Movie Review – Star Trek (2009)

2009 Paramount Pictures

Two and Half Star

Being a Star Trek fan since the early seventies I saw the franchise and fan base soar and witnessed, without surprise, the decline in popularity. There is no doubt the franchise was springing leaks worse than a wooden dam with termites due to various bad decisions and mismanagement over the years. After the lackluster Nemesis sort of wrapped up the Next Generation storyline in 2002 and Star Trek Enterprise was cancelled in 2005 Star Trek vanished.

After lying dormant for a few years rumors of a reboot started to bounce around the internet. Trek fans were both fascinated and horrified as more details were leaked. How did I feel? Well I was glad Trek was back but I saw no need to retell the story of Kirk and the gang with new actors, I would have preferred a new crew and new ship but that’s just my opinion. Still I decided to give it a chance, a fresh approach and a new angle on a franchise that has been around since 1966 might work if done just right. So did they get it just right? Well not really but it’s not the disaster it could have been either.
Current Hollywood wunderkind J.J. Abrams steers this new Trek in a different direction in an attempt to make it more accessible to the masses (I.E. Paramount wants to make more money) and to restart the franchise, he succeeds in making a fun summer action movie but fails at making a good Star Trek movie. There is no doubt Trek did need a kick in the ass to get it going again but Abram’s kicked it in the head instead and gave it brain damage. This movie turns out to be more like an homage to all known Trek cliches’ mixed with a healthy dose of Star Wars.
Star Trek 2009 starts off with an exciting and touching opening showing the father of James T. Kirk sacrificing his life to save the crew of the USS Kelvin but then the movie turns into a somewhat been there done affair that rushes to get the characters exactly where they were to begin with. There are some good scenes and good character moments sprinkled in but not enough to overcome the feeling that this was merely an attempt to turn Star Trek into the typical summer franchise money making machine. Despite a good cast that wisely does not attempt to impersonate the original cast and great special effects this movie is all adrenaline and no intellect mixed with a little too much humor. Scotty and Chekov really get the shaft and are used far too much as comic relief. I think the drama to comedy ratio was shifted way too far and sections of this movie remind me a lot of the humor in Star Trek IV when intelligence was sacrificed for a few laughs. A few less jokes would have given the movie a more balanced tone
The production design in the film is hit or miss. The exterior of the Enterprise is a weird mix of the refit saucer stuck on a hot rod primary hull, it really looks disproportionate with the over-sized nacelles. The interior has major issues; the bridge is too gaudy, cluttered and so bright I was surprised the crew didn’t wear sunglasses to avoid all the flares. The sick bay (what little we see of it) and the transporter room are okay but where the designers totally drop the ball is in the engineering section. The only word that comes to mind when I think of the new engineering deck is lazy with a capital L, in bold, and underlined. Looking exactly like the brewery where it was filmed and totally out of place with the rest of the ship I was immediately jarred out of the movie world every time engineering was shown. Inserting a few touch screens and a giant Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory water tube into it does not make for a compelling set. What a terrible disappointment after the dynamic designs used in previous incarnations of Trek, absolutely pathetic choice.
Other complaints are Scotty’s little sidekick who serves no purpose at all and should be loaded into a torpedo launcher at the earliest convenience. The ending is unrealistic, awarding Kirk a medal would have been  fine but giving command of a starship to a twenty five year old  third year cadet is implausible and silly as is the fact all the other cadets are given positions on the new flag ship of Starfleet. Everything relating to how the crew is brought together is just way too convenient and quick. There are also countless plot holes and inattention to detail on a major scale.

The biggest problem in my opinion is the seriously accelerated character development. The original series characters developed over a three period on TV and then throughout six and a quarter movies. In this movie the writers seem to have been under the impression they needed to squeeze the entire development process into one two hour movie. Essentially we see almost every character trait introduced over the previous twenty five years of Trek on display here and at the end we are pretty much at the same point we were when the original series ended in 1969 just with younger characters. This has the effect of rendering the story somewhat implausible. It’s a compilation of “best of” moments featuring character traits tweaked to be a little more obvious and in the case of Scotty and Chekov far more comedic.
All in all this is a fun summer roller coaster thrill ride (god I hate that term) bit of nonsense, not terrific and not classic Trek on any level. Hopefully with the next installment the characters will be a little more serious and not merely one dimensional walking jokes. Also how about hiring someone who can design a serious engineering section? Wouldn’t that be nice?

