Lowdown: The Star Trek tape is rewound to its beginning.
It’s been a while since the last Star Trek film, Nemesis, has hit the screens during 2002. Since then The Next Generation has withered away and the Star Trek franchise has faded away from TV screens. So, what angle should a new Star Trek film take in its attempt to revive the series? The angle of choice was to go back in time to explore the beginnings of the enterprise’s biggest heroes, the Kirk generation, and in particular Kirk and Spock.
Star Trek’s exposition shows us the young James T Kirk being born in the middle of a space battle during which his father dies a hero’s “die so that we can all live” style death. Then we’re offered some short scenes showing us the resulting orphan’s troubled yet potential filled childhood, and after that it’s quickly off to the Starfleet Academy where the young Kirk quickly meets most of future shipmates: Bones, Uhura and Spock. Spock gets his own background story, telling us of the torments of a half human / half Vulcan child growing up in Vulcan.
Quickly enough we’re thrown into the action: Nero, a renegade Romulan (Eric Bana) travels back in time to avenge something that the old Spock did in the future. That same Nero killed Kirk’s father and now he’s going to focus on Spock’s family in circumstances that quickly place Spock as the brand new Enterprise’s acting captain with Kirk his first officer. The two crew mates are bitter rivals, but the film takes them for an action filled ride in which goodness prevails over Nero, the normal state of affairs is renewed in the captain / first officer relationship, and things are set for a multitude of sequels to come.
While it’s quite entertaining throughout, Star Trek is one hell of a compromised film. Its main problem is it going out of its way to set thing up the way we remember them to be from the good ol’ series while trying too hard to reuse events and characters mentioned in the previous films (all of which are supposed to take place in the film's future). A lot, for example, is borrowed from The Wrath of Khan, such as the idea of Kirk cheating his academy exams and an Enterprise manned by cadets due to an emergency.
The result? Star Trek feels a very contrived film, and the better you know your Star Trek history the worse it feels. The worst crime, by far, has to do with twisting the plot really badly so as to be able to introduce the old Leonard Nimoy as the future version of Spock.
Resulting from the contrived nature of the film are some severe continuity issues that kept bugging me as I watched Star Trek. For example, Kirk’s world is full of aliens; he even has a go at having sex with a green woman at the academy. Yet on William Shatner’s Enterprise there was only one alien, Spock. And what about the Enterprise itself, now full of sexy screens with video game like graphics scrolling all about them? How very different these are to the Shatner enterprise with its bulky buttons!
Indeed, the continuity issues raise the question of the plausibility behind Star Trek. We forgave the Shatner Enterprise for being low tech because we knew it was low budget and because it was a breakthrough concept; yet if you ask me, I would expect the Enterprise to be flown using telepathy by some sort of a human that’s heavily modified with artificial intelligence. Or, in the very least, using 3D models of reality. Definitely not using today’s heads up display technology in a space enabled environment; that’s way too unimaginative. And don’t get me talking about all aliens speaking English, or the probability of finding aliens that look just like us but have green skins, or and the probability of finding aliens with which we can copulate and even have kids. That’s not unimaginative; that’s plain stupid. We are much more likely to procreate with a frog with whom we share the basics of our genes than any alien, no matter how humanoid in shape.
You may say I'm being picky and those points are easy to live with and ignore, but I argue they have an effect on the plot that cannot be ignored. For example, the film's baddie, Nero, is motivated by a star going supernova and destroying his home planet. Now, come on: even 20th century technology will allow you to know your sun is about to go supernova; it's not something that comes as a surprise to anyone, in particular space enabled cultures. Thus the entire plot is relying on shaky premises.
What else? In contemporary pop style, Star Trek is overfilled with CGI abuse and is shot using an annoying shaking camera style that always keeps you in doubt as to what’s taking place (or the director’s confidence in his own directing).
The final outcome is entertaining but very unoriginal. Just how many Star Trek films have resorted to time travel as a main ingredient? And why is it that all of Kirk’s escapades end up settled with a good old fist fight?
Best scene: Simon Pegg making an appearance as Scotty and providing a silly, yet effective, comic relief. Given the film’s vast list of issues, it should have taken the hint and regard itself with much less seriousness than it actually does.
Technical assessment: I was expecting the world out of this Blu-ray, but while the picture is good it is not perfect; and while the sound shines from time to time, it does not shine half as much as I would expect from such a special effects party.
Overall: Ultimately, a forgettable escapade of the 2.5 out of 5 stars realm. William Shatner provides for much better entertainment.