week" format of the original show, was criticised for its contrived plotlines and gung-ho captain. "Star Trek: Enterprise", which originally wasn't even called "Star Trek", was knocked for its cast and for a host of perceived continuity errors.

For this reason, "Star Trek" writers are consistently forced to kowtow to a group of people who appear to remain convinced that it can't be "Star Trek" without an Enterprise and a nitpicker's devotion to the source material. This is why DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations" and VOY: "Flashback", both self-insertion fanfics set in the original series, were so well-regarded by fans, why Deanna Troi got consistent airtime in the later seasons of "Star Trek: Voyager", and why "Enterprise" was revealed in the series finale to be a simulation run by Commander Riker.

I mention this prelude to show you what Star Trek, the first Star Trek movie since Nemesis in 2002 and the first in recent memory to be aimed at an audience that doesn't go to premieres wearing pointy ears, is up against. Its success demonstrates what really ought to be recognised as director JJ Abram's greatest achievement: creating a decent movie while balancing the needs of the fanbase--which is to say providing a good two hours of cinema that feels like "Star Trek" without being hobbled by the past.

Another way of looking at this might be to say that Star Trek manages to take most of the good of the franchise without also dragging along the bad. The clean, white technology is still present to let you know that we're in the future, there still aren't any seatbelts in the wide-open, sparkling bridge, the contrived situations that require immediate action are still solved to the benefit of the heroes with milliseconds to spare and everyone is still attractive. On the other hand, the future is not unremittingly bright (the smug superiority Starfleet personnel feel with regards to civilians may be appropriate, but isn't very utopian), the good guys don't always win, and--most importantly--when Simon Pegg transports himself and Chris Pine to the Enterprise, we aren't subjected to a five minute monologue about "remodulating the plasma deflector to emit a 47 megacochrane tetryon pulse at the inverse variant of the dynametric warp gradient". He just does it. Thank Christ.

Of course, it wouldn't be Star Trek without some ridiculousness. The primary MacGuffin is a ball of red wax that somehow causes black holes, the plot involves time travel (of course), the bad guy's ship deploys a mining rig from a spiky anchor chain (instead of, like, carbon nanotubes) and when Captain Pike is captured and the bad guy asks him for information on Earth's defences, Scott manages to guess that this is why Pike has been captured immediately, even though the bad guy has just wiped out a squadron of Federation battleships without suffering a scratch and wouldn't seem to need espionage information anyway.

I would think it possible to watch the movie without dwelling on these things, because as I said at the outset it's a very fun movie, and even if "octopus" is a pretty strange shape for a mining ship we can forgive most of the aesthetic choices because they're pretty much all for the better. Pretty much: apparently the interior of a modern starship, unlike the USS Enterprise NX-01, consists of lots of metal pipework (complete with round valves), almost as though it was an abandoned industrial plant...

And fortunately, even as a non-Star Trek film the movie is quite enjoyable. Once you sit through a mawkish opening sequence and a not especially convincing recruitment into Starfleet (broken up by a fun bit of joyriding by the young James Kirk), the film begins in earnest, alternating action scenes that are enjoyable without being over-the-top with dramatic character development that is compelling without being maudlin.

Abrams has picked a cast that all do their jobs quite well. On occasion they seem to have been picked for their resemblance, in personality or appearance, to the crew of the original series, though Abrams has left them with plenty of room to grow and develop past their roots if he continues the franchise. The biggest names here are Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and John Cho (Better Luck Tomorrow, Harold and Kumar) as Montgomery Scott and Hikaru Sulu, so perhaps they'll be allowed to develop as an ensemble. They don't, unlike the TV casts, appear to have a great deal of chemistry, but perhaps that will come in time--in any case the acting is definitely decent, and substantially better than in other Trek movies.

If I have any complaint it's with the camerawork, which often feels cramped and slightly claustrophobic, even in outer space. Perhaps it was just the theatre I was at, but light blooming frequently washed out part of the picture, an effect I'm not sure I'm terribly fond of. The external shots steal liberally from "Battlestar Galactica" and its unsteady, sometimes jerky "handheld documentary film" feel, and the internal shots have more Dutch angles than an Amsterdam windmill.

Abrams has managed to throw enough nods to hardcore Trekkies (who frequently, though not always, have an idea set in their mind of what Star Trek is "supposed" to be) to keep them interested while simultaneously crafting a movie that is enjoyable for everyone, including non-Trek fans. As a fun ride, it's definitely possible to overlook the film's occasional silliness (from here on out, I think, it will no longer be "hey, can you pass me the ketchup?" but a scenery-chewing "prepare the red matter!") and at the end of the day Star Trek is a movie for everyone. So, everyone should see it. QED.

It will be interesting to see how things develop. Outside the theatre I saw the movie at, there were people talking afterwards about who was "best" at playing their characters, which is a worrying--if expected--development (there weren't nearly as many people musing on how well Christian Bale had managed to capture Adam West, for instance); hopefully Abrams has managed to prove himself enough to be able to reimagine Star Trek (like Moore and BSG) as opposed to just remaking it. Certainly, there's reason to hope he has, starting with the movie's blasť approach to Star Trek continuity.

Basically, Star Trek stands on its own merits as an enjoyable, fun couple of hours in the movie theatre. If you haven't seen it yet, it's definitely worth it. It loses a point for its rather uninspired plot (maybe 8/10s of a point for the plot and 2/10ths for the cameras) and one for the lingering sense that it only goes that extra distance if you do know, without having to check Wikipedia, what the corbomite maneuver is.
Galluskek
23.05.2009 - 1h17
Comrade Alex
23.05.2009 - 1h45
Galluskek
23.05.2009 - 5h55
La Chevre!
23.05.2009 - 11h20
La Chevre!
23.05.2009 - 11h28
Galluskek
24.05.2009 - 1h51
Galluskek
24.05.2009 - 1h53
Comrade Alex
24.05.2009 - 3h05
Comrade Alex
24.05.2009 - 3h07
Galluskek
24.05.2009 - 10h03
Vulpecula
24.05.2009 - 3h32
Comrade Alex
24.05.2009 - 5h43
Galluskek
24.05.2009 - 5h51
Comrade Alex
24.05.2009 - 6h08
Galluskek
24.05.2009 - 6h13

You can use this form to add a comment to this page!

Name:

Website:

Comment:

You will be identified by the name you provide. Once posted, comments may not be edited. For markup, use 'bulletin board' code: [i][/i] for italic, [b][/b] for bold, [ind][/ind] to indent, [url=][/url] for URLs, and [quote=Author|Date][/quote] for quotes (you can leave the date blank but you need the pipe). HTML is not allowed. Neither is including your website :)