Old 05-09-2009, 06:45 AM
Star Trek (2009)

(J.J. Abrams, 2009)

The summer blockbuster season of 2009 has officially started, and thanks to J.J. Abrams (and not so much to Gavin Hood), it started with a bang. With Star Trek, the Lost alumnus has delivered an extremely satisfying and exquisitely enjoyable piece of entertainment – we couldn’t really ask for more. It’s one of those films that really makes the popcorn taste better, and simply must be seen in the theatre in order to fully enjoy its anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital surround sound, special effects-savvy excellence. The explosions are bigger, the action is faster, the sounds are louder… I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, and I don’t even like Star Trek.

I think that, first and foremost, it should be mentioned that here within lies Abrams’ first sign of success. Although the latest installment in one of the longest running and most well-known franchises of all time, Abrams movie really quite deviates from the elements and typical characteristics of the many prior incarnations of the franchise, both the television shows and the previous 10 movies. Sure, like any work that is already deeply rooted in pop culture, the film has its fair share of references to the original material that are fun to spot and add a little something more, but overall, Abrams film does a very good job of starting anew, and standing on its own. It’s no coincidence that the film isn’t called “Star Trek XI” or something along those lines, but rather simply “Star Trek”. Now I have to admit, being a Star Wars fan since I was 4 years old, I’ve never really liked Star Trek. Science fiction is my favourite film genre, but I always prefer the more Star Wars-like sci-fi movies: those with deeply rooted mythologies but that also feature more real-world elements and deal with deep, resonant social and political issues but in a sci-fi setting, from Aliens to Firefly to Battlestar Galactica. On the other hand, I’ve never been a fan of the hammy, campy type of sci-fi like Star Trek, Dr. Who or many of the other sci-fi movies and TV shows of the 60’s and throughout the last few years, before the dystopian/apocalyptic sci-fi films of the 70’s started cropping up. I just always felt that this was much lighter fare, and consequently, far less interesting than the other examples I mentioned earlier. Well, I can safely say that Abrams has done an outstanding job at taking the deeply rooted mythology of Star Trek, throwing away the camp and cheesiness, and delivering a relentlessly entertaining, high-octane, sleek, up-to-date, modernized sci-fi film.

I think that the major reason the film is so good, enjoyable and successful, is because it manages to achieve something that few summer blockbusters manage to achieve, except for the few occasional exceptions, such as Iron Man last summer and Transformers the summer before that: Abrams’ Star Trek is not afraid of comedy. Sure, it delivers in all the other facets that summer blockbusters are expected to deliver in – top-notch special effects, breathtaking set pieces and thrilling, heart-pounding action scenes – but where Star Trek succeeds where few other summer blockbusters do is that for every tense, high-octane action set piece, there is also a loose, relaxed and absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious scene to go with it. I don’t think it’s coincidental that this film was written by the same screenwriting duo that wrote Transformers a couple of years back, as they injected that film with a lot of intentional comedy as well. And yet, just as the likes of Shia LaBeouf, Anthony Anderson and John Turturro carried and delivered much of the comedy in Transformers, I believe that much of the comedic success of Star Trek lies on the cast.

And a truly wonderful cast it is – and an eclectic one at that. Looking over the cast list, one might wonder what all these actors have to do with one another – I mean who thought he’d ever see Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Eric Bana, Winona Ryder and Leonard Nemoy in the same movie together? And yet, it works, and be it a testament to J.J. Abrams’ directorial chops or the actors’ own skills, the cast members all have truly great chemistry with one another. The film will undoubtedly make stars of Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, both of whom prove quite impressive skills in the film. The dynamic between their characters is crucial to the film and really builds its emotional backbone, and it could have easily been a hit-and-miss thing had Abrams made the wrong casting choices. Luckily, he took two genuine talents, both of which play their well-defined characters quite well, nailing all of their personality quirks and mannerisms and truly embodying their characters. That said, the most entertaining performances derive from the supporting characters, and a few actors in particular totally steal the show from the otherwise first-rate cast. First up is Eric Bana, who delivers a particularly juicy, scenery-chewing performance as Nero, the film’s villain. Next we have young Anton Yelchin, who delivers what is probably the second funniest and most enjoyable performance of the whole lot, truly nailing the quirky mannerisms of his character. But the scene-stealing crown belongs undeniably to Simon Pegg, who is an inherently funny guy as it is, but with a thick Scottish drawl, manages to be even more so than usual.

