Star Trek

Movie Information

The Story: The origins of the Star Trek series are reinvented in this reboot of the franchise. The Lowdown: A big, entertaining, occasionally exciting summer movie containing everything that implies -- including flaws -- and one iconic performer giving it a depth outside itself.
Score:

Genre: Science Fiction
Director: J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III)
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban
Rated: PG-13

I’m not a fan of Star Trek in any of its forms. The original show struck me as kind of cheesy and clunky when I was a kid. As a young teenager starting to tussle with the idea that maybe movies and TV were capable of conveying ideas as well as entertainment, I soon realized and appreciated the fact that Star Trek at least tried to do that. It wasn’t bad at it, but it fell under the heading of what I’d now call “TV deep,” which is to say it put forth no ideas that couldn’t be basically resolved in 50 minutes. Maybe that’s why my personal favorite episode of Star Trek was “A Piece of the Action,” which at best might be seen as a satire on religion, with its concept of a society that patterns itself after a book—that just happens to be about 1920s Chicago gangsters. In other words, if it had any message at all, that message was hidden in a largely comedic story.

It’s that same approach that makes J.J. Abrams’ film Star Trek such a pleasant viewing experience. The movie takes itself seriously without taking itself too seriously. It’s not a major work of art. It’s not slated to become one of the “great movies.” It has some significant flaws and missteps, but on its own merits, it’s entertaining—and in one instance, it’s even a little more than that.

The basic notion of doing a Star Trek origins story is fraught with pitfalls, and this movie falls into as many as it sidesteps. There’s an inescapable sense of watching kids playing dress-up throughout—a kind of Muppet Babies aura. It’s hard not to imagine these young Trekkers arguing over who gets to play whom, which is echoed (probably unconsciously) by the musical-chairs business of who gets to command the Enterprise at various points in the narrative. The business of jamming all the characters—many of whom were originally of diverse ages—into Starfleet Academy at the same time is awkward at best, risible at worst. The joyride in an unlikely 200-plus-year-old Corvette by young James T. Kirk (Jimmy Bennett, Evan Almighty) feels like a prepubescent piece of warmed-over Shia LaBeouf-dom from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

Some of the casting is less than perfect. While I liked Zachary Quinto’s Spock, I was less enthused by Chris Pine’s Kirk. Even while granting that Kirk as embodied by William Shatner could be both smug and annoying, Pine is just too smirky for my taste. I don’t find it a plus to spend large chunks of the film wanting to slap the lead actor. Bringing in Tyler Perry for what amounts to a cameo is simply distracting to no real point. That said, the bulk of the new cast is pleasant enough without being particularly remarkable, while Eric Bana shows just the right attitude for a Star Trek villain.

Then there’s Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime. He brings such a sense of gravity leavened with humor to the film that he makes Star Trek seem more than it is. Nimoy has the ability to spout the most outrageous faux scientific pronouncements and make them sound plausible, while hinting that he knows it’s nonsense. (The script has the wit to suggest this, too, in his last appearance in the film.)

Frankly, I was taken aback by the degree of emotional resonance he brings to the film. I may not be a fan, but Nimoy taps into the broader sense of our collective pop-culture consciousness that makes Star Trek a part of our lives regardless of personal considerations. It may be as simple as the fact that Nimoy’s Spock is a piece of my childhood, and his 77-year-old self makes my childhood feel so very long ago. Whatever the case, there is an elegance to his performance here, and his recitation of some very familiar words at the end affords the film an emotional punch it would otherwise lack. His casting was just as much a stroke of genius as was not casting William Shatner.

Overall, Star Trek is probably best viewed as big-budget summer entertainment. J.J. Abrams’ direction is hardly groundbreaking (that it’s better than his work on Mission: Impossible III (2006) isn’t saying much). The screenplay by Robeto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (both of Transformers (2007) fame) is more concerned with connecting the dots—and cheating to do so—than with crafting much of a story in its own right. But the results are undeniably entertaining—and Nimoy takes it one step beyond that. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

33 thoughts on “Star Trek

  1. Vince Lugo

    Mom and I saw this opening day and both had a blast (and I was just geeky enough to go in costume). She thought it was going to be a simple prequel to the original series and afterward, she asked me how it could be given the events of the story. I tried (several different ways) to explain the concept of time travel and alternate timelines, plus the fact that they were using something from the old continuity to set up a new continuity (an approach that’s nothing short of brilliant), but she didn’t get it. Anyone who says this film isn’t cerebral obviously wasn’t paying attention. In many ways, this is the ultimate Star Trek film and I feel it can stand proudly next to the best of the original series (“City on the Edge of Forever” in particular, since the basic idea for the story bears some similarity to that episode).

  2. Dread P. Roberts

    **Slight Spoiler** I couldn’t help but feeling like the whole time warp/alternate reality thing was cooked up by Paramount in order to reheat the franchise, and create the possibility for a whole new sequence of future events. That might not be the case, but it just felt that way to me. I don’t think that this was really a bad thing – in fact, I thought it was a well executed idea that was definitely in the movies favor.

