The fate of the galaxy rests in the hands of bitter rivals. One, James Kirk, is a delinquent, thrill-seeking Iowa farm boy. The other, Spock, a Vulcan, was raised in a logic-based society that rejects all emotion. As fiery instinct clashes with calm reason, their unlikely but powerful partnership is the only thing capable of leading their crew through unimaginable danger, boldly going where no one has gone before. The human adventure has begun again.
"I like this ship. You know, it's exciting!"
Rebooting old movie franchises is all the rage in Hollywood these days. When a once-popular film series starts to lose its luster and outlive its usefulness, the time may come to hit the Reset button and start over fresh. This strategy worked wonders for both Batman and James Bond. Superman really could have benefited from the same, but unfortunately the non-reboot quasi-sequel we got instead disappointed on many levels. Still stinging from that one, the studio behind it is currently discussing the reboot option for its next attempt.
But when is a reboot not really a reboot? Is it possible for a movie to be a linear sequel, a prequel, and also a reboot all at the same time? That's the conundrum posed by the newly-revamped 'Star Trek'. The title alone boldly declares its intentions. This isn't 'Star Trek XI'. It's just 'Star Trek'. Full stop. Start over. Reboot. And yet, it's also not. Can a movie have it both ways? In this case, amazingly, yes.
Truth be told, it took a lot of cojones on Paramount's part to even contemplate the prospect of rebooting its venerable 'Star Trek' franchise. Undeniably, 'Trek' was on pretty shaky ground in recent years. The last movie, 'Nemesis', was its first outright box office bomb. And the most recent TV series, 'Enterprise', was cancelled due to poor ratings. Nevertheless, 'Trek' still boasts an enormous and famously ill-tempered fan base that doesn't take easily to change or to disruptions in the series' labyrinthine canon. When 'Nemesis' introduced a robotic brother for the Data character, while forgetting that he already had one on the 'Next Generation' show, that really didn't sit well with fans. So you can imagine the ire that arose when word came that the studio was wiping the slate clean, erasing six TV shows and ten feature films worth of continuity, and starting over. Could any movie manage the near-impossible task of appeasing old fans while attracting new ones? That was the challenge laid out for director J.J. Abrams and his writers. The solution they came up with is really quite ingenious.
Plans for a prequel movie that would revisit younger versions of the "Original Crew" characters Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and others during their Starfleet Academy days had been in discussions at least as far back as 1990. For various reasons, the project was scrapped, and the movie series shifted its focus to the 'Next Generation' crew instead. For their reboot, Abrams and company decided to revive that concept, but also cleverly tied it to the original continuity via the convenient excuse of time travel. In the new story, a villainous Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) from the 'Next Generation' era has traveled back in time to the early 23rd Century and set in motion a chain of events that will change history and directly affect the life of young James T. Kirk. Thus, all of the events of the 'Star Trek' that fans have followed for four decades still happened, while this new movie creates an alternate, parallel timeline. "Whatever our lives might have been, if the time continuum was disrupted, our destinies have changed," Spock explains. This avoids the pitfalls of a typical prequel, in which the fates of all the characters are already set in stone. Anything can happen in this new timeline. The entire history of 'Star Trek' has just shot off in another direction.
If all that sounds like an awfully convoluted way of saying "reboot," perhaps it is. Fortunately, the movie never lets itself get bogged down in technobabble gobbledygook or long-winded self-justifications. The time travel gimmick (so often a crutch in 'Trek') is just a MacGuffin to get the plot rolling. It's dispensed with quickly, and the film shoots right along at lightning speed.
The opening scene sets the tone. From out of nowhere, the Federation starship U.S.S. Kelvin is set upon and attacked by a gigantic Romulan vessel of superior technology. The ship's captain is taken prisoner and executed, leaving First Officer George Kirk in command. Meanwhile, Kirk's pregnant wife is in the throes of labor on a lower deck. This culminates in a huge battle simultaneous with the birth of their son James. The scene is epic in scope, operatic in emotions, and immediately declares the movie's agenda to willfully break with 'Trek' canon. It's utterly fantastic.
From that point, the film jumps ahead to show the rebellious Jim's youth in Iowa and enlistment in Starfleet Academy, where he meets important characters such as McCoy, Spock, and Uhura. Eventually, he winds up on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise right as Nero returns to launch the second phase of his diabolical plan. Naturally, out of all of Starfleet, only our crew of fresh-faced cadets will have what it takes to oppose this threat.
