Star Trek: One Trekkie’s Contrarian Thoughts – Film Review

Okay, boys & girls, this little look at the 2009 STAR TREK movie is gonna get a tiny bit nit-picky and point out a few details that some other folks are letting slide. It also assumes that you’ve seen the film. So if you’re one of those viewers who thinks the new picture is ‘totally awesome,’ then you’d better not read on. Because although I enjoyed it quite a bit, I’ve got a few thoughts & questions I’d like to get off my chest. Sure, you’ll no doubt think they’re petty, but I happen to think some of those little details can hinder the film’s chances at being taken seriously as big screen cinema and something that works on a global level.

Now, remember, I did enjoy the new STAR TREK film; I just didn’t love it to death. There were certain aspects that seemed to pull it back into the realm of that television feel I’ve never liked from the films. The impetus behind the baddie’s desire for revenge and the new timeline that develops because of his embittered actions smack of been-there-done-that, and it feels like the type of plot structure we’d see on the itty-bitty screen. Besides, it’s pretty hard to beat Khan in that realm.

There’s the obligatory mind-meld scene in which young Kirk (Chris Pine) is told why angry Nero (Eric Bana) is mad at well-meaning Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy/Zachary Quinto) and wants to destroy Vulcan. It’s supposed to be important for Kirk to go through the mind meld to better understand what has transpired, but then we’re subjected to a flat and redundant voiceover from future Spock (come on, doesn’t that stick in your craw even a little?) explaining everything to Kirk — and us. Crikey, if that’s all there was to it, they could have sat down by the fire while Spock simply wove his tale verbally. The meld came off as superfluous, and again, the whole explanation felt like TV.

And what about that mining drill in Nero’s ship? What was that all about? They lower this thing down from on high via what looks like some sort of mangled bicycle chain just so they can shoot a ‘drilling’ beam into the body of the planet. Uh, in the STAR TREK universe, why can’t they just shoot a beam from the ship itself to achieve their end? Heck, they’ve done it plenty of times before for other purposes. Oh wait, but then we wouldn’t have that cool skydive & fight scene.

Here’s another question about the whole drilling thing. Why do they have to drill into the center of the planet to set off the red matter and generate a black hole? It seems to me that if they just shot it into the surface of the planet and let it explode the hole would generate just the same and consume any surrounding matter, so Spock’s planet would be toast anyway. Oh wait, but again we wouldn’t have that cool skydive-and-fight scene. Jeez though, didn’t that come off a little gimmicky?

What about the monster chase? Seriously, if you were really hungry and somebody set a nice plump chicken to the left of you and a scrawny rat to your right, and then said, “Take your pick.” Would you really throw the chicken aside and go for the rat? Then later, of course, all it takes to scare the giant beast off is a measly puny torch being waved in front of it. Yeah, the chase was kind of fun, but the motivation and resolution? Homey, don’t buy that.

Something that really grated on my nerves was watching certain bit actors come off as though they were just playing dress-up for a Star Trek convention. That screamed geekboy TV show. Frankly, so did the red academy uniforms; scenes with cadets dressed up in those things felt un-cinematic and yanked me completely out of my suspension of disbelief.

Now I know STAR TREK’s visual effects have been getting solid word of mouth; though some of them did look quite nice—especially on good ol’ planet Earth—I gotta say some others simply looked like pumped up versions of what we’ve been seeing on TV for the last few years (did Titan honestly look real?). It was easy to feel the CGI. Some of the sound effects lacked a true big-screen punch too, especially gun battles — I’m sick and tired of pew-pew futuristic weaponry visuals & sounds. When is somebody going to sincerely get innovative in that area again?

Speaking of weapons fire, if Nero’s ship was getting consumed by a black hole, why did Kirk have to order for all weapons to fire at it? I’m just askin’, but it seemed to me that it was for little purpose other than to show us some more visuals. In the time they sat around doing that and watching things, they could have skedaddled and Scotty (Simon Pegg) wouldn’t have had to save their butts. Oh, and Eric Bana? He struck me as a very forgettable member of STAR TREK’s  ’pained’ villain roster – less a character than a device for the plot to hang its hat on.

Here’s another pet peeve most of you will wanna slap me for: I hate the words “space dock!” Every time I hear ‘em it’s like Quint from JAWS scraping his fingernails across that chalkboard. It sounds so 1950’s or Saturday morning TV (anybody remember SPACE ACADEMY or JASON OF STAR COMMAND?). The only classy and time-honored way to refer to a docking status is “dry dock!” Grrrrr!

Yes, I know how I sound grousing about stuff like this. Yet, it’s little weaknesses like these — to my way of thinking — that make me wonder if the film can play world-wide. I was really hoping this movie would kill off that American-TV-centric feel that only STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (think of it what you may) was able to avoid. In many ways this TREK did that, but in other, important ways it didn’t and me thinks that can hurt its overall world market potential.

