Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: Star Trek

Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Produced by: J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof
Written by: Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Executive Producers: Bryan Burk, Jeffre Chernov, Alex Kurtzman & Robert Orci
Cinematography by: Daniel Mindel
Edited by: Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey
Production Designed by: Scott Chambliss
Costumes by: Michael Kaplan
Music by: Michhael Giacchino

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Winona Ryder, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy

2009 / 126min / Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content)

Young James T. Kirk and Spock must overcome their own personal differences to battle a vengeful Romulan from the future who is bent on the destruction of the Federation.

If you want to make a prequel that not only successfully reboots a classic franchise but also honors that same franchise, this is the movie to look at. JJ Abrams' vision for the 23rd century changes everything we know about the universe of Star Trek (yet stays the same) and manages to tell a thrilling, epic adventure story.

As a long-time Trek fan, I had my reservations about this movie and what it was setting out to do. It's hard to craft a prequel where you feel suspense because you know how things will turn out in the end. That's not the case here, as writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman deliver a story with enough twists and turns that you quickly realize that this Star Trek universe is different from the one we've known for the last 43 years. With the shocks that take place here, you know that anything can happen. There are some real gutsy changes made to the Star Trek universe, but that's okay, because they're told with so much confidence and conviction that you believe in them and want to know where they're taking them.

There is so much to praise about this movie that it's hard to find a place to begin. Might as well start with the script. Orci and Kurtzman's script is smart. It's one of the first movies in a long time where I can remember not feeling like a scene or a line was wasted. Everything that takes place on screen is relevant. Nothing is filler, it all matters and plays a part in the bigger picture. The dialog is fresh and witty, yet familiar. Orci and Kurtzman brilliantly found the voices for each of these characters, as though they were involved in the original series themselves. At the same time, they manage to weave in trademark phrases from the series that would normally be eye-rolling, yet in the context in which they're used, they work. A fun little bit is the nice homage that is paid to the series red shirts with this movie's own red shirt character (you'll know him when you see him), and his outcome is quite fitting and somewhat amusing.

Their screenplay has all the perfect elements that make a great Star Trek movie. A great villain, plenty of action and adventure, thrills and excitement, an unexpected romance, and plenty of humor. In fact, this is easily the funniest Star Trek movie I've ever seen, even funnier then, yes, The Voyage Home.

My one issue with the script is how neatly everyone falls into place by the end of the movie. While it strains credibility, the nature of the movie and just how fun a ride it is makes it easy to forgive this minor nitpick.

The special effects are amazing. From the get go, this movie's visual design is amazing. These are the bests effects I've seen in a long time. The look and sound of this new universe is absolutely incredible and it sweeps you up in the atmosphere that is trying to be established. I was sold on the look of the Enterprise. This ship looks beautiful and its glory shots are quite a sight to behold. And the interiors of the ship are magnificent, from the bridge to the transporter room, corridors, sickbay. Even the inner workings of the ship in the engineering section, while different, were quite good and fit in. This is a grittier, more worn-looking universe, much along the lines of Star Wars, but it's a welcome change.

Michael Giacchino's score is top notch, with a brilliant theme that is so flexible it can be used in many different ways, from romantic, suspenseful to heroic. His score for the action is some of the most pulse-pounding action music I've heard in a while. His score is never distracting or overpowering. It completely enhances the film.

The pace never lets up. JJ Abrams' direction grabs you from the very beginning and never lets go until the very end. The pace is so good, the story so engaging, that the two hour running time flew by. I didn't want this adventure to end, I wanted more! Abrams knows how to grab an audience's attention, and he does with one of the most engaging sequences I've seen in any Star Trek movie. The first ten minutes are so thrilling, powerful and poignant that I had a lump in my throat by the time the main titles appeared onscreen.

One of my biggest worries was in the casting of this movie. For anyone else who is worried, worry no more. They could not have casted this movie any better. All the supporting players from Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Chekov have completely embodied these characters. The make you forget that there was someone else in these roles before them. Saldana really standsout as her take on Uhura is greatly improved over Nichelle Nichols', having been given a more significant role. Simon Pegg is hilarious as Scotty.

Karl Urban holds very true to DeForest Kelley's interpretation of Dr. McCoy, but he nevers veers into parody. Urban is hilarious and while he didn't get as much screen time as I would have liked, he makes the most of the time that he has and becomes this classic character.

