Star Trek the umpteenth reboot to one of the most iconic and successful and rebooted franchises in TV and film history. It’s a prequel (my friend called it Dawson’s Trek, which after watching I can’t say I really agree with), which is nothing new in and of itself, but funny how a relative newcomer to Hollywood (J.J. Abrams) is showing old-timers like George Lucas how it should be done.
This film — in its very concept — works in broad strokes, taking us from the birth of Jim Kirk to his inevitable rite of passage as the more commonly known Captain Kirk. This inevitability is important, because the franchise was up against two factors here; on one hand, they needed to entertain and keep the die-hard and part-time Trekkies alike giddy until the end; on the other, they had to initiate a new legion of fans (myself included) into the world of the U.S.S. Enterprise. On the most basic level, I’d say they succeed at both, but not without a few sacrifices and distractions.
First of all, Star Trek was entertaining and fun (for lack of any overly sophisticated words). I found myself cringing as Kirk tried desperately to seek shelter on the ice planet. I clung to every Scottish syllable Montgomery Scott (Scotty) issued forth. And though the romantic element was slightly thin overall, I found solace in an unexpected flame sparked around the half way point of the film. The world building sustained my interest, suspending my disbelief just long enough to get the job done. There were a couple of Armageddon moments, where if you blinked you missed the plot detours, which were usually fed to us by Sulu or Checkov (funny in his Polish dialect, though not as funny as Eugene Hutz in Everything Is Illuminated, who would have been a more interesting casting choice).
Secondly — and equally as important when reading other reviews of this film and wondering why it is not held in the same esteem as say, the original Star Wars, or even Casino Royale — is that Star Trek is also (for all of its charms) a very pedestrian movie. The plotting was mostly text book sci-fi pulp drivel, the characters strained yet never bent beyond their predetermined archetypes, and the dialog (while entertaining) never held any true sense of import. Moments of sage wisdom or contemplative decision-making came across as telegraphed punches, making the comic relief less sharp than it could have been. Where was the risk? The existentialist Stephen Hawking theories? Why tread lightly when you should be going boldly? I felt like the revelations in this film could have been as epic as the visuals themselves set out to be.
I was surprised by the devotion to Spock as a pivot-point of the plot. You would have thought it might have easily become a journey of Kirk’s rites of passage to becoming captain. I think it was a wise move to shift away from that pitfall, lest it feel too much like the Anakin Skywalker’s rise to Darth Vader. The central conflict — involving an alien race hell-bent on revenge, the Romulans — was just okay, nothing original or Earth-shattering (actually…). That aspect of the film felt like filler to me, the misguided revenge as a weak crux in the middle of a rollicking space opera epic. The macguffin itself, however, I rather liked: the whole red matter as pebble-in-a-pond motif worked for me here (literally) on an inter-planetary level.
A moment’s attention on the cinematography. I am a fan of J.J. Abrams, and LOST may be one of the all-time greatest television series, but I swear to Jacob himself when I say that I lost count of how many lens flares he used within the first two minutes of the film. I think he even managed to get a flare in on a predawn landscape. He made Michael Mann look like Ken Burns after this. Combine that with Abrams’ newfangled Paul Greengrass-inflected handheld maneuvering, and you have a movie that only functions at least twelve rows back from the front. This is an important footnote, for there is nothing as distracting as a camera who is overly aware of herself. I could almost hear her speaking to me like a fledgling pigeon saying, “Watch me, aren’t I clever?” on more than one occasion.
All of that said, I give this film a smiley face with a wink. I loved watching Chris Pine (James Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock, aka Sylar in Heroes, aka a much better choice for the role than the once-courted Adrien Brody) build up their report over the course of the film. I really thought several of the scenes were wonderfully imaginative (Vulcan’s educational pods springs to mind, along with the sky diving down to the Romulan’s drill base scene). The acting was over the top but worked for the material, and besides a few of the interior shots of Starship Enterprise (see image below), Abrams managed to eschew the B-movie film/TV series connotations (i.e. M.A.S.H. in spandex).
Star Trek is most certainly the first of many new films in an instantly rejuvenated franchise, the denouement alone made that much clear. They’ve rebooted the Bond franchise successfully, why not Star Trek? I can already imagine the sequel in my head; you know, the one where Kirk tries to change the past and rekindle his relationship with his father, only to be faced with a difficult choice when the fate of a helpless planet hangs in the balance. The one where black holes act like quick sand because the CG effects can look cooler. The one with lens flares used as glints on teeth and eyes, just because it makes everything look better. Yeah that one. See you at the theater in a couple years for more.
Oh, before signing off, I just wanted to mention how I found myself tying some of the logic of time travel in this film back to Abrams’ LOST project, and actually I think he dropped some clues. Anyone else catch that?
By Ryan Dunn
Ryan is a photographer, film junkie and blogger at large. He splits his time between New York and Chicago and shares his unique take on the world of art at www.liftingfaces.com.