This review doesn't contain any spoilers. So if you have not seen the film or any of the teasers, trailers, sneak peeks, previews, special previews or Twitter tweets - I won't be giving away the secrets. In the anticipation of the film, then the seeing of the film and then the post-film contemplation of the film; I realized that the release of this film is really about myself. Really. And if you go see the film, it's not going to be about Star Trek - it's going to be all about you.
A new Star Trek film is always an occasion, even among the broader science fiction crowd. Love it or hate it, Star Trek sets a standard and is a major force in popular entertainment. With one of the most loyal fan bases, the franchise has spanned almost every form of media, merchandising and marketing. There have been multiple movies, movies about the movies, television shows, cartoon, comics, books, computer games, DVD releases, digital remastering of DVDs, lunch boxes, toys, action figures, ad infinitum. Popular culture is full of Star Trek quotes and references and the show still runs in its various forms on television every day. The new film is a risky "reboot" of the Star Trek universe by current producer/director wunderkind J.J. Abrams, of Lost fame. Well, I should say, risky in the sense of spending a lot money and not making much profit. Coming off of Star Trek: Nemesis, which combined the worst of the Next Generation with the worst of the overall series to make the worst of the motion pictures and make the powers-that-be rethink their whole strategy with Star Trek.
I'm old, so I watched the Original Series when it was NBC back in the '60s. In fact, when Star Trek moved to late night Fridays in its final season, I was allowed to stay up late for the first time in order to watch it. During the long hiatus between the cancellation and the first film, I read all the James Blish novelizations and even watched the Animated Series. One of my bibles was the Making of Star Trek by Stephen Whitfield, along with David Gerrold two books about the series, The Trouble with Tribbles and The World of Star Trek. I attended my first Star Trek convention in the early '80s, where I met James Doohan and George Takei. I have watched the series and films over the years with varying levels of interest. All told, I have attended a half-dozen conventions over the years and seen several of the actors giving their convention speeches and roundtables. I did, in fact, witness an erstwhile fan ask James Doohan a technical question about the Enterprise and get the answer that he (Doohan) was just an actor and this was just a show. I have read quite a few of the Star Trek novels that have been written over the years, but certainly not all of them. I have written reviews of several episodes and two of the movies for this site. So, I am not too, too far into hard-core Trekkiness (I don't speak Klingon), but try to maintain a healthy, respectable level of engaged fandom. Some around me might disagree, I don't know.
I feel that I am not pre-disposed to dislike the new film just because it somehow meddles with some "canon." I am in search of compelling science fiction cinema and I don't really care what they do with the Star Trek franchise, so long as it is enjoyable and fun. This film fulfills and exceeds almost every expectation in that area and I think that, despite some flaws, it will take a place among the best science fictions films of all time. I can highly recommend this film.
There is a intelligence and an inherited layer of moral awareness that raises Star Trek as a thing above most typical science fiction fare. We can thank Gene Roddenberry and his vision of a future history that seeks the solution to problems of today rather than exploiting them. Star Trek has always purported to be an imagined future history of mankind where there many of the social ills of humanity have been solved and mankind is engaged in some kind of "manifest destiny" to spread out among the stars. This is both a boon and curse to the entertainment value of the show. In the first version of the television show, there were some episodes that attempted to deliver a "message." For example, the episode "The Enterprise Incident," purported to allegorize a real spying incident and "The Last Battlefield" showed the conflict between two "bicolored races" in which one was black on the right side and white on the left side, while the other was the opposite. So, heavy utopian messages have become part of Star Trek and lead to some heavy-handed storytelling. Fortunately, the current film manages to avoid this with only a couple of light nods.
The film does a fine job of walking the line between the old and new, with plenty of nods to the history of Star Trek storytelling (maybe too many) and refreshing the elements for a more modern quicker moving movie audience. In retrospect, I think the inclusion of Leonard Nimoy was a mistake. The new crew should have had a completely new story with no ties to the old. But, the movie is fun and the performances are charming. There is plenty of humor without indulging in the level of camp that has always dragged Star Trek down. In fact, †Star Trek: The Next Generation went so far in trying to avoid the camp, that it became some of the most humorless science fiction ever. The was a disturbing level of "Lucas-ness" popping up in the film, mean visuals that seem to embody a certain "Star Wars-ishness." One example is a scene of the cadets loading up into shuttles that was very reminiscent of both Star Wars and The Phantom Menace. Also, a concluding scene was very much like the way the Star Wars film ended. I don't know if this an attempt to "StarWars-ify" the Star Trek franchise, an homage to the science fiction stylings of George Lucas, or a straight ahead rip of the look and feel.
The acting and their roles are very charming and contributed to sense of delight in the film. A couple were a bit over the top, but for the most part, the actors deserve a lot of credit in their "re-creations" of some beloved characters. I wasn't annoyed by the cameos by some named stars in roles, like Sarek (Ben Cross), Amanda (Winona Ryder) and Winona Kirk (Jennifer Morrison). Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock had the most work to do and the most risks to take. Their earnest performances make all the difference in the ultimate success of the film. The supporting actors in the crew roles, like Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban all have several fine scenes that adds a level of characterization that is so often lacking in science fiction and this alone, is the the most important hallmark of this film. The script features some very believable dialogue and the interaction between the characters makes you believe that, in the midst of all this special-effect genius, there are real people in this story. Very un-Lucas. The worst character is the villain, Nero, portrayed by Eric Bana. Not much to be said here that isn't a spoiler about the plot line, but the writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, failed us here in a sketchy, clichéd cartoon villain.
You would think that such talented people, given time and a solid mythology to build on or work against, could come up with an original story to tell. But then again, these creatives are also working in a world of compromise that us mere mortals may never truly grasp. It always seems like every Star Trek film feels like it has to be the be-all and end-all of science fiction. It is no spoiler to say that some creepy villain is on the march to get revenge on some member of the Enterprise crew. This is not much more advanced than the quintessential Star Trek synopsis in TV Guide: "The Enterprise crew encounters a strange force." Of course when one looks at the majority of the most popular movies, it is easy to see that quality storytelling is down on the list of prerequisites for successful film-making. You will find it somewhere between odd-ball cameo and (pseudo-orchestral soundtrack) trailer-ready catch-phrase. So those fans will be overjoyed to find that there is not much plot to get in the way of enjoying the charm of the performances and the incredible effects. By golly, the special effects are fantastic from the opening sequence through the obligatory fly-around of the Enterprise in space dock and onto the final confrontations, everything is fantastically realized. The editing, cinematography and direction are all excellent and the film moves intriguingly and briskly with a visually stunning appeal.
Ultimately, the charm of the characters and the explosive action overwhelm the story on all fronts and we get a very satisfying cinematic experience. I didn't realize the theater complex near me had an IMAX or I would have been tempted to see it there. So, I might go back and see it in a matinee on the IMAX screen. I do know that on this opening night, the IMAX theater was sold out. The regular theater I was in was not full for the earliest show. So, I don't know what this means for the overall box office of this most expensive of the Star Trek films. Certainly, the film is well-suited for the IMAX experience with some fantastic visuals and effects. I might not be able to resist the temptation to slip over and catch an IMAX matinee, while the film is still in theaters. Certainly, this is not the end of Star Trek. Hopefully, the risk will be less in telling a story and the attempt will be made. But, movie companies don't like complications and would prefer that each new film be a remake of a previously successful film. Please can we avoid the revenge film and the arrival of an alien probe to threaten the Federation? Just asking.