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May 16, 2009

5

Movie Review – Star Trek (2009)

by RISHI AGRAWAL

Much of the publicity campaign around Star Trek centers on how the film is a departure from the original TV series and prior films. It seems that director J.J. Abrams wanted to emphasize that the film was a re-launch of the franchise. It was a fairly large gamble, one that threatened to alienate an obsessive fan base, but one that probably needed to be made in order to appeal to a wider audience. The hardcore fans would probably not be happy regardless of how the new film turned out, but the more casual fans, even the most devoted ones, could probably be won over. And let me tell you, the gamble paid off as Abrams has definitely put together an entertaining film.

I am unsure why Star Trek gets such a negative reputation. Perhaps it’s the dedication of the fan base, which is routinely mocked in popular culture as well as films such as the documentary Trekkies. But, I think that the appeal of the franchise to many people was the fact that, although it was set against a science-fiction backdrop, Star Trek essentially gave us cerebral morality tales that showed us how the universe (as a macrocosm for Earth) could be a better place. The new Star Trek film, however, does not give us any of that. The new film, though not devoid of character development and quiet moments, is essentially an action film. The film has no didactic agenda, but mainly exists to entertain. And if Abrams’ Prime Directive, so to speak, was to make a fun film, then he has done exactly that.

I won’t bore anyone with a plot summary, because I am sure that everyone is at least cursorily aware of the concept behind the film.  The film uses the crew from the original Star Trek TV show in the 1960s and depicts their first mission, concentrating mostly on Kirk and Spock. Despite the fact that the film is a re-launch rather than a prequel, there are many nods to the original series such as how the extra in the red shirt always dies first and the Kobayashi Maru combat test at Starfleet Academy. And although there are many differences between this new film and the original series, the details are still familiar, and the discrepancies will only be noted by the most dedicated fans. Besides, the film’s plot offers a plausible explanation on why this film seems to be set in a different universe without disrupting the original continuity.

The reason to see the film is the plot and the special effects. The space combat scenes are especially entertaining, including a memorable scene which opens the film. I am sure that some people might grouse on how the effects look better in this film than the original series, even though the events take place beforehand, but I don’t mind that the visual look of the Enterprise as well as special effects like the transporter beam were given an update. Some of the action scenes seem a bit gratuitous – such as a sequence near the beginning of the film where Kirk as a boy is shown jumping out of a car moments before it plummets into a ravine.

The movie was well-cast, with Chris Pine displaying the right mix of arrogance, machismo and intelligence to pull off the role of James T. Kirk. Zachary Quinto, perhaps the best part of the sinking ship that is Heroes, is so convincing as Spock that I can hardly imagine anyone else inheriting Leonard Nimoy’s legacy. Zoe Saldana as Uhura is also notable, turning a character who wasn’t given much to do in the original series into a focal point. The rest of the cast is talented, and though they were a bit underdeveloped in this first film, I am sure that they will be given a chance to shine later in later films. Eric Bana is also very good as the main villain, who actually has a backstory and motivations assigned to his character.

If I had to levy criticism against the film, I would say that occasionally it drifts into slapstick. I’ll admit that Star Trek does have a reputation for being hokey at points, but it was rarely intentional. The characters, at the very least, took themselves seriously. Although some of the comedy in the film worked, much of it seemed incongruous with the rest of the film, even with great comic actors like John Cho and Simon Pegg. Still, Star Trek fulfills the most important goal of the first film of a franchise – to make the audience excited for the next one. In fact, a lot of people are comparing Star Trek to Iron Man. Not because the films are anything alike, but that while both films don’t necessarily transcend the summer blockbuster genre, they serve as exemplars of great popcorn filmmaking.

3 1/2 stars


5 Comments Post a comment
  1. miriam
    May 18 2009

    I watched this series as a teenager in the ’60s and count myself a fan, though not sufficiently ardent to be a trekkie. I have always thought humor was one of its strongest elements and was delighted to see that same sensibility in the new film. It was excessive seriousness that sank the follow-up series for many of us. I would differ with you and say that the characters took their jobs/mission seriously but themselves not so much. Think of Harcourt Mudd, the tribbles, or Spocko just for starters. This film got the mixture of humor and action just right in this fan’s opinion.

  2. Rishi
    May 18 2009

    A good point. I was much more of a fan of The Next Generation and the follow-up series as opposed to the original series – and so perhaps my tolerance for humor in Star Trek is a little lower. Not all of the humor fell flat in the movie for me; I just didn’t like the really silly moments, like with Kirk’s giant hands or Scotty’s assistant. I still think the movie worked as a whole, though.

  3. Helen
    May 19 2009

    I really enjoyed this and look forward to more “new adventures.” The writing and performances beautifully captured the spirit of the characters. I fully believed these were the same people ten years younger, going through one of the formative experiences that made them who they were when we first met them.

  4. Nir Shalev
    May 20 2009

    I just disliked the cast. I have no idea who the actors are (keep in mind that I don’t watch tv) and thought that Kirk here was a thrill seeker, which is wrong. He was a risk taker.
    The reason I think the film could still have been better is because it focused mainly on special effects and even though they were really nice, we all know that the evn numbered Star Trek films are the best because they are story and character based, mainly.

    Still a nice effort, though.

  5. Oct 12 2010

    I loved this film and thought that it was a great “re-launch” that pulled off the transition from old to new almost falwlessly. I too am a fan from childhood, but never considered myself a “Trekkie”, I did attend a Star Trek convention in New Orleans along about ’72’73, and I actually met Gene Rodenberry on an elevator at the Jung Hotel. I loved this film, and I do hope that they will continue the franchise.

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