I’ll get the obvious out of the way immediately: Were Star Trek (XI) a standalone piece of space-set science fiction entertainment, it would probably be one of the finest to come out off Hollywood in years. The visuals are stunning, the acting top notch, the Michael Giacchino sound score flawless, and even JJ Abrams’ direction (which is often criticized for being jumpy and dependent upon effects) is quite appropriate. So why then a very mediocre review score? The answer is simply this: Like George Lucas discovered when he went back to tell the first three episodes of his space opera epic, Star Wars, some material is so beloved and firmly established within the psyche of popular culture that it exists upon a pedestal no filmmaker can reach.
Filmmakers hoping to re-establish, even with the hopes of improving upon, this type of property are simply flirting with disaster. Enter Star Trek, a film that basically allows the viewer to experience the Star Trek Universe in its recreated infancy with all of the visual grandeur and evolved filmmaking technique of today’s digital age without compromising the source material… too much.
The film, directed by JJ Abrams, was written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. It is the eleventh film based on the Star Trek franchise and features the main characters of the original Star Trek television series, who are portrayed by an almost-entirely-new cast.
The story’s sense of grand scale is apparent right from the opening scene as the film begins something like this: The Federation starship USS Kelvin is sent to investigating a mysterious lightning storm in space, when a Romulan ship, the Narada, emerges from within the storm’s vortex and quickly makes light work of the Federation vessel.
The Romulans demand the captain Robau to transport to their ship to negotiate a ceasefire. Once the Romulans realize, through their interrogation of Robau, that it’s in fact the year is 2233 (meaning they had gone back in time) and that Robau naturally has no knowledge of the individual they feel is responsible for all their troubles, one ambassador Spock.
Nero murders Robau in frustration and orders the Kelvin's destruction. Acting Captain George Samuel Kirk (James T’s dad) orders the evacuation of the ship onto shuttlecrafts, including his pregnant wife, Wynona. He proceeds to sacrifice his own life to steer the Kelvin on a collision course into the Narada, resulting in only light damage to the massive Romulan mining vessel.
From there the viewer is whisked along on what is basically a glorified succession of character introductions. Settings span from the surface of the earth (Iowa in fact) to the deep reaches of the galaxy where the yet-unknowing crew of the starship Enterprise are scattered.
For all of it’s wonderfully brisk pacing, charming character introductions, and believable interactions, I can’t seem to overcome the abundant and oft times blatant canon deviation that takes place within. I will say this in the story’s defense, we are to believe that this is NOT the Star Trek timeline we’ve grown to know and love throughout the years but rather a tangent, or parallel timeline that has been created by the Romulan interference of the space-time continuum. Unlike say, Back to the Future, where a single time line is said to exist that can be moved around upon at will (affecting future events), Star Trek follows the hipper theory that the moment an alteration is made to the original timeline, two futures (or millions of them, depending on how many alterations are made) exist separately and independent of each other.
Confused? Don’t be, all it simply means is that while you’re looking at young James T Kirk, Mister Spock, Captain Sulu, Scotty and so on, these aren’t the same guys we grew up with. They were the same initially but live in an entirely separate Universe, one in which the planet Vulcan is destroyed, where Captain Kirk never gets to meet his father, where Spock and Uhura have a passionate love affair, and where by the end of the film, there are two Spocks (one young, the other not so much) running around. Will this trouble some longtime fans of the mythos? Absolutely. Because while the novelty of witnessing the introduction of such legendary characters (however contrived) is present, there is an undeniable “cheapening” of the whole experience in knowing that this isn’t the future we already know and love.
In this line of thinking, anything’s possible. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the yet confirmed sequel was to open with Kirk’s death or the obliteration of the planet earth. Not a problem, this isn’t the timeline you grew up with anymore. Alternate dimensions were never my thing even when comic books periodically decided to justify an important character’s death by using the same technique. It’s hacky and a bit too convenient for me.
I suppose my own frustration in the whole matter (either instance) is that it truly frees up the writers’ ability to deviate from the series canon at will- and rest assured they use this power liberally in Star Trek. Interviews and articles suggest that it was done as a means to reintroduce the Star Trek mythos to a whole new generation but the façade is quite transparent with motivation such as visual appeal and the writers’ lack of knowledge on the original material’s intricacies getting my vote.
Again though, on its own, Star Trek is a delightful romp with stellar cinematography, breathtaking action sequences, and some outstanding actor performances (most notably a near-unrecognizable Eric Bana as the villain and New Zealander Karl Urban’s subtle mastery of Bones McCoy’s Kentucky accent).
The dilemma the film was faced with was an understandably difficult one; while there is no denying that this material works best where it didn’t have such big shoes to fill, the studio backing of Paramount, distribution, and box office appeal would have suffered immeasurably if not for the Star Trek branding. As such, the question then becomes which is the more tolerable- A slight mockery of the established mythos within an action-heavy science fiction environment, or the film being canned before even getting off the ground due to its inability to nab major studio support? Perhaps a compromise would best suit everyone but as it stands we get the former, take it or leave it.
While unofficially labeled the eleventh major motion picture of the Star Trek franchise, you may notice that for the first time no zippy catch phrase can be found under the title card here. This lends to the suspicion that the filmmakers are hoping this will be the foundation for a whole new “retooled” series using the names and likeness of the original crew of the Starship Enterprise, so long as the viewer realizes that in parallel universes, nothing’s impossible.
What did you think of this review?