Star Trek (2009) | Movie Review

J.J. Abrams takes his place among the likes of James Cameron and Steven Spielberg to deliver the first true blockbuster of the summer. Top shelf special effects, epic space battles, and electric momentum make this a sci-fi classic in its own right, even outside the Star Trek canon. Abrams has real respect for Star Trek and classic science fiction, and puts real care and craftsmanship into every minute of celluloid. After last week’s ho-hum Wolverine release, it is nice to see summer popcorn fare that actually tries to entertain, instead of relying on the guaranty of fan viewership.

Star Trek starts out with the ham fisted message of rebirth of the franchise, Kirk being born as his father goes down with the ship. Evil Romulan Nero has brought terrible violence to the Trek verse and changed the entire course of history. But even Nero can’t take away Kirk’s pivotal role. This initial fight lays a lot of cards on the table, especially in terms of sheer visual strength. The fight between the Romulan leviathan Narada and the USS Kelvin let us know this movie means business. (A small disclaimer: I am not a fan of Star Trek, and unqualified to comment on continuity, character consistency, etc.)

The Narada is one of the great spaceship designs in film history, menacing and enormous. The design fits well with its event horizon jumping and planet destroying activities. The effect of watching the miniscule Kelvin stand up to this behemoth is absolutely EPIC. Detail shots of the battle show us how a phaser actually operates, and the effects of the battle on the inferior federation ship. Framing, movement, and sound are all top notch. These are special effects no one has ever seen before, they actually push the genre forward, rather than maintaining the status quo.

Kirk is followed from rebellious childhood to horn dog young adulthood in a set of introduction scenes. The visuals of Kirk riding across the dewy blue plains of Iowa on a blue morning are exceedingly well done, and the awesome distant foggy matte paintings of shipyards give a great concept of the confluence of soil where man came from and his journey upward. I couldn’t help but get an 80s vibe from these moments, Kirk’s clunky plastic motorcycle, the use of matte effects.

Spock’s character receives the most interesting treatment of the movie. The old Spock, calm and implacable, has been replaced by disturbed violent youth Spock who lashes out against oppression with unstoppable hand to hand combat. Despite Leonard Nimoy’s turn as Spock Prime, Zachary Quinto is more entertaining by a mile. The Vulcan home world is well conceived and executed, the nature of a Vulcan child’s education is especially interesting. Most of all, Zachary Quinto is in a role where I don’t expect him to eat somebody’s brain, and that’s a feat all its own.

Each classic character shows up over the course of the film, their quirks well done, funny but not corny, hitting the sweet spot of tongue in cheek funnies. Karl Urban especially shines as Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy, you can tell he loves his part. The arc of the movie leads the crew through impossible odds. Abrams shows his action cred with an awesome groundbreaking freefall sequence, full on phaser gun play, and a Lethal Weapon style team up of Kirk and Spock in enemy territory. White light constantly flashes into the camera during the deck scenes, giving a sense of right now urgency and constant forward momentum. We’re even treated to a Hoth style planet, complete with fresh monsters. Plenty of variety is offered in the action department, everything top notch.

The USS Enterprise is shown in detail, and we get a real sense of the layout and makeup of the ship, a sense of scale and vulnerability. The glittering destruction of an armada is crystal clear, galactic events evoked with shining believability. The story is solid, the threat is consistent, and the villain is grim and efficient. Go, enjoy this epic tale of war in space, see something fresh and new, and expect great things.


  1. I’m really excited about this, and it’s my hope the crazy positive reaction isn’t putting my expectations through the roof.

    I thought Star Trek was rather bad, although in predictable enough ways that I could enjoy it. The villain was a train wreck, the science was atrocious, the level of nonsense and coincidence in the plot was appalling, and the inclusion of all the various classic lines felt very forced. Equally, the problem with recreating something groundbreaking like Star Trek is that the more you recreate it in fact, the less you recreate it in spirit (cf. Watchmen) — nobody cares anymore if a black woman, a Russian, and a Japanese (er, Korean) guy are on the bridge. But while they didn’t do anything new there to recreate the “where no-one has gone before” feel of the original series, they did twist the whole aspirational aspect of the Federation as a vehicle for exploration and asking big questions to just another military SF story — Starship Troopers with the cast of Star Trek. Boldly going where every other SF story and intellectual property reboot has already gone before, and then blowing it to hell. Yay humans!

