|By Zach Patterson||Saturday, 16 May 2009|
It’s been kind of sad to see Star Trek marginalized since essentially the turn of the century, but most of the franchise’s output since then has just been derivative or marginal at best. Both Voyager and Enterprise were ratings busts, not to mention often uninteresting in their casting of the supporting cast. The one big strength of TNG and DS9 was the excellent cast that lent itself well to telling many additional subplots, even with secondary characters. However, when the last TNG movie failed to draw much interest in theaters and Enterprise fizzled out, it was clear that something needed to change if the franchise did not want to become a niche interest. While the new movie isn’t your most conventional Star Trek movie, it’s perhaps the kick in the pants that the franchise needed.
I think the biggest change here is bringing in J.J. Abrams to make over the look and feel of the series, and then sending it back to the original series’ cast of characters. Abrams, a director/producer known for his keen visual style in Mission Impossible III, Cloverfield, Lost, and Alias, completely changes the feel of Star Trek here. I’ve always personally believed that the drama in ST movies has been the most solid aspect, but often times the space action scenes feel a little controlled and scripted. Here, from the very beginning, the action is superb and frantic, with a lot of interesting camera angles
during the battles and some of the best CG I can remember seeing in any recent big budget film (and honestly, Wolverine’s CG guys should be embarrassed after seeing this, the difference is night and day).
Also, while I wasn’t originally sold on having a prequel type movie, I think this was by far the right thing to do after seeing it. They chose an alternate reality time travel type story which keeps all the continuity of last 40 years but still gives the writers room to breathe and make new stories. I think this was a big plus here, as they didn’t simply reboot the series from scratch and change everything, they instead took the base of what made Star Trek interesting to start with (great cast of characters, action-packed adventures to new worlds) and gave the writers a lot of free reign to do some different things.
Still, they were able to keep a lot of the feel of Star Trek and the look in a more modern way. The uniforms have been redesigned but still have the distinct look from he original series. The ships and tech have a faux retro-future look to them, as in “This is a redesign of what people in the 60′s thought the future technology would look like and then merged with some of our technology now”. Confusing, but it worked well enough. The music was also pretty well done, with highlights and parts of the original themes used at good moments in the movie.
While I think the action was superb here, some of it does come at the expense of the story. While it still tells a good and entertaining story on the whole, it is lacking some of the “message” that each movie seems to have in it. There’s no overall moral in this, but perhaps that’s not the worst thing in the world. Judging from the box office returns, the movie has definitely succeeded in rekindling interest in the franchise, and the ending left plenty of room to have sequels that give a little more substance. As an action-packed reintroduction of the main characters, this movie worked very well. It definitely felt a little more Star Wars than Star Trek as far as the emphasis on big action and battles on other worlds (the wintery planet Kirk is marooned on reminded me of the Hoth scenes in ESB in many different ways), but again, this is a franchise that needed to get the attention of mainstream America, and it succeeded brilliantly in this aspect, while not ruining the series and the characters everyone knows and loves.
And since you are reintroducing characters that were small and big screen stars for decades (and in the case of Shatner, he still is), getting the right cast for this was essential. And I’ll give credit where it’s due, the casting here was not only well done, but it was certainly interesting as well. I mean, Kirk was in Princess Diaries 2, Spock was the evil villain Sylar in Heroes, McCoy was in The Lord of the Rings (unfortunately I first thought of his role in The Chronicles of Riddick), Scotty was Shaun in Shaun of the Dead (fantastic casting choice, in my opinion), Uhura was in Britney Spears’ Crossroads, Sulu was Harold in Harold and Kumar, Chekhov was Charlie Bartlett, and the main villain Nero was Bruce Banner. Add in some nice cameos (Winona Ryder, Leonard Nimoy, Tyler Perry, Jennifer Morrison) and this was not only a fun cast to see in these roles, but they also performed the spirit of the characters admirably.
Chris Pine deserves perhaps the most credit, as he inherited a role that was nearly impossible to replace, Captain Kirk. While everyone I know praised the casting of Spock with Zachary Quinto (since he’s an established great actor and looks the role nearly perfectly), Pine isn’t very well known, and trying to be William Shatner won’t work, as Shatner is just an iconic figure and has his own quirks and charisma that works for him. Pine, however, delivers a great performance of his own, and gives off a Kirkish feel of rebelliousness and space cowboy mentality. The success of getting new actors to inherit these roles is perhaps this movie’s greatest accomplishment.
While I wasn’t wild about the villain (I like Eric Bana, but he wasn’t given much to work with here) or his look, it worked well enough to move forward the plot. I didn’t really feel like the audience really got to know the character beyond a one dimensional “I’ll destroy your planets! RAARGH” type guy, and his generic tattooed badass in leather look has been done before. I mean really, that probably my only real complaint is that the villain wasn’t all that great. It wasn’t the perfect Star Trek movie and it certainly had some flaws, but most of them were very easy to overlook. The rest of the movie is a fantastic summer movie full of great action, some funny moments, some decent drama, and overall just a great time. It’s a little over two hours, and you’ll wish there was more by the end. I can’t wait for a sequel.