14 May 2009

Star Trek Review

If you ask someone what the one thing that they associate with ‘geek’, there is only a handful of things that most people will think of. ‘Video games’ is perhaps one, Star Wars another, but there is the over-whelming probability that, when confronted with the above statement, most people will say ‘Star Trek’. But unfortunately, with JJ Abrams’ self-titled debut into the Trek canon looks set to change that. What Abrams has managed to do is genuinely admirable – he’s created a Star Trek film that is actually genuinely accessible to the newcomer, and yet at the same time is steeped in Trek mythology that will please both the hardcore and the passingly interested.

Cascading the series back to the early days of James T Kirk and Spock, both of whom in this story are barely out of Starfleet Academy, the film tells the story of how Kirk came to be in command of the USS Enterprise, the iconic spaceship from the original series. Along the way they gather up various other crewmembers, and have a small altercation with a Romulan named Nero which just so happens to create a sequel-ready alternate reality whilst it’s at it.

Cynical though this sounds, it’s actually a genuinely affectionate reboot of the franchise – acknowledging the…magnitude of the established canon, whilst at the same time gently swiping it aside to forge its own path. This is mostly down to an absolutely fantastic screenplay from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman – their story structured and polished to perfection, topped off with excellent dialogue, and a fantastic sense of pace. It also manages to shed a lot of the politicking that seems to plague sci-fi of late, ditching political tensions in favour of personal ones…as well as some rather spectacular action sequences.

Abrams is having a whale of a time in the director’s chair, it would seem - his vision of the future gorgeously over-saturated and full of wonderful detail. From the reimagined bridge of the Enterprise, to the exquisite detail on Nero’s warship Narada, there’s a level of sophistication and clarity in the vision which far outstrips any previous entry into the series, even the ‘classic’ Wrath of Kahn. If Abrams continues on this streak, he may well end up tattooed with ‘Speilberg Mk II’ on his forehead. To say that the man’s creative potential is currently limitless is something of an understatement.

Flawless special effects bring the directorial vision together, with minutae detail peppered through ever scene. From the glorious spectacle of a starship racing into combat against a clearly superior foe, to supernovae devouring planets, everything is rendered in razor-sharp high def and seamlessly integrated with the actors.

But even with all of the above in place, horrible casting can throw a spanner into the works at any turn. Thankfully, Abrams has secured a cast that is a truly worthy successor to their classic – or to use the new lingo: Prime – counterparts. Chris Pine wonderfully emulates William Shatner’s over-cooked portrayal of Kirk, managing to add a charismatic, roguish streak to the character whilst never stepping over into imitation or parody. Zachary Quinto, on the other hand, masters an impersonation that somehow bypasses the uncanny valley, his Spock a pitch perfect emulation of his Prime predecessor. Other castings are never bad, although John Cho and Simon Pegg as Sulu and Scotty respectively both seem under-used, with the latter turning up almost literally as deus ex machina.

Nevertheless, to have minor quibbles with the story not requiring lots of Scotty expertise and Sulu’s cunning is to detract from what is a highly entertaining spectacle. It also has the truly enviable achievement of shifting Star Trek directly into the mainstream – a sci-fi intellectual property this accessible must be the envy of every Joss Whedon and Ronald D Moore out there. Don’t let that put you off, though - this is a genuinely excellent start to the summer blockbuster season, an entry into the Star Trek canon that is both reverential and playful when it comes to the entries before it. Here’s to a franchise reborn.

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