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Star Trek (2009)

by on 2012/05/13

“I would cite regulation, but I know you would simply ignore it.”

* * * *

Star Trek 2009 . . . pretty, popular, and close, yet still imperfect. Superior to at least half the entries in its forerunning inspirations, it’s nonetheless important to look deeper, past the dazzling decoration.

Set in the years after 2233 — 223304 to get treknical — Starfleet Captain Robau (Iron Man’s Faran Tahir) and his First Officer George Kirk (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) are unexpectedly attacked by a Romulan from roughly a hundred and fifty years in the future. This encounter sets into motion a chain of events which unites a familiar group of names aboard a ship called the Enterprise.

They’re not precisely as you may remember them, however. Apart from the realities of recasting, dynamics have been respun. Changes include the relationship between James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto, a dead ringer for Matt Watts if ever I’ve seen one), and the subordination of Dr. “Bones” McCoy (RED’s Karl Urban) in favour of Nyota Uhura (Avatar’s Zoe Saldana).

Right now, sorry, I can’t continue objectively any longer. As an old school Trek fan I reserve the right to insufferable nitpicking.

One. Nero, as a worthy villain, is unbelievably weak, hardly more appealing than Picard’s reviled “clone” Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis. We don’t care where he’s from, who he is, or why he’s here, and a half-assed flashback doesn’t cut it.

Two. Nearly the entire bridge staff is assembled by replacing initial crew members. Once, okay. Twice, maybe. Three or more times? Come on. While they might be at war, it still struck me as slightly ludicrous. Sulu (Harold and Kumar’s John Cho), Uhura, Spock, Kirk, and Bones are all swapped in as the plot requires. And Scotty (Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg) can stick around because there were seemingly no engineers on board. Except for seventeen year-old Chekov (Terminator Salvation’s Anton Yelchin), now cast as a Wesley Crusher type.

Three. Vulcan. Really, that’s what’s at stake? A hostile world populated by cold, standoffish caricatures? Losing it is akin to The Simpsons losing Maude Flanders. Who? Exactly.

Four. When the First Officer protests a Captain’s decision, apparently he is to be dropped off at the nearest icy wasteland. Doesn’t sound like the Federation I remember. In fact, it’s like what the Klingons did in The Undiscovered Country. Whatever happened to Gene Roddenberry’s dream of a better tomorrow?

Five . . . ah, the hell with it, why bother? Does it matter, even if my pickings are bigger than nits? The truth is, this feature has already succeeded, and nothing is going to change that.

Another truth: I’m bitter. The biggest misstep I can’t overlook, no matter how often I watch, is the way the previous Treks were abandoned without tying up loose ends. When it serves the story’s purposes, it is happy to exploit them, but to treat them akin to fan fiction is insulting. It’s the punk kid fresh out of high school believing he’s entitled to what long-haulers earn.

The producers could hardly feign surprise at such a disappointed reaction. They’re picking up a property worshipped by among the most fanatical, critical, and intelligent people on the planet. Despite what anyone wants us to believe, no one’s rebooting anything. The occasional tendril reaching back suggests it’s an end-run.

Connective tissues and references abound, including a low clearance beam, the Kobayashi Maru test, the casual bite of an apple, green alien sex, a Cardassian drink, Nurse Chapel, a redshirt death, and an IDIC symbol worked into Spock’s ship.

Less obvious aspects of production also reminded me of the, er, future past. From time to time, the interiors have a darker golden look, reminiscent of the lighting I disliked in Star Trek: Generations. The shadowy greens recall the more recent Nemesis.

Other aspects break tradition with the subtlety of a bombed Apple Store. The Enterprise bridge barely resembles the original series‘ . . . massive, spacious, overwhelmingly white, with blooming lights and lens flares everywhere. Plus, shaky cam and fast cuts change the tone considerably.

More successful was audio, especially a recurring approach of dropping out or muffling sound, then rebuilding it gradually. Early on, this effect is used to generate suspense and introduce musical elements. Later, it evokes a jump through space, before entering an atmosphere.

The music too is effective, even if the motifs repeat a bit often. Fortunately, the motif in question is appealing, touching, and powerful. I appreciated the use of the original theme at an eventual juncture, though I hoped they would have gone a little further here. Imagine when you watch the “flash forward” hearing a corresponding snippet.

Which is all, perhaps, an ineffective lead-up to awarding a positive score. Star Trek is better than I’d feared it might be, but I respect it more than love it. The filmmakers here rendered the material with a very specific intent, one I don’t share, having been prepared by different, prior approaches. Don’t mistake critique for dislike, I did enjoy it, but it’s not “my” Trek, and clearly wasn’t meant to be.

* * * *

Rated PG13

127 minutes

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