I know after that big list of peeves it’s gotta sound like I have it out for poor STAR TREK. However, after having said all that, I can still tell you it was a very fun, zippy ride that is much livelier and more colorful than all of the past films and most of the TV incarnations. They went in a direction I’ve long felt they should go – the early days of the original crew. I dug Scott Chambliss’ production design, and the young cast is extremely likeable in their roles. Everyone got their moment to shine too. Chris Pine made for a witty, rousing young Kirk (though I did think he seemed just a little too eager to blow everyone off and become boss) and I very much enjoyed everyone else as well, save for the bloke who played Bones (Karl Urban). He looked great, but came off as playing (and over playing) his character instead of being his character.

One of my favorite performances came from Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike. That man’s got style and presence. I’ve always really liked him and look forward to him one day receiving an Oscar nomination (he’s already been nominated for several other awards). Heck, he practically deserves it in this film. He delivers his lines with an expertise and commanding control that should elicit more attention and mention. Many of those lines might come off like geekboy talk were it not for his smooth, reasoned delivery. He also managed to pull off a big-screen feel in an outfit or two that wouldn’t have looked thus on someone else.

Lastly, I hold Michael Giacchino higher than most in terms of the newer film composers, so I was hoping to be wowed a bit more by his music for the new STAR TREK film. Though it’s a pleasant and workable enough offering, it lacks that certain zing. Still, he’s got two other big summer movies coming out this year (UP, LAND OF THE LOST), so I know he’s been a busy boy and probably had to work quickly on this one. And we’ll see, sometimes it takes a little while for a work to grow on ya.

Look, folks, all I’m trying to tell you is that STAR TREK, though a mighty good ride, ain’t perfect and wasn’t quite able to shed some of the small screen feel and sensibilities that have virtually always plagued the other big screen efforts. Nonetheless, it was brisk, clever, funny, sexy, nostalgic, contemporary, forward-thinking, optimistic, and even moving at times. It was certainly made with love and respect. So before you diehard fans come looking for my head, remember, I give it all that. That’s quite a lot.

STAR TREK (Bad Robot/Paramount Pictures, 2009; 126 min.) Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Based on the television series by Gene Roddenberry. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and David Witz. Executive produced by Bryan Burk, Jeffery Chernov, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. Cinematography by Daniel Mindel. Production Design by Scott Chambliss. Costumes by Michael Kaplan. Special Effects Supervision by Roger Guyett, Matt McDonald, Thomas Nittmann, Kelly Port, Daniel P. Rosen, Stefano Trivelli, and Edson Williams. Music by Michael Giacchino. Edited By Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey. Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, and Jennifer Morrison. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content.

About the Author

John T. Stanhope

Born in the small northern California town of Oroville and raised on a farm, John grew up loving film and film music -- fantasy & science fiction have always been favorites, with the original Star Trek series and original Star Wars films being huge influences. He wound up going to film school at San Francisco State University, then transferred to and graduated from California State University, Northridge with a degree in film production. After graduation he worked in various aspects of the film industry for several years (his last stint was as Assistant Visual Effects Editor on the 1999 film version of MY FAVORITE MARTIAN) before moving to Colorado Springs, CO. He and his wife currently own a Coffee & Tea house called Pikes Perk (named after Colorado's famous Pikes Peak mountain) and John contributes film-related articles to the Colorado chapter of YourHub.com, the Colorado Springs newspaper insert for YourHub, Cinefantastiqueonline.com and Geek Monthly magazine. He also now posts tiny reviews of films (and other things that may strike his fancy) at Twitter.com/PocketReviews.

5 Responses to “ Star Trek: One Trekkie’s Contrarian Thoughts – Film Review ”

  1. What? What!? Oh, wait — maybe you’re right. I guess I might have to watch it yet again.

  2. My thoughts are even more contrarian than Mr. Stanhope’s. In addition to the flaws mentioned, a major problem with this well-produced STAR TREK film is that it simply isn’t about anything. Unlike previous TREK motion pictures, there is no real theme being explored. Instead of confronting science or philosophy, the new STAR TREK remains a simple-minded action film that does some disservice to these beloved characters from the past.

    Additionally, it sets up a time paradox in which due to Nero’s changes in the timeline, the previous version of Spock (as played by Leonard Nimoy) would no longer exist–major events from his past could not have occurred, including Kirk meeting both his parents for the first time, Spock returning to Vulcan to devote himself to Vulcan discipline, Spock’s katra being brought to Vulcan to merge with the new body created by the Genesis Effect–you get the idea.

    Additionally, where the series Kirk described himself at Starfleet as a grind and was described by someone else as a stack of books with legs, this new film’s Kirk is a juvenile delinquent, a constant rule-breaker and risk-taker, who gets unrealistically promoted to first officer without even becoming an ensign.

