STARRING: John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy, Marlene Forte, Jimmy Bennett

2009, 126 Minutes, Directed by:
J.J. Abrams

It’s Star Trek Jim, but not as we know it . . .

When Lost supremo J.J. Abrams declared that his Star Trek was going to be a re-imagining of this venerable 42-year-old science fiction franchise, he sure wasn’t kidding around. This Star Trek is tougher and grittier than previous incarnations: the sets are less sterile and everything – the ships, costumes, buildings, etc. – has a more lived-in and used quality than before.

Particularly interesting is the huge amount of lens flares employed in the film to add to the realism – we haven’t seen this many bright lights since the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey!

These deliberate imperfections make it more Star Wars than Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of 22nd century life. (It is also more Star Wars than Star Trek in other ways, but more on that later.) However by mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar in unexpected ways (one research station on a deserted frozen ice planet looks very much like something out of the 20th century for instance) Abrams creates a fictional universe that is a far cry from those cheesy cardboard backdrops of the old ‘Sixties Star Trek TV series.

Star Trek may feature younger actors playing iconic figures from the original Star Trek series such as Spock, Captain Kirk, Scotty, et al, but long-time Star Trek fans had better forget everything they know about the intricate Star Trek universe. [PLOT SPOILERS!] When they called this Star Trek a “reboot” they also weren’t joking either. A handy time travel plot device in effect creates an alternate timeline version of Trek, which means that it gives the writers of any possible future movie instalments carte blanche to throw out the handbook on Trek continuity and start afresh from scratch. Talk about a clean slate! In this alternate history Star Trek (if you can call it that) the story can be pushed into whichever direction its writers and J.J. Abrams want it to. Trekkies may fume, but if this big-screen Star Trek movie is to be a much-needed booster shot to revive this seriously ailing franchise, then it is a clever thing to do.

When an aged Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is unable to prevent a sun from going supernova and destroying the Romulan home planet in the process, he is blamed for the tragedy by a Romulan miner named Nero (Eric Bana). Nero plots an elaborate revenge scheme whereby he travels back through time to destroy Spock’s home planet of Vulcan and make him watch it. Thereafter he targets all the other planets in the Federation, starting of course with Earth. For some reason the Federation Starfleet isn’t around to help Vulcan and it is up to a Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to lead a starship Enterprise piloted by Starfleet academy cadets in training to save the day. Within the first few minutes of Star Trek the movie already demolishes Star Trek continuity by killing off James T. Kirk’s dad before he (Kirk) is even born. (In old Star Trek Kirk’s father in fact lived to see Kirk graduate from Starfleet academy.) [END SPOILERS!]

"This is Star Trek designed for people who don't actually like Star Trek . . . "

The many liberties Abrams takes with these iconic characters are bound to infuriate anal trekkies. Kirk (played by the fresh-faced Chris Pine) is a troubled child who totals his step dad’s antique sports car during a joy ride. Later on he is a self-destructive drunk who picks fights in bars. When we first meet Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) he is a borderline alcoholic embittered after nasty divorce proceedings that left him bankrupt. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is practically a quivering mass of emotions in comparison to the Spock of old we know from the beloved 1960s television show. And so on.

Which brings us to our point: this is a Trek designed for people who don’t actually like Trek. When the last episode of Star Trek Enterprise aired on 13 May 2005 it effectively ended an 18-year run of back-to-back new Star Trek shows beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. The last big screen Star Trek movie (Nemesis in 2002) happened to be the least commercially successful in the franchise. (Yes, it did even worse at the box office than 1989’s dismal Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the one Trek movie trekkies never speak of!) This new Star Trek movie has two goals: to rally the long-time fans to the cause again and to lure new potential fans to the franchise. To be honest it is more successful at the latter.

This 2009 Star Trek has taken a leaf out of the Battlestar Galactica revival guidebook. Not only is it grittier than previous Trek shows or movies, it is also much more action-driven. It is Star Trek re-imagined as a fast-paced brash action movie and works remarkably well on that level. It sucks you into the action pretty quick and doesn’t really let go until the end. Along the way characterization is presented in broad strokes. There is a lot of “Hi, I’m Montgomery Scott also known as Scotty” dialogue to make sure that audiences don’t miss the point as the movie careens from one action scene to the next.

Sure, there is a lot to irk dedicated fans, but the movie works well when taken on its own terms. Long-time fans will probably be best served by a reciting a mantra that goes something like “this isn’t real Star Trek, but it doesn’t matter” while watching it. Some generous wallops of sentiment and references to Dilithium crystals and adherence to Star Trek conventions (a red shirt predictably buys it in one scene) probably won’t do it for them.

Newcomers who consider the old ‘Sixties Star Trek to be too stodgy or iffy will have a blast. The movie and its special effects owe a lot to Star Wars, particularly the so-called prequels. Some CGI space battle scenes look like something taken right out of Revenge of the Sith (if it wasn’t for the familiar Trek hardware that is). Fortunately Abrams hasn’t repeated any of Lucas’ mistakes. There are no deadly dull boardroom meeting scenes about trade embargoes and Chris Pine is hardly Anakin Skywalker.

An early fan reaction to the first trailer was that this Star Trek reboot answers the pressing question “what if James Tiberius Kirk were more like Anakin Skywalker?” They needn’t have worried. Chris Pine as James T. Kirk isn’t whiney and annoying like Hayden Christensen was in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Instead he is simply bland. Pine makes no effort at imitating William Shatner’s mannerisms, which is probably for the best when one thinks about it. The rest of the cast also do not leave much of an impression, but then again they aren’t given that much to work with.

The truth is that we found ourselves missing the old cast, but most audiences won’t care: Star Trek works fine when taken on its own terms as a modern special effects-driven action flick. It is also hardly the train smash some fans feared it would be. (It’s better than any of the Star Wars prequels for starters. Shorter too.)

Newbies to Trek should check it out and long-time fans should also lend their support. After all, the financial success of this Trek will determine the very future of the franchise and the universe will seem a much colder place without any Trek at all, even if it is somewhat “off” Trek . . .



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