Thursday, May 14, 2009
Movie Review: Star Trek
I actually caught Star Trek last weekend but I have been super busy at work this week and I haven't had that much time to write. Today was quite a long day but I still want to get my thoughts down while they still have some semblance of freshness in my mind.
Star Trek starts out on the USS Kelvin, a Federation star ship that encounters a strange lightning storm in space. From within the anomaly, a gigantic Romulan mining ship exits and lays waste to the ship. Commanded by a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) they order the captain of the Kelvin to come aboard, leaving the young first officer, George Kirk in charge. When the captain is killed, Kirk commands the ship to evacuate and pilots the damaged ship manually to cover the escape. Kirk's pregnant wife escapes aboard the shuttle as Kirk pilots the ship into a last desperate suicide run.
Then the film flashes into the upbringing of the films two stars, the reckless abandon of a young Jim Kirk growing up in Iowa, and a young Spock dealing with the trials of being a half human, half Vulcan in a world that views his heritage as a liability. A perception that ultimately forces an adult Spock (Zachary Quinto) into joining Star Fleet. As Kirk grows older (played by Chris Pine), he gets into more trouble until a Star Fleet Captain named Christopher Pike convinces him to join the fleet and live up to his father's legacy after a particularly rough night.
We are also introduced to Cadet Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldera), who is at Star Fleet with the two of them. When another galactic storm is detected near Vulcan, Star Fleet is scrambled to aide the planet. Kirk, on probation for cheating on a filed test, is snuck aboard the Enterprise by his best friend, Dr. Leonard "Bones" McKoy as he is desperate to be a part of the action. When Kirk hears the distress call, he realizes that the symptoms of the distress call are similar to the ones that killed his father 25 years earlier.
I don't want to spoil the movie from here, but Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew must come together if they want to defeat Nero and his plan to destroy the home worlds of his greatest enemy, Spock himself. Already Kirk and Spock don't get along and through the course of the film, Kirk has to find a way to take control of the Enterprise and set right a timeline that has been shattered by the appearance of Nero, who is from the future and out to get revenge on the man who cost him everything 130 years into the future, Admiral Spock (Leonard Nimoy).
Let's start with the casting. Up and down the board director JJ Abrams hit every character exactly right. From Zachary Quinto playing a wonderful young Spock, keeping his emotions just under the surface, to Chris Pines who manages to play Kirk by channeling the attitude and machismo that made the character so popular, without burdening it with to much of Bill Shatner's traits. Zoe Saldera played Uhura great as well, clearly giving an homage to the great Nichelle Nichols, while keeping her a determined woman more attuned to modern sensibilities. John Cho really sheds the comedic weight of the Harold and Kumar roles as Hikaru Sulu, really grabbing the show in a great sword fighting sequence. Simon Pegg meanwhile really brings some fun and levity during some of the heavy scenes, keeping the sense of fun and adventure alive with brilliant comedic timing that never plays disservice to the role of Chief Engineer Scotty. Anton Yelsin as Pavel Chekov doesn't have a lot of screen time, but he does have a few nice moments that I really hope gets fleshed out in the inevitable sequel. The final bit of casting is my favorite, Karl Urban as the exasperated "Bones" McKoy, brilliantly satirical, the actor (of whom I had very little confidence based in his previous roles) really shown as McKoy, bringing a bit of grim humor to the film, while always maintaining his role as teh pragmatic voice of the crew.
The script is pretty solid, I could nitpick several plot holes (mostly on the sorry state of defense that seem to be surrounding the Star Fleet planets) it manages to pull off a feet I would have thought impossible, namely creating a brand new vision of the Star Trek world, while never discrediting the previous shows or films in the series. The inclusion of Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime (from the future) not only brings a bridge to the reboot for old fans, really allows for a whole realm of possibility re-interpreting some of the great tales that exist in the original universe.
Abrams keeps the film going at a solid pace and allows the characters to breath and grow, never forgetting that its the humanity of Star Trek that makes it memorable, not the size of the spectacle. Still he manages to really modernize the fight scenes into something more relatable, and more importantly, more appreciated, by the fans. The effects and action scenes are a little CGI heavy in some instances, but overall the Trek universe has never looked smarter or more vibrant.
My only real complaints outside of a few unimportant story elements was the lack of character time for the supporting cast. I understand that the center of the tale is Kirk and Spock and the relationship they form, but I felt at times that it took away from the great casting choices around them. Scotty doesn't come into play until over an hour into the film, and Sulu is pretty much a background character after his initial sequence. Bones, very much a centerpiece of the old series, is also relegated to the side cast and I would have really loved to have seen more repartee between Spock and McKoy.
My hope is that now that the initial story is done, they can dedicate a little more time to each actor in the impending sequels. I could also argue that Eric Bana as Nero is still very much a bland villain in the Star Trek universe. Short of Wrath of Khan, Star Trek isn't really known for its villains in its films and Bana could easily have been cast by another actor. Its not that he is bad, far from it, its just that it doesn't really matter who the villain is because the story isn't about that so much as it is about Kirk and Spock and the bonds of friendship they form.
Overall Star Trek is a great movie, fun and exciting with a fairly sharp script. It's a great film for the neophyte Trekker, or a welcome return to the established fan. It's easily worth the price of admission so do yourself a favor and check out Star Trek. I promise it's worth it.
End of Line.