Friday, May 8, 2009

My Star Trek Review

UK VariantThis is my first real attempt to do an in depth review of a film. There was two ways to go about writing this, one is as a diehard Trekkie" or as a fan of movies, which is really your choices when deciding to watch this movie. I decided to go with the latter as the first would probably come across as bitter and angry which I am not. Nor is it realistic to what Abrams and Paramount is trying to accomplish with this movie which is restart the franchise for a new generation. So here you go my review of Star Trek.

JJ Abrams Star Trek is a wildly entertaining summer movie that re-invents the Star Trek franchise as an action film. The movie is designed from the ground up to appeal to new fans but provides design, writing and character goodies for those lifelong fans to also enjoy.

The story itself is pretty simple, it is all about revenge and the famed crew of the Enterprise is all that stands between life and death. The movie is sold as a prequel but really it is just uses some rather massive contortions and serendipity moments to get a young cast with familiar character names together on the Enterprise bridge in the roles that most people are at least vaguely familiar with. There is a brief explanation of parallel universes and so forth but let us be clear, this is a complete re-launch of the Star Trek franchise and what came before is simply a place to grab ideas from. This film, in spectacular fashion, makes it clear at one point that it refuses to be beholden to what came before.

The character introductions, while entertaining and cute, really don't service the film in any meaningful way. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) are given character arcs to illustrate growth but as written are without much depth and predictable. The villain himself, Nero (Eric Bana) has the highest body count in Trek history yet his story is weak and typical of a TV cop show where the bad guy kills because someone failed to save those he loved. I think the writers wanted you to feel sorry for Nero but you don't. He is simply there to point the Enterprise at and provide Kirk with a back-story that has some emotional depth. The rest of the core characters all play a useful part in the film in some form or fashion, something that can be difficult when trying to juggle nearly a dozen characters and give each a moment.

The reason the writing works though is because the acting, directing and special effects are executed pitch perfect. While die hard Trekkies may grumble, the actors inhabit their new roles rather well. Chris Pine retains the swagger and confidence that William Shatner brought to the role of Kirk but now there is a level of sadness and anger that Kirk rarely showed. Quinto simply is Spock. He manages to bring a huge amount of emotionally range to a character that is supposed to suppress all of his emotions. It is an honors level acting course in subtle acting through tone and facial expression that is throttled up or down as needed for a scene.

The supporting Enterprise bridge crew of John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), and Simon Pegg (Scotty) all inhabit their roles as well as possible, making the most of the few moments they get to shine. At most, my only complaint is Chekov's accent and jokes are a little over the top and maybe the character should take voice lessons between sequels. Eric Bana does the best as he can with his role as the villain but has little to work with beyond look menacing, yell orders and remind viewers that he wants revenge. Leonard Nimoy, as "Spock Prime", exists in the movie to literally pass the torch to the new cast and as usual his very presence brings a gravitas to the role that Quinto doesn't yet have. His role is little more than a cameo but he makes the most of it.

In everything, there are homages to the Star Trek ideas of old. The Enterprise itself, with an exterior design that harkens back to the old design, is updated with a sleeker and more modern look. The bridge, with touch controls, clear screens and a massive view screen retains the center chair captain's chair and front navigator seat is full of lights and plenty of screens makes for an interesting if bright visual. The view screen itself was updated from an oversized television screen to a futuristic windshield (with heads-up display) as the saucer section is showing on the bottom of the screen much like the hood does in a car. The engines rooms retain a clean look but have that cluttered feel that convey a battleship design with pipes showing, stairs to climb, and levers all over the place that one would expect from such a location. The costumes retain the original series design of color denoting department, but now are more flattering and detailed.

Where this film really shines though is the action sequences, special effects and sound. The camera often flies into the action rather than above it, almost as if there was a camera mounted on one of the missiles roaring in to cause destruction. The space battles are not two ships trading single shots like in the other movies, but a burst of massive firepower as they open their arsenals in a fight for survival that causes damage on multiple fronts. The CGI work is spectacular is it captures the beauty of Star Trek with space, the ships and yet also perfectly captures the ugliness when that beauty is destroyed. This is also a film that needs to be with a good sound system as all that sound and fury needs to be properly enjoyed.

This film, while bringing a new look and feel to universe of Star Trek, doesn't forget where it came from with homages all over the place. From the costumes, to the sets, to even the sound on the bridge, there is love for what came before complete with a reprise of the Original Series score at the end. The score, by Michael Giacchino, is homage all by itself as it is full of familiar music from past Star Trek films and shows while adding his own sound to it. If there is one complaint I have about the score it is that it recycles some of his themes too frequently, probably a consequence of Giacchino's television background. However, it does its job, which is enhancing what is on the screen without getting in the way.

