TO BOLDLY GO… #11: Star Trek (2009)

Joe finally concludes the journey where no-one has gone before with J.J. Abrams’ incredible reboot. 

Who made it?: J.J. Abrams (Director/Co-Producer), Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman (Writers), Damon Lindelof (Co-Producer), Paramount Pictures.

Who’s in it?: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Nimoy.

Tagline: “The future begins.”

IMDb rating: 8.0/10 (Top 250 #223).

To say that I went into the 2009 reboot of this long-running franchise cold is, of course, completely untrue; the iconic imagery of Star Trek is inescapable due to endless pop-culture references and parodies, my favourite being Futurama’s Captain Zapp Brannigan. It was also not the first Star Trek film I had seen, as I distinctly remember the extensive publicity for the tenth instalment, which to my non-Trekkie mind appeared to pit Professor X against a futuristic Nosferatu. What could go wrong, I thought? A lot apparently. Whilst I was generally disappointed with Star Trek: Nemesis, the Trekkers were unforgiving in their criticism and seemed to regretfully concede that the saga had finally ran out of ideas. Jump forward seven years through a decade of huge franchise relaunches, with the likes of Batman and James Bond getting their origin stories dramatised, and it was finally Star Trek’s turn. And so The Next Generation arc was abandoned as the franchise revisited the early days of the characters with which it all began, James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock. Paramount had been toying with this idea since the early 90s, and no-one could have predicted that it would be pulled off so artfully.

Our re-introduction to the future Captain is a memorable one, as he is born escaping the wreckage of the USS Kelvin, a destroyed starship captained by his father (Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth). As this loss triggers a series of rebellious childhood years for Kirk, Spock is expressing some angst of his own, as he attacks the bullies who tease him for being half-human and turns down the opportunity to join the Vulcan Science Academy. The two eventually find themselves in Starfleet, and their disparate personalities immediately clash. Yet they soon find that they share the same enemy, as the commander who killed Kirk’s father mysteriously resurfaces and plans to destroy Spock’s home planet of Vulcan. In their darkest hour, they must put aside their differences and take control of the Enterprise in order to defeat their nemesis Nero.

The first thing to say is that Star Trek is cast excellently, effortlessly capturing the spirit of The Original Series’ crew. Chris Pine brilliantly handles Kirk’s transition from brash rebel without a cause to brave and intelligent Captain of the Enterprise. He evokes William Shatner without mimicking him. Zachary Quinto as Spock is the real revelation, though, acting as the logically-thinking antithesis to the reckless Kirk, whilst perfectly portraying the conflict and anguish that bubbles beneath the surface. Throughout, Spock strives to present himself as an emotionless and calculating product of his Vulcan heritage, yet the strength of his human emotions, particularly the love of his mother (Winona Ryder) and the rage he feels as a result of her death, consistently threatens to overpower him. In truth, this first film of the current story arc is all about building these two characters and establishing the friendship that will define them, but that is not to say that the film’s supporting cast fall by the wayside. Quite the contrary.

Zoe Saldana’s Uhura finally stands-out as one of the strongest and most intelligent members of the Enterprise crew, even getting a first name after forty years of appearances (Nyota). The way in which her newly-minted relationship with Spock appears to bring out his emotional human side is pivotal to both the script’s characterisation and the development of the story. On the other hand, her sharp-tongued banter with the arrogant Kirk is extremely entertaining to watch. Other stand-outs include Judge Dredd himself, Karl Urban, doing a mean DeForest Kelley as cynical medical officer “Bones” McCoy, and Simon Pegg as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, who despite only entering the film in its final third, steals the show with some of the film’s best comic relief. Although not as prevalent or as menacing as Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, Eric Bana does a fine job playing vengeful Romulan Nero as a tortured soul who was pushed into villainy by personal loss, rather than simply presenting us with a one-dimensional bad guy.

There’s also some of the decade’s most staggering special effects – displayed best in the now-celebrated prologue – and an exuberant score by Michael Giacchino that rekindles nostalgia for a brand you might not be aware you have. Along with Into Darkness, this is the most spectacular Star Trek has ever been, more than putting the titanic $150 million budget on the screen.

Huge praise must also fall upon screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman for the way in which they handle the time travelling element of the plot. With Nero travelling back in time in his attempts to destroy Vulcan, an alternative reality is established. This film doesn’t negate the existing continuity but runs parallel to it; could they have chosen a better way to resurrect this franchise? It could be argued that some clumsy handling along the way makes keeping track of this new timeline head-spinning. However, it is a stroke of genius from Orci and Kurtzman as it means that stepping on the toes of The Original Series is no longer necessary, and gives the pair free-rein to use the existing characters in any way they please.

However, the biggest credit has to go to Abrams for the way in which he took a vast and cherished sci-fi universe and handled it masterfully and with care. The director’s attention to detail is spot=on. The film’s bright and glossy sheen harks back to those early tales and looks exquisite, and he doesn’t forget that the audience expects exciting action and delivers with some breathtaking set-pieces, and most of all, he insures that we believe in this crew and, by extension, the Star Trek franchise again. It’s a modern classic.

Captain’s Log

Kirk cheats at the Kobayashi Maru test, first referenced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), whilst being at his most obnoxious and inventive best. Here’s a fun fusion of both timelines.

Supplemental

(Via IMDb)
  • Leonard Nimoy’s first live-action film role since Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
  • J.J. Abrams’ only two choices for Nero were Russell Crowe and Eric Bana
  • Abrams’ “good luck charm” Greg Grunberg had to turn down a role in this film due to other commitments. However, Grunberg was worked into the movie during post-production, voicing James Kirk’s step-father.
  • Majel Barrett, the widow of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, is the voice of the Enterprise computer. She’d also been the computer voice in Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, and had played Pike’s first officer in original Star Trek pilot “The Cage.” She completed her voice-over work from her home, two weeks before her death on December 18, 2008.
  • The role of James T. Kirk came down between Mike Vogel and Chris Pine. Vogel was reported as being the front runner for the part but Abrams decided to cast Pine in the end. Joshua Jackson also auditioned for the role.
  • Christopher Doohan, the son of the late James Doohan (Scotty from The Original Series), has appeared in the new Star Trek alongside the new Scotty, Simon Pegg, as his assistant.
  • Prior to this film, the highest-grossing Star Trek film ever made was First Contact with a worldwide gross of $146,000,000. This film exceeded that gross by its second weekend of US release alone.
  • The first theatrical trailer uses the track “Down with the Enterprise” by Two Steps From Hell. This was an adaptation of Brian Tyler’s track “War Begins” from his Children of Dune score.

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