Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek (2009) - Bernd's Review
Stardate 2233.04: The starship USS Kelvin investigates an anomaly and comes under attack by a huge vessel, commanded by a Romulan called Nero. Nero demands Captain Robau of the Kelvin to come aboard his ship, the Narada. The Romulan wants to know the whereabouts of Ambassador Spock, but Robau can't tell Nero anything except that he is now in the 23rd century, and that there is no Ambassador Spock. Nero kills Robau and continues his attack on the Kelvin. George Kirk is now in command, and while everyone else of the crew, including his pregnant wife, is being evacuated, Kirk sets a collision course for the Narada. Just seconds before the impact George Kirk learns that he is the father of a son he wants to be named Jim. -- Several years later in Iowa, young James T. Kirk gets into a brawl with Academy cadets, and he meets Captain Christopher Pike, a friend of his late father. Pike tells Kirk that he should do something useful in his life and join Starfleet Academy. On the shuttle to San Francisco Kirk befriends the physician Leonard McCoy. Meanwhile on Vulcan, Spock has grown up as the son of Sarek and the human mother Amanda. He is bullied by his fellow students. Yet, the Vulcan Academy of Science accepts Spock, which he declines in order to join Starfleet. On the Academy, James Kirk modifies the no-win Kobayashi Maru scenario in a way that he succeeds. In a hearing at the Academy, Kirk faces his prosecutor: Spock, who programmed the test. But upon a distress call from Vulcan all the cadets are activated and quickly assigned to vessels. McCoy sneaks Kirk aboard the USS Enterprise by faking the symptoms of a disease that he as a doctor is up to treat no matter where. The fleet sets course for Vulcan. Once aboard, Kirk learns the reason for the distress call, and with his knowledge about the fate of the Kelvin and something he picked up listening to communications officer Uhura, he concludes that it is a trap. He urges Captain Pike to raise the shields before dropping out of warp. At Vulcan, the fleet has been destroyed by the Narada, and the Enterprise takes damage too. A drilling platform extends from the Narada, from where a high-energy beam tears open the surface of the planet. Pike takes a shuttle to the Narada and leaves Spock in command, while Kirk, Sulu and Engineer Olson dive down to the platform to blow it up. Olson, who was carrying the explosives, misses the platform. After battling the Romulan guards, Kirk and Sulu disable the platform with phaser blasts. But it is too late. Nero drops a vessel of "Red Matter" into the drill hole, initiating the formation of a black hole inside the planet. Spock only manages to save his father and some members of the High Council with Ensign Chekov's help at the transporter console. His mother dies. The planet implodes, killing six billion inhabitants. There are only 10,000 survivors. Nero warps away with Pike as a hostage, apparently heading for Earth. Kirk wants to follow them, but Spock insists on regrouping with the fleet. When Kirk continues to cause him trouble, Spock drops him on an escape pod that lands on Delta Vega. On this planet Kirk meets Ambassador Spock from the 24th century, who has been marooned there by Nero, just to witness the destruction of Vulcan. Nero blames Spock for the destruction of Romulus by the Hobus supernova in the 24th century. Spock was on a mission to eliminate the supernova using "Red Matter". But he came too late, and Romulus was destroyed. Now both ships have been hurled back to the 23rd century, only that Spock arrived 25 years later - 25 years that Nero had to wait after the attack on the Kelvin to finally take revenge. The timeline of the past 25 years is a new one, and already the attack on the Kelvin should not have happened. Spock and Kirk walk to a Federation outpost, where they get acquainted with Montgomery Scott. Spock reveals a formula that would allow Kirk and Scott to beam over to the Enterprise at warp. They succeed but are soon apprehended by the ship's security. Kirk provokes an irate reaction from Spock, upon which the Vulcan concedes that he is unable to stay in command. Kirk orders a course for Earth, and with Spock he devises a plan to stop Nero from destroying Earth. Young Spock manages to get hold of Spock Prime's ship aboard the Narada and blows up the drilling tether. Meanwhile Kirk finds Captain Pike aboard the enemy ship. Time is pressing, since young Spock has released the "Red Matter". A singularity forms next to the Narada and begins to devour the ship. After beaming out Kirk, Pike and Spock, the Enterprise barely escapes, as Scotty uses the explosion of the jettisoned warp core to propel the ship. On Earth, Spock Prime advises his younger self to remain in Starfleet, while he himself will take care of what is left of the Vulcans in a new colony. Cadet Kirk is promoted to captain and remains in command of the Enterprise, with Spock, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov among his crew.
