Star Trek (2009): Good Movie, so-so Trek

***SPOILERS BELOW***

***this post assumes you’ve seen the movie***

Star Trek Boldly Going

Star Trek has officially been “rebooted” in the form of a new feature motion picture. It’s like a new operating system and everything. I saw it last week and must say that I am duly impressed. I walked out of the theater having enjoyed two hours of solid film making. To be sure, it’s no Wrath of Khan. But the dialogue is well written with plenty of good lines scattered throughout. The acting is believable and the character portrayals aren’t so bad. The production value is sky high, with lots of little touches (especially sound) that bring a nice immersive feel to the universe presented. And the film’s opening sequence is among the most emotionally forceful of anything with the “Star Trek” name on it.

But it has its shortcomings as well. Oh, it’s good, and by any other title it may have been great. But as Star Trek goes, it leaves much to be desired. For one, there’s very little intellectual meat to be digested. After some really enjoyable character development (young Jim Kirk listens to the Beastie Boys* [Sabotage]) in the first act, the movie essentially becomes big-dumb-action flick, with one-dimensional villains that lack the nuance and human tragedy that embodies the adversaries in the Star Trek universe. There is no take-home parable or allegory or examination of the human condition, things that are at the very heart of the Star Trek experience. On top of that, parts of the premise really do strain even the considerable suspension of disbelief that Star Trek is afforded.

In true Trek fashion, here are some of my criticisms. I’ll try to avoid nitpicking and stick to the major ones:

  • While the opening scenes are great cinema, why the hell was Lt. Kirk’s 9-month pregnant wife aboard the Kelvin? There are rules about being on planes when pregnant as I assume there would be for space-faring *military* vessels.
  • I’m not sure how old anyone is supposed to be. Kirk is in his early twenties. Spock is already an officer and so is Scotty, so they’re both older. McCoy is also older, having had another life before Starfleet. Checkov is 17 (does that mean he was accepted into the academy at a younger age?).
  • The Narada, Nero’s ship, is a mining vessel. How it was able to outmatch the Federation fleet while orbiting Vulcan is a mystery to me. I would not expect a mining ship, whose primary purpose is to extract and transport ore to be well armed at all. Yes, it’s from 180ish years in the future, but it was also wandering the galaxy for 23 years without a homebase. To me this seems to equivalent of a modern supertanker and it’s crew of roustabouts with deck guns taking out Admiral Nelson’s Royal Navy.
  • As a side thought to that, why didn’t Nero just present his ship and its tech-from-the-future to the Romulan Empire, which could use the advances to conquer the galaxy? The Federation having to overcome that advantage actually seems like a decent platform to base this new alt-Trek around.
  • The whole last scene, ie the cadet-to-captain thing. Throughout the movie, Kirk isn’t even a commissioned officer. Yet upon graduation he’s given the flagship of the Federation? I don’t care how many planets he saved, there would certainly be dozens or hundreds of older, experienced superior officers more qualified for such a distinguished post, many of whom would probably resign in protest. Assign him to the Enterprise with a bump to full lieutenant until he gets some field experience, sure. But captain? Hardly.
  • Finally: Too much lens flare.

Overall, an enjoyable flick, if you’re not hoping to have your mind challenged and you don’t think too hard about what you just saw. This movie was a foundation however and I’m looking forward to seeing what the sequels will bring. Maybe our characters might actually “boldly go” somewhere. Also, everyone has been going on about how good the new cast seems to work, but for my money, the most compelling character in the film is Captain Pike. I wouldn’t mind seeing more adventures with him at the helm.

And oh yeah, I could probably write an entire paper on Abrams’ apparent disdain for Vulcans and their suppressed emotions and logical approaches to life: destroying the planet and “unvulcanizing” Spock by the end of the film while rewarding Kirk’s recklessness. But that’s a subject for another post.

*The Beastie Boys are huge Star Trek fans, so I’m sure they’re thrilled that young Kirk listens to their music.

3 thoughts on “Star Trek (2009): Good Movie, so-so Trek

  1. “As a side thought to that, why didn’t Nero just present his ship and its tech-from-the-future to the Romulan Empire,”

    For that matter, why not just wander the galaxy awhile longer and use the red matter to save Romulus? How does destroying the Federation do anything except satisfy Nero’s yearning for revenge for something he could well prevent anyway?

    And I only saw it once but I think there was a throw-away line on there about them refiitting the mining ship for battle. But still!

    The three non-Trek fans I saw it with loved it. (“Was that one with the thick accent {Chekov} even in the old one?” they asked afterward.) I liked it too, but felt the loss of the central philosophical “hopefulness” and unmitigated heroism of the franchise.

    Oh, and I liked the new Scotty a lot. He worked as effective comic relief. Which may not be what everyone looks for in a Scotty….

    Reply

    tunequest Reply:

    I liked the new Scotty too. The original Scotty had his lighter side as well, but he was also deadly serious when having to keep his ship running and the crew safe. I get the impression that the new guy is how light-hearted and comical Scotty could be before the burdens of responsibility began weighing on him.

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