Thursday, June 4, 2009
"STAR TREK" (2009) Review
Below is my review of the new movie, "STAR TREK", directed by J.J. Abrams:
”STAR TREK” (2009) Review
Many fans of the ”STAR TREK” franchise seemed to be in agreement that its last television series - ”ENTERPRISE” (2001-2005) - had more or less killed the franchise. That opinion proved to be false with the release of its latest film – ”STAR TREK”, directed by J.J. Abrams.
Not to be confused with Robert Wise’s 1979 movie, ”STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE”, this latest installment in the franchise is about the early years of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 from ”THE ORIGINAL SERIES” (1966-1969). In other words, the movie is about how James T. Kirk became captain of the Enterprise and Spock, its first officer. What made this particular story unique is that the film’s opening sequence – an attack upon the Federation starship, U.S.S. Kelvin in 2233 led to an alternate timeline for the rest of the film.
When a supernova threatened the galaxy in 2387 (nine years after the U.S.S. Voyager’s return to Earth), Ambassador Spock piloted a ship carrying "red matter" that can create a gravitational singularity, drawing the supernova into a black hole. Before Spock completed his mission, the supernova destroyed the planet Romulus. Captain Nero (Eric Bana) of the Romulan mining ship Narada blamed Spock and the Federation for his planet’s destruction and its inhabitants, which included his wife and unborn child; and attempted to exact revenge on Spock. But both ships are caught in the black hole's event horizon and travel to different points in the past. The Narada arrived first in 2233 and attacked the Kelvin. The attack resulted in the death of the Kelvin’s commander, Richard Robau (Faran Tahir) and first officer Lieutenant George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth); and James T. Kirk’s (Chris Pine) birth aboard a shuttle fleeing from the damaged starship. The rest of the movie featured both Kirk and Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) early years, their subsequent first meeting at Starfleet Academy and their clashes aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, commanded by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Meanwhile, Nero has survived and 25 years following Kirk’s birth, is still seeking to exact revenge upon Spock.
Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman managed to pen a solid adventure filled with time travel, plenty of action and strong characterization. Which is not surprising, considering that the story strongly reminded me of the Season Four episode from ”STAR TREK: VOYAGER” (1995-2001), (4.08-4.09) “Year of Hell”. But there were differences. Whereas ”Year of Hell” dealt with the moral ramifications of time travel, ”STAR TREK” merely revealed what happened after the timeline was changed. After all, it is more action oriented than the majority of ”TREK” episodes. I had no problems with that. Somewhat. But this slight difference deprived the movie of the depth found in ”Year of Hell”. And I did have problems with other aspects of Orci and Kurtzman’s script.
First of all, James Kirk’s rapid ascent from senior year Starfleet Academy cadet to the captain of the Enterprise within such a short space of time seemed ridiculously unrealistic. Even for a work of fiction. I realized that Pike saw great potential in Kirk’s future with Starfleet. But to promote a cadet so high in the ranks . . . and so fast bordered on the ridiculous. I also had a problem with Nero’s desire to exact revenge upon Spock. Instead of taking the opportunity to kill the Human/Vulcan hybrid in order to save his homeworld and family (which were the motivations of the villain in ”Year of Hell”), the Romulan wanted Spock to remain alive and witness the destruction of both Vulcan and Earth. Again, logic seemed to quickly disappear in what I believe to be an irrelevant plot twist.
Now, due to Nero’s presence in the 23rd century, the following happened:
*George Kirk died on the very day of his son’s birth and did not witness the latter’s graduation from Starfleet Academy.
*Kirk joined Starfleet Academy at the age of 22, instead of 17.
*Kirk became part of the same Starfleet Academy class as Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldaña) and Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban).
*Spock and Uhura became romantically involved during her years at Starfleet Academy.
*Both Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and 17 year-old Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) were already Academy graduates and Starfleet officers serving under Christopher Pike during Kirk, Uhura and McCoy’s last year at the Academy.
*Nero managed to destroy Vulcan and its inhabitants, using the same ”red matter” that the older Spock used in an attempt to destroy that supernova in the year 2258.
*Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson (Winona Ryder), was killed during the destruction of Vulcan.
Ironically, the movie ended with these changes in the ”TREK” universe still in place. Most fans might not have a problem with this. When it comes to time travel stories, they seemed to have a problem with the plot device known as ”the reset button”. Many fans certainly bitched a lot when this plot device was used at the end of ”Year of Hell”. Not only have I never had a problem with ”the reset button” plot device, I was not particularly happy that Abrams and the screenwriters failed to use it at the end of ”STAR TREK”. I do wonder if he or the next director plan to finally use it in the much ballyhooed sequel. I hope so. Because I do not exactly find this altered timeline particularly appealing. Especially since it featured the too rapid ascent of Kirk’s Starfleet career and Amanda Grayson’s premature death. I had feared that the movie would also affect another ”TREK” character – namely Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok (portrayed by Tim Russ) from ”VOYAGER”. Fortunately, Tuvok had been born on a Vulcan colony and not the planet, itself.
