Posted by mike in Film,Reviews at 7:52 pm on May 13, 2009

Status: In theaters (opened 5/8/09)
Directed By: J.J. Abrams
Written By: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Cinematographer: Daniel Mindel
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, and Leonard Nimoy

It turns out you can, apparently—if you go about it properly, as is the case here—have it both ways. J.J. Abrams’s new Star Trek movie is both a reboot/reimagining/rehash (or whatever they’re calling them these days) of a well-established (and much-beloved, if you survey the right demographic) franchise, re-introducing all of the classical characters and basic story tenets, as well as an enjoyable and well-made (if a bit over-produced) introduction to a new potential series for those who do not already count themselves as fans of the previous films and TV shows.

It helps to have ILM on your side, of course, and the world’s premier effects house has here brought their A game. This film is a visual spectacle first and foremost, and the special effects deliver all of the eye candy one could hope for. Around the fully-imagined futuristic world in which this new Star Trek takes place, they’ve created a believable and vibrant atmosphere that brings the settings and action to life in thoroughly convincing fashion. There’s a bit of an overzealous use of lens flares and other unnecessary artificial enhancements, but they don’t detract from the incredible realizations of alien worlds and space encounters that are on display throughout the film.

Storywise, there are two main things this movie does to draw in a wider audience than the normally somewhat niche Trek-head ultra-nerds. First, it tells an origin story of sorts of the crew of the Enterprise, showing where the major characters come from (Kirk and Spock in particular) and how they come to meet their supporting cast: we see the story of these characters literally from the start—their births. And second, it turns up the action a considerable amount, leaving behind the dialogue-heavy format of previous films in favor of a faster-paced story than that which is usually told in this universe. I found both to be mostly successful, though I think it will probably come at the cost of alienating some of the most die-hard fans. At the same time, I thought the script tried a little too hard to make sure it wasn’t conflicting with the sizable canon of the Star Trek universe, employing a bit of a gimmick that, while kind of clever, didn’t strike me as altogether necessary: present-day audiences are so used to accepting the newest remake-of-the-month as its own story, independent of its predecessors, that I think they’d be willing to allow this new film to exist by itself without having to result to contrived plot devices to explain its posturing. Then again, typical audiences aren’t as rabid as Star Trek fans tend to be, so maybe it was wise to avoid their continuity-related scorn altogether; all in all, I think a good balance is achieved, explaining away the existence of this new storyline without dwelling on it any more than is needed.

What impressed me the most about this movie—along with the aforementioned special effects—was the cast. While I wasn’t very familiar with Chris Pine (Kirk), I thought it’d be difficult to view Zachary Quinto (Spock) as anyone other than Sylar or to see John Cho (Sulu) as anyone other than Harold, but I’m happy to report this was not an issue. Pine in particular owns his leading role, embodying the cocky, playboy farmer who was born to become a leader, and Quinto does an equally commanding job in his own right. The supporting cast is almost universally good, nearly all infusing their roles with just the right amount of campiness while not getting too cheesy. The one exception to this is Simon Pegg, who goes just a bit too overboard with the goofiness of his performance for my taste (especially in his scenes shared with the obligatory alien sidekick, which are all throwaway beats, overtly lame attempts to garner cheap laughs). Eric Bana is sufficiently menacing as the Romulan-gone-mad who serves as the film’s antagonist, although Abrams overuses the “extreme facial closeup shown on a huge staticy monitor” a little too frequently. And the absolutely gorgeous Zoe Saldana (Uhura) deserves special mention, not just for the manner in which her considerable beauty steals every scene she’s in, but also for her role itself, around which a particularly salacious plotline revolves, which she plays with just the right amount of subtlety when needed and smugness when warranted.

On a personal footnote, Abrams’s Star Trek earned itself an almost unimaginable stamp of approval from my girlfriend Megan, who I often deride as a “sci-fi bigot” (I still haven’t been able to get her to watch Blade Runner). Taking her as an example of somebody who is most decidedly not in this film’s target audience, I think it speaks well of the pacing and engaging storytelling at work that she, like me, found it enjoyable.

If only they hadn’t felt it necessary to shoehorn in a closing voiceover, which left me with a bit of a distaste, something that’s never good for your film’s final scene. Then I remembered the Winona Ryder cameo and resumed reflecting fondly upon this fun, action-packed, and well-produced movie.