Release Date: 5/8/09
Director: J.J. Abrams
Special Effects: Industrial Light And Magic
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoë Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, cameo by Winona Ryder
The "Star Trek" franchise gets a much needed kick in the ass with this story of a young James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the future crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. A mysterious ship from the future shows up whose captain (Eric Bana) is waging a vendetta against Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy). When they realize that they're in the past, they just hang around and wait for either the future Spock to show up, or for the present Spock to grow up. Meanwhile, Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) manages to convince a boozing, schmoozing, womanizing farm boy named James Kirk to join Starfleet on a dare to surpass the accomplishments of his father. The arrogant and rebellious Kirk stirs up all sorts of trouble at school, including the sabotage of the famous Kobayashi Maru simulator from "The Wrath Of Khan" (1982). But his punishment will have to wait, as the cadets are sent into space to respond to a distress call from the Vulcan homeworld. With Captain Pike helming the Enterprise on her maiden voyage, her fateful crew includes Spock (Zachary Quinto), Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), and Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Kirk manages to sneak onboard and cause more trouble, but when Nero sets his sights on Earth, Kirk assumes command of the Enterprise and manages to defeat the technologically superior enemy.
"Star Trek" is a fun and exciting movie that manages to be both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. It's delightful to see the classic characters that I grew up with in their formative years, struggling with their inexperience and forming bonds with each other. Of course the key relationship in the film is the adversity between the polar opposites of Kirk and Spock, and the friendship that blooms from it. Revisiting the old characters is no small task, and one of the biggest challenges of the film was finding the right cast to take on these iconic roles without pissing off a large, loyal, and highly sensitive fan base. For the most part, I think the film pulled this off admirably, and by the time the film was over, I had fully accepted the new crew. Chris Pine does a great job of re-inventing Kirk as a rough and rowdy insubordinate bastard, and by the end you see him transitioning into what William Shatner originally brought to the character. The casting of Zachary Quinto as Spock is amazing, and he nails the aesthetic perfectly. He just looks like a vulcan, and bears an eerie likeness to the young Leonard Nimoy. While his delivery tends to be a little flat, logic dictates that it should be. Probably the most inspired casting is Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy. While most of the cast adds a new spin on their characters, Urban plays it straight and channels Deforest Kelley with uncanny clarity. As the sole female in the main cast, all of the sex appeal in the film rests on Zoë Saldana's shoulders as the feisty Lt. Uhura. She's wonderful. It took a little longer to warm up to John Cho and Anton Yelchin, but they make it work. And then there's Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scott, who adds a sharp edge and a devious spark to who would become the Enterprise's cranky chief engineer. He comes on a bit too strong at first, but settles down quickly enough. Even though he's given some quirky and humorous dialog, he plays the role with deadly seriousness, which is what gives him credibility. Finally, there's Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike, who I can't say enough nice things about. He makes an excellent military authority figure who is both strong and sensitive, and has to try and keep all of the young whipper-snappers in order.
Visually, the film is superb. The clunky old Enterprise gets a sleek makeover, but still retains her classic charm and defining lines. Right on cue, as soon as she came into view for her first sweeping beauty shot, I burst into tears. The space combat scenes are excellent and sprinkled with some surprisingly violent moments. Unlike many science fiction combat scenes, the ones in "Star Trek" seemed unusually bright and colorful. My only complaints with the space choreography would be what I normally complain about: jerky camera work, quick cuts, and shot too tight. Pull back and let us see what's going on! You can really see Abrams' handiwork here, as the battle sequences immediately reminded me of "Mission: Impossible 3" (2006). The music score is appropriately dramatic, but surprisingly forgettable. The only glaring technical flaw that I noticed was that Leonard Nimoy's final scene was shot completely out of focus. How did they let that slip through? Were there not any better takes or were they not able to reshoot it? Or did they shoot it out of focus on purpose to soften Nimoy's aged features?
As awesome as the film is, it is not without problems. First of all, I absolutely hate time travel stories. They're a cheap excuse for getting around continuity issues and an overused "get out of jail free" card for sloppy, inconsistent, and illogical scripting. That, and they mess with your head because they don't make any sense. While the decision to go forward with an alternate reality plot was brilliant and very clever, it's also annoying and has the unfortunate side effect of invalidating the entire Star Trek universe. The film gets off to a rough start and the first 30-40 minutes are awkward and painful to watch. Blatant product placement by Anheuser-Busch and Nokia certainly doesn't help, and leaves a bad taste. However, as soon as everyone is aboard the Enterprise, everything falls into place and the film finally takes off. Since most of the characters are young, they're overflowing with cocky arrogance, sardonic attitude, irrational impulsiveness, and hormonal aggression, which makes them all rather annoying and unlikable. However, it's this same youthful energy and inexperience that makes the adventure seem so fresh and exciting. To match that youthful vigor, the story is more action oriented and not weighed down by the cumbersome moral issues that increasingly plagued the more civil and serious minded "Next Generation" series. The new crew of the Enterprise is not a well oiled military machine, and their success relies more on the heroic (and insubordinate) efforts of individuals rather than teamwork.
The film definitely plays the nostalgia card, and each of the characters are given one or two "classic moments" to re-enact. While this elicits some nostalgic giggles, it also snaps you out of the moment and causes you to connect with your memories of the previous actors. "Star Trek" has a history of campiness, and this film also has its moments of awkward silliness. Kirk's various allergic reactions are embarrassing, Scotty's transporter incident is goofy and unnecessary, and the chase scene on Delta-Vega is nothing short of ridiculous. The villain is also underdeveloped and completely uninteresting, which is unfortunate.
While I could continue to channel my inner nerd and nit-pick details and flaws, there would be no point. Ultimately, they do not outweigh the enjoyment of the film or diminish its craftsmanship and emotional impact. It's an excellent opportunity to get reacquainted with old friends and boldly go where no one has gone before. Again. Now that this "training mission" is out of the way, I'm extremely anxious to see where the series goes next. It's been many years since I've seen a movie and immediately wanted to see a sequel, and "Star Trek" did just that. This is just a taste of more wonderful things to come - let's hope they don't screw it up.