For the past few years summer movie entertainment has been tiring. We have seen a lot of half-hearted attempts to re-vitalize film franchises with the primary goal being the box office take, rather than great filmmaking. It has gotten to the point where I just grit my teeth, buy the ticket, and sit through garbage while I pray that fall comes faster.
This is why J.J. Abramsâ€™ Star Trek was a more than welcome breath of fresh air. It does everything that a summer release is supposed to do: exhilarates with non-stop action, effortlessly fuses comedy into scenes, and gives you something that is just beautiful to see and hear. I would even say that Star Trek goes a step further than a good summer movie release, with editing, sound mixing, and a score that should all be remembered come Oscar season.
Like last weekendâ€™s Wolverine, this Star Trek prequel is a character driven film. Abrams sought to fulfill the desire of die-hard Trekkies to find out about their favorite charactersâ€™ beginnings, and also appeal to new fans who knew little about the series going in. Belonging to the latter group, I think he was successful as the film piqued my interest in this world of Star Fleet crews and Federation versus Romulan battles. I felt inspired and I wanted more.
The story got off to a slow start, but when it eventually got going it never stopped for a breath. The film starts with an intense, and beautifully CGIâ€™d battle scene between a Federation vessel and a Romulan ship, where newly appointed Captain George Kirk is forced to sacrifice himself to save his wife and newborn son. In a foreboding omen of what is to come James Tiberius Kirk is literally born in the midst of an epic battle.
Years later James Kirk is a young man back on Earth, distancing himself from his human parents and the very earthy state of Iowa. He establishes himself as that action character we have seen so many times before â€“ the rebel-with-a-brain protagonist who is just waiting for a cause. He fights, he runs from the law, he womanizes, he has a curiously high IQ â€“ your everyday soon-to-be hero.
In a more interesting bit of exposition we meet young Spock, a half-human, half Vulcan who experiences humorously awkward discrimination because of his mixed ethnicity. Spock has a tinge of rebellion in him as well, although it is kept deep down along with his emotions. Both Spock and Kirk donâ€™t fit in and we already get the feeling that they are destined for something bigger.
Both join Star Fleet and after butting heads in training exercises they end up on the Enterprise on course to save the planet of Vulcan from impending disaster. Aboard the ship we are also introduced to other essential Trek characters including Sulu, Chekov, and Bones. They soon learn that the disaster facing Vulcan was being caused by the same Romulan who killed Kirkâ€™s father, a vicious captain named Nero. The crew of the enterprise now has to face an enemy who possesses one of the most powerful weapons in existence.
Abrams really has a grasp on the science fiction elements of Star Trek. Even though the film was mostly inspired by the original series, there is also some influence from other sci-fi classics like Kubrickâ€™s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kudos also has to go out to the filmâ€™s editors, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey. The action sequences are cut together seamlessly with a perfect combination of shaky cam medium shots, swooping long shots, and the occasional extreme close-up â€“ emphasizing the fact that the film is meant to be character driven.
The sound mixing that combines the space age sound effects with the brilliant score by Michael Giacchino completes the sensual experience. In the midst of action, the diegetic sound will quiet down as the orchestral music picks up and emphasizes the emotion of the scene, rather than the big flashes and booms. Giacchino also uses a chorus that holds dissonant pitches, reminiscent of the Liggett vocal music that provides some of the haunting 2001 score.
The new cast does a good job of filling the shoes of their predecessors. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock, respectively, have great screen chemistry. Simon Pegg adds much comic relief as the quick-witted Scotty. Probably the best performance comes from the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who plays a future version of the character with the intelligence and nostalgia of a true Trek vet. His Spock comes off much less mechanical representing the fact that future Spock has fully gotten in touch with his human side.
The reason that Star Trek is sticking at a B+, rather than getting into A territory is because itâ€™s not as psychologically complex as it could have been. It has a brain, a heart, and a nervous system, but it doesnâ€™t quite reach the depth of last summerâ€™s The Dark Knight, for instance. Star Trek is damn fine summer entertainment, and it definitely made a Trekkie out of me.
Bottom Line: Star Trek appeals to all of the senses and will live long and prosper on Blu-Ray.