STAR TREK - Review (Imax, Manchester)



Wondering how to pitch this review has thrown up two initial routes to explore. Firstly, I think Mark Altman put it very succinctly in his own review of J.J Abrams Star Trek when he commented on the tag line of one of Paramount marketing department's TV spots. 'This is not your father's Star Trek' it rather ominously declared. Like Mark I really have to take issue with that and just say that this is in fact your father's Star Trek with great big postmodern knobs on. Secondly, I have to get all fanboyish, or is that fanoldmanish, and evoke the title of a book, published in 1975, by those original fangirls Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak and Joan Winston. Star Trek Lives!

This is Star Trek with a firecracker up its ass


Yes, it does. It really does. Abrams film is like a hurricane busting through the last forty years of Trekdom, since the original series went off the air and through to the limp box office performance of Star Trek: Nemesis and the cancellation of television incarnation Enterprise. For those of you fearing that he's trashed all of that backstory then do not worry. He has rather ingeniously preserved it whilst also starting afresh with a heat seeking missile that gets to the very core of what we loved, and still love, about the original concept and those iconic, cultural figures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy. Worshipping at the altar of the Trek triumvirate is also no staid, continuity bound, dull affair. This is Star Trek with a firecracker up its ass, adrenaline fueled, blurring, whip-panning, lens flaring as it goes and edited with an amphetamine rush. It moves.
...the emotional whallop of birth and death on such a grand scale
Opening with the U.S.S Kelvin's investigation of an intruding vessel, its Captain Robau comes under attack and is forced to meet with the vessel's commander, the rogue Romulan Nero. This is the setting for the birth of James T. Kirk as his father George sacrifices himself and the ship to allow his mother, in labour, to escape on a shuttle craft. It's a brilliant opening sequence, full of frenzied death and destruction but where Abrams recognises and respects the birth of a future hero. As George hears the cry of his new born son over the intercom whilst he plunges the Kelvin into the heart of Nero's squid-like ship, the Narada, Michael Giacchino's music fills the theatre and the emotional whallop of birth and death on such a grand scale clearly sets out Abram's intentions for the film. It's a very moving sequence. Those knowledgeable Trekkies in the audience who have remained unspoiled will already be on the defensive because it's also clear that this ain't how George Kirk is supposed to meet his demise or where James Kirk was actually born. All I can say is, there is an explanation.
Quinto's performance echoes the early episodes of the original series.


The film then bats back and forth between Kirk's childhood in Iowa and Spock's playground bullying on Vulcan. Their paths then quickly develop; Kirk is a roguish James Dean type rebel without a clue, brawling in Iowa bars with Starfleet hotshots and Spock is questioning his half-human, half-Vulcan heritage before the Vulcan Science Academy. It's here that we initially get to see Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto in their roles as Kirk and Spock. Pine is a revelation and utterly commands the film from the outset, investing Kirk with all the ballsy, instinctive pride that has been more than hinted at over the long history of the character. Quinto's performance echoes the early episodes of the original series. Remember the more emotional, shouty Spock from The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before? He's caught a flavour of that here, intentional or otherwise. There is also a lovely, heartfelt scene between Spock and his mother Amanda, a neat little cameo from Winona Ryder, where the themes of love, loyalty and logic start to develop.
the film isn't afraid to laugh with, and not at, the characters


At Starfleet Academy Kirk reprograms the Kobayashi Maru simulator (one of many nods to the simply wonderful Wrath Of Khan film) much to the chagrin of Spock and the film initially puts them at loggerheads with the rest of the running time devoted to how both characters learn to respect each other and develop a putative friendship. Here too are the introductions to McCoy and Uhura. Karl Urban has certainly honoured DeForest Kelley and I'm sure that gentle soul is smiling down on what Urban achieves here. There definitely isn't enough of him in the film but he's charming, funny, irascible and gets a long running joke where he continually inoculates Kirk against all manner of viruses to smuggle him aboard the Enterprise. Zoe Saldana's Uhura is cool and compassionate and from her introduction in the Iowa bar where Kirk hits on her to her iconic hailing frequency duties on the bridge of the Enterprise, Saldana hits the right notes. Her very sexy and emotional response to Spock's later plight after Nero attacks Vulcan will certainly raise eyebrows. Add into this mix the statesman like presence of Bruce Greenwood as Captain Christopher Pike, a sweet performance from Anton Yelchin as Chekov which trades on a wry postmodernist joke about his Russian accent and a stoic John Cho as Sulu, who demonstrates a mean bit of fencing but inadvertently leaves the brake on when the Enterprise leaves orbit. As you can tell, the film isn't afraid to laugh with, and not at, the characters and is often youthfully irreverent towards these nascent figures of legend. It's certainly one of the ingredients that will endear this ensemble to a new audience whilst also winking conspiratorially with die-hard fans longing to fall in love with these characters all over again.
...he is also, by some strange osmosis, undeniably Montgomery Scott