Eric Bana does not have a lot of screen time as villain Nero, but he is absolutely brilliant. Filled with menace and power, Bana pulls you right in. He might not be Star Trek's best villain, or even the most dangerous, but he is the perfect villain to test out this freshman crew. Bana does a magnificent job.

Bruce Greenwood brings a sense of credibility to the movie. Greenwood's Christopher Pike is strong and very fatherly, and Greenwood's performance in his limited screen time is quite good.

It's great to see Leonard Nimoy back as Spock in an extended cameo. I must say that his performance is quite good. I had forgotten that Nimoy was in the movie until he first appears on screen, mainly because the movie was so good and so engaging that I thought of nothing else. So when Nimoy first appears on screen, it's quite a thrill and helps to tie this new Trek into old Trek.

Now on to the two standouts; Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. This is their movie, and their performances would make it or break it. They make it. Quinto is very true to Nimoy's performance as Spock, and it must have been quite intimidating to share the scene with the originator of the role, but Quinto nails it. He not only manages to hold true to the original Nimoy performance, but he is able to bring something new to the table that adds a great depth and humanity to the character.

Chris Pine will probably rise to stardom from this role. He is James T. Kirk, to the point that you forget completely about William Shatner. Pine could easily have fallen into an impersonation William Shatner that would've made this seem like an SNL sketch, but he doesn't. Pine embodies Kirk, nailing the arrogant swagger, the cockiness and confidence, while giving him a lot of depth that not even Shatner could give until the movies. I totally bought Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, and when he finally appears as the captain of the Enterprise, you can't help but smile because you know you're watching an old childhood hero take to his rightful place.

Despite what the previews may say, Star Trek is not filled with as much action as you would think. Yes, the action is plenty, but this isn't an action flick. It's a buddy movie, with the attention always on the relationship between Kirk and Spock. Star Trek is a movie not driven by plot or action. It's driven by the characters, and that's incredibly important. The characters make the decisions on where this story goes. Much credit must be given to JJ Abrams would could easily have focused entirely on the spectacle, but he keeps the focus very personal. Watching the relationship between Kirk and Spock grow from disdain and anger is quite a lot of fun to watch, and you see the beginnings of what would become one of television's most endearing friendships.

The foundations for these characters is perfectly laid out without missing a beat. They are established as the movie flies on by without slowing it down. That's great character development; when the development takes place without interrupting the story. These characters grow from the events of the story, while at the same time driving it forward. The writing is brilliant, and JJ Abrams' direction is perfect. I look forward to their plans for these characters in the future. The groundwork has been done, now its time for JJ Abrams and company to play. George Lucas needs to take notes; this is what the Star Wars prequels should have been like.

I mentioned earlier there are big changes made. It's easy to see how many Star Trek fans are going to have problems with this movie because of these changes. But the thing they need to realize that this is a new Star Trek for a new time, and it needs to be different. One of the problems Star Trek suffered from in the past was that it was constrained by the universe it had created. The filmmakers made a wise decision in wiping the slate clean to explore new realms of story telling, but they did it in such a way that while they have created an alternate Star Trek universe, it is built from the universe that was already established. It's too bad many Star Trek fans are going to ignore this attempt, because it's one of the ways that JJ Abrams and company really tried to honor what has come before.

Star Trek is filled with spectacular special effects, breathtaking special effects, a beautiful musical score, perfect casting, and lots of thrills, chills and emotion that one can't help but be found breathless and smiling with glee when it's all over. This is both the most energetic Star Trek movie I've ever seen, as well as one of the most energetic and fun movies I've ever seen period. It's quite a ride! The characters are always the focus, and it makes for a wonderfully delightful movie experience that I can't wait to experience again and again. This could easily be one of the best Star Trek movies, if not the best. Only time will tell. In the meantime, it's a new Star Trek for a new age, and I've been beamed aboard this adventure.

Star Trek is back!


Christian said...

I just got home from the Cineplex. It was an awesome movie. I think it could become the best Star Trek. I even laughed at the product placements in a Star Trek movie. Yes, it is possible!

Chris Pine was amazing. The Kobyashi Maru sequence was great and even tipped its hat to Wrath of Khan.

I like you, wanted more. Can we possibly wait two years???? I hope it flies by!

Josh said...

It is a really great movie.

Evie said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this one. I never really cared for Shatner, so maybe I'll like the new James T. Kirk better than the old one.