Star Trek (2009)

WFTB Score: 12/20

The plot: Born in the heat of battle, James T. Kirk has space in his blood; however, his wild temperament makes him unpopular to some of Starfleet, especially prodigiously gifted Vulcan Spock – though Spock is by no means as emotionless as he portrays himself to be. When Vulcan and Earth are threatened by a common rogue enemy, the hastily-assembled crew of the USS Enterprise must use all their courage and know-how to save their lives and those of their loved ones, not to mention entire civilisations – and planets.

Few franchises – James Bond, and possibly Superman – have resisted being killed off quite as fiercely as Star Trek. Following the cancellation of the TV series, the original crew made seven films of supposedly alternating quality, whereupon the mantle was taken up by the Next Generation team, whose adventures foundered in a series of boring subtitles such as Nemesis and Insurrection, just as subsequent television programmes like Deep Space Nine, Voyager and (finally) Enterprise proliferated then collapsed under the weight of their own self-importance.

And now we have, simply, Star Trek, where the series picks itself up, dusts itself off, and starts all over again. As described above, Kirk is literally born in the middle of a space-fight, where his father makes the greatest sacrifice and gives his life to save the crew of the USS Kelvin, protecting them from the weaponry of Romulan lone operator Nero (Eric Bana). Without parental influence, Kirk becomes a thrill-seeking child, then a womanising young man (Chris Pine) who runs into trouble when he becomes smitten with promising communications expert Uhura (Zoe Saldana). After a brawl, Captain Pike persuades Kirk to join Starfleet, where he instantly befriends ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) and makes an enemy of Spock (Zachary Quinto) by cheating on the Kobyashi Maru test he designed (see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and all will make sense). However, before Kirk has time to be disciplined an emergency sends everyone onto NCC-1701, the USS Enterprise, where the crew (thanks to Kirk’s instincts) manage to avoid an ambush but cannot stop the destruction of Vulcan, caused by Nero’s deployment of devastating ‘Red Matter,’ the next victim of which will be Earth. When Pike is captured and Kirk gets stranded on a cold wasteland of a planet, all seems lost, but a surprising fellow visitor of the planet is able to dispense some invaluable advice and, with the technical genius of ‘Scotty’ to hand (Simon Pegg), Captain Kirk can race to save the day.

As a piece of science fiction, Star Trek does a decent job, presenting a story that is well-paced, containing some lively action sequences, and using CGI to great effect as planets are devoured from the inside and the scenes of space battles are littered with debris. There are undisciplined elements: the origin of ‘Red Matter’ is never explained, neither is the premise of Nero’s ship travelling through time rather than simply being destroyed (the writers getting their black holes mixed up with their worm holes?). Essentially, though, the ‘Red Matter’ is a red herring, as the film is in fact almost wholly focused on the relationship between Kirk and Spock. The two are presented as polar opposites and accordingly drawn to each other despite their differences, providing all the drama and comedy the situation has always promised. Pine captures the posture and inflections of William Shatner’s Kirk brilliantly, whilst Quinto – the vicious Sylar in Heroes – makes a superb Spock, though the appearance of Leonard Nimoy in the movie reminds the viewer that the resemblance is close but far from identical. Elsewhere the impersonations are patchier, Urban capturing DeForest Kelley’s gruffness as Bones, Saldana choosing to do her own thing as a feisty, passionate Uhura and neither Chekhov nor Sulu displaying much character. When Simon Pegg turns up halfway through the film, his accent recalls Shrek as much as it does James Doohan’s Scotty; still, as nominated comedy foil for the film, Pegg brightens up a potentially dull ten minutes.

Whilst appearing fresh and young, Abrams’ Star Trek undoubtedly captures the spirit and fun of the original, and the director just about achieves the difficult balance between having fun in space and presenting a compelling sci-fi tale. However, in getting all the crew to meet up at such a young age (indeed, there is virtually a ‘Hey, the gang’s all here!’ pose) and instantly assume the characters and relationships that they would still have 15-20 years later, the film put me in mind of Muppet Babies* (or more specifically the Muppets’ own parody, Seinfeld Babies). The set-up is very entertaining, but it will be interesting to see whether getting the whole crew together at this point limits plot and character development in the inevitable sequels (after all, unless Abrams decides to make full use of his ‘alternate timeline’ scenario, nobody important’s going to leave, join, or die!). And whilst there are plenty of nods to former iterations of Trek – the nod to Pike, the Captain in the pilot of the TV show, Kirk making out with a green lady – these nice touches don’t actually advance the story at all and in some instances are positively jarring (the way Bones acquires his nickname is particularly clunky). One last thing: though it is obviously a deliberate decision, the overwhelming prevalence of lens flares in the film goes beyond creating atmosphere into the realms of apparent amateurism. It’s a shame, because in a film which otherwise looks immaculate, the constant appearance of lines and flashes on the picture becomes an unwelcome distraction; there really are too many of them to ignore.

Though the movie has flaws, the central Spock-Kirk relationship at the heart of Star Trek is enough to make the film highly watchable, with attractive performances that are likely to prove a draw to young audiences as well as plentiful moments of nostalgia for veteran Trekkies/Trekkers: let’s face it, it’s always a joy to see the Enterprise, particularly when it can be made to look as good as it does here (when you can see it through the flares, that is). Time will tell whether this is the start of something beautiful for the revitalised crew, Abrams and Paramount, or merely a fleeting success.

NOTES: This is a thought that I arrived at independently, though I am aware that there are others who have come to the same conclusion. Promise.


4 thoughts on “Star Trek (2009)

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