I don't like being a part of a "Trekkie" event, so instead of going to the premiere or even to the sneak preview I saw "Star Trek" (2009) two days later. It was in a small town theater with only a third of the seats occupied. Anyone who has followed my various "advance reviews" knows that I was opposed to the very idea of rebooting the franchise from the day it was announced. I still didn't exclude the possibility that, as a movie, "Star Trek (2009)" could be good, and that I could even come to like it. And I must admit that I fairly enjoyed it. After reading all spoilers I could come across I was prepared for seeing a totally new Star Trek. And not a bad one.
"Star Trek (2009)" has everything we can expect from a popcorn movie, it is very entertaining, it is visually powerful, it is of an overall high technical and artistic quality and it is still recognizable as Star Trek. I will spare my readers of the usual ramblings about what I think of the franchise reboot and its consequences until the end of this review. For now, I limit my write-up to what is in the movie itself.
The biggest flaw of "Star Trek (2009)" is the story. It is full of clichés like no other Trek movie before. Time travel, villains that strive to destroy Earth, a brand new Enterprise that is the only line of defense, etc., "Star Trek (2009)" has them all. The plot is a mess, even if we acknowledge that A) it is a reboot and B) some things work differently in the Star Trek universe anyway than in real life.
The whole story is built on an endless chain of totally improbable coincidences, designed to get the TOS crew (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov) and only the TOS crew together on a ship named Enterprise in spite of the very different circumstances in which they meet. The first link in the chain is that the Narada is hurled back to almost exactly the place and time that Kirk would be born. The stupid climax of this development is when Scotty (exiled by his professor), Spock (dropped off by Nero to witness Vulcan's destruction) and Kirk (jettisoned in an escape pod by Spock) meet on the surface of "Delta Vega", within a range of a few kilometers! This is just the most blatant example, but all of the movie's character relationships are forged in a similar fashion, starting with Kirk, in whose immediate vicinity the Enterprise is being built in this timeline. He encounters Uhura, also in Iowa, who turns out to be Spock's girl-friend three years later. Also, Spock programs the Kobayashi Maru test in which Kirk cheats. Why does it have to be him of all people? The case of Archer's beagle (Porthos VII?) that Scotty beamed into a limbo is still a funny example (well, not funny for the dog as it seems). But the way that the same characters come together in a totally different timeline and that the old and the new timeline are tied together makes the Star Trek Universe look like a village.
To add insult to injury, no one of the TOS crew (perhaps except Spock) really earns their rank and their position on the Enterprise, the flagship of Starfleet after all. They are all promoted effortlessly. Uhura takes over the job as communication officer because she speaks all three dialects of Romulan, and she simply seems to keep this position in the end, despite her inexperience, and perhaps because of favoritism. But most obviously because it is her destiny. McCoy replaces the CMO who has been killed. The Enterprise's helmsman is conveniently ill, so Sulu can take over. Scotty suddenly finds himself as the chief engineer of a ship he has no practical experience with. And most blatantly, Cadet Kirk is promoted to captain.
Characters & acting
The characters themselves generally work out a lot better than their back stories and their mutual relationships, and pretty much all of the main cast are doing a fine job.