    The most pleasant surprise for me, was how funny some of the scenes were. I was sort of expecting the awesome special effects and action (which delivered), but I wasn’t really expecting comedy, and a slight taste of good, emotionally involved character development (namely with Spock). I was so unknowingly involved in the proceedings, that the two hour running time of the movie felt like it had just flown by at warm speed. I’ve only seen a handful of the Star Trek movies, but out of what I have seen, this was the best. Now if only they didn’t have that stupid scene with Jr. Kirk stealing the car.

  3. ncain

    Okay,

    I just want to say that during that car stealing scene I actually felt embarrassed for my entire generation. When young Kirk put on the Beastie Boys “Sabotage” I cringed because I realized that the entire scene had been dreamed up by people my age who think the world stopped when they were in high school. “Hey,” they thought. “You know what the cool kids will listen to a hundred years in the future when they’re stealing cars? The Beastie Boys. You know why? Because that’s what was popular when I was in high school, and therefore it is timeless.”

    I felt like I should have apologized to everyone in the theatre on behalf of everyone in their 30s. It’s the way Baby Boomers must feel every day of their lives.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I felt like I should have apologized to everyone in the theatre on behalf of everyone in their 30s. It’s the way Baby Boomers must feel every day of their lives.

    Reasonable, though so much of Baby Boomer pop culture has been assimilated by later generations (e.g., Wes Anderson’s use of music) it’s a harder distinction — unless the Beastie Boys have also been assimilated and I missed the memo.

    That said, I’m sometimes perplexed by Baby Boomer music cropping up in peculiar places — “Alone Again, Naturally” in Stuart Little 2, for instance — and wonder who the choice is aimed at. Grandparents maybe?

  5. Alba

    I think Chirs Pine did a great job! Of course he’s not going to be like the original! anyway the movie was great!!!!!! but the people i went with didn’t like it. Of course both this girls think Twilight was the best movie ever hahaha

  6. Steven

    I found it hilarious that out of all the planets that Kirk could have crashed on, he crashed on the planet where future Spock is on.

  7. jasondelaney

    The very second Karl Urban walked onto the screen I knew it was Bones. Kudos to him for an amazing imitation.

    I have to love the fact that this movie gave me more of what I love about Star Trek and much less of what I can’t stand. It’s nice to see they kept more in line with the original show by keeping the fake science in the background and staying away from the heavy handed soap opera drama. This is certainly the best looking Star Trek film in a long time but I’d be hesitant to say it’s the best film period. I still enjoyed it immensely though.

    P.S. Am I the only guy left that thinks William Shatner is awesome?

  8. Ken Hanke

    I found it hilarious that out of all the planets that Kirk could have crashed on, he crashed on the planet where future Spock is on.

    This is called clever scripting.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Am I the only guy left that thinks William Shatner is awesome?

    I’ll get back to you on that once I get over being astonished that you made it to a currently playing movie.

  10. jasondelaney

    I’ll get back to you on that once I get over being astonished that you made it to a currently playing movie.

    I’m not a complete troglodyte Ken, they let me out of my cage occasionally.

    All I have to say to that link by ncain is WTF!?

  11. jasondelaney

    I beg forgiveness for that net speak abbreviation, but I couldn’t think of a more savvy way to get my absolute stupification across correctly without that oh so versatile four letter word.

  12. Ken Hanke

    I’m not a complete troglodyte Ken, they let me out of my cage occasionally.

    That’s as may be, but I never see you. Is it too much to hope I’ll encounter your august presence at Terminator Salivation?

    I beg forgiveness for that net speak abbreviation

    Just this once.

  13. Manda

    *slight spoiler* What made the movie for me were the little things that all fans would catch, particularly how in the destroying the drill scene the crew member in red died.

  14. ncain

    All I have to say to that link by ncain is WTF!?

    WTF indeed.

    Also, did anyone else think Eric Bana looked a lot like Billy Corgan. I look forward to the inevitable Youtube videos where the word “Romulus” is replaced with “Smashing Pumpkins.”

    “Smashing Pumpkins was destroyed with Ambassador Spock did nothing!”

  15. ncain

    I meant Smashing Pumpkins was destroyed while Ambassador Spock did nothing. Also, that first sentence should be punctuated with a question mark.

  16. Rob Close

    My lady and I both really enjoyed this film. Far more funny than I ever expected. Very solid summer entertainment; great, for what it is.

  17. oplease19

    Star Trek II, III, and IV remain the only good Star Trek movies. While this prequel never got as awful as most of the Star Wars prequels, it never came close to the highs of the last 45 minutes of both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. I see the ads calling it ‘this summer’s Iron Man’, which is sort of correct by me – I thought Iron Man was not as good as the critics made it out to be, and that is the case with Star Trek. However, Star Trek makes Iron Man look like one of the best movies ever. Ebert was right, this Star Trek is a piece of crap.