One last problem I had with the script’s altered timeline was the Spock/Uhura romance. Abrams and the screenwriters had decided to include this little romance, due to their discovery that Uhura once had a romantic interest in Spock in the early episodes of ”THE ORIGINAL SERIES”. If I must be frank, this new Spock/Uhura pairing lacked chemistry. Period. Neither Quinto or Saldaña are to blame. Both had the bad luck to attempt to create romantic chemistry between two characters that are basically introverted. They simply lacked balance as a couple. On the other hand, Saldaña and Pine were like a basket on fire in the scene that featured Kirk’s attempt to seduce Uhura upon their first meeting at a bar in Iowa.
The movie’s true strength seemed to be the characters originally created by Gene Roddenberry, and the new cast of actors hired to portray them. Both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto did excellent jobs in creating the genesis of the Kirk/Spock friendship. They also managed to re-capture the essence of both characters without parodying William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s past performance. Zoe Saldaña’s Nyota Uhura seemed a little more fiery than Nichelle Nichols’ interpretation, but I thought she was great as the Communications officer. Her only misstep was that she had been forced to attempt some kind of romantic chemistry with Quinto. And as I had stated earlier, both were doomed to fail, due to the characters they were portraying. And so was Karl Urban as Leonard McCoy. Granted there were moments when he seemed to be aping DeForrest Kelly, but I had enjoyed his performances so much that I tolerated those moments. John Cho was deliciously cool and slightly sardonic as Sulu. And I thought it was a great touch that the screenwriters remembered Sulu’s penchant for fencing . . . and used it in a great fight scene. Anton Yelchin made a charming and energetic Chekov with probably a more authentic Russian accent than Walter Koenig. However, I found his role as a 17 year-old commissioned Starfleet officer rather questionable, considering that Chekov has never been portrayed as some kind of ”boy genius” like Wesley Crusher. I hate to say this, but I found Simon Pegg’s interpretation of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott disappointing and rather annoying. Pegg tried to infuse the character with a lot of broad humor. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too broad. His Scotty was so over-the-top that I found myself longing for another character to shoot him with a phaser.
I had seen ”THE ORIGINAL SERIES” first pilot, ”The Cage” only once in my life. Which means I have vague memories of the late Jeffrey Hunter’s portrayal of Christopher Pike, Kirk’s predecessor aboard the Enterprise. However, I thought that Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Pike in the movie to be definitely memorable. Clifton Collins Jr. gave admirable support as Nero’s henchman, Ayel. Both Winona Ryder and especially Ben Cross were believable as Spock’s parents – Amanda Grayson and Ambassador Sarek. I would not exactly call Nero one of the best villains in the TREK franchise. But I must admit that Eric Bana had given it his all with a performance that infused the character with a great deal of passion, malice and complexity without going over-the-top. Last, but not least, there was Leonard Nimoy portraying the late 24th century Spock. There were times when Nimoy seemed to be struggling with the role due to his age (he was at least 77 years old when the movie was filmed). Fortunately, these moments were very few and his Spock was a warm and more matured character who finally seemed to be a peace with his mixed heritage.
Daniel Mindel’s cinematography, along with the visual and special effects featured in the movie seemed pretty solid. However, I found nothing memorable or exciting about them. If the movie does manage to earn Oscar nominations, I will be very surprised. On the other hand, I rather liked Dawn Brown and Kevin Cross’ set designs – especially their work on the Enterprise. A good number of fans have complained that they were not an exact replica of the Enterprise’s interiors from the series. Frankly, I prefer these new interiors. As for Michael Giacchino’s original score . . . I have no memories of it. I found it that forgettable.
In the end, ”STAR TREK” is a pretty solid action film that is sure to provide a great deal of entertainment for moviegoers, this summer. It is not the best ”TREK” film I have seen. I believe that both STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME” and ”STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT” are better. And as much as I liked Orci and Kurtzman’s script, I had a few problems with their handling of the time travel aspect of the story, along with the backgrounds of characters like Kirk and Chekov, along with the Spock/Uhura romance. And the story seemed like a slightly inferior remake of the ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” episode, ”Year of Hell”. But the cast, led by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, was first-rate, aside from Simon Pegg’s hammy performance. And in the end, I would say that J.J. Abrams . . . did a pretty good job.