James T. Kirk is the central figure of "Star Trek (2009)". We witness his birth on a battered shuttle while his father is just seconds away from his death on the Kelvin, we see how reckless he is already as a child. The alternate Kirk grows up to be a real asshole. His attempt to hit on Uhura is primitive, his desire to get beaten up idiotic, his cheating in the Kobayashi Maru scenario arrogant. Yet, as soon as Cadet Kirk has been sneaked aboard the Enterprise, the young man in his twenties seems to act more like the 34-year-old Captain Kirk we know from TOS. Well, he lacks the rank (which he will earn gratuitously in the end) and he runs around hectically (which Shatner-Kirk would have done too in this situation). Overall, the writing and acting is anxious to let him appear like the TOS Kirk now, to create familiarity with the character, which I think is pretense. In one scene he even takes place in the captain's chair, his head resting on his hand in a very Shatneresque way. Captain Pike makes a big deal about Kirk being up to a better than ordinary life, but we don't really see him make that progress. This Kirk just has to become a hero. It is his destiny. So in terms of character development there is not so much about Kirk as we may have expected in a movie spanning decades. On the other hand, I wouldn't have wanted to see so much more of the alternate young Kirk anyway, a genuinely unsympathetic character who has nothing in common with how I imagine "our" Kirk in his youth. Chris Pine looks fine in this new Kirk's role, at least he was the right choice to portray his brash side. Unfortunately we don't (yet) get to see considerably different facets in the movie.
In the course of the movie the focus of interest gradually shifts from Kirk to young Spock. After the destruction of Vulcan, the big turning point, the story is still told predominantly from Kirk's point of view, but Spock has become the key character, also because his counterpart from the Prime Universe enters the scene and thereby sort of doubles Spock's importance. Young Spock gets enraged when Kirk provokes him (in a very similar fashion as in TOS: "This Side of Paradise"), but the destruction of Vulcan readily excuses his reaction. I was worried this scene could damage my favorite Vulcan's reputation, but now it meets my approval. Hey, I may have grabbed Kirk's neck too in Spock's place! Spock's relationship to Uhura has estranged many fans, but I think that it is handled in a decent fashion. And it works as an ironical twist, because Kirk's art of seduction has failed with her. Overall, Zachary Quinto's portrayal of Spock is a highlight of the movie. Not only does he resemble the young Nimoy (which I wouldn't have expected before I got to see him with the make-up), he also gets his facial expressions right and fortunately he does nothing like exactly imitating Nimoy's eyebrow raising, something that should remain up to Nimoy.
Zoë Saldana is a sexier Uhura than Nichelle Nichols but not mainly because of her look but because Uhura 2.0 is given the chance to play a woman and a Starfleet officer. Unfortunately there is more of the former than of the latter in her role. It appears as a bit sexist that her main purpose in the movie seems to be acting as the icing on the Kirk/Spock conflict. Showing more of her professional skills may be up to the next movie. I only have a problem with her being an expert in so many languages. She knows all three Romulan dialects, quite unlike the Uhura of TOS who did not even speak Klingon -- but that was another universe.
I dig Karl Urban. He is the "real McCoy". The only part of his role I don't like is very first appearance in which he states, "Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence." A nice line, but we have to wonder what was so awful about his divorce that he joined Starfleet despite his space phobia. Unfortunately McCoy is not conceded much further characterization in the movie. He remains a rather plot-driven character who delivers lines as required, albeit everything is spot on.
The characterization of Scotty (Simon Pegg) is a major letdown. He does not appear until about 100 minutes into the movie, and in his scenes his main purpose is comic relief, a bit like Neelix in Voyager's first season. I don't think Simon Pegg was the right choice although I like his accent. Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is a tad more serious as a character, although his accent is overdone. I only wonder since when the good Pavel is such a prodigy. The 17-year-old ensign reminds me more of Wesley than of the Chekov of TOS. Sulu (John Cho) does not look like George Takei at all, but he gets his role right, although in the only longer scene involving him on the drilling platform above Vulcan he is hardly recognizable.
Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) is a very agreeable character whom I see as a leftover from the old Star Trek - the Star Trek whose atmosphere I used to like better. He represents the type of seasoned Starfleet officer that was prevalent in all five TV series and that can't be found among the space rookies of "Star Trek (2009)". Pike is the captain I would personally choose to serve under in this new continuity. Too bad that Pike ends up as admiral and in the wheelchair. Speaking of captains that deserve the trust, Robau is another one, albeit he has even less of a chance to prove it.
