By Marco Chacon
May 11, 2009 07:23 PM EST

Star Trek Theatrical Review

Star Trek Theatrical Review
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Star Trek's promise has always been that it would show us a “for-real Utopian future” where the best voices of mankind have triumphed.  Star Trek’s fans, sometimes reaching religious levels of zeal, have gazed into its holographic crystal ball looking for the fundamental truths of its vision.  There was some actual vision going on also.  For example, Roddenberry's decision, not to use zippers in the 23rd century was the kind of small point that indicates that he was actually thinking hard about the details.  On the other hand, his choice of a racially integrated crew shows his courage and vision with regard to the big picture.

By the time Enterprise rolled around, though, the history was getting thick with what fans call 'canon' (the official history of the show) and what we had seen before the original series, after (Next Gen), way after (DS9), and so on. With ten movies of widely varying quality piled on and uncountable books, comic series (and even an animated TV show) --as well as board games, computer games, and role-playing games, the Star Trek universe was so full of things that any attempt to reconcile it was doomed to failure.  If there ever was a coherent vision of any depth, it was now buried under layers of what might as well have been fan-fiction.

When JJ Abrams decided to re-do it, I admit I was interested, but I was far from sold.  The idea of Star Fleet Academy had been around for years, possibly decades, and a young Kirk and Spock seemed a bit like trying to iron out edges of a story that had mostly already been told.  We know how Kirk dies (badly). We know where McCoy was during the Next Gen maiden voyage.  There was very little that could be said about the Trek universe that had not already been said somewhere else.

Thus, I went into Star Trek with low expectations.  I am pleased to say they were greatly exceeded.  For starters Abrams ditches canon and moves directly to time-manipulation.  I would have thought this was bogus; but in the theater, I decided that it was (a) the cleanest way possible to have a "clean" address of the material, and (b) pretty well in keeping with Star Trek.

What is Abrams trying to do anyway?

Abram's Star Trek (part of a 2009 pattern where the 2009 version carries a minimalist same-name as the franchise starter) is a reboot of the Star Trek universe.  It gives us a time-travel framework for a fresh-start for Kirk (a physical, virile-looking Chris Pine), Spock (a pitch-perfect Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban hitting most of the right notes if a little over-emphatically), Uhura (with the beautiful Zoe Saldana bringing as much humanity and dignity to the character as she deserves), Sulu and Checkov (John Cho and Anton Yelchin giving us everything we could ask for there), and Scotty (Simon Pegg being effortlessly hilarious).  Gone are the heavy-handed moral quandaries that the TV show built on for Abram's intuition that what we really want to see is Kirk and Spock team up and gun down a bunch of bad guys.

Surprisingly, it turns out that Abrams is pretty much on the money!  The reboot, to be certain, does not go for a naive shoot-em-up out of the starting gate.  It builds the characters and illuminates them with some of the most kinetic "let's get the team together" movie making I have seen in a long time.  The performances are strong, the sets look great; again we are treated to new uniforms, a new Enterprise bridge, and so on), and the special effects are gorgeous.

Abrams understands the gravity of what he is dealing with; he is taking cultural heroes and not just re-casting and rebooting them.  He is also taking a beloved property with tens of thousands of fans and asking them to bless a new creation that obliterates much of the old.  Abram's new continuity is not at all what we have seen in the shows.  Its sole hold over is Spock-Prime, Nimoy reprising his iconic role.

He really makes it work.  I felt my nostalgia triggered again and again by Star Trek. All the inconsistencies (the hydraulic turbines in the Enterprise's engine room), all the unlikely escapes (Kirk runs to just the right place to do just the right thing that had never been done before), and all the old patterns ("Dammit Jim--") felt right at home.  Abrams has wisely decided not to be too clever. His fealty is saved for the old crew and the original formula; it isn't to the unwieldy mass that the creation later became.

His sense of action (apparently advised on by Spielberg) is just where it needs to be.  It feels modern while not moving into super-hero territory.  Perhaps, the story is both overly cosmic and yet a bit small-minded.  Do threats to entire planets and the whole Federation really come in such comparatively small packages?  Are the motivations enough to actually drive the behavior we see?  I'm not sure, but it doesn't matter.  If Abrams has a problem, it is that his villain isn't all that interesting, and he shores that up with Eric Bana's natural charisma.

I went in to Star Trek having heard it was good and thinking that in order to get an 'A', it would need to really show me something surprising and amazing.  And as I was carried along, I was thinking that, no, this was not 'it'.  It was very, very good; but it was also very, very 'Trek' with all the scientific fluff coming back in and the poorly designed star-ships with death-drop corridors huge unlikely machines.  It was a little past the middle that I realized something -- this wasn't just the re-telling of the material that had come before -- it was, in fact, taking the shape of Star Trek, but it was cleaving away the years of detritus that had grown up and then rebuilding it from the ground up.  It was not just going back to the original core, but also making it its own.

What it leaves us with is something new -- something that has the appeal of the old and the fresh promise of the original; and it does it convincingly; that was something I never thought I would see.
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About Marco Chacon

FlickDirect, Marco  Chacon

Marco Chacon isn't quite sure what he's doing here. Exposed to radioactive movies at a young age he has gained the proportional strength and agility of celluloid which hasn't proved good for much. However, on the Internet, it's opinion that counts (who needs facts!?) and Marco sure has one of those. Several, in fact. Some contradictory. He has also written and published the JAGS Roleplaing Gaming System. Read more reviews and content by .

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