In a project like this, casting is critical. If the audience can't believe that these young actors are portraying the iconic characters they've known and loved for decades, the entire film will fall apart. It's in this regard that Abrams takes his biggest risk and scores his greatest coup. I don't know where the director found Chris Pine. The actor (smartly) makes a conscious decision to avoid any overt Shatner impressions, which would almost certainly come across as terribly corny. And yet, without at all seeming like William Shatner, he very much embodies all the characteristics of James Kirk – his charisma and his cockiness, his smug self-satisfaction and his irresistible magnetism, his hot-headed temper and brilliant tactical mind. If Pine's performance had at all missed the mark, he could have derailed the movie. Somehow, it just works.
Zachary Quinto from 'Heroes' was perhaps a safer pick as young Spock. He does the Vulcan's coldly-detached rationality well enough. Though, of all the cast, his performance seems the most like a direct impersonation of his predecessor. Zoë Saldana makes a feisty, assertive Uhura. John Cho isn't given a lot to do as Sulu, but is likable enough that we can forgive Abrams for mysteriously changing the character's ethnicity from Japanese to Korean without explanation. Simon Pegg (from 'Shaun of the Dead') adds some comic relief as Scotty. Pegg probably strays the furthest from the original depiction of his character, but is again a likable enough screen presence that he makes it work. Then we have Anton Yelchin as Chekov, here depicted as an overeager wiz-kid. He's funny and instantly endearing, and effectively steals what little screen time he's given.
When I first heard that Karl Urban, the tough-guy villain from 'The Chronicles of Riddick' and 'The Bourne Supremacy', had been cast as Leonard "Bones" McCoy, I couldn't imagine how he'd pull it off. I'm glad to say that I was mistaken. Urban absolutely nails the character's acerbic wit and homespun charm. He couldn't possibly be better.
Unlike some of 2009's other major franchise features, the new 'Star Trek' respects its core audience. The film is filled with loving nods to classic 'Trek', from the retro design of the Enterprise (which looks something like the original crossed with a 1960s Cadillac) and the costumes (miniskirts are back!), to the integration of 'Original Series' sound effects in the sound design and motifs from Alexander Courage's theme music in Michael Giacchino's score. Among the many references that long-time fans will recognize are the old-school communicators and phasers, a green-skinned Orion girl, young Spock's training on Vulcan, the Kobayashi Maru test, Sulu's fencing, an ill-fated Red Shirt, a Tribble in Scotty's lab, the Vulcan neck pinch and mind meld, a running gag about Uhura's first name, and a direct quoting from 'Star Trek II' of Spock's "I have been and always will be your friend" line to Kirk. It's very clear that this new movie has been made by people who love and wish to honor the history of 'Star Trek', not just throw it all away and start over. I find it almost impossible to believe that the same screenwriters from this film also wrote the miserable 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' the same year. Clearly, they put a lot more effort into this script than that one.
At the same time, the new 'Star Trek' never gets so wrapped up in self-reverence that it ever feels stale or stodgy. This is very much a new beginning. It's fresh and exciting and action-packed. The picture has a dynamic visual design and terrific special effects. Budgeted at $150 million, this is the first time since 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' that Paramount has seen fit to lavish a 'Trek' movie with the production budget it truly deserves. Although tied to the old continuity, the plot is also suitably self-sufficient that the audience doesn't need to be versed in the minutiae of 'Trek' lore. Any new viewer can walk into this 'Star Trek' without any prior background in the franchise and still come out satisfied.
It's not a perfect movie, unfortunately. Abrams makes several missteps along the way, some more serious than others. A silly scene in which a pre-teen Kirk takes his stepfather's vintage Corvette for a joyride (complete with a Beastie Boys tune blaring on the stereo) made for an entertaining teaser trailer, but just doesn't belong in the film itself. The tone is far too goofy, and the concept is akin to a contemporary kid stealing a horse and buggy while belting out Stephen Foster songs. The note just rings false. That whole sequence should have been reserved only for the trailer. Likewise, too much of the script is padded with unnecessary comic relief and filler material such as Kirk's allergic reaction to a shot Bones gives him, a pair of alien monsters chasing him through the snow, and a lengthy scene where Scotty is trapped in a cooling pipe. A major plot point requires characters to transport from a planet onto a starship in mid-warp hundreds of light years away (one they couldn't possibly even know how to find), which is too far-fetched a stretch even by 'Trek' pseudoscience standards. The last half of the picture features too many scenes of characters pointlessly running around (like Chekov sprinting from the bridge to the transporter room for no particular reason), seemingly just to give them something to do.
