After Roger and I planned to review the classic series of Star Trek, it seemed only natural to continue the voyages with the Chris Pine movies to round out the story of the original crew. We made our move to the 2009 reboot. Now, it should be noted that I dislike reboots. Reboots essentially say, “you know that thing you loved that was so good we needed to bring it back? Forget all you know about it! We’re starting over.” But that sort of takes away from all that went before; the very reason we wanted more of it. It’s asking us to accept a new version without acknowledging the past. Star Trek has always been intensely clever though. Trek gave us a reboot using a simple plot device about time travel and alternate realities that managed to keep the original series “real” while still allowing for a viable reboot. In effect, all of classic Trek still happened but thanks to Spock going back in time (as played lovingly by the great Leonard Nimoy), the journey can begin anew. And what a journey it is.
The plot opens where a 4-part comic book series leaves off with the destruction of Romulus. Don’t worry, you don’t need to read the comic to appreciate what happens; through a mind meld with Kirk, Future Spock fills in all the blanks. 129 years from Kirk’s time, Spock failed to save Romulus from destruction. In an attempt to stop a supernova, a wormhole is opened sending Spock and Nero, the captain of the Romulan mining ship, back in time. Nero decides that he needs to take revenge and waits 25 years to get it because, why try to save his own planet when he could torture a man who is coming back to the past. He destroys Vulcan forcing Spock to watch and plans to target Earth next. It’s up to the crew of the Enterprise to save the day.
Plot-wise, there’s not a lot to it. In execution it’s marvelous. We finally get to see the first meeting of the crew. Actually we go back farther than that; we are there for the birth of James Tiberius Kirk. (We even learn that his first name is his grandfather’s on his mother’s side, and his middle name is his grandfather on his father’s side!) Amazingly, I think the casting was inspired. Pine picks up some of Kirk’s mannerisms to the point where my wife even noticed it. Quinto might be a slightly more emotional Spock but he’s still on point and felt like he became our favorite Vulcan as the story progressed. I think Karl Urban was the most amazing recreation of all though, capturing all the curmudgeonly qualities of McCoy to a tee. (“I’m a doctor not a physicist.”) Uhura couldn’t hope for a more accomplished and talented actress to play her than Zoe Saldana, but I think in this case, the secondary characters got more character than most did throughout the entire run of the original series. That said, John Cho and Anton Yelchin do an incredible job as their respective counterparts. And then there’s Scotty who has a backstory that I had never heard of, but who doesn’t love Simon Pegg?
The movie pays homage to the classic series without making newcomers feel like they missed out if they come into this blindly. You don’t need to know what the Kobayashi Maru was to appreciate what Kirk does with it, but for fans of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, it is fun to see how he cheated after all these years. If you don’t know Kirk’s reputation, his flirting is on brand, but it wouldn’t hurt anything if a newbie did not know it. (That said, how many people have said that Kirk even slept with green women? Well news flash, that never happened in the TV series. But it did now!) And there are the quotes we fans love that are cleverly placed throughout the movie. “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” “…green blooded hobgoblin!” “I’m givin’ her all she’s got…” There are other elements of classic Trek that get acknowledged too: Kirk’s father doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario, and neither does Jim; a nice call out to the original series. Spock plays the Sherlock card (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) with eliminating the impossible. Sulu is a trained fencer (The Naked Time), and Chekov has a problem with V’s: “Wictor, Wictor…” (The Voyage Home). Even Sarek, Spock’s father, says he married Amanda because it seemed the logical thing to do (Journey to Babel). Captain Pike ends up in a wheel chair but whether this will save him from the delta rays remains to be seen (The Menagerie). The only thing the movie really takes away from the tv series is the first encounter with the Romulan’s in Balance of Terror but it just means the first encounter just happens earlier now.
The music is incredible. Michael Giacchino manages to evoke emotion with every note. The victory music is utterly awe inspiring. The cinematography is beautiful (although it may lean a bit heavily on lens flares). But through all that, there’s something I love more than anything else in this movie. I think the movie captured in 2 hours what the series had tried to capture over its lifetime. There’s an important message about friendship. When the two Spock’s are speaking at the end, (“I am not our father”) young Spock asks:
“Then why did you send Kirk aboard when you alone could have explained the truth?”
“Because you needed each other. I could not deprive you of the revelation of all that you could accomplish together; of a friendship that would define you both in ways you could not yet realize.”
Risking the destruction of a planet to save a friendship… that’s the beauty of Star Trek. Is it logical? Maybe not. Does it have to be? No. Kirk says it, “Spock. It’ll work!” Yes it does indeed. I’ve had a few Spock’s in my life worth risking a planet for; it’s the heart of Star Trek and it warmed my heart to see how beautifully it was depicted in this movie.
