Movie Review

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Movie: Star Trek
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, and Leonard Nimoy
  • Written By: Roberto Ori and Alex Kurtzman
  • Directed By: J.J. Abrams
  • Distributor: Paramount Pictures
  • Series: Star Trek


"Everybody heard me say 'reset button,' right?"

By Rob Vaux     May 06, 2009


If you're going to break continuity, break it in half. Shatter it into a million pieces. Smash it so badly that no one can ever repair it again. It's a bold move--cutting away the calcified remains of four decades' worth of back-story in a single stroke--and one that Star Trek would never dare consider before now. The franchise needed to be pushed to the brink of extinction first. Make no mistake: without such drastic action, it was done. Finished. Kaput. Yet at the same time, it was uniquely positioned to undergo a complete regeneration without destroying what came before.
After all, what's technobabble for if not to leverage something so inconceivable? All the tools were right there--quantum mechanics, parallel universes, scientific concepts so thought-numbingly bizarre they made Stephen Hawking go "hang on, you've lost me"--just waiting to be used as a cosmic reset button. No one had the guts to push it until J.J. Abrams showed up.
The relative merits and flaws of his decision will doubtless be debated for some time: he really shakes the Trek universe to the fundaments with this new film. Someone dies who isn't supposed to--a distressingly large number of someones, in fact--and more than a few hard-core Trekkies are apt to be screaming for blood. I still can't decide whether I like such developments or not. But I also believe it was absolutely necessary if this film series were to continue. The energized results onscreen--the terrific entertainment this new Star Trek embodies--would not have been possible were Abrams shackled to the minute details of five TV shows, ten movies, and countless novels, fan films and Internet slash porn.
Discussing the specifics gives away too many of the movie's surprises, and love them or hate them, they're well worth experiencing directly. In simplest terms, a cranky Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) has taken a page out of the Terminator's playbook. He's come from the future to destroy the past, running smack dab into the untested crew of the starship Enterprise in the process. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is Starfleet's resident bad boy: still bedding space chicks by the dozen and challenging authority largely because it amuses him to do so. His buddy Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) hasn't yet warmed to his antics, and indeed considers the man a menace… feelings fueled by ambivalence towards his own human/Vulcan heritage.
They're joined by the usual gang sporting fresh new faces--McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Skipper, Gilligan and the rest--and aided by a screenplay which cuts through the pop culture detritus to remind us what was so fun about Star Trek in the first place. Clever dialogue abounds (and when was the last time Trek could say that?), along with a number of cool references to Gene Roddenberry's original series. Abrams attains an impressive balance between state-of-the-art special effects and tips of the cap to the first show's endearing clunkiness (the simple, almost crude make-up of an Orion cadet, for example, or the subtle appearance of 60s-era haircuts.) The space battles and attendant action pieces demonstrate a similar flair for detail, though Abrams still needs to work on the BSG-style shaky cam he's chosen to adopt, and the editing struggles for coherence during the film's most intense sequences.
The truly remarkable accomplishment lies with the cast, who must evoke their legendary predecessors without resorting to parodic imitation. Urban and Quinto have the best of it… and since I've been shit-hammering Quinto's Sylar for the last three months, it behooves me to emphasize just how well he nails Mr. Spock. The two roles possess surprising similarities--conflict over heritage, clinical detachment masking turbulent emotions, etc.--yet Quinto crafts them into a irresistibly compelling character here while Sylar stumbled through a contrived grab-bag of disconnected quirks. Leonard Nimoy can rest easy knowing his beloved icon is in good hands.  

The remainder of the cast does their job effectively, with Pine wisely avoiding any undue Shatnerisms and Simon Pegg providing great comic relief without compromising the soul of chief engineer Montgomery Scott. Abrams takes special care to remind us that they're characters first and sci-fi sacred cows second (though his knack of introducing them and then pausing for the inevitable cheers is exasperating). Indeed, in many ways that's the film's primary purpose. Yes, it's a popcorn flick--and a first-rate one at that--but it also grants these figures a freshness they haven't possessed in a long time. The means it uses to get there may not sit well with everyone, but to quote an earlier entry in this franchise, it does turn death into a fighting chance to live. That carries with it a unique excitement, brought about by the new, the unknown and the unexpected. Yet it's still quintessentially Star Trek, brimming with optimism and that good, cheesy fun which made so many of us fall in love with it in the first place. It's nice remembering how great that experience felt… and nicer to know that we can still feel that way again.


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egoist 5/6/2009 12:54:48 AM

B plus very respectable. I still need to see Wolverine. I been slacking in my show watching. I better hurry up before you take my mania card away.

JarrodSarafin 5/6/2009 1:56:24 AM

Since this film isn’t wide released for another two days, I’ll keep my specific thoughts on the storyline to myself for now but I will say that I agree on your grade for the film, Rob. There were certain misgivings that I won’t deny having before watching the film last night.

While I did walk away with certain issues that kept me from thinking “Kick-Ass film!” (i.e. grade A or A- ), Abrams certainly put on a spectacular show for new and old Trekkies alike. Like Abrams I was a fellow SW fan growing up. I wasn’t around in the sixties when TOS first aired so I’ll admit to not falling into that particular genre demographic. But I fell in love with Star Trek: TNG and the TOS movie franchise, which makes me one of the later classes of Trekkies born of Generation X.