Perhaps most bothersome is the expedited manner in which Kirk rises through the ranks from cadet to starship captain in a day. Nero is also a very thinly-sketched villain, and the movie doesn't bother to explain what he was doing for the 20 years in between his two appearances. (A subplot in which the Romulan ship is captured by Klingons didn't make the final cut.) 'Star Trek' as Gene Roddenberry envisioned it was always a mixture of Big Ideas with action and adventure. This new 'Star Trek' is almost all about the action. It's (mostly) well-plotted and has excellent character development, but lacks the philosophical depth of the best 'Trek' outings.
Despite these problems, the film does the seemingly impossible. It makes 'Star Trek' fun and relevant again. Paramount's big gamble paid off. The movie was a huge box office hit (the biggest in the franchise's history). Unlike some of 2009's other big money-makers, it scored widespread praise from both critics and audiences. A sequel is already in development. Let's just hope that the series can keep up the momentum.
Paramount Home Entertainment has released the new 'Star Trek' on Blu-ray as a 3-Disc Digital Copy Special Edition. The movie comes packaged in a standard-sized keepcase with slipcover. The case art underneath the slipcover has a close-up of Chris Pine's face on the front and Zachary Quinto's on the back. Futureshop stores in Canada offer alternate Steelbook packaging.
The first disc opens with four annoying trailers before the main menu. The Top Menu command has been disabled, so each trailer must be skipped individually every time the disc is loaded.
As if there had been any reason to doubt, 'Star Trek' looks great on Blu-ray. Personally, I think it looks better than several other recent high-profile releases. Some viewers may take issue with the director's overuse of lens flares shining directly into the camera, but there's little denying that the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer captures all of his stylistic affectations just as he'd want them. Likewise, a number of close-ups on the Enterprise bridge were shot with wide-angle lenses and appear slightly stretched. That's not a transfer flaw. It was evident in theaters as well.
For the most part, the 2.40:1 image is very sharp and detailed. Many close-ups are amazingly vibrant. However, in certain parts of the movie, especially during the first half, shots with visual effects seem slightly less detailed than those without. This probably has to do with the resolution at which they were rendered and composited. It's never a dramatic drop-off, but is somewhat noticeable on a large screen. That problem works itself out as the movie goes along. By the last hour, just about everything looks virtually flawless. It should be noted, though, that Spock Prime was photographed in soft focus.
The picture has vivid colors and great contrast throughout. The black of space is suitably inky, yet shadow detail is well defined. A little bit of film grain is apparent and appears unprocessed. 'Star Trek' is a good-looking movie that will make terrific home theater eye candy, even on large projection screens.
Many readers have asked whether 'Star Trek' has any IMAX aspect ratio shifts like 'The Dark Knight' and 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'. Although 'Trek' did play in IMAX theaters this past summer, no part of the movie was photographed in IMAX format. The IMAX theatrical prints were straight DMR upconversions from 35mm. The Blu-ray's aspect ratio is a constant 2.40:1, as it should be.
I've been watching a lot of high-octane action and sci-fi pictures lately, the type of movies where loudness is valued as the most important aspect of sound design, and deafening cacophonies are used to bludgeon the audiences' senses. I'd seen 'Star Trek' in theaters and knew it to be another action-packed film. Firing it up in my home theater, I set my expectations (and my A/V receiver's volume) accordingly. Listening in the home environment, what struck me the most about this soundtrack is just how well balanced it is. The mix certainly has plenty of dynamic range, but never does the dialogue sound suppressed in comparison to overly-loud music or sound effects. All of the levels are appropriate, not obnoxious.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack features bold and brassy music that swells up very nicely. Directional effects and bass rumble are smoothly integrated. Sound effects like phasers are crisply recorded. Listen closely, and you'll also hear plenty of classic 'Trek' noises and effects subtly integrated into the soundscape.
The action scenes build up to tremendous power. The surround channels buzz with excitement, and the subwoofer gets a workout as well. This is just a great soundtrack all around.
The DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film are loaded with bonus features. Almost all of this is worthwhile content, with hardly any promotional fluff.
The 'Star Trek' reboot accomplishes the nearly-impossible task of resetting the dial on a widely-beloved franchise that was clearly past its prime, while both respecting old fans and inviting new ones. If not a perfect film by any means, it's a tremendous amount of fun. The Blu-ray excels in every area, from video to audio to supplements. Is there any doubt that this would come highly recommended?