The meat of the story is delivered when Kirk is thrown off the Enterprise by Spock, now in command when Pike is captured by Nero after the attack on Vulcan. He's dumped on the icy Delta Vega (a nod to classic series episode Where No Man Has Gone Before) and after being chased by a rather big and nasty monster he's rescued by none other than Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy is utterly charming in the scenes that he's in and he very subtly plays off Chris Pine, his eyes communicating Spock's inner feelings at meeting the very young Kirk. Unfortunately, he's landed with a huge chunk of exposition which he has to deliver during a mind meld with Kirk. Through this we get to understand Nero's lust for revenge and the red matter MacGuffin that allows the film to preserve Trek's back history whilst also positioning the revised version of history here as an alternate timeline. It's the only really awkward moment in a slick and pacy adventure story but the chemistry between Pine and Nimoy is enough to get us through. It immediately picks up when Spock Prime and Kirk find Scotty manning a Federation outpost on the planet. Simon Pegg, like his fellow cast members, injects a cheeky vitality into the role even if his Scottish accent bounces all over the place and often disappears entirely. Where you can see traces of Shatner and Nimoy in both Pine and Quinto, Pegg has opted to eschew even a suggestion of Jimmy Doohan's mannerisms and, whilst he makes the role his own, he is also, by some strange osmosis, undeniably Montgomery Scott.
'I have been, and ever shall be, your friend'


To get to the final confrontation with Nero, Kirk must usurp Spock from the command seat, by trading on Spock's emotional fallibility, and fulfill his destiny as outlined by Spock Prime. Again, Abrams punctuates the slam-bang action with moments of emotional revelation and contemplation with Spock seeking counsel from his father Sarek (a suitably patrician Ben Cross) before he can truly understand Kirk's reckless heroics. The last third of the film is a derring do rescue of Pike (and if you know your Wrath Of Khan then Nero's torture will be oh-so-very familiar) from the soaking innards of the Narada, Spock and Kirk working together to steal the time bending, black hole creating red matter and the final comeuppance of Nero. The action sequences and fights are well choreographed and edited, with phaser fights whizzing across the screen and a tension inducing standoff between the Narada and the older Spock's time ship topped by a punch the air ambush by an all guns blazing Enterprise. By the conclusion, Nero's ship is simultaneously blasted to bits and sucked through a black hole, Kirk is made Captain of the Enterprise and, in a particularly poignant moment, the two Spocks finally meet. It does stretch credibility that Kirk could leap up the promotion ladder in so short a time but let's not let little niggles like that spoil a film that can simultaneously have a joke at the expense of Captain Archer's pet beagle, reference the 'I have been, and ever shall be, your friend' quote from the original film series, get a Tribble in on the action and fill the screen with a big, curvy bright green woman.



The visual effects are stunning and are probably the best to ever adorn a Star Trek film, capturing the frenzy of battle in hand held reportage style that perfectly mirrors the neo-documentary live action footage with its rapid camera movements, bright lens flares, quickly shifting focus and rocky angles. For the most part the production design is handsome and full of visual pleasure, although I'm not entirely won over by Scott Chamblis' insistence on mixing the clean, bright, white and blue designs of the bridge, corridors and sick bay with what looks like the inside of a present day brewery or a water treatment works to represent the engine room of the Enterprise. It's a stretch as far as the design is concerned. He's more successful with the interior of the Narada, a vast array of walkways and platforms, part surrounded by water, dark and dirty. Great costumes too from Michael Kaplan, evoking the spirit of the original series outfits but with a modern spin, and I loved the cadet uniforms and the Vulcan robes too. Finally, Giacchino's score is splendid and provides a very strong underpinning to the more contemplative moments, often sweeping in and becoming the only sound you hear as dialogue and effects are dropped out of the mix to allow it to be the voice for the scene. It's most effective in the scenes for Kirk's birth and the destruction of Vulcan. And stick around for the end titles because his use of the original Courage theme is utterly triumphal.

