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 The old Spock, calm and implacable, has been replaced by disturbed violent youth Spock who lashes out against oppression with unstoppable hand to hand combat.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.