  3. Thank you very much for your thoughts, Dennis. And I wouldn’t want to disagree much with them. However, some might have fun debating and theorizing about alternate timelines and realities. Some might also say that the Kirk in Abram’s film is that way because he didn’t have a strong father figure in the ‘new’ reality.

    Believe me, one could critique the film to death should one wish it. And I see that you were more interested in getting into mild scientific & philosophical discrepancies than I was. However, these are areas in which the film was not particularly interested, therefore that’s not what it was (as you pointed out yourself).

    I tried to stay in line with the spirit of the film, thus light-heartedly poke little holes in what was there, not necessarily what was not. It simply seemed most interested in being a loving and loved roller coaster ride.

  4. I thought it was an exciting film, but as Star Trek fan since 1966 at age 11, I could really pick this thing to death.

    The movie has the structure of a TV pilot. All the characters are introduced and then shoved together in a weakly plotted story.

    The one huge implausibility to me was Spock allowing his home planet to be destroyed without trying to figure out a way to go back in time to stop it.

    Also, when did the planet Delta Vega get moved within visual distance of Vulcan. This was the planet with the dilithium cracking station where Kirk attempted to strand the god-like Gary Mitchell in the second Star Trek pilot.

    I really disliked the bridge which looks little Playskoolish to me.

    The redressed industrial complex also doesn’t pass muster as a proper engineering set.

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. I do agree with Dennis, the film lacks a theme.

    I guess we’ll have to wait and see what they come up with for a sequel.

  5. (Spoiler alert: DO NOT READ if you haven’t seen the movie)

    First of all: I did really enjoy the “ride” of the film. I’m a fan of J.J.Abrams’ work, and an avid fan of “Lost”.

    I recently read John T. Stanhope’s review: “One Trekkie’s Contrarian Thoughts”, and though I don’t disagree with what he said, I feel he failed to comment on what I feel was the most significant item: the destruction of the planet Vulcan. Some others did comment on this, as well as some of the other points I will comment on below.

    Although it was quite a surprise and a stunningly dramatic event, in retrospect, Vulcan’s destruction seemed to be in the plot merely for the shock value, while missing the potential for being a pivotal event (much like Spock’s death, which was tacked onto the end of “The Wrath of Khan”). I’d grudgingly climb on board if I felt it propelled a truly integrated and engaging plot. As with Spock’s death, this twist lacked the repercussions in the story that such an event deserves. This is not even to mention the devastation this causes to the original time-line well-established by not one, not two, but six separate T.V. series (don’t forget the 70’s Filmation animated version), and ten prior films.

    The prior care-takers of Gene Roddenberry’s legacy have gone to extreme pains to integrate the entirety of Star Trek lore (e.g.: Commander Decker in the original ‘ST: The Motion Picture’ -who was the son of Commodore Decker from “The Doomsday Weapon, “Colonel” Worf in “The Undiscovered Country, Zefram Cochrane in ‘First Contact’ and the DS9 crew inserted into the classic episode “The Trouble with Tribbles just to mention a few). After all these pains by multiple creative people in front of and behind the cameras, the destruction of Vulcan lacked the significance which would justify such radical disregard for what preceded.

    I fear that the old writers’ magic-wand: “Time Travel” may eventually be used to re-direct this choice. As evidence, time-travel was introduced into Abrams’ series “Lost”, and as viewers of that show will note, many of the questions that have been nagging us from the beginning are being answered by this all-too-convenient device.

    To bring up more minor points in the same vein: the classic series had established that Kirk had served on more than one vessel before being assigned the captaincy of the Enterprise. This has a lot more veracity than simply being appointed captain in the field. In the series, Kirk had apparently earned his place through performance and experience (and was STILL the youngest captain in the fleet), not simply jumped over to the center chair because Capt. Pike “saw something he liked in him” (this in a kid who BARELY wanted to join Starfleet in the first place).

    Finally: Spock’s affair with Uhuru, though an interesting twist, seems completely out of left-field, and rather unlikely for a man that was raised from birth to suppress his emotions (not to mention the fact that Vulcans were only supposed to experience sexual desire every seven years). In Abrams’ version we’re shown the child Spock reacting more like a human would to his school-mates’ taunts. It seems more likely that Spock would have tried even harder to fit in, by becoming the quintessential, non-emotional Vulcan.

    These may seem to be small points, but taken in sum, I believe it calls into question whether what Abrams put on the screen really was Star Trek, or some tale of his own that borrowed heavily from many, many others’ hard work over the past four decades. If you want to go your own way and tell an engaging tale, that’s fine. But when you market a major blockbuster COUNTING on the cache of a cultural icon like Star Trek, I think you owe a little more consideration to all of those fans you’re banking on will buy tickets.

    Where will it go from here? I submit that without some very VERY clever writing (perhaps bordering on the convoluted), what proceeds will resemble increasingly little of what we go to see when we decide to attend a Star Trek movie.

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