If you have just come out from under your rock, here is the 11th Star Trek movie, more accurately Star Trek Zero, a full-on reboot and reinterpretation of the four-decade cult phenomenon. Star Trek Nemesis (10) broke the rule of only even-numbered Star Trek movies are any good, and this Star Trek (inconveniently titled the same as the phenomenon and franchise) breaks the rules of canon altogether. Technically 0 is an even number, so they fixed that, anyway. Now: STOP. You couldn’t go out on a better note. Don’t make any more, no matter how tempting it is. You saw what happened last time and to much…better franchises. Let’s face it, even crazed Star Trek fans can acknowledge that sometimes the whole universe can be a little corny or heavily metaphorical, even in its best, delicious moments. The Trek world is about hope and cooperation and integrity and all that hero stuff can get…well, stale. Kind of. So they add some humor and wonderful characters and kick out five separate television series and eleven movies. This movie, however, can only go so dark without totally betraying the whole Roddenberry code of conduct. But if you’re gonna do it, do it the way director J. J. Abrams did it, with a big ol’ 9/11 event.
I don’t mean to say that Abrams’ vision would infuriate fans — I am sure you have seen press to support the extreme opposite. Unlike another franchise beginning with the word “Star,” this film is both slavishly faithful to the core characterization of the original series cast, and narratively mature. And there’s kind of a twist, but no spoilers here! Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman miraculously recover from their previous life being unable to write a watchable movie, and plop in little gifts to the fans (just check out Lt. Olsen’s combat suit color) without getting all wakka wakka wakka about it. The references and winks are organic and fit without rippling the scene or story, but they give you a little giggle or a little heart swelling. The little sentimental flourishes are tossed in but not belabored. A little interspecies canoodling here, a little verbal tic there. I sat next to a 12 year-old who was not familiar with the Trek world and she gave it 10 out of 10. So it’s not just for fans (I’m looking at you, Watchmen!).
Majel Barrett gives us one last computer performance before her passing last December. I’ve been more of a Next Generation girl than an original Trek person, but you gotta have a little section reserved in your heart for the goofy earnestness and alchemy of the originators. The new cast brings in the dynamic without being impersonators.
That said, I spent the whole movie giggling at Dr. McCoy — he was funny and cantankerous, clever and warm. Who was that guy — wait, not — Karl Urban!? Pathfinder and Doom Karl Urban? No, whew, it’s Lord of the Rings Karl Urban. He was my favorite of the entire cast, even with a gleeful Simon Pegg being wildly underused as Scotty. Zach Quinto makes a surprisingly wonderful Mr. Spock. Sure, he kind of had the look of Leonard Nimoy, but his Sylar role on Heroes made me doubt his abilities (that’s probably Heroes’ fault). He balances Spock’s dual natures and captures his physical affect and presence just right. Zoe Saldana is a sexy, smart Uhura, talented and given a real job the way we wish the networks would have done back then, instead of just being a leggy receptionist. You’ve come a long way baby, but your Bluetooth looks a little painful.
I have not liked Chris Pine (Kirk; you might know him from such films as Just My Luck) since I saw that he was cast, and I am sorry to report that he never grew on me. It did impact my enjoyment of the film at large. I totally get that he was really giving us the backstory that Shatner finished in his turn at the role, and that it was purposeful, but here’s the thing — I didn’t much like Kirk. I know, pillory me, but there it is. So Pine is perfect, I guess. But he vexed me and I couldn’t get past it. I’m sure I am alone, but considering that he’s the lead, it made it hard to surrender to the movie.
While the lighting and camera style of the film (kind of like A.I. was in spots) looked super cool in preview money shots, the whole movie being shot with lens flare and glaring backlighting and weird trippy color-focusing light play, was weird. The bright/blurry lights often obscured faces and action, upstaged the dialogue, and generally rendered everything overly heaven-dreamy, and too much and too often. The camera angles were fun and cool and everything was very modern and exciting visually, but wow, the flare and glare was my dominant impression of the movie. Michael Giacchino, the subdued and emotive composer for Abrams’ TV show Lost, went kookoo bananas with an operatic, epic orchestral score! Most of the time the onscreen action was keeping up with the music, but sometimes it was a little GLORIA!
Once the travails of getting everyone into place are dealt with, and McCoy gets to start being funny, the movie takes off. It’s only a little spoilery to say that the non-canon events in this movie have a convenient and tidy meta-physical explanation, even when it’s not all that probable. Who’s spoiling anything — if you’re at all interested in this movie you’ve probably seen it at least twice already.
It’s a good origin story, a good foundation for new adventures, and a gift for the fans that’s a fun ride and looks mostly fabulous. Please, Paramount, don’t succumb to the temptation to drive this perfectly restored old classic over the cliff. Again. And you other studios: this was an exception that proves the rule. Prequels of old franchises are to be discouraged. This is an anomaly in the space-movie continuum.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/8/09
Time in minutes 127
Director J. J. Abrams
Studio Paramount Pictures