Eric Bana as Nero initially comes off as an overall pleasant surprise. I expected his character to be a bad rehash of Shinzon from "Nemesis" because of his similar origin, appearance and the fact that he is going to destroy Earth with his evil superweapon. We've had it all before. But underneath the silly tattooed bald head Eric Bana pulls off a refreshing type of villain, which becomes clear in the details such as his casual "Hello." when he greets the Enterprise. I also "like" how he simply kills Robau when he sees that the captain of the Kelvin is of no use to him. On the downside, Nero's motivation never becomes clear, not even remotely. His importance quickly fades away after he has accomplished the goal of destroying Vulcan, and towards the end he behaves totally predictably, just like about every movie villain who has been cornered. But the more I think about Nero, the more I am convinced that he prevails in the end. It can't have honestly been his goal to destroy every single planet of the Federation. He couldn't honestly have expected to survive this war. In my view everything he ever wanted was to pay back the Vulcans in an "eye for an eye" fashion. And he gloriously achieves this goal. It would be euphemistic to call it a victory of the Enterprise crew when they eventually stop Nero and let him die on his ship. It is not even a Pyrrhic victory but an apocalyptic defeat of the alternate Federation in my view.
Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime was mainly hired in my opinion to give this new Star Trek his stamp of approval. Fortunately Nimoy's role is more than just a gratuitous cameo, at least quantitatively. His character is integrated in an adequate fashion. He initially saves Kirk from the monster on Delta Vega, to become a temporary mentor of Kirk and later of young Spock too. Nimoy seems to play the role we could expect from him, but I am very disappointed how he remains too passive and too complacent after he has watched the destruction of his homeworld. This is especially miserable as he already missed his goal to save Romulus in 2387. In many ways Spock Prime, much rather than his younger ego, is the tragic figure of the movie. And it is not only because of Spock's or Nimoy's age that the character doesn't feel like the one I used to know. Spock was clearly redefined, to someone who accepts his fate instead of exploring the possibilities.
Look & feel
I absolutely dig the well-dosed humor in "Star Trek (2009)", the genuinely funny situations as well as the many in-jokes. Well, Chekov's attempt to correctly pronounce a code containing two "V"s like in "vessel" is close to being silly, but I admit I laughed so I shouldn't complain about it afterwards. One of the few things I don't like at all is Scotty's "transporter accident" when he winds up in a water pipe (also because we get to see a lot of the dreadful engineering set). Cliché phrases abound in the movie, but why not? Only "He is dead Jim." is missing as far as I recall. The one that probably won't grow on me is Nimoy's "Space, the final frontier..." at the end, which is too obviously designed to insinuate that the new Star Trek moves on just like TOS from here, creating an optimism that is simply inappropriate after the avoidable loss of Vulcan. Also, it reminds me a lot of the end of the awful episode ENT: "These Are The Voyages".
The production design of "Star Trek (2009)" is a mixed bag. Although I still don't like its look and probably never will, I have come to terms with the Enterprise redesign, which makes some sense in the new universe, at least at its original design size of 366m. Yet, almost every room inside the ship, as well as all other technology is at best remotely like the one we know from TOS. I don't like the "iBridge" set at all, which strikes me as overly toy-like with its permanent blinking, beeping and flashing. Especially the continuous pointless animations on the screens have to drive the crew crazy after a few days on this bridge. The interior of the engineering section of the ship is in strong contrast to the bridge. It looks like the 20th century brewery that it is, rather than like any engineering we have seen on Trek before, be it TOS, TNG or Enterprise style. It is huge, dark, anachronistic and simply hideous. Arguably the worst set ever used for the interior of a starship.
I already praised the high technical standard of the movie. But the best equipment in terms of lighting, cameras, editing equipment and CG software is of no use if the responsible people choose to intentionally deteriorate the shots. Like most recent action flicks, the new Star Trek movie abounds with things that whiz across the screen and can't be tracked with the eye, with unnecessary motion blur, with rapid-fire edits, with shaking or tilting cameras. This multi-leveled jitter and noise makes the action sequences, in space as well as in live action, almost unwatchable for anyone above 20, and for anyone who is not used to staring at video games or music videos all day. (When I complained about not being able to follow the bar fight, my girl-friend told me: "It's easy. Kirk is black, the others are red." Yes. Black and red was all we could see.) The omnipresent anamorphic lens flares in the form of horizontal blue stripes add insult to injury. In classic moviemaking it used to be an art to avoid lens flares, but now they are obviously meant to add a false sense of realism. While I believe J.J. Abrams when he says he simply didn't do anything to avoid them, at least the ones in the space shots are artificially inserted, considering that it is all CGI. I once wrote that I may be too old for a new Trek. Well, I am definitely too old for the shitty visual "realism" that some film makers impose on the audience and that the young generation gladly seems top put up with.