The good:

The cast is really good.

The special effects are good.

The not so good:
No backup chutes during the free-fall assault on the drilling platform? We’ve been using backup chutes for decades I don’t see why they would stop using them in the future.
Nero’s misplaced anger is just plain silly. Spock was trying to help save your planet you moron. Talk about gratitude, what a weenie.
Why the hell was there Ceti or Centuari Eels onboard a mining ship? Are they standard Romulan mining ship equipment? Yes I know this was explained in cut scenes but since it was cut there is no plausible reason to have these aboard. Just a case of needing to throw in references to past Trek like naming the planet Kirk is stranded on Delta Vega.
Since when does star fleet throw people who are deemed a distraction off of their ships? Was the brig out of order? Talk about a waste of time and resources not too mention a huge risk. Gee can’t see any problem with throwing unarmed cadets onto a frozen planet with hostile life forms. I would think that Kirk would be within his rights to have Spock arrested on charges of attempted murder.
Kirk is thrown off the ship and just happens to run into a cave where older Spock is hanging out. Then they run into Scotty…wow what luck.
Young Spock is more emotional than Kirk in this movie.
There are way too many transporter gimmicks in this movie.
Why does Captain Pike ask if any of the bridge crew has had advanced combat training? Isn’t that what the security personnel are for? The same security personnel who chase Kirk around the brewery? Let’s send two inexperienced but promising cadets and an engineer into a dangerous situation and let the security guards rest. Nice job Captain Pike, great way to get rid of a talented helmsmen and a young man who scored off the scales on aptitude tests. What the hell happened to phasers anyway? Kirk loses his phaser but Sulu should still have his, why the hell didn’t he use it?
When Kirk, Sulu, and the security guard are trying to destroy the drill rig why do they even need to go inside? Why not land, set the explosives, and jump?
Academy instructor Spock’s having a relationship with a cadet? Seems like a conflict of interest to me. Conflict of character as well.
In The Wrath of Khan the Kobiyashi Maru scenario was said to be a test of character but in this movie Spock says it is meant to elicit a response to fear, fear in the face of certain death. It makes no sense why this scenario would be used as a test for a reaction to fear, why would a cadet be afraid of a simulation, especially if they had previously taken the test? If a cadet is genuinely afraid in a simulation chamber I would think that fact alone would disqualify them from commanding a real starship. In Wrath of Khan Kirk mentioned he reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to save the ship. I doubt the Kirk we grew up with would program it to do something as simplistic as having the Klingon ships drop their shields for no apparent reason. Also why the hell would a Vulcan be tasked with creating a program to judge reaction to fear? Wouldn’t you want to have someone with a greater understanding of emotions program it instead of someone who has spent their life suppressing them? Kirk also mentions in the Wrath of Khan that he received an accommodation for original thinking for reprogramming the scenario but in this movie he is charged with violating the code of conduct. Why the change? Because Spock is at the academy instead of on the Enterprise serving with Captain Pike as he would have been before the time of the original series?
Why is it when Kirk and Spock fight it out on the bridge of the Enterprise no one tries to stop them? Is there no discipline in this version of Trek?
Between the time Sulu forgets to release the “parking brakes” and the time the ship arrives at the scene of the battle all the other ships have been destroyed and yet the Enterprise survives. There is a time delay of approximately 45 seconds between when the other ships go to warp and the Enterprise follows and in that short time the seven other ships are decimated. Seems unlikely the Enterprise would have survived the first volley.
Why didn’t the Enterprise sensors pick up the debris from the remains of the fleet? There is no reason the ship should have come out of warp in the middle of a debris field. They used to scan ahead of time but I guess that would eliminate a potentially exciting big special effects scene.
How could Scotty have lost Admiral Archer’s dog in a transporter accident? Was this the great grandson of the Archer from Enterprise? I really hope they are not implying this was the same Archer and the dog was Porthos? The events of Enterprise took place long before Scotty was born. In any case I don’t seem to remember Scotty creating a way to transport objects farther and to beam onto ships going warp speed. Did he do this after the events of the Next Generation series?
