A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Star Trek (2009)

January 26, 2011

Star Trek (2009)

This movie is flat out amazing. J.J. Abrams has performed a miracle with this, his brilliant re-imagining and reboot of the Star Trek franchise. We saw this at least twice in the theaters and have seen it many times since it came out on DVD. Indeed we actually threw it in to watch last week just for the fun of it after reviewing Star Trek II.

You know from the first ten minutes of this movie what a wonderful ride you’re on. The very first shot in the film is a gritty up close flyby of a starfleet ship which introduces us to the aesthetic of the new movie. It’s got an ultra-realistic look to the special effects (complete with condensation on the lens of the camera) which draws you right into the action. There’s the infamous glare throughout this film which, in combination with a lot of hand-held camera work lends an almost documentary feel to things at times. It is the emotional impact of the start of the film which awes me though. After more then ten viewings over the last year those first ten minutes still never fail to leave me in tears. If you haven’t seen the movie yet then I don’t want to spoil it for you, and honestly I think you are poorer for not having had the chance to watch one of the greatest first ten minutes in action history.

I’m willing to forgive a lot after that opening. Abrams has me by the heart-strings and I’m along for the ride from that point on. I have quibbles about parts of the movie. For example I don’t particularly like the cavernous industrial design of the engine rooms in this movie. (They remind me of the MST3K episode Space Mutiny – where Mike and the Bots wonder if these boilers and septic systems don’t make the ship a little bottom-heavy.) There’s a chase on an alien plantet where CGI monsters pursue Kirk which reminds me of the “always a bigger fish” journey through the planet’s core in Star Wars I: The Phantom Crappiness. And I don’t particularly like the deus-ex-machina trans-warp-beaming trick that is used to get Kirk onto the Enterprise at one point. If you introduce magic tech like that you risk ruining the tension of future stories – it makes it too easy for people to get around. But all this pales in comparison to that first ten minutes. And in comparison with all the other things in this movie that are done so right.

Much has been radically changed in this new Trek universe, but part of what makes this movie so much fun is that there are so many things that are so true to the source material. We get to see Kirk take the Kobayashi Maru test as alluded to in Wrath of Khan. We get to see Pike in command of the Enterprise as in The Cage and in his wheelchair as in The Menagerie. We get to see a red-suited member of an away team meet his inevitable fate. Sulu with his sword, Kirk with his womanizing, Spock with his logic, Chekov with his accent – it’s all so perfectly reminiscent of the original series. From the very first shot of the movie we know this is Star Trek, even if it is radically new, just from the familiar pinging of the instruments on a Star Trek starship bridge.

Abrams and his crew understand something important about Star Trek – that at its core it is not about space battles or time travel or aliens. Sure those things are in a good Star Trek story, but that’s not really the heart of Star Trek. The heart of Star Trek – any Star Trek – is the crew. The crew of the Enterprise (or of DS-9 or Voyager for that matter) are family. For nerds like my wife and myself they are our family. The greatest miracle of this movie is that we get to see our old friends Kirk and Bones and Spock and Chekov and Scotty and Uhura and Sulu having another grand adventure.

It was a tremendous risk – to have new young actors portraying these iconic and oh so familiar characters. This movie’s greatest success is that in absolutely every case the performances we see here not only ring true but are able to bring new life to these characters. Chris Pine doesn’t allow himself to do a Shatner impersonation (except a single syllable line near the end of the movie) and instead shows us the young, brash, impulsive and charismatic Kirk we remember from way back in the original series. Zachary Quinto (who in my first few viewings of this movie I only saw as Sylar with pointy ears) actually does a spectacular job portraying the little quirks of Nimoy’s Spock – so well that in a scene where the two of them actually have a conversation with each other I could really believe that they were both the same character. Karl Urban channels DeForest Kelley so well that it’s absolutely eerie. The rest of the crew are slightly more radical interpretations. John Cho as Sulu is not so much based on George Takai’s Sulu as it is a re-interpretation of the same basic character. Anton Yelchin’s Chekov has the advantage of beiing performed by an actual Russian. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is played mostly for laughs (which was often true of Doohan’s Scotty as well) and is a joy to watch – overblown accent and all. Most impressive is Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. She’s a much expanded character given a lot more to work with than Nichelle ever was, and Saldana is an extremely accomplished actress, so it is a joy to watch her at work. (And thankfully not a fan dance in sight.)

This movie single-handedly resurrected a dead franchise. Now I find myself in a state I haven’t been since the eighties – eagerly awaiting the next Star Trek sequel and wondering just what adventures Kirk and his crew will have next. Sometime next year we’ll find out the answer to that question.

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January 26, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Two, and only two, trivial niggles about this movie from me.

    First, giving Sulu a katana instead of a foil was necessary to make the action work, but it was a bit sad to see him get an Asian style of sword. Takei introduced the idea of Sulu being a fencer to combat the idea that Asian characters on TV had to be limited to culturally “appropriate” pursuits.

    Second, the character of James Kirk’s older brother George was transformed in postproduction into his friend “Johnny”; in the final cut, there is no mention of George’s existence. What I want to know is if, because the past has been altered, there never was a second son – certainly, Kirk’s dad is acting like it’s his first born at the beginning, and there’s no sign of an older son in the escape pod. So, is the character of “James Kirk” in this movie the original universe’s George, who was named Jim instead due to the circumstances of his birth (caused directly by Nero’s warping of the timeline)? Did the second son who would have become “our” James Kirk never come to be in this universe? We know from TOS episode “Operation: Annihilate” that George and Jim looked virtually identical, so perhaps elderly Spock couldn’t tell them apart…

    Comment by Jeff | January 26, 2011 | Reply

    • I’ll admit I wondered about George. I just kind of assumed he was left behind with a nanny or something before the events at the start of this film. That doesn’t explain why Jim’s pregnant mother was on the ship though. I guess I like your explanation better.

      Comment by tanatoes | January 27, 2011 | Reply


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