Review: Star Trek


The year is 2009 and the Star Trek franchise has been kicking at its heels for the best part of a decade. Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek Nemesis were all let-downs to a greater or lesser extent. Nobody seems to want to know. How do you make Star Trek profitable and popular again? What is the shot in the arm that the franchise needs? Put yourself in the position of a hypothetical man in the street - a man who knows nothing about Star Trek except for the one with the whales and The Trouble With Tribbles - and ask yourself what would make you want to see a Star Trek movie this summer.

Obviously, you want to see what warp drive, phaser battles and transporter beams look like through the lens of twenty-first century special effects technology. You want to see what the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701, the biggest, slickest, most shiny and powerful ship in the United Federation of Planets, looks like, inside and out, in the imagined future of 2009 as opposed to the imagined future of 1969. You want to see new uniforms that aren't just long-sleeved T-shirts, a bridge that's not made of cardboard, an engineering deck and warp core that weren't built on a shoestring budget. You want to see the gorgeous and genuinely hopeful science fiction future that The Original Series was always promising, and you want it in high definition IMAX.

But all of that is a given. That's the most basic expectation of any science fiction flick this year. What do you really want?

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu and Scotty.

And, unfortunately for you, this is the Next Generation. Nemesis, the chronologically latest Star Trek to date (barring time travel), took place about 85 years after the events of The Original Series. Kirk himself has been dead since 1994, and the remaining original cast are very old indeed or dead, both in canon and reality. This is the era of Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Sisko and other heroic figures of whom the average man in the street has never heard. Which means that this has to be a prequel. It has to be set somewhere in established Star Trek history where we haven't looked before. Which raises another problem: continuity.

Star Trek: Enterprise, set roughly 150 years prior to The Original Series, was a noble effort at a prequel. It was even genuinely decent television for its third and fourth seasons. But the simple retcon that the NX-01 had ever existed, that there had been a starship Enterprise before the starship Enterprise, was difficult enough to swallow, and there were many more contradictions besides. The fans hated that! To create new classic Star Trek, you must also achieve the impossible: you must feature fictional characters from a fictional universe which has been subjected to possibly the most intense scrutiny of any fiction ever, and you must not contradict anything has gone before, lest you disrespect established canon, and thereby alienate the devotees of that canon.

How can you have tension when the viewer knows that every character will make it, because they appeared in TOS? How can you be creative in telling a story, when the rules about what is or is not possible and what can or cannot happen are so punishingly restrictive? Certainly, it would be possible to make that movie, but to make it a good movie? Well...

...that's the great thing about science fiction.

Especially the Star Trek movie franchise.

It has certain... shall we say... loopholes.

Star Trek achieves the incredible achievement of rejuvenating the Star Trek franchise, re-establishing all its greatest characters, and opening up limitless possibilities for the future, all while containing all the fun (if frankly uncomplicated) action, drama and character development that a modern movie-goer could expect from a shiny explosive summer blockbuster, and being absolutely faithful to and respectful of past history and still being a really good movie.

The music isn't great. There's no hard story: this is not "Duet", "The Measure Of A Man" or "The City On The Edge Of Forever". There is a lot of lens flare; the future is dazzlingly widescreen. Questionable-science-papered-over-with-questionable-technobabble has been replaced with mere unexplained questionable science, which is arguably a step backwards. And no, black holes do not work that way.

Who cares? This is the best thing-labelled-"Star Trek" that there has been for ten years. It is, by a street, the best that Star Trek has ever looked. Star Trek is back, and the gauntlet is laid down, both for the new fictional James Kirk and director JJ Abrams: match or exceed the legend that preceded you. And there's never been a less foolish time to be optimistic.

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Discussion (13)

2009-06-05 16:10:52 by Jayce:

So true, so true.

2009-06-05 17:50:28 by useratexampledotcom:

Also, slash. Did you SEE how those two looked at each other?

2009-06-05 22:12:10 by Cody:

Amen. I agree the movie was great (the black hole things bugged me too, however), and just as a huge gap opens in the sci-fi genre.

2009-06-06 09:33:49 by CJ:

Actually, a rotating black hole *does* allow for the formation of closed timelike loops (i.e. time travel). Wiki 'Kerr metric' for details.

I loved this film.

2009-06-06 13:50:45 by JB:

But it's not a closed loop - history "changed", and its very unlikely that the same events will occur at the supernova this time around.

2009-06-06 16:18:30 by Randall:

Plus, were it a true closed timelike curve, you could only travel into the past of the black hole in question. That's obviously not what happened here.

2009-06-06 21:25:12 by pozorvlak:

True dat. My only regret about the movie was that now, the door is forever closed to the Mirror Borg :-)

2009-06-07 14:36:18 by Mick:

Who says we can't have any Borg, mirror or otherwise? The wonderful thing about time travel is that the consequences of mucking with the past have massive, unforseeable effects.

The Borg will rise again. You will be assimilated.

2009-06-07 21:23:19 by Boter:

"Red Matter" should have been technobabble, greeted with blank stares, *then* simplified to "Red Matter".

Was never a Star Trek fan, but dang, did I enjoy that movie thoroughly.

2009-06-08 02:17:08 by AndrewFL:

Kirk died? Where the hell was I man?

2009-06-08 04:45:29 by bluemouse:

FINALLY! YOU'RE BACK! I was really hoping you hadn't been abducted by that guy...

2009-06-09 03:51:44 by liz:

Oh- but it could be an auto-post. He still could have been abducted!
Will wait for confirmation that he has not been taken by his posting about the outcome.
But then! It could be the abductor! Knowing that the only real chance he has of being caught is the fans on the website, as that is the only place he has been mentioned. So he learns to write in Sam's style and continues the website for a while, eventually petering out, explaining it away due to "personal reasons" or some such nonsense-
All while the real Sam is tied up in a basement being forced to continue "Fine Structure" in a manner that suits his captor! Oh no!

2009-10-04 05:03:16 by Meredith:

Watched this tonight.

Have never into Star Trek fan. Didn't watch any of the series, only saw a few of the movies at an ex's insistence. Totally ambivalent towards the entire franchise. I watched this one mostly because of Abrams/Lindelof, and what I anticipated would be some fun CGI effects. Plus, Zachary Quinto. Once upon a time Heroes wasn't crap, and I was looking forward to seeing him again.

Far, far better than anything I expected. I got my dazzling eye candy scenes indeed. I also got a simple, but engaging, plotline, actors suited to their roles, hold-my-breath suspense, characters I care about, and I want MORE. That movie was good, and it was FUN. I feel like maybe I've been missing out for three decades.