    I like what a previous poster said about the use of the Beastie Boys song.

  18. Aaron

    Oplease, Ebert didn’t call it a piece of crap. He gave it 2.5 stars and his main complaint was that it didn’t deal with major issues of philosophy or science, which it didn’t, but I also believe this was intentional on the part of the screenwriters. And the review even includes (apparently just for you) the line “Don’t get me wrong. This is fun.” Then again, you used Attack of the Clones as an example of quality in your argument, and Star Trek still holds a 91% on RT amongst top critics.

    Now as to this:
    “I found it hilarious that out of all the planets that Kirk could have crashed on, he crashed on the planet where future Spock is on.”

    It’s funny, because this is the first I’ve seen this mentioned, and I thought about it as soon as Old Spock showed up. But then I realized that they covered it in the script, even if they don’t say it outright. Kirk and Old Spock were both on that planet for the same reason: it was the closest (barely) habitable planet to Vulcan. The reasons they were stranded were different: Kirk because Spock was being too much of an uptight prick to just leave him in the brig after the ambush, and Old Spock because Nero wanted him to have the best possible view of the destruction of Vulcan. I felt like the writers put more thought into it than people usually do. Now, I gladly concede that it’s ridiculous that Montgomery Scott ALSO happened to be stationed at the same planet. But come on, Simon Pegg is great. :P

    Oh and finally, for whatever it’s worth, I’m 21 and I thought Sabotage was perfect for that scene with Lil’ Kirk. Not sure what that says, but yeah.

  19. oplease19

    Okay Aaron, I didn’t actually read Ebert’s review, I just saw the splut symbol on Rotten Tomatoes and took it that he thought it was a piece of crap. You, though, apparently didn’t read my post that you are responding to. I didn’t say Attack of the Clones was an example of quality. I said most of the time the Star Wars prequels were awful, but that the last 45 minutes of Clones and Sith were excellent. You also seem to have missed the part where I said most critics have praised this Trek. Either that, or you told me what the critics think because your preferred debate technique is ‘Well, the critics agree with me, so phooey on you’. As far as I’m concerned, this Trek is trite.

  20. Ken Hanke

    Okay Aaron, I didn’t actually read Ebert’s review, I just saw the splut symbol on Rotten Tomatoes and took it that he thought it was a piece of crap.

    Be very wary of making that assumption. It’s very easy for that symbol to get there by accident, since it’s a choice on a pull-down menu when the review is put up on the site. Despite what the people who post comments (not reviews) on there tend to think, it isn’t a choice made by Rotten Tomatoes, but by the critic adding the article. It’s also the critic who chooses the breakout quote. (OK, I’m pretty sure that in Ebert’s case it probably isn’t Ebert, but someone on his staff, but the dynamic — and the chance for error — are the same.)

    I said most of the time the Star Wars prequels were awful, but that the last 45 minutes of Clones and Sith were excellent.

    You’re not alone in that regard at least as concerns Clones. At the time it came out, I wrote “anyone who doesn’t at all respond to the film’s last 45 minutes probably needs to have his pulse checked for signs of life.”

  21. nicholasjh

    I just laughed when he had the beastie boys on and said “ah, the classic station”. It’s definately a good song in it’s own right, I can see it sticking around as a classic. Anyway I thought it was an excellent movie, I cried three times and my heart felt light at the end. In addition I thought it was appropriate that Kirk was so angsty, Remember this is a quite different Kirk, growing up with a step dad and living under his dead father’s shadow. I even thought the difference in the Kabiyashi Maru scene made sense.

  22. Molly

    I was a big fan of the original series as a kid, but never really loved any of the following series or movies. But I love, love, love this one! I went prepared to be very resistant to the new actors, and left completely converted. To me the movie was laugh out loud funny, the opening scenes were tender and desperate, the story never lagged and the cinematography was gorgeous. I didn’t even see the lens flares the first time I saw it because I was looking so hard at the characters, but after seeing it again I think they really added to the bright, dynamic feel.

    All of the actors made me care about their characters and were able to give me enough of the old cast to make me feel at home while still making them fresh and new. I thought Chris Pine particularly played Kirk brilliantly. I caught dozens of subtle references to the old series and movies and that made it especially enjoyable.

    Its the first of the ST movies (with the exception of MAYBE 2 and 4) that picked up what made me love the original Trek–that sense of adventure, discovery, and growly affection for each other that made the old series so much fun. I always thought the heavy philosophical stuff that dominated the later stuff made everything drab and preachy, so was really glad they didn’t go that route again. And for the same reason, I’m glad they changed the timeline–now we don’t have to drag all that baggage around anymore. Can’t wait to buy the dvd!

  23. Caught up with this in advance of seeing the sequel tomorrow.

    A great deal of fun, and as someone with even less exposure to Trek than Ken, I still found Nimoy’s extended cameo quite moving.

    I liked Pine more than you did, and more than I was expecting to. He worked for me because he clearly wasn’t attempting any kind of Shatner impression and made the character his own.

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