I am currently coming off my second viewing of J.J. Abram’s “Star Trek”, and am still reveling in the excitement I felt during both screenings. I come at Star Trek primarily as a fan of TNG (The Next Generation, in non-geek) and of late, Deep Space Nine. I rarely watched the original series though I have seen all the movies (The Undiscovered Country being my favorite; no hate from the Khan lovers please.) I went into Abram’s adaptation feeling a certain amount of trepidation. Like so many other fans I was nervous that the genre would be overrun by a new wave, and homage would not be paid to the vision of the late Gene Rodenberry. Within the first hour my fears had been allayed and I knew that I loved the movie. This is unusual for me since most of the time I cannot gage my reaction to a film until the credits.
The thing that blew me away about this film was the cast. Though my knowledge of the original characters has by no means reached Trekker status, I couldn’t have asked for a better selection of actors to play the young crew of the Enterprise. Whether it was a strategic decision to choose relative newcomers to the big screen or just dumb luck, this film struck gold in its lead players. Chris Pine was able to breathe life into young Captain Kirk, making the character his own, whilst still humbly paying tribute to the Kirk created by Shatner and the original series writers. Zachary Quinto portrayed Spock in conflict, struggling with the pull between his human and Vulcan heritage. I was worried going in that I would only see brain-lusting Sylar of Heroes, marauding around space with pointy ears and a botched eyebrow job, but this was not the case. Quinto separated us so fully from his silver screen persona, allowing us glimpses of the Spock we know and love, but whom he has not quite grown into yet. The most paralleled portrayal in my opinion was that of Karl Urban, who portrayed Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. His mannerisms were nothing if not precise, and the humour surrounding his Bones-isms was perfectly timed and had just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek.
SPOILERS to FOLLOW
I read a review today where it was mentioned that Kirk’s character has zero development, and his journey is pretty much nil, in the emotional sense. I couldn’t agree more, though at first I couldn’t figure out why I still loved the movie. Typically if a character is lacking development I am turned off; in this case, I think I was just so excited to see where Kirk came from that I bypassed my normal must-haves for a character. I know from the original series that Kirk is a fairly stagnant character. Kirk is who he is, no bones about it I expected this. Seeing it brought to life by the vibrant and attractive Chris Pine only solidified my love for Kirk and his ways. I get the feeling that this movie bucks the system in many ways. Abram’s took an unpolished script from mid-writer’s strike, characters beloved by possibly some of the most intense fan group (ever met a trekker?) and a story arc that had a very specific format to follow, dashed a little bit of cinnamon and paprika on it, and the rest is magic.
The choice to create an alternate timeline was probably the best thing the writers could have chosen to give the film a little bit of breathing room from the expectations that it had to live up to, whilst showcasing characters that are recognizable despite different circumstances. The alternate universe allowed Abrams to showcase a different set of events without feeling like he was stepping on the toes of those who’ve memorized the dates and times of every important Star Fleet event in Trek history.
Nero as a villain was an interesting choice. This is possibly the only thing that remains up in the air for me (other than the copious sun flares that plagued the movie; seriously once is funny, twice is annoying, three times deserves a spanking). Nero is a villain that facilitated both Kirk and Spock’s agendas in the film. Kirk has a personal vendetta against Nero for causing the death of his father. Nero’s reactionary choices allow Kirk to showcase his shoot from the hip style. Spock, whose future self incidentally caused Nero to become what he is, struggles with the emotions brought on by Nero’s form of revenge and Kirk’s method of dealing with Nero. Why am I up in the air? We barely get to know anything about Nero. We see a brief holograph of the pregnant wife he lost when Romulus was destroyed. We know why he is here, but we never find out who he is. Some history on his personality would have been nice. Was he always so reactionary? Has he proven himself ruthless prior to these events? Do those awesome tattoos mean anything? Even a flash-forward (or back depending on how you look at it) to him with his wife may promote more sympathy for Nero, thereby creating more intensity behind his cause. One thing I can say for certain, Eric Bana delivered a great performance, as usual. I could barely find Bana in Nero at all, unless I scrutinized the eyes. He went as far as he could with what he was given.
Abrams breathed new life into the worn backdrops and tired sets, creating an Apple Store bridge, with clean white technology and Kindle-esque tools. Engineering resembles a submarine packed with technology, and well-oiled machines. The Enterprise gives the impression of the Navy, in space. The crew salutes the captain when he walks past, and you can tell that they are there to perform a duty, rather than attend a housewarming party. This was s fantastic directorial choice, as the original Enterprise was essentially a ship, not the home that was portrayed in The Next Generation where the crew lived on the ship for years at a time. In Kirk’s early days a mission was undertaken, executed, and the crew was returned to earth or their respective planets. This take gives the viewers a sense of realism, something that we can attach ourselves to based on the knowledge and experience that we possess.
The pacing of the film can be summed up in my phrase of the week “A no holds barred, action packed, non-stop thrill ride”. From the opening sequence, my eyes were glued to the screen. A great portrayal of familiar characters with a new cast and the best that updated technology has to offer. Combine that with J.J. Abram’s particular brand of magic, and you have a summer blockbuster that few can resist, and will likely last through the winter as well. Kudos to the team of Star Trek for approaching a seemingly insurmountable task, and showing us all that there is no reason you can’t buck the formulas and still appeal to the masses.