On another note about the movie's general look & feel, most sets with the "bright" exception of the Enterprise bridge are too dark, and I miss the colors. Everything is more or less gray. San Francisco is gray, Starfleet interiors are gray, and even the space anomaly, something usually very colorful in Star Trek, appear in a realistic(?) gray. Only the Enterprise uniforms stand out from the prevailing gray. I also didn't like some of the visual aesthetics that seem to have been borrowed from Star Wars, such as Kirk's "trial" at Starfleet Academy, in front of an auditorium of quiescent and uniformly clad cadets in dark red and gray. I sadly miss the diverseness among the Federation members as it was visible in all other movies so far.
"Star Trek (2009)" is the first movie since "First Contact" with a remarkable main theme that I remembered after leaving the theater. The score is overall very fitting and never invasive. After the sad loss of Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek has obviously found a fine new composer in Michael Giacchino. The scene with the most remarkable usage of music is when George Kirk has set the Kelvin for collision course and the scene switches back and forth between the bridge and his newborn son. The surrounding noise fades out and makes way for a very sentimental music - emphasizing the early emotional highlight of the film that will not be surpassed in the following.
Continuity issues & inconsistencies
Many fans, including myself, were afraid that the new movie could wind up as a major continuity buster. Well, "Star Trek (2009)" is placed into a new continuity, from the moment that the Kelvin runs into the Narada. This can readily explain why much in the movie is different than it should be. But as already mentioned, some things, like the basic character relationships, are still the same in spite of everything (and against all reason). Anyway, since there is no way of denying that the planet Vulcan is indeed blown up in this universe, it should be basically no problem to accept minor things like the different look of the ship or other technology as well. Still several basic parts of the Trek lore, as well as specific facts and events that link the new Abramsverse to the original universe, may be still subject to major continuity problems. "Star Trek (2009)" is the far biggest offender among the Trek movies and easily surpasses the often scorned "Star Trek V".
I comment on the numerous inconsistencies of the movie on a separate page, so here is just a selection of some obvious ones
- Since when is the sky of Vulcan blue? (Well, not that it would matter any longer in the new universe.)
- Since when is the inner city of San Francisco composed of ugly gray mile-high buildings? Sure, the city looked somewhat different in any series or movie so far, but never that ugly.
- Spock Prime can see the destruction of Vulcan in the sky of Delta Vega. So Delta Vega is suddenly a sister planet of Vulcan, and not a remote colony (TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"). And this just for the sake of some mindless namedropping.
- Where do all the new aliens suddenly come from and when will they be extinguished (or leave the Federation for good)? Actually, as far as I could see, every single alien aside from the Vulcans, Romulans and the Orion has to be classified as a new species.
- If no one in the Federation is aware of being in a parallel timeline until Nero's ship shows up above Vulcan, why is everything (such as the already mentioned Enterprise) so different? And why is the look of Romulans no surprise? The destruction of a single ship may change the course of history, but it would have to unfold in some fashion and not simply be totally different 25 years later.
- So a mining vessel is a behemoth equipped with torpedoes and all kinds of weapons that can take down a whole armada of several Starfleet ships or 47 Klingon vessels?
- The warp drive, the phasers and even the transporters all make annoying shooting noises (aside from looking very different).
- There is an actual window in the bridge, already on the Kelvin.
- Brewery tanks instead of 24th century technology in the engineering section.
- Starship building on the ground.
- It seems to take less than 30 minutes from Earth to Vulcan. This corresponds to Warp 65 (old scale, of course).