My question going into this film was:

“Can Abrams create a Star Trek theatrical experience that appeases the aging Trekkie fan base and their worries while also appealing to an entire new audience who may not have grown up on the TOS franchise?”

Thankfully, I believe that director J.J. Abrams and his writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman found a way to do just that. Can’t really reveal it here without giving away plot details but I liked the choice they presented to audiences, which lets the TOS fan base keep their classic series in canon fashion and lets new potential fans follow this new series in a way that isn’t offensive to one side over the other. That’s no small feat to accomplish for a director taking on a franchise of this size while trying to mold it into something new for today’s audiences.

As far as specific characters are concerned, Karl Urban’s portrayal of Bones literally stole the show. From his entrance to his last line, Urban gave a fantastic performance which had me smiling throughout the film. Not sure what motivation Karl had before stepping in front of the cameras but it seems as if he was channeling DeForest Kelley’s spirit. He had Dr. McCoy pegged down with every wave of his medical tricorder and even that famous line didn’t feel forced.

Can’t say the same for the famous Scotty line but Pegg did a fine job with the limited time that was given.

The only detractors which keeps me from giving the film the highest possible score is the new musical score, the constant lens flares and the sometimes vertigo Fincher-like camera techniques utilized by Abrams. Plus some references that did feel forced.

So a solid B-plus it is for me as well. Perhaps, when I watch it a second time (likely this weekend), the musical score will grow on me and I can convince myself it deserves an A-. None of that really matters though. What does matter is that I walked away from the auditorium feeling content and wanting more.

Those are two personal reactions that are often hard to find after the average summer tent pole experience. Can’t wait to see what further Trek adventures Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman have in mind for us in the near future.

Two big thumbs (and a toe) are pointing up over here.

Time to hear your thoughts on the film, Maniacs.

StarlightGuard 5/6/2009 4:28:35 AM

...and as I watched him on the stage
my hands were clenched in fists of rage.
no angel born in hell
could break that Satan's spell.

and as the flames climbed high into the night
to light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
the day the music died...

burn in hell Abrams

Rob you just confirmed all I've been bitching about ever since this was even mentioned a year or so ago...

Dazzler 5/6/2009 4:30:27 AM

Again I saw it already and loved it and most should.

I think a restart was probably needed for Trek since they were unwilling to move forward with the Universe.  I hate prequel shit, but this is the best prequel shit I ever saw.  Better than Star wars prequel shit. I think it's a cop out to restart things, but I understand why.  If I was to do it I would have recast and try to finish the 5 year mission like they are doing on the web.  

ChadDerdowski 5/6/2009 4:57:20 AM

Jarrod said: "... Karl Urban’s portrayal of Bones literally stole the show"

I'm of the mind that Bones always stole the show - so this is GREAT news!  I haven't heard a bad review yet and I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing this movie!

monkeyfoot 5/6/2009 6:41:15 AM

I'll be in line for it this weekend.

I just skimmed the above review because I didn't want to know too much. Jarrod seemed to hit on what I think this movie should be about and he seemed to think it pretty much succeeded.

StarlightGuard, I'm sorry if this movie will/is ruining the franchise for you, but you've admitted some of the shows kept doing that anyway.  Frankly, though as Rob said in the opening paragraph, the greatest most influential genre franchise (or maybe ANY movie or TV franchise) was barely a blip on the med tricorder. It was either something like this or it was gone forever. You could make a new series in a few years that dealt with Cardassians, Bajorans, and different quadrants and gone heavy on the technobabble and stuck 100% to every detail of Trek canon, and hardcore fans would be happy, but it probably wouldn't have lasted long.

SoundmanATX 5/6/2009 6:46:22 AM

This was a fun Star Trek movie.  I agree, there will be definite fallout from some people about certain aspects in the film, but I agree, that if we wanted to see not only another ST film, but a GOOD ST film, then certain aspects had to be revised, and those revisions work in my opinion.  I can't wait to see it again this weekend!

redhairs99 5/6/2009 7:49:12 AM

Looking forward to seeing this on Friday.  I did see a very funny "news" segment on The Onion today.  It's pretty funny unless you're a Trekkie with NO sense of humor.  Check it out here:

Jarrod, there was a pretty good interview with Karl Urban on G4's Attack of the Show the other day.  In it, he talks a little about his love of Trek and where he was coming from with his version of Bones.  Check it out here:

larkcall_home 5/6/2009 7:50:41 AM

Uh Oh... StarlightGuard went off his meds again...

StarlightGuard 5/6/2009 8:32:36 AM

yeah, I said that monkeyfoot

I also said that it was Brannon Braga's fault....a man who was more interested in pushing Trek to fit his own desires...

Braga was the worst offender when it came to getting things wrong, intentional or otherwise

now Abrams and his pop writers are intentionally getting it wrong, which is a far greater crime

this movie is going to be see the formation of all the Neo-Trekkers.....and those same people are going to come to this movie, thinking this is what Trek is (or should be) then they'll revisit everything that came before and see IT IS NOT.

if all the outsiders looking in come to this wanting to be fans, but not enjoying what came before, then they don't belong....if they don't like Trek for what has been for 40 years, then they don't need to proclaim their curiosity for this new, broken voyage

and Star Trek Enterprise still should not have been made, you should've heard me screaming at Braga when that was going think I'm off my rocker now, you should've seen me then...

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