DVD Release Date: November 17, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: May 8, 2009
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content)
Run Time: 126 min.
Director: J.J. Abrams
Actors: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Eric Bana, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Anton Yelchin, Winona Ryder, Leonard Nimoy
A favorite sci-fi franchise is reborn with Star Trek, director J.J. Abrams' take on the early days of James T. Kirk, Spock and the other well-known crew members aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. The film's fresh approach to the well-worn franchise takes viewers back to the origins of the crew's beloved characters. By starting the franchise again, Abrams has brought a freshness to Trek and has launched a memorable young cast into a series that may come to define their careers the way that the same roles defined the careers of predecessors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.
But that doesn't mean the film is a slam-dunk. Far from it.
Although it has some fun moments and decent action, Star Trek amounts to surprisingly little and gets by primarily on viewer identification with characters earned over decades of repeats of the TV series and numerous films with the earlier cast. It's a reset more than a reinvention—familiar lines from familiar characters, but uttered at an earlier age. Seeing these traits in younger incarnations of the Enterprise crew is amusing, but has its limits.
The film's early moments show promise. We see George Kirk listen in as his wife, who has fled a doomed ship while in the throes of labor, gives birth to a boy, to whom George gives the name James. A restless, rebellious Iowa youth, James (Chris Pine) will follow his dead father's footsteps into the Federation. On a different planet, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is growing up, too, learning to fend off his Vulcan peers' taunts about his human emotions—a trait passed on to him by a human mother (Winona Ryder).
Spock and Kirk square off as rivals while in cadet school, but will end up serving together aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. Joining them are McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho).
The characters all exhibit defining traits—heavy accent (Chekov), gruff retorts (McCoy) and unbound enthusiasm (Scotty)—but the character development belongs to Kirk and Spock. Challenged to be more like his father, Kirk, a daredevil, excels in the Federation and gains the favor of the Enterprise's Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Spock learns how human emotions can hinder his ambitions, but he develops the wisdom that informs the film's main message about friendship, and, somewhat surprising, doing "what feels right."
The plot centers on an act of revenge that germinates over many years before being carried out. Time travel involving the older and younger versions of Spock (Nimoy plays the older Spock), menacing space creatures and planetary destruction give the film some diverting moments, but the story, which involves death on a massive scale, is curiously unmoving. This Star Trek is built more for humor and action, not for tragedy.
The lack of a compelling villain doesn't help the film. Eric Bana plays a Romulan who comes from the future to settle an old score, but watching him take on the young Enterprise crew is a passive experience where it should be tense and gripping. A better villain would have made for a better movie.
The Enterprise crew mostly look to be in their early 20s, tops, which lets the characters have fun but gives us a scenario and cast lacking gravitas. Although the young actors do a decent job of embodying the well-known crew, it's Greenwood and Nimoy—both veteran actors—who give the film its best moments.
Star Trek is not a profound movie. The pseudo-spiritual dialogue in the TV series and some of the earlier films is decidedly lacking this go-round, but the lack of that ponderous speechifying does not help the movie, which ends up being easily digested but rather disposable.
Still, there's enough energy here to justify a sequel or several—the film has "blockbuster" written all over it, and the young cast should get plenty of mileage out of these characters in years to come. But don't confuse energy with import, or even coherence. Star Trek is a fun ride, especially early on, but future installments would do well to at least attempt to be more meaningful, even if the attempts fall flat.
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