- The Klingon ships are called "Warbirds" here. Even the often scorned Brannon Braga admitted that the "Klingon Warbirds" in ENT: "Broken Bow" were an error, so why is it repeated here?
- In the end, Kirk is generous and offers Nero to assist him, which he declines. He then orders to fire on the ship. Why? The Narada was quite obviously dying. Wouldn't it have been the wiser (and logical) decision to warp away from the forming singularity like hell? The Enterprise can barely escape herself.
- Cadet Kirk is promoted to Captain. Yeah right.
The science of this movie is shaky at best. There is overall less technobabble than in most previous installments, but if concepts of real physics with a serious ring are being misrepresented this doesn't really help.
- A supernova definitely wouldn't threaten a planet many light years away with total destruction. And even if it posed a danger to Romulus, there would have been years to plan the evacuation.
- A black hole, created by small doses of a mysterious "Red Matter". Uhm, well... But we need to wonder why it is necessary to drill a hole down to a planet's core to completely destroy it. As we can see in the end, it is absolutely sufficient to create a nearby singularity that sucks in everything in its vicinity. Maybe not so nicely symmetrically though.
- Wouldn't the explosion of the (multiple?!) warp cores rather toast the Enterprise than push her away from the black hole?
- Spock Prime gives Scotty a formula for transwarp beaming. He needs no new hardware, no new software, only the formula to succeed.
I comment on the whole time travel dilemma in more detail elsewhere. Roberto Orci, who devised the story with Alex Kurtzman, presupposes that it is not necessary to "fix" a time travel accident because the old timeline still exists somewhere. But in *all* cases of incursions so far the starship crews went to great lengths to repair the damage, which is a clear sign that there is supposed to be only one timeline. And really, after going back and forth again, the timeline was usually restored. So the excuse that the old TOS timeline persists may not hold, unless Spock Prime, who remains passive and does not recommend his younger self either to fix anything, knows something that the fans who have been watching the series for 40 years are not aware of.
Summarizing, "Star Trek (2009)" is inconsistent with the existing Star Trek on numerous accounts. Considering that the screenplay was written and supervised by a long-time fan, I find it sad that fans are supposed to resort to the justification that it's a parallel universe even where it can't possibly apply. Even worse, In "Star Trek (2009)" the concept of canon appears more like an option (for gratuitous namedropping, Delta Vega being an example) than an obligation (to keep facts in line with previous installments).
Premise & prospect
Caution! This is a rant.
J.J. Abrams said in one of his first interviews that he would produce "Star Trek (2009)" for fans of movies, not primarily for fans of Star Trek. I always considered myself to be a fan of movies, but when it came down to Star Trek, I was a 100% fan of Star Trek. That being said, I absolutely hated the latest James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace", and I did not even bother to watch any of the various other action or fantasy franchise reboots. So if I have to know other recent genre movies to be qualified to judge the work, I'm not even a movie fan to start with.
In any case I readily put up with some inherent weaknesses of traditional Trek movies, if only they expand the Trek Universe in a both exciting and plausible fashion, a combination that is definitely possible to accomplish. I even prefer several TV episodes over most of the movies because, in spite of the much smaller budget and other shortcomings of TV productions, they generally tell better Trek stories than the movies. In fact, most of the ten movies made so far heavily rely on motives such as archenemies of the crew or on machines that destroy whole planets. Trek episodes do not need any of that to be thrilling. In my view the better place for Trek is the television screen, but only because on the big screen it is more likely to go over the top with the action. Which happens in "Star Trek (2009)" as clearly as never before - because that is what the theater audience allegedly expects.
