As you will see, I am very hard to please. This is a review I wrote back when Star Trek was originally released. The more I think about it, the more I realize this is as much about one movie so much as it is about JJ Abrams. I’m just not a fan. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very good at what he does (hey, a mystery/shiny thing! … time passes, stuff happens … So what exactly is going on here? Never mind, LOOK! – a new mystery/shiny thing!. And stuff exploding!). He’s like a thinking man’s Michael Bay, sort of. I just don’t think he’s very good at telling a story that actually goes anywhere or has any real meaning.
It seems I’m the only Trekkie in my circle of friends not falling in love with JJ Abrams incarnation of the iconic 60’s TV show. To be fair, I think as far as summer action movies go, it’s pretty good. I also have nothing but respect for the task Mr. Abrams took upon himself: not only did he need to restart a franchise with 40 years of cannon behind it, satisfy a notoriously harsh fan base, and recast roles identified as much by the actors who played them as by their characters and catch phrases, he also had to tackle the notoriously difficult challenge of “the origin story.”
However, sci-fi has come a long way in the last ten years. Joss Whedon and Ron Moore (to name just two) have taken the genre into some really interesting places that are challenging, thought provoking and entertaining as hell. Star Trek is special for me, so when I heard it was being ?rebooted? I was cautiously optimistic. Like so many people, I think of Star Trek as a vision of what the future could be. It presents a future where Earth is united in a common purpose of brotherhood, scientific exploration and kicking Klingon ass as necessary.
As many have noted, this isn?t the 60?s. If you want to make a statement, you need to do more than have a Russian, a black lady and a closeted Japanese guy on the bridge. I?m not suggesting a return to the ham-handed moralizing of the past, but in my mind Trek is best when it has something to say about universal themes (revenge/sacrifice in Khan) or current events (the end of the cold war in The Undiscovered Country).
First, let me say what I liked (in no particular order):
- The cast. I think they all did a great job taking over from the old guard.
- George Kirk and the death of the Kelvin. What can I say? Nice opening sequence.
- The pacing was quick and the film never lagged, even during the exposition scenes.
- The contrast between Kirk and Spock’s childhoods was particularly well done. It was a nice way of showing that Kirk and Spock are extremes who need and balance each other out.
- Clarifications to old characters like why Spock went to Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Science Academy and why McCoy is called “Bones” were really nice touches.
- They didn’t let the technobabble get away from them. This has been a real challenge in the last few outings on both big and small screens.
- The view screen being a big window with a full size HUD. Nice idea guys.
- The tie-in to the show Enterprise. I wasn’t a fan of the show, but it demonstrated that they were at least thinking about the fact that this is a universe with history.
Things I didn’t like so much, but was able to get past:
- The Apple Store bridge and blindingly white hallways. I really didn’t care for either, but got past them pretty quickly.
- Why are all the Academy cadets slumming in Iowa on their way to San Francisco? Is cow tipping a fad in the 22nd century?
- I don?t get or care for Starships being built on the ground, but whatever.
- It?s a design thing with me, but I don?t care for big open spaces in the Federation starships. Like real ships and submarines, I imagine spaceships need to be pretty economical in regard to building materials and efficient with their use of space. I don’t see how big, mostly empty rooms with no bulkheads or pressure doors will help keep Crewman Jones from suffocating to death or being sucked into the cold void of space in the event of a hull breach, but I digress…
- Nokia/?Budweiser Classic? product placement. Cute, but if you?re going to that and you already have a Mac bridge, why not make the new communicators iPhones? Budweiser Classic does make me wonder if they have New Bud or Budweiser Clear in the future. Hell, they have transparent aluminum.
Things I hated:
- So to tug on our heartstrings when their planet is destroyed and their entire race is wiped out, you set up the Vulcans as a race of intellectual jackasses who hate humans (who happen to make up 100% of the moving-going audience). Setting aside the fact that they?re pacifists who are among the greatest minds of the Federation, you decide to play up the bigot card. Even the kids are little shits. This is how you make them sympathetic to the audience when their planet is destroyed and the entire race is nearly wiped out?
