Star Trek (A Film Review)
About The Film
This version of "Star Trek", produced and presented by Paramount Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, and Bad Robot, was directed by J. J. Abrams and starred Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, and Wynona Ryder. It was released in the United States in May of 2009 and won one Oscar with three other nominations.
Having lost his father on the day of his birth, a young James Kirk weathers a troubled childhood and youth. He is approached by a Star Fleet captain who knew his father, and who, after telling him about his father's valiant service, offers him a challenge and an opportunity to change his life by following in his father's footsteps. Taking Captain Pike up on his challenge, James Kirk enters Star Fleet and ends up discovering a life greater than he could have imagined.
This movie starts off in fine form as a sci-fi/action-adventure. Within the first ten minutes of the film, a Federation starship, the U. S. S. Kelvin, is attacked by a massive, unbeatable alien ship. This first ten minutes sets the pace for the entire film. It also serves as the backdrop for the birth of James Kirk and the death of his father, which bought escape time for his mother and what remained of the crew.
With respect to the story and characters, what follows is the path to the beginning of an unlikely friendship. The film begins down this path with a focus on the troubled childhoods of a Starfleet Academy cadet, James Kirk, and a recent graduate, a young half-vulcan named Spock, both with promising futures. One grows up in the shadow of his father's death, the other in the shadow of his mixed heritage. One is governed by instinct with a tendency to act on it before thinking, the other governed by logic and protocol. With these respective qualities, their first encounter was understandably adversarial.
A feature that makes a lot of action movies that much more fun to watch is the comical interaction between the characters. Great examples of this can be seen in Doctor McCoy's efforts to get Kirk aboard the Enterprise in the face of Kirk's having been grounded, and when Kirk and Scott are beamed aboard the Enterprise after Kirk's being kicked off the ship. This movie is what I shall call "over the top" in terms of the action. (For me, at least, this is always a good thing.) And, in keeping with what's required to make a movie like this work, the special effects were of the same caliber. But, I dare say that this movie does not stand on the quality of its special effects alone. The interaction between the two central characters and the extremes to which they were driven were enough of a draw on their own. They stood apart as events transpired, their actions and decisions having a profound effect on those around them, particularly, those serving directly under them. As events proceed, certain members of the crew bring their own set of superior skills into the mix that enable them to overcome what seem like insurmountable odds. And, while all this is happening, they all interact in ways that are replete with that unintended humor that often happens in movies of this kind when the characters find themselves bravely facing dire circumstances. This always adds to the fun.
Throughout the course of the film, James Kirk barrels head first into just about everything with a recklessness that seems to stick in Spock's craw. So much so, in fact, that Spock goes so far as to have Kirk jettisoned from the Enterprise in a life pod and marooned on a nearby planet. And it is here that Kirk discovers a would-be destiny that involves the one who just kicked him off the Enterprise. He is saved from being eaten by one of the planet's indigenous predators by a mysterious vulcan benefactor who turns out to be a very old Spock. It is at this point that Kirk learns of what the older Spock describes as a kind of destiny shared between himself and the younger version of Spock. Kirk quickly learns from the older Spock that, not only is he from the future, but that he has been preceded into the past by an enraged romulan named Nero in possession of a huge ship converted for battle, the very same ship encountered by his father on the day of his death.
As it happens, there is a Federation outpost on the planet where Kirk and the older Spock have been marooned. This outpost is manned by a disgruntled engineer, who is recognized by the older Spock. Having found a way to get off the planet and back on to the ship, Kirk sets out to stop Nero. But, the younger Spock has taken command of the ship in the absence of her captain and has decided to rendezvous with and warn Starfleet instead of trying to engage Nero. Kirk must get the younger Spock to relinquish command of the Enterprise if he is to stop Nero. Nearly at the cost of his own life, Kirk accomplishes this, takes command of the Enterprise, and proceeds to intercept Nero. The movie's climax ensues.
Throughout this film, there is a level of realism that makes the kind of world that "Star Trek" portrays believable. The film is replete with elements that exist here and now, presented in a way consistent with surviving so far into the future. This appears most obviously at the the bar where Kirk meets lieutenant Uhura for the first time. The design of the dress uniforms of the cadets and officers at Starfleet Academy were remeniscent of military and military academy uniforms seen today. Earth looked much like it does now, just a little cleaner. The future doesn't look so much like a world unrecognizable in comparison to today. Much of the present that we know so well was shown to continue in the world of "Star Trek". The only differences were what you'd expect to see if things we have now were just a bit more technologically advanced, like, perhaps, the next generation (or two) of automotive and transit technology, architectural techniques, air traffic control protocols and so forth.
Considering the show that this was based on, I have to say that the characters and their reactions to events and circumstances is a bit more realistic as well. In contrast with the character of James Kirk as presented on the original television show, this film's rendition of the character shows him as reckless, troubled, and almost totally bereft of the kind of control seen in the television show. In fact, all of the characters are presented in what I would call a more realistic light than what you might expect from a TV show from the '60's.
