Star Trek (2009)
Director: J. J. Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana
Running Time: 2 hrs. 7 min
Rated: PG-13

Review by Brother Reed

When I heard they were remaking Star Trek, or rebooting it, or whatever it was, I was none too pleased. The commercials came on advertising young upstarts who looked awkwardly unlike their 60’s series counterparts, lots of laser blasts and explosions, some sensual images to increase appeal, and Simon Pegg. Not that I have any real attachment to the original television show. My father likes it, but I always sort of respected it and not much more. I have never read a Star Trek book, and probably couldn’t tell you the names of the crew. If anything, I was more of a Next Generation guy, ‘cause they had Jean Luc and the guy from Reading Rainbow. The point of all this, I suppose, is that I had very little investment in the series that would predispose me to analyze it too closely. Yet I’m always wary of prequels and remakes. If it ain’t broke, Hollywood seems determined to break it. Of course, reboots have faired pretty well in recent years with the likes of Batman Begins and Casino Royale being great movies that have enriched their respective series.

So how does Star Trek stack up? Quite well, actually. If there has ever been a truly excellent Star Trek film, it hasn’t been in the last decade; so the competition’s not too steep in that regard. Perhaps just as telling, it ought to do well against the Transformers and Terminators over the next few months. In fact, there’s not likely to be a better action or sci-fi picture in the multiplexes this summer.

Make no mistake, Star Trek is an action film. In the past, the franchise has been known as talky. The crew would discuss action plans, technology and diplomacy ad nauseam. Gone are the lengthy disputes and moralizing speeches. These have been jettisoned probably to make room for more action set-pieces, and I don’t hear too many people complaining. The pace of this new movie is absolutely relentless. It’s a trim 2 hours that acquaints us with the major players, hits the high points of the plot and then runs with it, trusting us to pick up the rest. For the most part this works. Most viewers are already at least passingly familiar with Kirk and Spock. Such icons are they that it would be difficult to find anyone who is not. This way, we have an almost immediate connection to them whether or not the characterizations actually warrant it.

star trek starsThe Stars of Trek

Mostly they do, thanks to solid writing and strong performances, especially by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto who portray Kirk and Spock respectively. These young actors completely surprise, competently giving us shades of the characters we know while providing their own fresh takes. They don’t overdo it and they don’t often wink at us, though there’s enough humor present that we could probably forgive them if they did. Spock is given a more sympathetic back story. A subplot of the film is about his struggle with emotion, being half Vulcan (a race who are masters of their emotions) and half human (a race who are…not). He’s kind of uptight and sanctimonious, abiding by logic and decorum. Simply put, he’s everything the fiery and rebellious Kirk is not. Kirk’s origin scenes make him kind of unlikeable. In fact, his initial introduction as a child is objectively the worst scene in the film. It’s cheesy and cliché – and also out of place. You hear me? Cheesy and cliché are out of place in this here Star Trek movie. That has to be a good sign, no? Of course, the rest of the crew members who will make up the Enterprise also manage to meet, though I won’t say how. Kirk and Spock butt heads off the bat and must learn to value one another as they work to prevent disaster at the hands of an angry rogue Romulan played by Eric Bana.

One of the best things about the movie is that it constantly feels vital and urgent. The opening scene is a harrowing battle of life or death. Many historic Star Trek battles have felt like a turn-based RPG: two ships floating in space trading photon blasts. Here the enemy threat is felt when the very first volley takes out over 60% of the Enterprise’s shields. We know the engagement can’t last, and the characters are going to have to make hard decisions on a split-second timetable. Throughout the film, most of our heroes are young and inexperienced but through circumstances beyond their control are thrust into positions where they must suddenly take leadership and perform better than they knew they could. Their lives and countless others are often at stake. It’s an interesting dynamic that adds drama to all the pretty colors and explosions.

star trek dockThe script called for lots of lens flares. The art department delivered.

The movie occasionally falters into unbelievable, but honestly you have to know what you’re getting into. This is a universe where phasers, warp-travel, and teleportation is common technology. Then, of course, they have to make us believe there’s something more far-fetched, like an equation to beam people onto a ship at warp speed (hilarity ensues!) or the strange “red matter” that can apparently create a black hole. I can’t help but wish some of this were explained a little more. Maybe the nerd in me actually wanted some technical conversations about the nature of space-time, grappling with the paradoxes the characters face. The virtue is that I was having such a good time being swept along that I didn’t care to be bogged down with it.

I remarked during a scene in which Kirk is marooned on a desolate planet and chased down by a giant monstrosity that Star Trek is this summer’s King Kong. There’s a certain joyful excess to it that drew the comparison for me. But it’s honestly not a fair analogy. King Kong was a lovingly indulgent creation by a director enamored with his source material. Director J. J. Abrams instead takes what essentially catered to a niche audience and makes it widely accessible. In doing so, he took us on a splendidly entertaining ride. Whether or not you know Klingon, chances are you’ll have a blast at Star Trek.