Star Trek (2009)

Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman

Entering our third chapter of the Star Trek saga, as in, the third set of related films, we finally arrive at a film I had seen before, or at the very least remember more vividly than the one and half Next Generation films I had seen on HBO in my youth. When this came out I can remember being excited to take my dad along to see it, as he was a big fan of the original series. I was not smart enough to get a real reaction from him upon exiting the theater, but I can remember loving my first Star Trek experience thanks to the wonderful sensibilities of director JJ Abrams. Now, having caught up with the 10 films that came before it, I am endlessly curious to revisit the film from the perspective of the rest of the series. Getting that chance was both a joy and a curse, as I will try to explain through the course of this review.

I think any discussion of this film should start and end with the characters and their actors. I really think they knocked that aspect of it out of the park. We’ve come to know and love Captain Kirk, Spock, etc. to varying degrees. With this edition of the crew, we get to see them at the beginning of their careers, not right in the middle of their hey day or at the tail end when they were already legends. That perspective gives a fresh look on where they might come from and what informs them as the characters we know and love them to be. Chris Pine seems like a great fit as Kirk, presenting him as the brash and bold Kirk who’s instincts are really his best attribute in the captain’s chair. And Zachary Quinto is his equal in every way as Spock. I especially loved seeing them first as rivals who didn’t like each other, as that feels so organic and true to their characters that they would butt heads first before becoming friends. I think nailing those two in terms of casting does wonders for the future success of this new series of films.

But what sets this film apart from so many of the other in the series is perhaps that it did not/does not have an associated television series. With that in mind, we get so many more character moments throughout this film then I feel we got previously. There is no true previous audience, there is nothing to fall back on to fill in the blanks, which forces the filmmakers to give each character his/her due, which I really dug. More so than any other single Star Trek film, we get to see the immense talent and charisma of this crew, all the way through from Kirk to Sulu to Chekov and Uhura. This is what really propels this reboot in my opinion. And like I said, it is likely the difference between other installments in that there is no previous narrative content to show these characters, forcing them to the forefront of the film right from the start. It’s a strength of the movie though, and something I have felt has been missing from the other films, having not seen either television series.

With that being said, I had a different reaction to seeing this film from the first time I saw it when it was initially released. Armed with a new Star Trek perspective, I found the film to be too far from the spirit of what I have come to love about the Starfleet story, which is to say this was way too much of an action movie than an adventure, way too much of a Star WARS movie than it was a Star TREK movie. Less warring and more trekking please. I get it, with a lot of these movies, there must be tremendous conflict that bubbles into a major disaster or rescue mission or some other military type operation, but this film was relentless. It was attack attack attack, defend, defend defend the whole time, which doesn’t allow for any time to really get into the prime directive of Starfleet, the more “wholesome” aspect of the series I have commented on before.

What Abrams does bring to the table, apart from making this feel a little less like a true Star Trek film, is his otherwise magic touch. The comedy here works wonders, and goes hand in hand with the superb casting and performances from the main crew members. This film really serves as a wonderful foundation for more films to come by establishing the characters, their personalities, their roles and relationships with one another. In addition, this is the most beautiful looking film in the whole series to this point. Special effects have come a long way since the series debuted in 1979, 30 years before the release of this film, and it really shows with top notch space fighting effects. The set design, costuming, and Abrams patented lens flares all enhance the experience as well.

I didn’t like this film as much as I did when I originally saw it. Perspective has a lot to do with that. Feeling that this is not so much the Star Trek that I’ve come to know and love, and also being underwhelmed once again by the villain, portrayed by Eric Bana, leave me wanting a better story for this crew. But I do have a lot of positives to take away from this experience. The cast is terrific. I can’t wait to spend more time with these versions of the characters, and I feel they fit right in with what we know of them from the original series. With that great base to build off of, a great Star Trek film is surely right around the corner for them, so long as they produce a little better story and focus more on what makes Star Trek Star Trek.

At least in this film they pretend to like Star Trek and give us plenty of odes and tips of the cap to the original series. The Kobayashi Maru, the guy in red dies, etc. There is a respect for the series, and perhaps I am my own worst enemy now when it comes to expectations, not taking quite as warmly to a new adaptation, and being that worst kind of movie goer of all: the one which can’t separate the original from the reboot, the book from the adaptation, etc. Perhaps I should just let this one stand on its own and stop comparing. Whatever the case, I enjoyed the film, but definitely can’t wait to see if I like the other two in this series even more.

★★★ – Liked It

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