Dir: JJ Abrams. US. 2009. 125 mins.
JJ Abrams injects a gigantic dose of energy into this long-running franchise and brings it roaring back to life with his immensely satisfying Star Trek prequel. Going boldly where many have been before, the talented film and TV-maker hardly puts a foot wrong in his quest for renewal, creating a new mythology complete with pin-up stars, invigorating humour and juicy on-board melodrama. Destined to be the summer’s first and one of its biggest global hits, Star Trek essentially paves the way for a brand new series of films and will keep Paramount in summer tentpoles for years to come.
For over three decades, since Star Wars took over the inter-galactic crown in 1977, Star Trek has been a sci-fi poor relation. The first film from the series directed by Robert Wise in 1979 was dull and failed to capitalise on the Star Wars fallout. The subsequent film series, although often cheesily enjoyable (and 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection managed to top the $110m worldwide mark), ground to a halt with 2002’s Nemesis which sputtered out with a $67.3m worldwide gross.
Perhaps influenced by Warner Bros’ success in rebooting the Batman franchise just eight years after Batman & Robin, Paramount’s first masterstroke here is in telling the story from the start, wiping the slate clean of previous actors and incarnations while respectfully doffing its cap to the legacy of the property. The studio’s second masterstroke was in hiring Abrams – the man behind TV’s Lost and Alias whose feature directorial debut was the efficient Mission: Impossible III in 2006. Abrams understands today’s young audiences and not just the action/sci-fi-loving boys – he also created teenage romantic TV favourite Felicity. His casting and updating of the Star Trek characters is perfectly attuned to a teen demographic impatient with the ancient lore of a 1960s TV series.
The beauty of this reinvention is that lovers of the Star Trek franchise from 1966 onwards will appreciate Abrams’ work here as well. From the powerful presence of Leonard Nimoy to the sign-off in which the TV intro is read out (by Nimoy) and the old theme tune blares, this Star Trek will be equally enjoyable to the 30-plus audience who still have a soft spot for the show.
The film gets off to a swift and effective start with a prologue in which USS starship Kelvin is attacked by a huge Romulan ship. While the captain is lured to the enemy ship and killed by its commander Nero (Bana), the first officer George Kirk stays on board to protect the evacuating crew including his own pregnant wife.
While he dies, she gives birth to their son Jim (aka James T Kirk).
We see Kirk grow up to be an angry rebel (Pine) in Iowa just as we see Spock (Quinto) as a troubled teen on the planet Vulcan, torn between his Vulcan and human genetics and opting for a life in Starfleet rather than among the Vulcans who will always view his human mother (Ryder) as a disadvantage.
Urged on by a commander (Greenwood) who admired his father, Kirk joins Starfleet as a cadet, and, although he is by now a cocky womanizer, he excels at the Academy. We see his first encounters with Uhura (Saldana) and Bones (Urban) and his first clashes with Spock whose logical approach is at odds with his instinctual one.
The adventure begins when all the Academy’s cadets are called out to answer a plea for help from the planet Vulcan. Kirk, on board the fleet’s newest ship USS Enterprise, is the first to recognise that the situation bears eerie similarities to the attack on his father’s ship 25 years previously.
From then on, the action barely lets up and, with the assistance of stunning special effects, Abrams creates several breathtaking sequences which will win applause even from today’s seen- it-all-before audiences. But the director and his writers - longtime collaborators Orci & Kurtzman (who wrote M:I III and Transformers) – cleverly manage to elicit as much excitement from the inter-character dramas as the face-off with Nero. Indeed the Nero threat often serves merely as a catalyst to further Kirk and Spock’s personal journeys, develop Spock’s attraction to Uhura, and introduce Chekov (Yelchin) and Scottie (Pegg) not to mention Spock from the future in the inimitable shape of Nimoy.
Much of the film’s success is down to its casting. Particularly impressive are Pine and Quinto. Pine – perhaps best known to date as Lindsay Lohan’s man-candy in Just My Luck – shows considerable charisma as Kirk, his character and looks more edgy and less clean-cut than William Shatner’s. Heroes alumnus Quinto, whose role is as large if not larger than Pine’s, is also a strong screen presence beyond his striking physical resemblance to Nimoy. The chemistry between all the young actors bodes well for multiple sequels.
Indeed, for the first time, Star Trek looks as if it might have more of a future than Star Wars.
Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry
Mary Jo Markey