A Fan's Perspective
Now, there are two things that should be known at this point. One, what proceeds from here is most likely better understood by a fan of the Star Trek franchise and canon. Two, what comes next may involve some serious spoilers for any who have not seen the film. (So, if spoilers are a problem, stop reading now.) That being said, on the matter of the first point, it should be understood that I am a fan of Star Trek and all of the associated franchise. It should, however, be understood that I, by no means, can consider myself a fan on the order of what some may see as typical. I don't do cosplay, and I'm not a collector of memorabilia. But, I have been a fan of Star Trek since it aired on NBC back in the '60's. I've been watching Star Trek since before I knew what it was about. (As a matter of fact, I come from a family of Star Trek fans.) And, I watched the reruns of the original series whenever and wherever they aired. I've long since gotten to the point where I can identify all of the episodes, many by title, in the first ten seconds. Add to that the fact that I've seen all of the spin-offs, most of them in their entirety. So, I will dare say that I'm in a position to make a comment or two from the perspective of a fan.
First, and foremost, I would like to speak to (my position on) the changes that have been made by the film's director. Now, I know that there are a lot of Star Trek fans that are rather seriously displeased with the changes that have been made in this particular incarnation of "Star Trek". (I have a relative who is deeply displeased with what's been done.) As for myself, I love the changes that have been made. What's more, I love the way they were made. The changes were actually incorporated into the story.
There have been a number of sci-fi shows and movies that have made use of time travel in their stories. Star Trek has done this on numerous occasions, in one form or another, in every incarnation of Star Trek from the TV shows to the movies. In my humble opinion, nobody does linear temporal causality like Star Trek. J. J. Abrams has taken advantage of this fact to account for the changes that appear in the film. Nero, in the course of pursuing Spock, gets caught and pulled into a black hole and through a temporal anomaly. He emerges on the other side of the anomaly in the past, right in front of the U. S. S. Kelvin. Starting with the destruction of the Kelvin, Nero spends the next twenty five years, waiting for Spock, who was pulled into the same anomaly seconds after, and pretty much, for all intents and practical purposes, wreaking havoc, altering the timeline he's entered.
Also starting with the destruction of the Kelvin, the lives of all of the most well-known characters of the Star Trek franchise have been altered. James Kirk's life is most profoundly altered by the death of his father who, in the unaltered timeline lived to raise and inspire Kirk to join Starfleet, witnessing his graduation from the academy. Temporal causality being what it is, particularly as it's explained in the Star Trek franchise, the smallest changes produce the most profound alteration in the unfolding of events. Though it's not mentioned in the movie, Nero's interference in the timeline is a seriously probable catalyst in the war between the Federation and the Romulans. In the original timeline, the Romulans were not at war with the Federation at that point in Kirk's life. The episode of the original series entitled "Balance of Terror" corroborates this. The destruction of the Kelvin, the destruction of 47 Klingon ships, and the subsequent Romulan-Federation war all serve to alter the lives of the well-known Enterprise bridge crew. Spock meets and becomes romantically involved with lieutenant Uhura, Chekov is posted to the Enterprise years earlier than he would have been (he was in his twenties in the original series), Mr. Scott enters service aboard the Enterprise coming from a punitive assignment to an outpost on Delta Vega, and (what was to me the biggest shocker) Spock suffers the death of his mother in the destruction of his home world. All of these things are explained with the realization that Nero has come from the future and that, as a result of his actions, everyone is now living in an alternate reality, the result of a changed timeline. I must confess, I was quite elated with how this was done. Not only are the changes to the franchise explained and incorporated into the story, a clean slate is created on which totally new stories can be created for Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew. Stories can be created that are almost completely liberated from the restriction of canon.
Speaking personally, the most significant change with respect to the characters was that of Spock. In the original series, it is shown that Spock does have the capacity for emotion, but it is seldom seen. And when it is seen, it's usually under unusual circumstances like some kind of illness or outside influence. In the movie "Star Trek", Spock's discipline and self-control exists as a veneer under which turbulent emotions are kept in check, sometimes with some difficulty. Much more of Spock's "humanity" is shown in this movie than ever appeared in the original series.
I also enjoyed how, despite the profound changes produced by the alteration of the timeline, this particular crew ended up posted to the Enterprise when they did. As a matter of fact, all of them, except Mr. Scott, were posted to the Enterprise almost right out of the academy. Like it was their destiny.
At face value, from the perspective of one without any experience with the Star Trek franchise, I would heartily recommend this movie to any fan of sci-fi and action movies. The action is through the proverbial roof. The characters are very entertaining. This movie's a great ride from beginning to end.
Now, from the perspective of a fan, recommendation gets a little tricky. I've had the opportunity to discuss this film with someone who would qualify as what I've heard called a "purist". If you're as opposed to change as he is, if you feel strongly enough about the franchise and canon to be intolerant of change, I can't recommend this movie to you. Where this movie is concerned, in comparison to the original series, change is the order of the day. If, on the other hand, you're like me, a fan who is open to change (as long as it's done well), then this is the movie for you. As I've seen it, there's just enough of the old for the Star Trek veterans, and just enough of the new for those who are not or have not been followers of the franchise. All of the bridge crew cast did their characters well. I was quite taken with Karl Urban's performance as (a younger) Leonard McCoy. I don't know about anyone else, but, I thought he did DeForest Kelley (the original Dr. McCoy) proud.
Bottom line, I would recommend this film to just about anyone, except a purist.
From what I've seen, heard and read, there seems to be an abundance of opinions concerning the changes made to the Star Trek franchise. Do you think the changes should have been made? If not, why not? If so, why? Should they have been made the way they were? Were they done well? Please feel free to share what you think in the comments.