It wasn’t all that long ago that the Star Trek brand was about as interesting and relevant as…well, let’s just say I can’t have been the only one who left Gene Roddenberry’s creation for dead after their last outings on the big screen and the boob tube. Turns out it just needed a bit of a breather (not to mention some fresh creative blood).
Putting aside painful cliches like “set phasers for stunning!” or “Star Trek will now live long and prosper”, I’ll just say that J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek takes its place among the greatest realizations of Roddenberry’s franchise in any medium. The film succeeded on nearly every level possible, not the least of which was making it resonate with longtime fans – who, let’s face it, are probably the most fanatical and detail-obsessed of any fictional franchise – as well as curious newcomers.
So what makes Star Trek such a triumph? Let’s start with the casting. For more than four decades we’ve known only one Spock (Leonard Nimoy), one Kirk (William Shatner), one Scotty (James Doohan), one McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and so on. I was easily able to put every one of them out of my mind the entire time (with one exception which should be obvious if you’ve seen the movie), no easy feat. Think about how great a job Ewan McGregor did as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, and multiply that by about ten characters. My favorite of the bunch was Karl Urban as McCoy, although the added depth Zoe Saldana brought to the upgraded Uhura was a treat as well.
Special effects? They were awesome.
How about the story? You know, the thing that many action movies these days employ to kill time between explosions. This is probably where some people will sour on the movie, as it’s clear pretty early that this story represents a pretty radical departure from accepted Trek canon. In fact, the film pretty much comes right out and explains it and why. But luckily screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman don’t use this somewhat blank slate as free license to come up with nothing more than second-rate, big-budget fan fiction.
No, this new Trek universe just felt right to me, even with the rather substantial changes. Not once was I taken out of the story with one of those “what the hell was that?” moments. Orci and Kurtzman pulled off the additional feat of balancing the breakneck action with liberal doses of humor that felt totally organic and real. The serious moments felt serious without being ponderous, and the funny moments felt funny without being glib.
But beyond all that, Abrams and company employed a lot of little touches that just made the whole thing click. I enjoyed the numerous callbacks, obvious and subtle, to all that had gone before in Star Trek. I won’t spoil any of them here, but I’m sure I’ll catch more with each viewing. The changes to the Enterprise (and Federation ships in general) were jarring but ultimately worked for me. Same goes for the new look Romulans.
The cameos made for some interesting guesswork, but were all well done (never thought I’d say that about any appearance by Tyler Perry). The score, by New Jersey native Michael Giacchino, was striking and emotive (although perhaps not as iconic as James Horner’s from the second movie, my favorite).
Put it all together, and you’ve got not just one of the best Star Trek movies ever, but certainly one of the best films of 2009 and one of the great action movies in recent memory.