In Brief: It’s lived long, and now it finally prospers.
In Detail: It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve watched the popular folk around me gasping as photon torpedoes smash into something.
Even longer since I’ve heard the college jock express his jealousy at someone seeing the latest Star Trek movie before him.
Rather than focusing on a plot synopsis, since I think everyone should go see this movie and learn it for themselves, I’ll focus on analysis. J.J. Abrams has achieved what many perceived to be impossible. He’s made Star Trek popular, sought after; bigger than the latest Bond flick. Quite how he’s managed it perplexes me slightly. It’s been almost effortless. Call it gifted creative vision if you will, but from the first moment the trailers hit, the creator of Lost and Fringe mixed the finest aspects of a forty-year old franchise and injected it with something fresh and revitalising.
What’s perhaps most impressive about this film is its subtlety. So often where obvious homages and fanboy tributes would have been so very tempting to include, Abrams steps back and puts his own unique slant on the Trek universe. Not to say that this is a complete reboot ““ it in fact functions plausibly within current Trek canon: overwriting nothing while creating so much more ““ rather, it is a perfect example of how to walk the very fine creative line between the professional and the amateur.
So, this succeeds at creating a new yet believable Star Trek universe ““ how does it rate as a movie? Well, it was possibly the fastest two hours of my life, which stands as a measure of how much I enjoyed it. It flew past. The pacing is pretty much exemplary, although it does perhaps take quite a long time setting up Kirk and Spock at the Academy where it’s hard to tell when the real plot’s going to get going. Minor quibble, barely worth mentioning.
As an action movie, I don’t think you’ll find one with a finer ensemble cast or a stronger storyline. So much is crammed in here, and the movie does a great job of giving each of the minor characters some form of personality and backstory (no small task in a two-hour movie). Indeed, if anything, I’d have liked an extra half hour to really see more of Eric Bana’s Nero, who perhaps just fell slightly short as a villain. While we see his motives, his means and his emotions expertly portrayed by Bana, he lacked the time and dedication afforded to villains like Khan, the Borg Queen and even Shinzon in previous movies. I’d have liked to have seen Bana utilised a little more.
Having said that, I wouldn’t cut a single moment of either of Kirk or Spock’s development. Pine really impressed me, nailing the role. The casting of a relative unknown, as Abrams has said, really helped, as you just saw him as James T. Kirk: the rebellious, rule-bending charmer who cheated at the Kobayashi Maru ““ not because he was being a thug, but because he was too good for the system, and what’s more: he believed that fully. Additionally, Zacchary Quinto’s performance is absolutely outstanding. His is a Spock quite different from Nimoy’s, yet that’s absolutely understood. A youthful, more naive Spock struggling with himself. And Nimoy’s final message to his younger self just makes this subtle yet important difference succinctly understood. Again, Abrams balances delicately, and the outcome is sublime.
Simon Pegg’s performance as Scotty, although restricted to the latter half of the movie, is quite perfect also. Quirky, imaginative and with a rather good Scottish accent, he provides comic-relief in the absolutely right amount. It’s interspersed at the right intervals, it’s not in-your-face and it’s portrayed by a master of comic acting. Top job.
Karl Urban’s McCoy? Again, perhaps a similar problem to Bana’s Nero. Full of talent and potential, but not quite realised as fully as it could be. It’s good to see the beginning of the friendship with Kirk, but whereas Kirk and Spock’s relationship develops naturally and believably, the McCoy loyalty and bond seems perhaps a little contrived again through lack of time to explore the link between them. Why does McCoy really risk it all to help Kirk, other than that they shared a stiff drink on a shuttlecraft? Again, a little more could have been developed here I felt.
Saldana, Yelchin and Cho all do more than adequate jobs of their characters, and I’ll perhaps have more opinions in later viewings. I thought Saldana was particularly effective at delivering a performance that is often lacking on modern media ““ a determined, hardened woman who doesn’t need to act like a man or wear tight leather: she’s a confident woman, and that’s accepted. Rather Roddenberry-esque, and very much appreciated.
In terms of the visual effects, these are probably the best I’ve ever seen, both technically and creatively in a movie of this type. I was so happy to see the traditional Abrams absence of glorified effects exposure. You could tell this wasn’t a Michael Bay production: no needless and gratuitous effects shots for the sake of it (credits aside, and they were simply stunning!). Instead, as Abrams so often chooses to do (and I welcome it), the effects are integrated into the story telling. The camera never loses sight of the human action involved, never tries to jam in as many effects as possibly. It’s always designed to convey the intensity of the combat, the disorientation of the people or the enormity of what’s going on (see Vulcan implosion) ““ it’s not just an attempt to get as many explosions or pixels on the screen as possible. It brings so many modern blockbusters to their knees, and I was delighted to see that Star Trek stood above that.
The audio deserves a mention too. The classic, vintage Trek sounds are seamlessly integrated into an intriguing new soundscape for the 21st Century, and it just works. The sounds are crisp (my God, that warp effect is beyond awesome) and sharp, and the constant background chatter when the Kelvin comes under attack is a particularly fine example of how audio is used creatively and differently than what’s come before in the Trek universe. Abrams also appears to have been rather creative about when and when not to use sound in space. It’s nice for effect at times, but I can’t say it made much sense in terms of consistency. I’ll look out for it in future viewings.
It’s nice that the movie doesn’t always take itself too seriously. Some of the humor (even thought it may be subtle and unusual for Star Trek shows ““ ironic sarcasm from Spock or Nero for instance) comes from unlikely places, but it’s good to see the experimentation. I guess whether it works or not is down to personal interpretation, but if this movie is about reinvention, then it’s mission accomplished.
Abrams’ Star Trek is a success. It may not be the finest piece of purist Star Trek ever to grace our screens, but I have little doubt it’ll be the most popular (universally, that is). I can hardly conceive a movie which could more effectively have bridged the gap between Nerd and Nerd-Killer, and actually made it work. It’s a creative success, it’s good fun, and I do feel it captures (to an extent) some of Roddenberry’s original vision. It may not have been overly explicit, but as my non-Trekkie friend remarked as he left (having never watched Trek before), “I really loved the positive outlook it gave on humans. Most movies make it feel so contrived.” There’s little more you can ask than that, is there?
It’s a triumph, and I think history will record it as one. This one won’t burn out or fade away like a pleasant memory like Serenity, it will be fondly remembered and respected by fans and non-believers alike. And that’s good. Because for perhaps the first time, Star Trek has broken out of its closet and tackled a new demographic it may not have enjoyed success with before. It’s taken forty years, and many have tried.
J.J., I salute you.
P.S. ““ Does anyone know if you can you actualy set dilithium crystals to maximum? Wasn’t convinced by that line.