Short version: While hard core Trekkies may have some problems with it, this long time classic Star Trek fan found this reboot fun, fresh & exciting.
Screen Rant reviews Star Trek
Where to start? (This is going to be a long one, folks. If you want to skip the preamble and get right to the review itself click here.)
Some people are Star Wars fanatics, others go nuts over Transformers or X-Men. While I’m a huge Iron Man fan, Star Trek is my true love going back well over 30 years. My favorite of all the shows? The Original Series (aka TOS). You may look at it now and think it looks cheesy (however I highly recommend you check out the digitally remastered version with brand new visual effects on DVD or Blu-ray), but remember the original Star Trek is over 40 years old.
At the time the other big Sci-Fi TV show was the cheese-fest called Lost in Space – so keep that in mind as a comparison.
I have Star Trek prop replicas on my bookshelves (some pretty damned nice ones) along with a copy of the original Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph and a set of blueprints of the original U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 (which shows the location of a bowling alley on the ship!). I’ve memorized every episode of the original series – I can tell you which one each one is within seconds of any of them starting. And I’ve seen every movie.
Yes, I’m into Trek “canon” – tracking all the little details that tie the whole Star Trek universe together, however I’m also aware (though some fans seem to be in denial about this) that over the course of hundreds of episodes across five different series, Star Trek itself has violated its own canon many times.
Why am I telling you all this? So you have some context for my review of J.J. Abrams’, Roberto Orci’s and Alex Kurtzman’s reboot of the Star Trek universe. However this is not a review just for “Trekkies,” and that’s appropriate because neither is this film just for that group of die hard fans (among which I include myself).
Also, I did read the four part prequel comic that tells the story which leads to the events that take place in the film. If you have a chance I recommend you find it and pick it up at your local comic book store as it really fleshes out the “villain” in the film, Nero.
Some fans may disagree, but this franchise was in desperate need of a reboot, re-imagination, fresh “take” or whatever you’d like to call it. Star Trek, as a brand, was whithering on the vine and was in danger of being put on the shelf for who knows how long – until Paramount might decide enough time had gone by to give it another go. This was due to a number of factors, among which included the subsequent series being taken in directions by Rick Berman (and to some exent, Brannon Braga) that the fans did not agree with. Essentially it was a case of “the fans don’t know what’s good for them – we’ll tell them what they want.”
From this we gained the ignoble death of Captain Kirk in a transition movie with a stupidly weak plot device, Star Trek: Voyager, the Lost in Space of Trek, progressively crappier movies and finally Enterprise: At least an attempt at something fresh in Trek, which unfortunately went off in some half-assed direction – and Manny Coto’s efforts to bring the show back to what it should have been in season 4 were too little, too late.
So… when it was announced that the new film would go back to before the original series crew had met I was both excited at the prospect and terrified of how it might turn out. I mean we’re talking about recasting iconic roles. Bill Shatner? Leonard Nimoy? DeForest Kelly and James Doohan?
But I tried to be cautiously optimistic over the course of very early news, pre-production and through the production. I listed this film as my most anticipated of the year…
And I was NOT disappointed.
So finally – the review…
Star Trek opens with a “bang.” We see the U.S.S. Kelvin out in space and coincidentally (considering the vastness of you know, the universe) it comes upon a monstrous and very alien spacecraft. A battle immediately commences, and if you’ve seen any of the trailers or commercials you know that the ship is destroyed and most of the crew escapes – saved by James T. Kirk’s father.
This scene is as close as fans of the original show will get to an for the most part unaltered but updated version of the classic Trek era. The Kelvin has an odd configuration, but looks like just a more detailed and slightly updated version of a ship from the original series. Couple of nits right off the bat: I did NOT like the look of the engineering decks. They looked like a cross between an industrial plant and an old subway to me. The next thing was the fact that it was mentioned that there were 800 crewmembers on the ship. The original Enterprise, which was similar in size to the Kelvin held just over 400 crew men and women.
Trek-geek nits aside, it was a thrilling opening to the film – I’d almost dare say as much space action in that one scene as we usually get in an entire Star Trek film, and shot in a much more dynamic manner. And having Jim Kirk being born during the battle just before the death of his father – it’s a great start.
From there we cut to the familiar scene of a young Jim Kirk racing a mid 1960s Corvette (a nod to the time period in which the original show aired?). He’s trouble and that’s evidenced when we see him next as a young twenty-something trying to pick up Uhura in a bar and picking a fight with four Starfleet red-shirts (and they’re bruisers). His butt is eventually kicked and Captain Pike (played most excellently by Bruce Greenwood) gives Kirk (Chris Pine) a fatherly talk, convincing him to enlist in Starfleet.
