Zachary Quinto (Spock) and Chris Pine (Kirk)
As one of the oldest entertainment franchises in history, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, with its 1966 beginnings, has become part of our cultural lexicon. Among many men over the age of 35 Star Trek has mythical connotations associated with their childhood and the early days of South African television.
For a younger generation, however, the Star Trek brand has less meaning; the endless series of television shows and films nowadays looking tired and cheesy. There’s been nothing sexy about Star Trek for a very long time.
Revitalising – or “rebooting” – the franchise is no easy assignment. Not only must the multitude of nitpicking fans (many obsessed with Star Trek continuity) be satisfied, but it should also appeal to a younger mainstream audience. That was the task given to director J.J. Abrams – the man behind shows such as Lost and Alias and films like Cloverfield. Despite the monumental scope of the undertaking, I’m happy to report that he’s been successful. And quite brilliantly so. To paraphrase the famous line: “It’s Star Trek, Jim, but not as we know it.”
Abrams literally restarts the franchise by going back to its roots; the relationship between the original Enterprise crew, and specifically Kirk and Spock. Thanks to a very crafty twist of the storyline, Abrams is able to take us on a whole new set of adventures without upsetting the fans who don’t appreciate tinkering with the ‘canon’ of the previous films and series. The result is a fresh and dynamic film, with new young actors – most quite easy on the eye – and a 21st century take on pop science fiction.
We begin with an action-packed sequence in which James T Kirk is born, which leads up to the meeting of the iconic Enterprise crew at Starfleet Academy. The inexperienced recruits are suddenly thrown into the thick of things when the galaxy is threatened by a mysterious spaceship that has the capacity to destroy planets. Outgunned, the Enterprise’s crew must outsmart their adversary (Eric Bana) – with the help of a friendly familiar face. The plot is nothing new, but the way it’s constructed and presented on screen makes all the difference.
A big Hollywood budget (around $150 million) means that the film is full of action sequences, spectacular special effects, impressive sets and a much broader canvas than previously afforded to the Star Trek franchise. The script is fast-paced and the dialogue sounds like something we might actually say – rather than the usual formalised sci-fi-speak so common in these types of films.
The look of the film must be mentioned: The gorgeous production design updates the aesthetic of the original television series; making it retro yet sleek and modern. The camera is always moving – both on the bridge of the Enterprise and in the bleakness of space. And a plethora of music-video style lens flares gives it all an MTV hipness.
Then there’s the cast; probably the film’s biggest coup. Chris Pine as Kirk is all James Dean; on a self-destructive path, enamoured with fast cars and racy women. He manages to play the reckless rebel with some gravitas and is instantly likable. Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock, gives the pointy-eared character – who is not supposed to have any feelings – some genuine emotional weight. He’s also darn sexy doing it.
The rest of the crew – including Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) acquit themselves admirably. Karl Urban particularly stands out however; he gives a remarkably faithful representation of Dr. McCoy with it becoming an impersonation.
It’s thanks to the cast that film overcomes some slightly-goofy attempts at humour. A sequence in which Scotty takes an unexpected ride through some water pipes jars with its juvenile silliness. A monster attack scene on an ice planet also seems pointless and appears just thrown in for the hell of it. This aside, the film gets much, much more right than it gets wrong.
Blowing away the stuffy artifice of the old Star Trek universe, Star Trek 2009 is the best blockbuster film we’ve seen this year and a breath of fresh air for the sci-fi genre. It’s a smart, classy and fun ride that will roll the money in, make Paramount studios very happy and undoubtedly guarantee a sequel. For a change, that’s something I’m actually looking forward to.