Sunday, 19 April 2009

Review: Star Trek

Star Trek is a divisive business. Many millions love it. Some love bits of it, there being several perspectives of the Star Trek universe to love- I myself am a TNG man, while S1nner prefers DS9. The rest of the world find it to be a mysterious phenomenon beloved by geeks, deviants and mathematicians living in mum’s basement, and wouldn’t be seen dead watching it. This is a movie for the old school trekker to see how their beloved characters got started, but at the same time it's so much more. This spring, all and sundry will be united for JJ Abram’s latest trek through the stars, for he has furbished us a movie that is a refreshing and bold sci-fi action story, true to the universe and its characters in every sense, but with the kind of cool and mesmerising realisation that puts George Lucas to shame. If Star Wars 1-3 had been half as exciting as this movie, we would all still be into Star Wars, which lets be honest, we're just not anymore are we? A review follows, some spoilers are present, but not a huge amount beyond what you may have gleaned from the trailers and your own deduction, but if you want to be unspoilt, I urge caution.

Phew! Now that we're off the front page and can talk openly, the most interesting thing, and arguably the biggest spoiler, is that this is not as we have been led to believe just a telling of the Enterprise’s beloved first crew’s early days a la Batman Begins. How difficult would that have been to get right without causing problems of accuracy for the massively anal fan base? No, Abrams has trodden a different path, as have his Trekkers; from the opening scene, this is Star Trek 2.0; a total reboot of the universe, but brilliantly implemented within the boundaries of the existing canon. How can this be? I'll tell you. Some of it.

Star date badoobedoobedoo, a massive unfriendly ship has emerged from a wormhole in space and sets about being beastly to everyone nearby in a brilliant pyrotechnic space fight. Powerless in the face of apparently futuristic and superior technology, the captain of a federation starship is invited to parlay, but ends up being brutally murdered by a clearly quite upset Romulan baddie, Eric Bana's Nero. Up steps Kirk Sr. to save his surviving crew, including his freshly born son, by bravely sacrificing himself by drawing fire while everyone hot foots it in shuttles. This, any Trekkie can tell you, does not happen. This is not what happens to Kirks dad, who does indeed live long and prosper, this cheeky ship from the future has changed the universe. It has changed it into Abram’s version of the universe, and as in Lost, fate and destiny play a big role here, as we watch how the characters come to end up in Star Fleet and take up their places in history, alternate reality be damned.

We watch slices of Kirk and Spock's upbringing on Earth and Vulcan, how they came to be who they are, each section zipping the plot along nicely and gradually bringing all of the characters into the mix. Kirk is the brilliant but troubled roughneck, all confidence and bravado prone to driving cars off cliffs and starting bar fights, who joins Starfleet because Captain Pike dares him to. He tries and fails to pick up the alien linguist Uhura along the way (that joy befalls another fella) but does manage to buddy up with the cynical space hating Bones, who becomes the conscience to the swaggering jock. Meanwhile on Vulcan, Spock is bullied by logical terrorisers for being half human, which becomes a bit of an ongoing issue for him, and ends up driving him to Starfleet in an almost illogical display of defiance. Once at the academy, a sun washed haven for the body beautiful, the focus is still firmly on the characters as Spock and Kirk have their first professional run-in, and then damn it all wouldn’t you know it, Eric Bana in his big naughty ship comes along and gets everything moving again, and these still wet behind the ears trekkie wannabes are straight in at the deep end as his evil plot comes moves to the next level.

What follows is a thrilling affair that gets everything it turns it's hand to right. Action set pieces are order of the day, and deliver amazing and original thrills of all variety. Aliens look amazing- an early appearance of a long faced creature sat between Kirk and Uhura at the bar as he tries to pull her steals the scene, and he doesn’t do anything but just sit there. Kirk's brief sojourn to Lost Planet is also a welcome, if frivolous, one but does provide a great excuse for some big monsters to make an appearance. The aforementioned outer space phaser play, and the special effects generally, are consistently top notch; ships are big and beautiful and more functional than we’ve seen previously, and there are also some great designs here for things we’ve not seen before at all. Design is great all round in fact, especially in the sound department; entering warp now delivers a bassy kick to the guts just as you might expect it to, and phasers now pop and fizz like futuristic guns should.

There’s plenty of humour to be had, much of it stemming from the characters nuances and the script is riddled with plenty of subtle in jokes that will probably be missed by most of the audience (I’m sure there were several I didn’t spot) but the fate of the guy in the red top on the away mission was appropriately never in doubt, and quite hilarious in execution. The plot itself is intoxicatingly intriguing, an although I’ve outlined some of the premise and early scenes, nothing has been mentioned here to give away the really juicy stuff, because it’s all just too juicy, and full of nice surprises to be read on a mere blog.

The cast themselves all deliver top drawer stuff, a fantastic mix of casting and performance. Spock is particularly noteworthy; Zachary Quinto, in a blindingly obvious but nevertheless spot on piece of casting, simply is Spock, all logic and analysis but with that pesky human side simmering away underneath it all. Karl Urban is also fantastic as Bones, delivering a performance Deforest Kelly would be proud of “Dammit man I’m a Doctor not a physicist!". Oh yes, they go there. The rest of the cast are all present and correct, there's Chekov with his wacky accent, oh look Sulu has a cool sword, ah Uhuru is a whizz on the ear piece. Oh yes, and Kirk is fleshed out admirably by Chris Pine, but who only really reeked of Kirk by the end - probably deliberately, they grow up so fast those kids. The only vaguely bum note is Scotty, played by our very own Simon Pegg, whose character is too slight, too much the stooge to be totally satisfying in what was already a pretty humorous film. Eric Bana gives good snarl as the villain Nero, but his motivation for the havoc he wreaks, or at least how he lays the blame, is a little thin, and could probably have used some more time onscreen.

While we're on the niggles, there is also some serious disbelief to be suspended about the little things. Like why is it so easy to get promoted in the Federation these days? Many of the key characters end up in their jobs on the whim of a commanding officer who must have been reading the script. Scotty in particular just turns up and is suddenly chief engineer somehow? Also in the future the galaxy's only defence is it seems the Enterprise and it's crew. When it hits the fan, it's down to them and only them to save the day. Did they not think to leave a few defences dotted about the place? Maybe a couple of F14's, just in case? If that's the spirit why do starships have phasers at all? The cinematography might also turn some people off; the camera is prone to moving around a lot, particularly on the Enterprise where flashy lens flare is abundant, in what looks to have been a bid to give a kind of ER style urgency to the proceedings. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the focus puller on this movie forgot to wear their bifocals on one day as several close up head shots seemed glaringly out of focus to me, but were probably left in to continue the rough documentary feel.

All told though this is a fantastic achievement. These niggles are just that, and if you're going to nit pick to that degree you have no place in the universe, this version or otherwise. No, this is a completely successful and very satisfying reboot of a franchise so bloated with history it must've appeared impossible to write a new retelling of the origins without treading on the fan's toes. But that's just what they've achieved and the writers can now allude to and involve all the beloved lore, but with a freedom unheard of that can now be taken in any direction they please, should more films follow, which of course they will. Full of nail biting action and fantastic humour, this is a real crowd pleaser that will leave everyone grinning, Trekkie or no. Space is cool again, and it took a Star Trek movie to do it! Insert live long and prosper joke here.

Treehouse Rating


Boldly goes.

Star Trek is released in the UK and much of the rest of the universe on the 8th May.

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