The changes in the time line that occur when Nero comes back seem to be a bit random. Kirk grows up without his father’s guidance and turns into an undisciplined arrogant little prick. A very intelligent little prick but still a prick. I can accept this because Kirk’s past was altered by the death of his father but what about Spock? His past was not altered so why did he grow up and start falling in love with Earth chicks? Shouldn’t he have developed in the same way and still be the Spock we are familiar with? Since the construction of the Enterprise seems to have been delayed did he just hang out on Earth and chase the babes? The destruction of the USS Kelvin changed the location and nature of the way starships are built?  Phaser, communicator, and tricorder design were altered? Orion slave girls are now cadets? Engineering decks now look like breweries? Checkov and Kirk are now closer in age? Starfleet procedures have been altered to a great degree? View screens are also windows (I know this happened before Nero even showed up so what the hell)?
What is with the wimpy phaser firing sound effect? The sound effects in this movie are very well done for the most part but the phaser sound is pathetic.
Why are Spock’s classmates taunting him? What logical reason could they have for their behavior? In trying to elicit an emotional response from Spock they are acting very much like emotional human bullies.
There is too much talk about the destiny of Kirk and Spock. This is Star Trek not The Matrix or Star Wars. I kept waiting for the chosen one to appear. This aspect of the story is so generic it’s laughable.
Vulcan is threatened by an unknown force and the cadets are rushing to get their assigned ships. In this time of crisis Uhura takes the time to whine about not getting assigned to the Enterprise. Makes her appear a little selfish and spoiled.
Spock doesn’t assign Uhura to the Enterprise because he did not want it perceived that he did so out of favoritism? Spock would assign whoever he thought was the logical choice. His decision would not be based on what he thought others might feel about his decision. Poor writing.
The green Orion slave girl at the academy acts like any other airhead chick in any other movie.
When trying to sneak Kirk aboard the Enterprise McCoy rants about explaining how the Enterprise could warp into a crisis without one of its senior medical officers if he is delayed? How is McCoy a senior medical officer when he has never served on a starship?
Why is Chekov asked to open a ship wide broadcast? Shouldn’t that be a task for the communications officer? Because a comedic moment was needed that’s why!
It’s mentioned that the bulk of the fleet is off in another sector. This may be the case but does Starfleet always leave a bunch of undermanned ships just waiting for cadets to man them? Including the new flag ship?
In order to convince fans that this is an alternate reality then it would have been necessary to first show that the reality being altered was the timeline we were all familiar with.
It’s clear that Abrams and crew didn’t give a rat’s ass about this as the reality we are offered bears little resemblance to the original timeline even before Nero arrives.
The set used for the Kobiyashi Maru test is clearly the bridge set of the USS Kelvin changed around a little bit. Nice of Starfleet to give the cadets a simulation of a 25 year old ship to learn on. The cadets must have been confused when they went onboard the Enterprise and experienced a whole new design. No wonder Sulu forgot to deactivate the brakes.
Random thoughts and observations:
The turbo lift moves at light speed except when Spock and Uhura need to talk. If the speed of the lift had remained constant throughout the movie Uhura would never even have had time to hit the pause button.
Trek survived so many years because the stories and characters came first. Trek was never about the special effects (except The Motion Picture and look how that turned out) and action until Paramount decided to try and make it a Star Wars style blockbuster. The retooling definitely makes it exciting but it ceases to be true Star Trek and becomes a clone of too many other movies. Star Trek was always a niche product and by targeting a larger audience it was required to strip away many of the things that made Trek popular with its audience to begin with. This new Trek may pull in far more money in the short run but it does so by ignoring the original fan base. Maybe instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make huge big screen spectacles they should just return Trek to the small screen where it belongs with new people behind the scenes who can give it a fresh, intelligent new life.
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