Star Trek didn’t get it right all the time and there are moments in this movie that stretch credulity too but when you have a message at the heart of it, a message about what it means to be friends and the lengths to which you will go for a friend… I can ignore many gaps in logic. Sometimes, exploring strange new worlds are just for show. The real adventure is the human heart. ML
The view from across the pond:
30 years after The Motion Picture, Star Trek rebooted its film series with this subtitle-less effort, recasting the original classic series characters… well, most of them. There’s an oddly one-sided relationship between Uhura and Spock, which largely seems to come out of the blue. I was wondering why that wasn’t Nurse Chapel’s job, the original love interest for Spock, until I realised she isn’t even in this at all. It seems rather an unenlightening thing to do, to take a 1960s cast of characters with a not-very-good gender balance, and choose to make it worse. I can only assume the idea was to create some kind of a love triangle, due to Kirk’s attraction to Uhura, but (a) Kirk pretty much just shrugs it off except for a silly running joke about her first name, and (b) did they really need to reduce a character who was already just a walking telephone to a woman who is defined by little other than the man she chooses to kiss? It’s like somebody looked at the casual sexism of the 60s shows and said, “let’s have some of that”. The other female characters of any significance here, Amanda Grayson and Winona Kirk, simply exist to be killed off and provide their respective sons some shared tragedy, while Uhura’s friend only exists as a conquest for Kirk. What a depressing backwards step for the Star Trek franchise this is.
Long-term readers of the blog will recall that I have had a topsy-turvy relationship with Star Trek. I watched TNG, DS9 and Voyager when they first came out. I tried a couple of episodes of the classic series, supposedly the best, and didn’t like them (mainly because they were episodes that were hyped by fans and not actually very good, although I didn’t know that at the time). I tried a few episodes of Enterprise, found it weak, and was more interested in seeing Trek move forward than feed off it’s past. The same problem occurred with Discovery, although I do plan to give that, and Enterprise, another try some time. Picard was a breath of fresh air, because it was moving the story forwards at last, and Lower Decks was fun. But the original series was largely a blank to me until I eventually got round to watching it all for the Junkyard, and ended up enjoying it far more than I would have expected. But my experience of Trek is even more topsy-turvy than that, because I saw this film when it first came out in the cinema, long before I had any experience of the original series beyond a couple of episodes I hadn’t liked. I didn’t like this, either. It was a passable cinema experience, all action and sci-fi special effects, but by 2009 I was long past finding that a valid reason for watching a film, and frankly it sent me to sleep (quite literally – those cinema seats can be surprisingly cosy). Returning to the film after watching the original series has been a fascinating experience, because I enjoyed this a huge amount now that I am intimately familiar with all the original characters. It no longer sends me to sleep.
If you think that’s a rambling and pointless story, the point I want to make is that this fails in a very fundamental way to be a reboot, unless you happen to be a fan of Simon Pegg (I was, and was disappointed how late Scotty showed up and how little he had to do). Instead, it’s a treat for fans of the original. The new cast are a mixed bag in terms of their approach, but always successful in their own way. When I say a mixed bag, we have the performances I would describe as uncannily clever impressions of the originals (Chris Pine as Kirk, Karl Urban as McCoy), the performances that are almost completely different but still a lot of fun (Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty), and then we have the performances that do neither of those but are at least competent. John Cho doesn’t have much to latch onto with Sulu, being as he was little more than an extra for nearly every appearance anyway, but he has fun with the fighting skills (the fencing joke is a great line) and his inexperience at flying a starship. Zachery Quinto does well as Spock, although he’s completely eclipsed by the real one. My personal favourite was Anton Yelchin as Chekov, who takes a character who was rarely particularly interesting to watch and turns him into a bubbly teen genius who steals every scene and it’s impossible not to like him. He also looks like they should all look: a teenage kid whose presence on the bridge of a starship seems absolutely absurd, but he’s having the time of his life and doing a magnificent job. This is what Wesley Crusher should have been, and so spectacularly failed to ever be.
As for the story, it’s a fairly obvious reboot, taking the story off into a parallel, with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock there to help things along and make the original Trek fans go weak at the knees at his ending monologue. The villain is just a textbook bad guy with a grudge, as if somebody looked at The Wrath of Khan and said, “that was a good one; let’s do something like that”. He’s even got Khan’s yucky brain beetle things. The point of the film is to explore Kirk and Spock’s relationship before it has really got started, although they are not in each other’s company for quite enough of this adventure to make that work, except via Spock Prime’s wisdom and memories.
“I have been and always shall be your friend.”
That left me wistful for the original relationship, rather than a copy of it. A few random thoughts, which I’ll rattle through and keep as brief as possible, so this article doesn’t go on forever:
The glimpse of Nimoy at the 6 minute mark undermines the reboot a little. From that point, we are waiting for him to show up. What was the point of kid Kirk trashing the car? How did he think he was going to escape a flying cop by sending the car over a cliff? The bar scene with Kirk and Uhura is completely stolen by the amusing alien with the long face. Just about the only gender-positive thing that happens is Uhura bossing Spock about, insisting on being assigned to the Enterprise, and getting her own way. The money shot of the Enterprise is done in about 30 seconds, about an hour less (or so it seems) than it took in The Motion Picture. I didn’t buy Spock ejecting Kirk from the ship, or anyone else going along with what was basically murder. He was incredibly lucky to survive those alien dinosaurs (and that chase scene was all padding anyway for the sake of some fancy special effects). “Green-blooded hobgoblin.” – they got McCoy’s racism right, but in 2009 did they need to?
So this was very classic Trek, with all its familiar faults and joys. It’s more of the same, masquerading as a reboot, but I liked it… eventually. RP