One cannot discuss a major science fiction-action epic such as this without mentioning its technical aspects, specifically its special effects. Based on this movie and also the apparent quality of the special effects work as seen in the trailers for some other upcoming summer blockbusters, namely Terminator Salvation, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it seems like 20 years after The Abyss, CGI imagery has finally reached its peak. The quality of these effects has been quite varied these past few years – for every Transformers and Harry Potter there’s a Spiderman or a Star Wars prequel – but with Star Trek at least, nothing can really be said about the CGI other than that ILM and Digital Domain did a fantastic job and that the effects look 100% real and convincing. The spaceships are sleek and shiny, environment extensions are completely seamless, and the adrenaline-pumping space battles are dynamic and exciting – all CGI. Luckily, though, Abrams did not follow in many of his mentors’ footsteps, and still managed to show an appreciation of real, practical sets, instead of setting his film in entirely CGI environments. Also worth mentioning is the simply fantastic sound design and editing by Ben Burtt, who was robbed of a pair of Oscars in the sound categories at the Academy Awards last year for his unparalleled work in WALL-E, but who hopefully will get his due this year come the Oscars.

So far I’ve been heaping praise on the film, and while I do think that it has many praise-worthy aspects, I still had quite a few problems with it, most of which derive from the screenplay. Sci-fi is my favourite genre because it is unequaled in its ability to combine relevant philosophical, social, political and religious themes and concepts with genre-based action and mythology, and while I was never a fan of any of the original Star Trek output, I have to admit that between the cheese and the camp, there were some pretty broad socio-political ideas on display. These things take a backseat in Abrams’ Star Trek film, and while I understand the reasoning in wanting to make the origin story of these characters as a straightforward action-adventure, I do hope that in the inevitable sequels, more of this classic sci-fi stuff will be injected. Based on the closing voice-over narration in the film, though, I have a feeling that this might actually come to pass. In any case, the screenplay is problematic for so many other reasons other than not including philosophical and socio-political undertones. The screenwriting team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are good at many things – creating impressive and thrilling action set-pieces, crafting compelling and well-defined characters, and injecting a lot of humour into their scripts – but one thing that they don’t really excel at is constructing good plots that make sense. Like with their equally silly and quite ridiculous script for Transformers, the end result is just so purely enjoyable and satisfyingly entertaining that the script doesn’t factor much in the equation, and yet it’s hard to completely ignore it. This time around, the screenwriting duo make the precarious mistake of including time travel in the plot, the biggest and most prominent ingredient in a recipe for plot holes, and a device that hasn’t really worked in any other film it’s appeared in no matter how hard filmmakers try. I won’t even go into it because once I start nitpicking the problems and holes in the screenplay it’ll be hard for me to stop, but suffice it to say that the plot is so riddled with them that it renders itself insignificant, taking an understandable backseat to the other fields in which the film does excel in.

I wanted a no-holds-barred, hits-the-ground-running, pure and untainted summer blockbuster entertainment, and an entertainment I did receive. J.J. Abrams has this uncanny ability of knowing just what his audience wants to see, and delivering something even better. Although not really a re-boot as it retains much from its original source material both in terms of the content and characters but also because the plot actually manages to integrate it into the continuity of the show, this Star Trek movie still does deviate greatly from its campy roots, and is very much a completely and utterly modern, up-to-date work of science fiction. The action is bigger and better, the effects work is remarkable, the design, look and feel of this well-established world is all updated to meet the most current standards, and the characters and film itself all have a certain manner and attitude that wholly defines our era. Big explosions, impressive visuals, space battles, thrills, excitement, edge-of-your seat tension – Abrams’ latest summer blockbuster has it all and more, and all that, added together with some really hilarious (and frequent) comic relief and some great performances and character dynamics and chemistry, serves to deliver a great summer entertainment, just a genuinely fun time at the movies and an early candidate for the title of best film of the summer.

RATING: 7.5/10.
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Old 05-09-2009, 08:19 AM
Loved this movie. 9.5/10 for me.

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