- For a genocide, the destruction of Vulcan was pretty damned bloodless. Sure, we saw sweeping city skylines before the carnage, but we only see 20 or so inhabitants. And even then we never see a market or family or given any indication that people have LIVES there. When Spock helps evacuate who he can from the planet, he runs into a temple with ten people in it (Including his Mom. But isn’t she supposed to be a pariah? Why is she in the Vulcan holiest of holies? Internal logic people, look it up. They don?t let Jews or protestants in the College of Cardinals.). For what was supposed to be the second most emotionally resonant moment of the movie, there was no? weight. If you want to see how something like this is done right, go back and watch the scene in the Battlestar Galactica pilot where the newly formed fleet of survivors must leave those ships without faster than light drives (and their crews and passengers) behind before the entire fleet is destroyed. You show me a little girl sitting in a park as her planet is consumed around her, and I?ll show you an audience without a single dry eye.
- The engine room. The engine room is a brewery? Are you kidding me? I know what they were going for, but do you mean to tell me when they think of high-tech industrial looking setting, a BREWERY is the best they could come up with? Are Bob and Doug McKenzie co-chief engineers? (The, uh, warp drive is off-line, eh.) $150M budget and you use the Budweiser plant as your set for the engine room for the U.S.S. Enterprise? And what?s with the water pipes and the food processor looking thing at the end of the line? I?m all for not saying what every single thing on the ship does, but this smacks of ?We need something we beam him into that?s funny.? Why not beam them into someone?s bathroom or something? Put Scotty in the shower. That would be both funny and practical.
- If your super weapon of choice is a black hole – the most powerful force in the known universe, so powerful that not even light can escape its pull, why do you feel the need to drill to the planet’s core before dropping it off? Drop it in the atmosphere. Put it in orbit. Fire it at the planet like the Genesis torpedo. Done and done. You don’t have to waste time or make yourself a stationary target in geosynchronous orbit. Fire, forget, and be done with it.
- “In my time, this is a simple mining ship.” Really? Mining ships in your time are outfitted with missile launchers that fire multiple warhead delivery ordnance? What do the warships have? Black hole weapons? Wait…
- Nero’s plan for revenge (full disclosure, this one is supposedly addressed in the DVD extras.) – I have lots of issues here. Go back in time? Check. Kill your enemies before they’re old enough to pose a threat? Check. Dick around in space for 25 years DOING NOTHING while you wait for Nimoy to show up with his black hole juice when you could be arming the Romulan Empire to the teeth with technology 150 years ahead of anything your rivals have? Are you kidding me? Dude, at the very least you could tell the folks back home that their sun is going to explode in the (relatively) near future ? give them time to pack and relocate.
- Kirk?s career path. ?Hi, I’m James Kirk, shit-kicking ne?er-do-well. Wanna hit it?? (Three years later.) ?Hi, I’m James Kirk Starfleet cadet. I cheated on a test to prove a point and might get drummed out for it.? (Two weeks after that.) ?Hi, I’m James Kirk, captain of the Starship Enterprise. Flagship of the Federation fleet.? I don’t care how awesome he performed in the crisis (In which he failed to prevent the destruction of Vulcan. The whole planet. Founding member of the Federation.) his ass would have been a lieutenant at best. This leads me to my biggest complaint of the movie…
- The whole point seemed to be “how quickly can we get everyone to their familiar places so we can make new movies that don?t have to worry about cannon?” This is a real danger with telling any origin story but I wish they?d paid more attention to how it was done in Batman Begins. He?s not even ?Batman? until over half way through the film. Take your time. Do it right. It would have been better to slowly bring the crew together, maybe not even on the Enterprise. Bring her in at the end too. The whole issue of the crew going to the Academy at the same time as the Enterprise is being built… it’s all too damned convenient.
Again, for what it is (a summer action movie/money making venture) it’s pretty good. I like it when things blow up as much as the next guy. But it’s Star Trek, man. Yes, the money changers robbed it of it’s glory some time ago, but if the point of this exercise was to bring it back to relevance, couldn’t they have done better than this?