Across the quadrant we get to see Spock as a young boy for the first time since an episode back in the early 1970s of the animated series. There’s a great scene right here and I won’t spoil it a bit for you. They picked a good actor to play Sarek, Spock’s father and we see Winona Ryder briefly as his mother. It was strange seeing her at 37 – with laugh lines around her eyes and looking so much older than I remember.
Another great scene is the introduction of Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. I swear Urban was channeling DeForest Kelly – he was just great and a pleasure to watch on screen.
All of our well known crew ends up on the newly constructed NCC-1701 for its inaugural launch. The way Uhura gets on the ship demonstrates her inner strength and fortitude and the way McCoy gets Kirk on the ship provides the one moment of slightly overly goofy humor in the film.
Of course eventually they run into Nero (Eric Bana) in his mutant-looking starship. One thing leads to another and Spock ends up in charge of the ship much to Kirk’s chagrin. It’s soon after this that we meet “old Spock” (Leonard Nimoy, duh). Up until now it wasn’t TOO much of a stretch as to how the crew was brought together, but the meeting between Kirk and Spock was pretty high on the coincidence meter.
I won’t get into much more of the plot, suffice it to say the overarching story here is how the dynamic between Kirk, McCoy and Spock first developed.
I’d say that Abrams and crew did a pretty respectable job of creating a film that had the possibility of being a no-win situation. Roberto Orci mentioned to me “the Kobayashi Maru-like nature of what we were attempting” in describing the task of creating a film that would appeal to both a new generation unfamiliar with the original series yet would satisfy long time fans.
So what wasn’t so good? I thought that Anton Yelchin layed on the Russian accent way too thick as Chekov. There was a brief comedic moment early on where the computer could not understand what he was saying. I’m hoping in the next film they cut back on that a bit. There was also a romantic relationship in the film (I won’t say between who) that frankly, felt forced and done just for the sake of the gimmick. There was also a reference to Commander Archer (the Captain of the first starship Enterprise from the series of the same name) that didn’t make sense to me based on the timeline between that series and this movie (yeah, minor nit). I’d say the major problem with the film was that Eric Bana as Nero was woefully underdeveloped – no doubt more a problem of the script than his acting.
Even on the new Enterprise, still the industrial look in engineering, looking as I described above plus maybe throw in a brewery for kicks. It just didn’t work for me.
And if you’re a die hard Trekkie, be forewarned – there are a couple of things that happen in this film that will probably make you very, very angry. But remember, it’s an alternate timeline, so ANYTHING can happen.
Oh, and seeing a Nokia product placement in a movie that’s supposed to take place in the 23rd century? Ripped me RIGHT out of the movie for a moment.
So what was good? I think that this is accessible Star Trek – it will attract (hopefully) a non-Trekkie fanbase and transcend the “Trek is for geeks” stereotype of the franchise. There’s little if any technobabble (which really went off the scale during The Next Generation), the space battles and action scenes are far beyond what we’ve seen in any previous Star Trek film, and the stars of the film are pretty engaging.
And the ship – the highly debated ship… I know there are haters out there – heck, I was one of them when I first saw it. But on the big screen, it WORKS. For the most part it looked great except for that damned flat pancake of a rear end on the secondary hull. And believe me, you’re going to LOVE watching, hearing and yes, feeling the Enterprise go into and come out of warp. They did a hell of a job with the new visual look and the seat-vibrating audio effects.
I loved Simon Pegg’s Scotty – younger than we saw on the show and a bit more unbridled. Great stuff. Zachary Quinto took a bit getting used to as Spock, but in the end I thought he did a decent job. The big question is Chris Pine: Did he pull off Kirk?
I say, yes, he did.
He didn’t emulate Shatner in speech pattern or mannerisms, but in attitude. He was almost there through most of the film, but I’m here to tell you – the final scene, when he walks on the bridge finally wearing the gold tunic… I actually thought “Damn, he IS Captain James T. Kirk.”
For the die hard fans there were tons of nods to previous films and the TV series. I’m quite sure I only caught a fraction of them but here are the few that I can remember:
- We learn the origin of Kirk’s middle name, Tiberius.
- We learn the origin of McCoy’s nickname, Bones.
- We see what looks like a TOS communicator on the USS Kelvin.
- We finally get to see Kirk beat the Kobiyashi Maru test at Starfleet (priceless scene, by the way – done with ultimate young Kirk cockiness).
- References to Star Trek IV and Wrath of Khan.
I know there was a tribble in there somewhere, but I missed it.
I feel like I rambled a bit but as a fan who’s been really looking forward to this there was a lot to take in. I would have preferred a second viewing before reviewing the film, but one will have to do.
Was it perfect? No. Will it satisfy hard core, no-deviation-from-canon fans? Doubtful. But overall I’m VERY happy with this reincarnation of Star Trek and I hope it makes enough money to guarantee a sequel, in which we’ll get to see the crew functioning as a well-oiled machine.