Star Trek (2009) Review

Star Trek (2009) Director: J.J. Abrams

★★★☆☆

In 2007, when J.J. Abrams accepted Paramount’s offer to direct a new Star Trek film it was a troubled time for the franchise. The Star Trek: Enterprise television series had been canceled and the the two most recent Star Trek films were widely panned (Star Trek: Insurrection in 1998 and Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002). The idea for a new film was to reboot the original series with a twist. They hoped to create a qualified prequel series to the original television program which aired on NBC in the 1960s. The filmmakers had a daunting task ahead of them: to reinvigorate the series, bring appeal to a wider audience, and also please the Trekkie fans many of whom are notoriously fickle. To a large extent, J.J. Abrams and Paramount succeeded in this first film which was released in 2009.

The new Star Trek movies are often referred to as the “Kelvin” timeline in reference to the name of the ship in the series, the USS Kelvin (an homage to J.J. Abrams’s grandfather).

The year is 2233 (prior to the original series of Star Trek). At the outset of the film, the USS Kelvin is investigating a strange interspace phenomena when it is suddenly attacked by a Romulan ship known as the Narada helmed by a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana). The captain of the Kelvin beams aboard the Romulan ship where he is interrogated about a man he has never heard of named “Ambassador Spock” and he is promptly executed. Thus First Officer George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) takes command. He orders the entire crew to abandon ship, including his pregnant wife, Winona, who is mid-delivery, giving birth to a son named James Tiberius Kirk. George Kirk sacrifices himself by staying behind to fight the Romulans.

Many years later, his son Jim Kirk has become something of a delinquent, and as even more time passes we meet a young Spock (Zachary Quinto) on the planet Vulcan. Spock disappoints his parents by joining Starfleet under the United Federation of Planets instead of the Vulcan Science Academy. Next, we meet an adult Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) as he undergoes training at Starfleet. He has become a scrappy and pompous playboy, yet he somehow manages to defeat an impossible digital simulation devised by Spock (Kirk cheats to win). While training at Starfleet, Kirk encounters a variety of classic/recognizable characters such as Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood -the character is a nod to the unaired pilot of the original series “The Cage”).

At any rate, activities are interrupted by a Vulcan distress call (Vulcan is Spock’s home planet). The fleet makes haste for Vulcan while Pike, Kirk, and the rest of the crew board a new ship called the USS Enterprise, however the new helmsman Sulu (John Cho) makes a small delay and the Enterprise arrives moments later to find the entire fleet ambushed and destroyed while the Romulan ship Narada is busy drilling a massive hole into Vulcan. Captain Pike surrenders to Nero and the ship’s command falls to Spock with Kirk becoming First Officer. Kirk, Sulu, and another character drop down onto the drill and destroy it (of course, in standard Star Trek fashion, the newly introduced and semi-anonymous compatriot dies). Nevertheless, Nero manages to destroy the planet Vulcan, leaving only enough time for Spock’s father to be rescued, and the Narada heads for Earth.

Spock dumps Kirk on a nearby planet (Delta Vega, a remote mining planet from the original series a la “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) as punishment for staging an attempted mutiny, however while on the planet Kirk encounters a much older Spock, reprised by the now late-great Leonard Nimoy. The elder Spock explains that both he and Nero are actually from the future. They were sent back in time by an artificial black hole in an effort to save Nero’s home planet of Romulus from destruction by a supernova, however they failed so as punishment Nero marooned Spock on Delta Vega to witness the destruction of his own home planet of Vulcan. We learn this timeline is wholly unique as an alternate reality from the original series. Kirk and Spock wander through a snowy Delta Vega until they find a remote outpost and a quirky Scottish engineer named Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg) who devises a method for them to beam aboard the Enterprise thanks to the advanced knowledge of the elder Spock.

Kirk takes his rightful place as Captain on the Enterprise and he and Spock beam aboard the Narada and rescue Captain Pike. Meanwhile, Spock sets his ship on a collision course with the Narada and when it crashes into Nero it activates the “red matter” and Nero falls back into a black hole. Kirk, Spock, and the Enterprise narrowly escape. Back on Earth, Kirk becomes the official Captain of the Enterprise and the elder Spock convinces a younger Spock to commit to the Enterprise even though it is not necessarily logical. The moment of connection between the elder and the younger Spock is particularly sentimental for fans.

The Star Trek reboot is at best a fun adventure that dutifully pays lip-service to Star Trek fans, at worst it is yet another dizzying Hollywood break-neck paced thriller that sacrifices substance for style. However, it is a surprisingly enjoyable ride, Star Trek was in serious need of a shot of adrenaline in order to remain relevant for a new generation. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the movie is how similar each character looks when compared to the original series -Zachary Quinto as Spock is a dead-ringer! It was a smart move on J.J. Abrams’s part to recreate the story in an alternate universe of sorts so as not to disrupt an already complex and lengthy fan lore. However, my main bone of contention with this new Star Trek reboot is the way all the lead characters behave –they all act like children, ceaselessly running around, forever out of breath, hastily making foolish decisions, frantically jumping from scene to scene. This is a far cry from the competent and collected celebration of human reason as found in Gene Roddenberry’s initial vision for Star Trek.

2 Comments

  1. Actually, Star Trek originally aired on the NBC TV network.

    The reason why CBS owns the rights to Star Trek is because Paramount bought Desilu (the studio that produced the original series) after the 1967-1968 season. Paramount owned the rights to the feature films, while the TV rights somehow ended up with CBS after a series of mergers and spinoffs.

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