Much has been written about the optimistic vision of the future as one of the franchise's most important assets, and how it is preserved in the new movie. But there is not much left of it. Nero's incursion has left deep scars that are not going to be healed apparently because it makes the franchise "edgier". But really, what will Star Trek be without the planet Vulcan, without its inhabitants, without IDIC? How could the optimism ever return to this battered universe and this immature crew that started off as absurdly dysfunctional and that would realistically break apart any time? And since when is Star Trek so fatalistic as here? Vulcan has been destroyed in this universe. It still exists in some parallel universe, or that is how long-time fans are being appeased. As already mentioned, the persistence of the new timeline begs the question why so many crews have gone to great lengths to correct time travel accidents, in which they were always successful. Doesn't Vulcan (which is once again depicted as a xenophobic society, by the way) deserve to be saved just like Earth's humpback whales? I usually keep out non-canon Trek, but I find this dialogue from New Voyages: "In Harm's Way" remarkable in this context:"How do we know that your 'correct history' is the right one? The best one?" (Kirk) - "Because, Jim, here in your timeline, billions of people are dead [including the inhabitants of Vulcan]." (Spock). There are two Spocks in "Star Trek (2009)", but where is the one who once said: "There are always possibilities"? The one who died and was resurrected? In Abrams's Star Trek the characters are ultimately helpless. They don't manage to break out of their roles, they don't even have the will to try it.
"Star Trek" has been labeled as "epic" by a couple of critics, and they probably meant that it brought back the excitement. Sure. I share this view of it being epic, but not in a completely positive sense. An epic is usually a drama dealing with a fight of good vs. evil. It may span decades or centuries, the roles are clearly defined and the end is foreseeable. Very often in epics, events occur as predicted or they repeat in cycles of one generation. Unlikely coincidences either have to be accepted as part of a divine plan or, in a more modern view, they are attributed to something like genetic predetermination. An epic usually does not have the potential of moving on as Star Trek has displayed it for 40 years, with the notable exception of Star Trek Enterprise, the one series that went back in time and still went on in its own right. "Star Trek (2009)" is not only a much more radical kind of prequel than Enterprise (technically speaking), it also exhibits many characteristics of epics such as Lord of the Rings or, even more obviously, of Star Wars. Clearly the Trek movies, rather than the television series, always had something epic to them, but "Star Trek (2009)" is burdened with supervillains, multi-generational conflicts, tragic defeats, apocalyptic destruction and, most importantly, with the concept of "destiny" like no other Trek installment before.
Just as I was citing Star Wars as the prototypical space epic, it occurred to me that there are remarkable parallels: Luke Skywalker (Jim Kirk) is hanging around on a farm with his uncle and his only pleasure is fast hovercars (classic cars and bikes). Until, one day in a bar, a fatherly friend gets him out of trouble, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Chris Pike), who actually used to know the boy's late father, a hero known as Anakin Skywalker (George Kirk). Luke (Jim) still has a long way to go to become a Jedi (Starfleet officer). He meets Leia (Spock), whose home planet is destroyed, and although Leia (Spock) initially doubts Luke's (Kirk's) ability to lead people, the boy, against all rules and all reason, becomes a fighter pilot (starship commander) in the final battle against the villain, whose huge superweapon gets blown up. Because it was his destiny.
Sorry, I'm complaining a lot about the premise - again. Certainly "Star Trek (2009)" is not primarily meant to be an accurate depiction of a time travel and its consequences. As repeatedly stated by the producers, it is about the characters, simply because the movie outlines the characters' developments and shows how they got to know each other. But which characters are they talking of? These are not the characters from The Original Series! And not just because they look different because of the new actors and the feel of the movie is more modern. They are alternate universe versions of the original characters (and they are even aware of it!). They are meant to be different and they have to be different. That's why the movie involves a time travel in the first place. With all due respect it is pretense to call it an "origin story". In fact, the movie tells a decidedly different story than TOS (or than what could have happened just before TOS in the original timeline). As hard as the people in charge push it (such as with Kirk's unbelievable premature promotion), all this will not converge to the original universe. With the experiences from the Nero disaster and, most blatantly, the total destruction of Vulcan this version of Star Trek just does not have the same potential.
