“Star Trek” (2009): a brief review (w/spoilers)

| May 8, 2009
No, really, Captain -- 40 years from now, theyll still be filming this.

No, really, Captain -- 40 years from now, they'll still be filming this.

The original “Star Trek” series started on NBC the same month I started my freshman year at Grossmont High. It ran two and a half seasons before dying, but eventually spawned a long list of movies and four successive TV series (ST: The Next Generation, ST: Deep Space Nine, ST: Voyager, and Enterprise) — not a bad legacy that. However, aside from some flashes of brilliance in ST:TNG, the whole franchise pretty much hit its peak with the second film “ST: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) and never quite climbed that high again.

There was, however, an early chance to reboot. At the end of the third Star Trek film — “The Search for Spock” (1984) — the Enterprise has been destroyed, and Captain Kirk and his crew are largely on the run from the Federation in a captured Klingon warship. While the film itself was a letdown from “Wrath of Khan”, it provided an opportunity to take the familiar characters in a dramatically (or at least significantly) different direction. Instead, ST IV (“The Voyage Home”, 1986) recycled the main plot element of the first Star Trek movie and by film’s end had restored the crew to the Federation’s good graces and to a brand-spanking-new Enterprise. The entire Star Trek universe has pretty much been stuck in a rut ever since.

Until now.

Abrams has done, at least to a certain extent, what Paramount should have done 25 years ago: freed the characters from the trap of Star Trek canon. The film starts with changed history: Kirk’s father ends up in command of a Federation star ship just long enough to destroy the ship and end his own life buying time for most of the crew and civilians on board to escape from a massive ship that has appeared out of nowhere. His newborn son, James Tiberius Kirk, grows up as a troubled, rowdy, brilliant young man, who accepts a challenge from a Federation captain — Christopher Pike — to attend Star Fleet Academy. He meets up with other (to us) familiar characters — McCoy, Uhuru, Chekov, Sulu, and, yes, Spock — who find themselves thrust into the middle of a threat to the entire Federation.

The film is, in my opinion, a complete success. It has a few flaws — too many lens flares, and some goofy (from a scientific point of view) exposition in the middle explaining just what’s happening and why. But it easily rivals “Wrath of Khan” for the position of best Star Trek movie ever (though it’s hard to argue against William Shatner and Ricardo Montelban chewing up the scenery and spitting it at one another). The cinematography and directing frankly exceeds any previous Star Trek movie, and the special effects make it just that much more stunning; the opening five minutes of “Star Trek” has more action, pathos, and drama than the grand climax of most preceding Star Trek movies.

The youth of the familiar characters at times borders on making the film seem like an ST version of “Teen Titans” or “Smallville”, but part of the fun is not just seeing them at a young age but seeing them start to form bonds (a few of which are unexpected and definitely not canon).  But it’s a well-done film that can stand on its own merits and that thankfully avoids (except in homage) the cliches and traps of all that has preceded it. A big thumbs up.

SPOILERS AHEAD — SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP

The fundamental plot is that over a century in the future (of the film), an aging Ambassador Spock (“Spock Prime”) fails to stop a supernova in time to save the planet Romulus (center of the Romulan empire). However, he is still able to implode the supernova using ‘red matter’ to trigger the creation of a black hole — but that same black hole drags both Spock Prime and a massive Romulan mining ship, led by one Captain Nero (Eric Bana) — back into the past. Nero and his ship captures Spock Prime and uses some of the ‘red matter’ to create a black hole at the center of Vulcan — thus destroying the whole planet. And Nero’s next target is Earth.

As mentioned, the scientific exposition in the middle of the film is goofy. In Spock Prime’s future, a supernova “threatens the galaxy”, goes off early, and destroys Romulus (and, one must presume, a whole pile of other systems, since that star didn’t appear to be Romulus’s star). This ignores the fact that the blast wave from the supernova travels at light speed and would take, oh, years if not decades or centuries to reach Romulus. Spock Prime’s use of red matter at one little part of the shock wave causes the supernova to collapse into a black hole that sucks Spock and Nero both back in time (instead of simply crushing them). After capturing Spock Prime, Nero dumps him on the surface of what has to be another planet in the Vulcan system, where Spock is able to seen Vulcan (and its destruction) as large and clear as we can see the Moon (vs., say, how we see Mars, Venus, and other planets, namely as little points of light). That really turns out to be largely a plot convenience to have Spock Prime and Kirk end up on the same planet together.

This is all stupid (and wrong) on so many levels that I just have to wonder what Abrams was thinking here. I mean, it’s one thing to do the requisite “sufficiently advanced technology” to get us warp drive and transporters. This kind of stupidity, however, is equivalent to having Kirk fly up the side of a building unaided. Sigh.

That said, it’s still a great film. Go see it.  ..bruce..

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Category: Main, Movies, Reviews

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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