The film does have its issues. A lot of it is in the story as you are just expected to accept things just because. Nero was there for Kirk's birth, the somehow disappears for 20 years without explanation, happily returning in time to confront the adult Kirk. Cadets that are just about to graduate are promoted quickly and for no real reason other than they need to get them on the bridge of the Enterprise. The film heavily relies on coincidence to move things along such as Kirk stumbling across Spock Prime and Scotty or technology going form barely functioning to being able to do wonderful things at extreme distances depending on story needs. Another problem is lens flares. The film is full of them. If there is a light source, it is going to cause a lens flare at some point. It occurs in fights, on the bridge, in a hallway, everywhere. They go from an element of the look of the film to a flat out distraction.

The $100 million budget, larger than the previous three movies combined, is all there on the screen. The result is a very entertaining film that leaves you wanting a sequel but really forgetting about the movie moments after setting out of the theatre. The story is serviceable, the cast great, the characters interesting and the special effects spectacular. Star Trek is the perfect popcorn flick to forget the world for two hours. JJ Abrams achieved his goal of bringing a beloved franchise and introducing it to a new generation.


  1. Abrams cut the scene where Nero goes to jail and is then broken out to take on Kirk. That's the 20 year gap. If you notice after the 20 year gap there is a chunk of his right ear missing, from the jail scene.

    J.J. also was fully aware of all the lens flares but it was purposely done because he wanted the feel that the future is bright both literally and figuratively.

  2. From hill to hill no bird in flight;
    From path to path no man in sight.
    Like Chinese poetry!

  3. I dare say this new Capt. James T. Kirk does a better job than the first one at embodying all that is Capt. James T. Kirk

  4. I hv to say that I agree with your review of the movie. While newcomers to the franchise will like it, some of the seasoned fans will find it a bit more, wanting.

    There were some inconsistencies in the movie, and as mentioned, a lot of things happened by coincidence. How Capt. Kirk is saved by Spock Prime from a terrible and badass monster with a flamestick, and by chance he ended up in the same cave as Spock himself on the huge planet of ice.

    How did Uhura manage to intercept the Klingon transmissions? By chance? :P

    There's also a couple of things that were missed, including how urgently Nero wanted the Federation's frequency thingy on Earth. But to me, whether he had it or not, there was no difference. And they have a hugeass space dock on orbit outside Earth, and yet, Sector 001 lacks any form of defense against hostile invaders!

    Also, I think as far as I can remember, it was impossible to transport anything when a ship is in warp. It was not possible in ST:TNG and certainly shouldn't be possible here too.

    And... The best part... We have a water turbine in a dilithium powered starship! :P

  5. And yeah, I have to say that the Engineering bay looks like some processing factory! It doesn't look as glamorous as the TV series, and unfortunately it doesn't potray to be a sophisticated system, but one with pipes, more pipes, and MORE pipes!

  6. Agree the engineering section looks too cluttered.

    Cast wonderful. Graphics great. Liked the humor.

    Jumping from cadet to captian a little much.

    Spock's character. Zachary Quinto is excellent. I know it's an alternate reality, but no Vulcan, public displays of affection and good relationship with father? Taking too much from the struggle of the character? Not enough tension?

  7. I thought the movie was excellent. I believe that true trekkies who are dedicated to the original series will have gripes. As I did with Wolverine. I think casual original series fan (I'm more of the TNG, DS9, Voyager fan) will enjoy this movie as it does a wonderful job of giving a back story to all the main characters as well as cleverly writing that gets them to be in the positions that we are accustomed to them holding aboard the Enterprise.
    Well Done!

  8. well, I only saw it once & wasn't being too analytical at the time, but my only question is about the end where the two Spocks is that possible??? I always thought something like that would result in a paradox that collapses the whole time-space continuum..not that I know what that means :P lol enlightenment would be appreciated :)

    but it's also brilliant (from Paramount's viewpoint anyway - and probably J.J. Abrams') that there's a whole new timeline where everything done before by old Kirk & old Spock never happened! genius!!!

  9. Yeah... I was wondering... Does Spock Prime remain in the current timeline? And does not attempt to go back to the future?

    Eventhough the future is pretty much uncertain after planet Vulcan is gone?

    Inconsistency here! :(

  10. jp83-- "but it's also brilliant (from Paramount's viewpoint anyway - and probably J.J. Abrams') that there's a whole new timeline where everything done before by old Kirk & old Spock never happened! genius!!!"

    genius from a marketing perspective, maybe. for us who love the gene roddenberry star trek (the one and only) it is profoundly sad to see that story be erased and rewritten by those who brought us "transformers". star trek this movie is not. without question.

  11. Saw it today, all I can say is it's a MASTERFUL FILM. The acting, cast, FX, script, score everything was well done. The humor was spot on funny.