People repeatedly ask why I am so much opposed to the idea of the new movie taking place in a new parallel timeline, a concept that has been used more than once in Star Trek before. There is, however, one more huge difference between the parallel timeline that Abrams has created for "Star Trek (2009)" and the ones we have gotten used to. Because it is a narrative switch now. In other words, it is not a temporary visit of a fairground such as DS9's Mirror Universe where everything weird was possible that was unheard of in our "serious" Prime Universe. Abrams's (weird?) version is the only Star Trek from now, perhaps safe for ongoing novel series that may carry on in the old continuity regardless. TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager may still exist somewhere out there, but it is just a hypothetical possibility that some day the official Star Trek of Paramount/CBS will revisit the old universe. It is nothing more than wishful thinking of some fans that the old Trek continuity may still exist in some fashion. When the redesigned Enterprise warps away into the new universe at the end of "Star Trek (2009)", it is a point of no return in canon Trek.
Coming back to my earlier grievance about the many coincidences, as laudable the attempt is to preserve some aspects of the old universe in the new setting, the way it is done is contrived. Just imagine: Had Nero arrived only a few years earlier, then Spock could be a woman, which would have given their conflict a totally bizarre and unexpected twist. Don't mistake me, I would not have favored such a scenario. But isn't the destruction of a key planet in the Star Trek universe a much more extreme alteration to the basic setting than a simple sex change that could even be totally plausible given the movie premise? The people who made "Star Trek (2009)", however, have safeguarded just the presence of their seven main characters on a ship named Enterprise, as if everything in Star Trek boiled down to this simple formula.
I was unsure whether I could put my reservations and apprehensions aside, but I was lucky and I did enjoy the movie for the most part. Being spoiled even helped me a lot. Why? Because without the advance knowledge of the genocide on the Vulcans I would have been shocked and, take me at my word, I would have hated this movie for the rest of my life.
"Star Trek (2009)" is a nearly perfect summer blockbuster movie. It is visually compelling. It is very exciting, rather than enlightening. I have to concede that it does convey some parts of the message of Gene Roddenberry though. I can even imagine he would have liked the movie, except for the destruction of Vulcan.
But "Star Trek (2009)" suffers from its contrived premise and from the reduction of 40 years of the franchise to the simple formula "Star Trek = Kirk + Spock + a wee bit of McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov + some sort of Enterprise". It tries to be an origin movie when it can't be one because of the parallel universe setting, turning the plot into a totally unlikely chain of coincidences. It depicts Kirk as a total asshole, redefines old Spock to a total loser and fails to provide the supervillain with a motivation. The destruction of Star Trek's perhaps most popular planet and, while we're at it, of Romulus as well stirs up the bad feeling that Star Trek has suffered an insurmountable loss, just for a little extra thrill in this one movie. The questionable design decisions (such as the built-in brewery) and the filming and editing crimes (such as the lens flares) that make everything with action in it almost unwatchable are just the icing on the cake.
- Remarkable dialogue: "Who is that pointy-eared bastard?" - "I don't know. But I like him." (Kirk and McCoy, about Spock)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "I may throw up on you." (spacesick McCoy to Kirk, and Kirk to McCoy, three years later)
- "It would seem self-serving to give you the usual greeting, so I will simply say, 'Good luck'." (Spock Prime to young Spock)
- Remarkable appearance: This is the last time that Majel Barrett-Roddenberry acts as the computer voice. She died in December 2008. The movie closes with a commemoration of Gene and Majel Roddenberry at the very end of the end credits.
- Remarkable scene: the birth of James Tiberius Kirk, while his father is on a collision course for the Narada
- Remarkable shocking scene: the destruction of Vulcan
- Remarkable running joke: Kirk asks Uhura for her first name in the bar. He asks again in her apartment, three years later. Still later, on the transporter platform on the Enterprise, Kirk is surprised to see Uhura in the arms of his opponent Spock, who calls her "Nyota". Nyota has been Uhura's first name in fandom for many years, but has never been mentioned on screen so far.
- Remarkable silliness: The silliest moment of the movie is when Scotty rematerializes in the water pipe, followed by young Kirk's Nokia ringtone.
- Remarkable music: The end credits start with a new version of the classic TOS theme.
- Remarkable facts:
- James Tiberius Kirk was named for his mother's father, James, and his father's father, Tiberius.
- The Narada took out *47* Klingon ships.
- Uhura speaks all three dialects of Romulan in this timeline.
- Of the six billion inhabitants of Vulcan, only some 10,000 survive Nero's holocaust.