Should I Watch..? Star Trek
What's the big deal?
Star Trek is a sci-fi action film and is the eleventh film of the Star Trek film franchise that begun in 1979. Directed by J.J. Abrams, the film was intended as a reboot for the series and features an alternate timeline to the existing Star Trek chronology. The film itself focuses on the original crew of the USS Enterprise (as seen in the Sixties TV show) battling a vengeful time-traveller as well as the clash of personality between officers James T. Kirk and Spock. The film's cast includes Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Zoe Saldana and Leonard Nimoy. The film was released to a largely positive reception and earned more than $385 million as well as the first Oscar for the entire franchise, winning Best Makeup.
What's it about?
Sometime in the 23rd century, a young James T. Kirk is wasting his youth getting into bar-fights with Starfleet personnel. Encouraged by the captain of Starfleet's USS Enterprise Captain Pike, Kirk joins up and makes a friend of medic Leonard McCoy. Meanwhile, the half-human Vulcan Spock goes against his people and also enlists with Starfleet. Three years later and Kirk and Spock are at each other's throats when a distress signal comes in from Spock's homeworld Vulcan. With the rest of the fleet out of range, the cadets are forced into action with Spock, Kirk and McCoy all joining Captain Pike aboard the Enterprise.
However, the distress signal is actually a strange energy storm in space - generated by the Romulan ship Narada and led by the villainous Nero. The Narada has been sent from the future to locate a fellow time-traveller and with the Enterprise hopelessly outgunned, Pike has no choice but to surrender. Before he goes, he passes command over to Spock and makes Kirk the new First Officer of the Enterprise. Can the pair of them overcome their differences and save the day?
James T. Kirk
Montgomery "Scotty" Scott
Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy
Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman *
Release Date (UK)
8th May, 2009
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
The original films never really got the visuals right until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1), by which time no amount of CG could disguise the aging cast. But with Star Trek, the screen is awash with quality. It's the little touches that make the setting far greater than what you see on screen, much like Abrams did with Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2). Take the shot of Kirk riding around on his motorbike and stopping to see a vast starship (possibly the Enterprise itself) being built, the innards exposed and tiny sparks of welding showering down. It's impressive stuff and knowing Abrams' inability to ignore a pop culture reference, the film is stuffed full of little nods to the original series.
I also thought that the cast would struggle to escape the iconic performances of the original cast but a few excel. Quinto is superb as Spock, tormented by his heritage and determined to see things done by-the-book. By contrast, Pine is supremely cocky and almost annoying as Kirk - but crucially, he's the perfect partner for Quinto. The pair of them drive the movie forward with their bickering and self-doubt and really make the film about more than who has the better ship. The film also has a number of action scenes that, while maybe not keeping in the spirit of the original, certainly helps draw the attention of viewers who might prefer a light-saber to photon torpedoes.
- Simon Pegg never auditioned for the role of Scotty - Abrams simply emailed him asking him if he would be interested in playing the role. Pegg later admitted that he would have played the role for free or even paid Abrams to be in the movie.
- Majel Barrett, Gene Roddenberry's widow and the voice of the Enterprise computer, recorded her lines from home. She finished the work just two weeks before she passed away in December 2008. The film is dedicated to her and Gene's memory.
- This marks the first time that Uhuru's first name was mentioned on screen - Nyota. Roddenberry never gave the character a first name until someone pointed out to him that Nyota means "star" in Swahili. It was also used in several literary sources before becoming canon with this film.
What's not to like?
While Quinto and Pine helm the movie with assuredness, several other crew members struggle to assert themselves. The likes of Urban, Yelchin, Cho and even Pegg fail to escape the long shadows of their predecessors while Saldana hasn't much to do besides look fetching in the traditional mini-skirt. Bana is also a disappointment as the time-travelling Nero whose motives remained somewhat obscured until the reassuring presence of Nimoy as the original Spock arrives for some much-needed exposition. If anything, the film is more about Kirk and Spock clashing with each other instead of some baddie with a big ship but the film needs someone to boo, I suppose.
The biggest problem I have with Star Trek is... well, it just isn't Star Trek. The original show was as concerned with the exploration of the human condition as it was with the distant corners of the galaxy. It was about humanity working together to solve all problems, fighting to ensure peace reigned supreme over evil and chaos. Instead, this reboot is more concerned with fancy visuals and eye-catching action pieces such as the ridiculous "space-jump" onto the clunky giant drill-thing. I have a real problem with this section of the film - not only was it pointless (why not transport?) but badly written, with anonymous baddies appearing from nowhere and being fought off with swords and a good right hook. Safe to say, people who prefer their sci-fi more exciting would be better off with Star Wars (3) while long-time fans of the series will be wondering what Abrams has done to their beloved franchise.
Should I watch it?
I won't say my scepticism has been completely banished but Star Trek is more enjoyable than I thought it would be. With a new cast comes new blood into a series that had grown stale all too quickly and with the excellent visuals, the film offers a heady mix of decent characterisation and excitement. But fans of the show might struggle to get on-board with this reboot which spends too much time harking back to the original show and not enough trying to forge its own path.
Great For: sci-fi fans, Leonard Nimoy's popularity, anyone put off by those creaky effects from the Sixties
Not So Great For: older viewers, fans of the original TV show, plot-hole spotters
What else should I watch?
Ordinarily, I'd talk about the sequel round about now but Star Trek Into Darkness (4) is even more of a departure with lots of meaningless action sequences which look great but don't really offer anything new or exciting. Worryingly, it also borrows the script from one of the old Star Trek movies which might suggest that Abrams is running out of ideas already. For my money, the best Star Trek films were Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (5) which had Shatner and the rest of the gang pitched into a do-or-die battle with a crazed Ricardo Montalban and the aforementioned Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country which managed to get everything right - story, action, characterisation and effects. The rest are pretty much of a muchness although I'd stay well away from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (6) - it's an unholy mess of a movie.
Of course, fans of the Star Trek films or the original TV show have little street cred compared to the legions of fans of Star Wars but the once-legendary series has also hit a rough patch from time to time. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones (7) made the same mistakes as Star Trek in that pretty visuals distracted from the complicated (and frankly dull) story plodding away somewhere in the background. And the recent Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens also suffered the same problems, despite Abrams (the director of that film as well) also throwing references at the viewer by the bucket-load. The other problem with Abrams' Star Wars film is that it's nearly an exact remake of A New Hope, despite what the geeks say...
© 2016 Benjamin Cox