I would be genuinely shocked if this was not a crowd pleasing film because it is clear a lot of love has gone into its making. It's epic, funny, moving and above all captures a long overdue courage and optimism missing from science fiction films of recent years. The casting is pitch perfect and there's now an ensemble of Star Trek actors you know you want to see back on the screen again very soon. So yes...Star Trek Lives!

STAR TREK (Cert 12A. Released May 8th 2009. Directed by J.J Abrams)

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Comments
7 Responses to “STAR TREK - Review (Imax, Manchester)”
  1. I absolutely agree. I've never been a huge Star Trek fan but the film blew me away last night - just thrilling. I'm collecitng my thoughts at the moment for my own review vbut it seems you've more or less said it all really! Just a terrific adrenalised film with heart, soul and a strange sort of beauty. I rarely go to the cinema twice to see the same movie but I'm sorely tempted with this one. Just terrific, mainly because I just wasn't expecting a lot from a franchise I've never really been all that connected to.

  2. FRANK says:

    Thanks Paul.

    Like my relationship with Doctor Who, I've been both a fervid fanboy and a lapsed 'I can't be bothered' with this anymore fan of Star Trek. I adore the original series, enjoyed some of the films, most of Next Gen and DS9 but completely abandoned the franchise with Voyager and Enterprise and the later films.

    And like RTD, Abrams has done the sensible thing. Shunted the back story and the continuity hell into an alternate timeline in order to restart the franchise. A lot of fans are very unhappy about this as they believe he's written off 40 odd years of history. What they can't see is that this is a golden opportunity to take Trek back to its core cultural appeal, without the clunky baggage, and actually retell many of the familiar stories from the canon. And if you want the original canon it's still there, still preserved and Nimoy functions as the bridge between the two. I think it's a neat solution. Controversial, obviously. As controversial as a Time War wiping out the Time Lords, I'd say. And most of us are pretty much at home with that idea now.

    It's a fun film, carries out some lovely augmentation to the familiar cultural icons and yet remains true to them. The story isn't quite as good as it might have been but that's not really the point. The point is that we have Kirk, McCoy and Spock back in a familiar universe with new stories to tell.

    I'm also going back to see it again. It's so crammed full of visual delight that it deserves a second pass!

    Look forward to your review!

  3. Ro Lean says:

    Thank you so very much for this thorough review of Star Trek! I haven't seen the film yet and did have some misgivings. But your positive review has made me feel much more confident that I won't be disappointed with the movie.

    I actually discovered your site by accident and am glad that I did! It is wonderful! I co-run a Doctor Who site (http://children-of-tardis.blogspot.com/) and am always happy to find new sites of interest.

    I will definitely return!

  4. FRANK says:

    Hello Ro,

    Thanks for stumbling across the blog! Glad you appreciated the review. A lot of fans do seem to think that the new film wipes out the last 40 years of Trek history. It doesn't. As Paul Mount so succinctly says, it's a sequel AND a prequel and the 40 years of Trek is still there alongside this new timeline.

    Enjoy the film. It's highly entertaining.

  5. Nomad says:

    it would seem that Chris Pine's Capt. Kirk encapsulates all that Capt. Kirk was meant to be more than William Shatner's version

  6. Thank you for mentioning me and Star Trek Lives! Love the new label FANGIRL - oh, that fits.

    I totally agree that this new film has what it takes -- lots of hooks to hang fanfic on, lots of potential for sequels and maybe a new TV Series or at least mini-Series. Lots of MATERIAL here.

    I've yet to write my own comments on this movie - so much to think about! But the only thing that really irked me was they didn't use the word KROYKA when Kirk finally got Spock's goat.

    Also it should have taken a few more prods to "motivate" Spock than that but they did have the set-up scene with the young Spock and comments on his Mother.

    Follow me at http://twitter.com/JLichtenberg

    I tweeted this review there and will post there when I finally write something about this movie.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    Fangirl
    http://www.simegen.com/jl/

  7. FRANK says:

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg!

    You honour me. I'm not worthy!

    Thank you so much for your comments. I'm glad you liked the film as it shows that Trek fans, and I include myself here, from back in the day are opening their arms to this film. As you say, there are infinite possibilities for fans to latch onto and it saddens me that a vocal minority just don't see that.

    It has done fantastic business in the first weekend so I think we'll definitely see a sequel and I look forward to it immensely.

    I shall follow you on Twitter forthwith and many thanks for tweeting the review. Much appreciated.

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