    That said, I did think all the actors were good choices and did fine jobs, and it does all look pretty.

    There. Now your expectations have hopefully been suitably lowered.

  2. Dumb good is sometimes better than smart good.

    Yes, but is that true when it comes to something with the Star Trek name attached?

  3. It’s easy to dismiss the original series now, but I believe the original Star Trek is critically foundational to so much television science fiction which came after. At its best, the original series could be quite powerful, though at its worst it could certainly be cheesy and ridiculous. But what it did was engage viewers. It pushed boundaries and struggled with deep issues. It also was deeply silly. All depended on who was writing the episodes.

    But now I think you can draw a line from the profound/cornball antics of William Shatner et al through the years to a range of great television science fiction, Farscape, Babylon 5, you name it. Would those series have happened without Star Trek? Maybe, but I think a case can be made they became possible due to ground broken by Star Trek. Even the existence of feature film science fiction in the 70s and 80s like Star Wars owes a debt to Star Trek for reaching audiences which simply didn’t exist before.

    As for this film, I’m not sure what else it could have been. The earnest seriousness of the Star Trek franchise, at times brilliant, had finally crushed the life out of it. Abrams couldn’t possibly recreate the dynamic Roddenberry produced with the original crew (I suppose if Abrams stuck a member of Al Queda on the bridge that would have been something).

    So how do you reintroduce a dead franchise? You can argue about whether or not that is even desirable (I probably could have gone the rest of my life without another Star Trek movie), but if it’s going to happen, it seems Abrams and the writers made the kinds of choices which had the best chance of drawing an audience. Star Trek with a whole new cast of characters would be pointless, so go with old familiar faves re-imagined to capture their original essence but enlarge it as well. Of course it’s a black woman, a Russian, and a Japanese (er, Korean) guy, along with a few crazy aliens and Spock and Kirk. What would be the point in even making the movie if you dropped them? But we now know more about who and why they are, we understand why they have the roles and relationships we remember. But we have open possibilities now. We’re not stuck in the past, but we haven’t lost the foundation of the past.

    We also had a whole host of homages to the beloved (if also a bit corny) past. Sexy green women, Kobayashi Maru, red shirt on away team = dead, etc. In other words, it’s a Star Trek movie.

    Ultimately, this flick is a diverting confection. Fast-paced, high-energy and fun. Brilliant and profound? Okay, maybe not. But so what. We don’t know what will happen in future movies, if the whole forward-thinking aspirations of the original Star Fleet will show through or be lost. But this movie shouldn’t have been about that stuff anyway. This movie needed to make us excited about what had become a smelly corpse. (“Enterprise,” anyone? Gag!) It did that quite well.

    As for the science, well, what movie or TV show ever gets the science right? Hell, science documentaries can’t get science right half the time. I’m not going to worry about the space-time continuum or whatever else in the Star Trek universe.

  4. While I enjoyed watching episodes of “The Original” Trek, it was never something I went out of my way to watch (On DVD or reruns) (I am a huge STNG guy). However, I was extremely excited for this release and was pleased when I watched it. The first few minutes draw you in and then the story continues to build from there. I understand some of the things that MattD is saying, but to me, it was a wicked action ride and while the plot was predictable in parts, I did not mind. I am looking forward to additional releases where I hope they will take it where no one has gone before.

    Most impressive to me is that the wife even liked it (I had to drag her just to go (She is an Enterprise fan))!

  5. “Abrams has real respect for Star Trek and classic science fiction, and puts real care and craftsmanship into every minute of celluloid.”

    That was funny, thanks for making me laugh. 🙂 Nemesis was a lot, a Lot better then this crap. Okay, as only a sci-fi movie, it was good with some cool special effects (and R2D2… – yeah, real respect right there for ya!). But as a Trek movie it’s one of the weakest.

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