With declining attendance at conventions and a dwindling audience for recent films and the last Star Trek series, Enterprise, Paramount was desperate to find a way to breathe new life into their franchise. So they pinned their hopes on director J.J. Abrams. Even with a string of hit movies and television series under his belt, some believed that Abrams was facing an uphill battle in trying to resuscitate Star Trek, with its legions of rabid fans obsessively protective of the series’ 40-plus years of established history.
While many fans were thrilled with the choice of Abrams, some of the casting choices of its beloved characters were met with doubt and skepticism. Thankfully, the man behind such motion picture hits as “Cloverfield”, “Mission Impossible 3”, and television series LOST, Alias and Fringe, was more than up to the task and has crafted a visually spectacular action film that combines the best of Trek with groundbreaking effects and creative vitality.
Using a script by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the new film focuses on the early days of the crew, and how young James. T. Kirk (Chris Pine) went from being a joy-riding, bar-fighting hothead into captain of the Enterprise. Kirk is challenged by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to live up to the legacy of his father and make something of his life in Starfleet. Despite his cocky attitude, the young man is able to thrive at the academy despite his arrogant behavior and his womanizing ways.
At the same time, a threat has arisen in the form of a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana), who seeks to cause massive death and destruction in his quest for vengeance. With danger looming, Kirk and his fellow classmates are pressed into action, and thanks to some skillful work from his friend Leonard Mc Coy (Karl Urban), Kirk finds himself onboard the new Federation flagship Enterprise.
En route to their destination, Kirk realizes they are heading into a trap and warns Captain Pike of his concerns. Naturally this does not sit well with some of the seasoned officers, especially Spock (Zachary Quinto), who sees the emotional Kirk as an unwanted reminder of his human half, which he tries to hide at all costs.
Eventually the Enterprise is confronted by Nero and in an impressive sequence of events Kirk and Sulu (John Cho), lead an orbital skydive mission to thwart Nero’s plot. Spock finds himself commanding the ship and he and Kirk, two polar opposites, disagree over a course of action. Citing insurbordination and dereliction, Spock expels Kirk from the ship onto a frigid and dangerous planet. What follows is an amazing and thrilling adventure that culminates in an impressive finale, that proves that Trek has got plenty of life left in it.
While I loved the film, I found that I had to detach myself from my love of classic Trek to fully enjoy it. The film covers changes in established cannon by setting events in an alternate timeline. Despite the different eras of the previous series and films, there was always a certain continuity to the ships, planets, and characters that always seemed to fit, which I found myself missing in this new incarnation.
In Abram’s version, the Enterprise engine room is awash in catwalks, pipes, and valves that seemed out of place on a ship set in the 23rd century. I also found myself asking why such strategically valuable planets such as Earth and Vulcan would not have massive defense fleets in orbit, and would task only a handful of ships for their defense. There was a suggestion, that the ships of the fleet were amassed elsewhere on another matter of importance, but that does not explain what would leave the planets relatively unguarded. Defense codes aside, I found it hard to believe that automated defenses would be all that was left behind, and that reinforcements were not available.
I also had an issue with what Nero was supposedly doing for 25 years and how he kept such a low profile while he plotted his revenge. The final issue I had was with product placement as I found it hard to believe that Nokia and its familiar ringtone and Budweiser would be around as Trek lore is based on the planet narrowly surviving a nuclear war in the past that nearly destroyed everything. While this may seem like minor criticism, from the perspective of a long time Star Trek fan, it contradicts much of what had been established.
Thankfully, Abrams and crew take the series in a new direction without totally losing sight of where it came from. There are many nods to the series and Abrams clearly respects the original material enough to let fans know that their beloved Trek is still there in the original timeline, with its history intact. By cleverly establishing a different timeline, Abrams has creative freedom to go in any direction he desires.
The cast is strong, with Chris Pine’s Kirk as cocky and entertaining as his predecessor. I loved Anton Yelchin as Chekov and his struggles with the English language, Simon Pegg’s quick quips as Scotty, and the sassy attitude Zoe Saldana’s injects into her Uhura. The amazing visuals and designs of the film are breathtaking and it was clear that the Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) crew pushed themselves to bring everything they had to the film. In the end, Star Trek is a remarkable film that, despite some issues, has a solid new lease on life. Abrams boldly, and triumphantly, goes where fans, old and new, will gladly follow.
4 stars out of 5.