Film review – Star Trek (2009)

Spock (Zachary Quinto) and James T. Kirk (Chris Pine)
Spock (Zachary Quinto) and James T. Kirk (Chris Pine)

The plainly titled Star Trek is the eleventh film that has spun from the much loved science-fiction television series franchise. This new film depicts the origins of the original crew of the starship USS Enterprise who featured in the original 1966-1969 series and starred in the first 6 films. Resurrecting these characters was a risky venture as the original Star Trek series does come with the baggage of its questionable colonist politics, very questionable gender politics and an aesthetic that seems very kitsch by today’s standards. The good news is that this new film manages to keep a slightly retro look, which is more cool than camp, while combining it with an edgier visual style. The production design and handheld cinematography seems to owe much to the look of the recent Battlestar Galactica series, although it is not nearly as visually or thematically dark. The better news is that this new film has enough nods to the original series and films to keep the casual fans happy without compromising the degree in which non-fans will be able to enjoy it. Judging from the reaction of people dressed in Star Trek uniforms during the advance screening, there also seems to be a number of in-jokes and references to really delight the hardcore fans. Finally, the best news of all is that this new film is a wonderfully entertaining blend of melodrama, comedy, action and science fiction.

Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Kirk, Scotty (Simon Pegg), Dr. Leonard 'Bones' McCoy (Karl Urban), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana)
Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Kirk, Scotty (Simon Pegg), Dr. Leonard 'Bones' McCoy (Karl Urban), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana)

The focus of this origin film is unsurprisingly on James T Kirk and Spock. The film briefly covers their childhood to establish their very different motivation for joining the Starfleet Academy. They soon clash while at the Academy and develop a rivalry that progressively gets worse as they both find themselves on board the USS Enterprise for her maiden mission. Casting for these now iconic characters could not have been done better. As the young Kirk, Chris Pine (Bottle Shock, Smokin’ Aces) has the right combination of charisma, arrogance, righteousness, sleaze and rebelliousness to make Kirk such a likeable yet flawed hero. Zachary Quinto (from the television series Heroes) is likewise ideal as the studious yet conflicted Spock. Other core characters are introduced gradually throughout the film. They are all given narrative importance, are significantly involved in the action and make a wonderful ensemble.

If nothing else the new Star Trek film deserves recognition as the smartest rebooting of a franchise yet. Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and director J.J. Abrams, who also collaborated on the under appreciated Mission: Impossible III, have managed to use the existing Star Trek mythology to reinvent a new alterative mythology. The plot device they use to enable this is so simple that it is a wonder it hasn’t been done before. Basically, the film’s Romulan villains and one of the show’s original characters have travelled back in time to significantly change the course of events. The rebooted version is essentially created by the intervention of characters from the original series. This effectively uses the time travel narrative to set up an alternative universe where this new version of Star Trek can exist without compromising the existing version that the show’s very loyal fans would be horrified to see messed with.

sd070-28083-242-low-resStar Trek is smart and fun entertainment. While it initially seems in danger of being overly reliant on CGIs the audience are quickly sutured into the appealing Star Trek universe. Concepts such as the rather convenient teleportation technology are used creatively and intelligently. There is a lot of humour in the film especially once Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) finally shows up to steal every scene as Scotty. The action sequences are gripping with Sulu (John Cho from the Harold & Kumar films) and Kirk’s spectacular base jump and then fight sequence on an intergalactic drill head being a highlight. You really do get a sense of Star Trek‘s almost mythic status in contemporary culture from this film and it’s hard not to get a bit of a shiver down the spine when the show’s original music begins playing during the closing credits. Far from feeling like a rehash of a tired old formula, Star Trek boldly goes into its next incarnation for a modern audience. 

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. A nice, solid, fair review, but one thing said has me puzzled:

    “This new film is a retelling of the origins of the original crew of the starship USS Enterprise who featured in the original 1966-1969 series ”

    I’m not aware of any previous “telling” of the origins of the original Enterprise crew, at least not on TV or on film. This is a first telling, and a damn fine one.

  2. Hi Rich and thanks for dropping by. Your comment suggests to me that I’ve either confused you by using the word “retelling” or you are rather wickedly pointing out that this Star Trek origin story can’t be a retelling because it has actually never been told before. I suspect the later and stand corrected.

    I was going to try to defend myself on the grounds that this new film tells a different version of the story to the one that is generally known, but I simply have to admit that I was just plain wrong to call it a retelling. Hence, I’ve gone back and corrected what I wrote.

    Thanks for pointing that out and glad to hear you enjoyed the film as much as I did.


    PS Actually, I lied. The original series does contain a flashback origin episode but it had been long lost. I am one of only people in the world to have seen it after an old print was discovered during a church excavation in Argentina. The subtitles are distracting but it is worth it to see a young Kirk and a young Spock getting it on before deciding that they have to make their relationship platonic for the sake of their professional relationship.

  3. I wasn’t even aware there was a Scottish edition of The Big Issue!

    I’m always happy to support and promote any versions of the The Big Issue so thanks for that link Cathie.

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