Probably the biggest adaptation/remake since Peter Jackson tackled The Lord of the Rings Trilogy nearly a decade ago; bringing Star Trek into the new millennium was always going to be an ambitious project. So who better to do this than genre bending, mind-tripper JJ Abrams of Lost & Cloverfield fame? With an enviable cast, a decent budget, and an obvious affection for the source material Abrams has risen to the challenge creating a worthy homage to the ultimate geek sci-fi institution whilst giving the new gen Star Trek his own distinctive stamp.
Charging in full throttle with a fresh injection of action fuelled vigour Abrams’ Star Trek prequel takes the route of changing up a few plot/character details of the much beloved original television/movie series whilst remaining faithful to its feel and style – though it has to be said that Abrams has covered himself in the diverging-from-the-original department via some nicely applied Lost style plot mechanics. The movie’s introductory set up sequence plants us in the past providing, in the midst of the ensuing action, context for James Tiberius Kirk’s (JTK’s) beginnings and subsequent character development. After some brief vignettes from the future captain’s childhood we jump ahead to his entry into Federation Starfleet academy and this is where the action really begins. Cue revenge obsessed Romulans, man-made black holes, planet-scale destruction, and the maiden voyage of the freshly minted federation starship the USS Enterprise.
Growing up in the television and VCR obsessed 80s (we had no Playstations or X-Boxes to distract from our small screen regimen!) I have a more than passing familiarity with all things Star Trek but I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a ‘Trekkie’. Still, that said, I know that Tribbles aren’t just cute and fluffy, that you don’t want to be wearing a red crew shirt on an away mission, and that this isn’t the only time JTK has a rendezvous with a hot green-skinned Orionite girl. Abrams has stacked the film to the brim with trekkie geek references to keep the rabid fanboys frothing at the mouth. To be sure I only picked up maybe 10% of them: including direct references to at least the first four films from the original run. But its not just the character cameos and the use of iconic catchphrases (eg: Bones “Damn it man, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!”; Scotty “I’m giving her all she’s got captain”; Kirk “beam us up Scotty”); Abrams has really hit the mark with exceptional casting – I swear that the actors have been asked to mimic some of the facial expressions of the original cast – and keying into many of the smaller details that helped popularise Star Trek with generations past.
The big three are all well cast: Zachary Quinto (Sylar in TV’s Heroes) carries off the straight fringe and pointed ears of Mr Spock in convincingly sober and conflicted fashion; Karl Urban owns the role of contrary older medic Dr Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy who befriends Kirk upon their simultaneous entrance into Starfleet academy; Chris Pine is perhaps the weakest of a strong leading trio but nevertheless captures JTK’s strong willed, rough-round-the-edges prodigy attempting to live up to the memory of his father – even if he can’t quite match the raw charisma of William Shatner’s Kirk. Casting of the lesser characters is also commendable with Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), and Spock’s father Sarek (Ben Cross) all filling the shoes of their predecessors admirably. Though Simon Pegg injects manic humour (as well as a passable Scottish accent) into the character of engineer whiz Montgomery “Scotty” Scott he also strays the most from the characterisation of his forerunner. Probably the find of the supporting cast would be Anton Yelchin in the role of brilliant, if overenthusiastic, young Russian navigator Pavel Chekov.
The filmmakers achieve an interesting balance between the effects-driven expectations of modern actioneer blockbusters and the kitschy campy feel of the long running television series. For the most part this provides a great comedic edge; however, one of my few criticisms would be that Abrams, in his enthusiasm, occasionally crosses the line from homage into parody. I also found most of the close-quarters action sequences to be overly kinetic – as is the style of many action films these days. All the super close-up shots cut super fast, whilst creating an appropriate sense of disorientation, are just too hard to follow visually. I prefer to see what’s going on in a fight. On the plus side, Kirk’s predominant action sequences are the same kind of hand to hand fights that William Shatner showcased in the TV series on a weekly basis. And Abrams even has the restraint to let his key protagonist lose most of his fights; a refreshing departure from conventional Hollywood ‘wisdom’.
Abrams Star Trek (to me) had more of an extended episodic feel than a feature feel but I found that this worked for the film. He applied his Lost twistedness to the plot to the extent that he managed to subvert a few of the genre rules and poke fun at typical sci-fi conventions without losing any of the film’s warmth towards its origins. With its modern production sensibilities, impressive cast, smart narrative, and contrasted big vs small scale action set pieces I think that this new Star Trek should do well (perhaps mirroring the success of Chris Nolan’s reinvigorated Batman) and will likely be a successful reboot to this iconic franchise.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: M – Contains violence
Duration: 122 mins
Genre: Sci-fi Action
Director: JJ Abrams (2009)
Actors: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Winona Ryder, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Cross, and Simon Pegg.
Release Date: 07 May 2009