It would seem that J. J. Abrams and Co. took on a foolhardy task when they decided to make a new Star Trek film, especially once it was revealed that they planned to show the early years of the crew from the original series. As a rule Star Trek films have not only been of uneven quality in the eyes of die-hard fans, but traditionally inaccessible to those that weren’t regular viewers of the various series they were based on. Making an outstanding Star Trek film enjoyable by any audience would seem to be as impossible a task as rescuing the crew of the Kobayashi Maru. However, much like Kirk in the fictional test, the crew of Bad Robot beat their own no-win scenario and, also like the once and future captain, they changed the conditions of the test. I am what you would call a Trekkie and a stickler for continuity, so I freely admit to feeling that their chances of success were meager at best. While all the trailers and interviews slowly reassured me that this might just be a decent film, the apparent disregard for established continuity left me wondering if this would even be recognizably Star Trek and if the character back stories that had been established over the last forty years would be flagrantly ignored. I’m fine with minor details being tweaked and tuned, but there seemed to be big events that really defined Kirk and Spock that were being thrown out in the interest of telling a cool story. I need not have been concerned.
The story, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman with input from Abrams and producer Damon Lindelof, is explosively propelled into motion by the Romulan Nero (Eric Bana) who, through a great tragedy, has been afforded an opportunity to prevent said tragedy (ah, you’ve got to love time travel). Fueled by grief and incomprehensible loss, Nero chooses an extreme course of action and his choices literally impact and change the lives of all the familiar Star Trek icons. There are some bold story choices made here (one is jaw-dropping in its magnitude) not the least of which is that all these changes are permanent, yet made in an entirely (pardon the pun) logical fashion. This script is dense and filled with action, leaving only a few quiet moments that let you momentarily catch your breath, however, that is not to say that this movie is devoid of plot or character development. To the contrary, story and character development are what inform the action and those three elements blend into a very entertaining screenplay. There is a popular misconception that every episode of the original series was a clever social allegory, but while many were (“Day of the Dove”, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”) there are also several episodes that were personal and intimate commentaries on the human condition in general and the characters in particular (“The Conscience of the King”, “Amok Time”). This film is definitely in the latter category and worked tremendously well in that regard. The opening sequence alone is an emotional punch to the gut. To further complicate matters, the writers had to not only make Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) pivotal to the plot, but also ensure that at least eight other characters were allowed to fully develop. Again, this is handled beautifully without over-burdening the two hour and six minute running time.
Speaking of the characters, this film doesn’t seek to redefine them. Instead, the choice was wisely made to distill these icons down to the core essence and then let the individual actors carry that forward. There is very pointedly no attempts made to recreate previous performances. For example, while Chris Pine absolutely embodies James T. Kirk, he in no way tries to emulate William Shatner playing James T. Kirk. If any of the actors had done such a thing it would have resulted in a two hour long Saturday Night Live sketch and would have instantly tarnished not only Star Trek, but would have thrown all credibility out the window. I think the original actors have inhabited the roles for so long that everyone has lost sight not only of what fantastic characters the original crew are, but of what an excellent job those actors did in bringing them to life. Much like Superman, Batman or James Bond, these icons are capable of withstanding a change in actor. It’s when the filmmakers lose touch with what makes them who they are (like what has happened occasionally with James Bond) that things devolve unintentionally into parody. There is never a moment in this film where any of the crew do anything that goes against who they are or how you would expect them to behave. That is perhaps the greatest joy while watching this movie, knowing that the characters are being handled with reverence and respect for what has gone before. The writers, director and actors gracefully pull off the impossible task of making these creations of the 1960’s relevant and interesting in 2009 without taking anything away from them.
J. J. Abrams proved himself as a director to me back during Alias. His skills for putting together a scene are exceptional. His eye with the camera is pretty much flawless and he can charge every scene with the appropriate emotion. Based on the promo photos I wasn’t really sure if I liked the refined look of the Enterprise. However, there is a scene involving the ship with the planet Saturn in the background that made me fall in love with it, that’s how perfect it is. I truly think Abrams is incapable of sloppiness. You never get lost or sea-sick during the action sequences as, thankfully, he never gives in to the swinging music video style of filmmaking that annoys the hell out of me. You can actually tell what’s going on, no matter how frenzied the action gets. Abrams is also exceptional at working with his actors to capture their absolute best performance, even if all they’re doing is staring out a window. Simply put, your eyes will love you for taking them to see this.
Bottom line, this is easily the best Star Trek film to date. It not only celebrates all the best aspects of Star Trek, it also is a finely crafted film. For the first time in a long time, Star Trek doesn’t feel tired or overly convoluted, but instead it sparkles and shines and happily makes you feel giddy. Despite the fact that the parts have been recast, or perhaps because of it, I am excited to see not only the next new Trek adventure, but to also revisit the original series episodes. This film has hit the magical combination of making the die-hard Trekkie fall in love with Star Trek while being entertaining for general science-fiction buffs and an exceptionally made film for those who love movies. I urge everyone and anyone to see this at the first available opportunity. You will be rewarded with a truly amazing cinematic experience.