JJ Abrams version of 'Star Trek' must have been the year's most highly anticipated release. We'd heard the production rumours, seen the teaser trailers, then the final trailer and suddenly it was upon us. Since then the bones (sorry Dr McCoy) have been well and truly picked over with the world and his brother having a fiercely defended view of how the new movie was better than, as good as or inferior to the original concept of the TV series and movies that followed. You'll notice that I've avoided using the word 'franchise' here as I think that term should really be reserved for southern fried chicken or burger joints.
I was about 9 or 10 when the original TV series first aired back in the late 1960's (so I'm very old, according to spotty yoofs). I then saw it vanish from our screens for a while then be repeated (done to death is the phrase that comes to mind) on the Beeb in the 1970's. We thought that 'Star Trek' as we knew it was gone for good then there was huge excitement when 'Star Trek- The Motion Picture' was announced with much speculation - almost the likes of which we've seen recently. So several movies and spin-off TV series later, Paramount figured they could squeeze a bit more revenue out of the 'Star Trek' stone.
But how could they possibly do so? The original cast and crew were either too old or had passed away. How would the world react to a bunch of new, younger actors attempting to slip into the shoes of those so responsible for the success of the well loved series? They'd forever be compared to the originals by the die-hard fans.
Hmmm. Ah! The answer! Alternate timelines - that's it! The writers used this device to convince audiences that they were not trying to write-off everything that had gone before, but merely proposing a parallel timeline where things could easily be different - satisfying those with entrenched views while hooking in a new audience who may never have seen the original shows or movies. Very clever indeed - and do you know what? It works!
Now with 'Star Trek (2009)' out on Blu-ray, those of us who missed it at the movies get the opportunity to see it in our own home (cinemas) and are able to make up our own minds as to just how good it is.
The movie opens in the year 2233, as the USS Kelvin investigates a lightning storm in space, which the crew soon realizes is a black hole. A massive vessel, the "Narada", emerges, creating an alternate timeline (aha!).
The Narada quickly out guns the Kelvin and we see First Officer George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) placed in command, while Captain Robau (Faran Tahir) goes aboard the Narada to discuss 'surrender terms' with the Romulan Captain Nero (Eric Bana). The situation goes from bad to worse and Kirk is forced to evacuate the ship of all personnel including his pregnant wife on space shuttles. In an act of ultimate bravery he then rams the ship down the throat of the alien vessel just as his own son, James Tiberius Kirk, is being born. I was amazed at how emotional this opening sequence was. Just a few minutes into the movie and I had a lump in my throat. Somehow, JJ Abrams had succeeded in making me care about the characters in a very short space of time.
Jump forward 10 years and we see the young tearaway Jim Kirk thrashing his stepfather's classic car while being pursued by the Law, and narrowly escaping death as the car drifts sideways over the edge of a cliff.
Around the same time on the planet Vulcan, a young Spock is being tormented by bullies for being half human.
Jump forward again and we see James T. Kirk get into a bar room brawl while attempting to chat up a young Uhura (Zoe Saldana).
Here we're also introduced to Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) who stops the fight and persuades Kirk to join the Starfleet Academy. On his first day Kirk meets a very nervous and grumpy Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) and a lifelong friendship begins.
We're given the chance to see Kirk's legendary Kobayashi Maru test victory - much to the irritation of one Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), who programmed it.
So introductions are well made with our old friends and by now we're feeling reassured as we recognise the character traits and behaviour that we've come to know over the past 40 odd years. We get a chance to like them and we're brought up to speed fairly rapidly so the story can progress. We're in safe hands here.
The main part of the plot is introduced with the Narada setting a trap for the crew of the Enterprise with Captain Pike in charge. We see that Spock & Kirk don't really hit it off, with Kirk eventually being marooned on a frozen planet, where he meets Spock.
Huh? Ah, but this is the Spock (Leonard Nimoy) from the other timeline. A much (much) older looking Spock who was marooned there himself by Nero, who blamed him for the destruction of Romulus. The older, wiser Spock leads Kirk to a Starfleet outpost, being run by one Montgomery Scott, played by Simon Pegg complete with a sometimes dubious accent.
So now that the gang's all here they can get on with defeating Nero - or can they?
Will the new crew of the Enterprise prove too young and inexperienced to deal with a situation that could lead to the destruction of the Earth?
You'll have to watch it to find out.
The movie succeeds in satisfying the long term Trekkers as the performance of Chris Pine as Jim Kirk exhibits the swagger, the arrogance and the humour of the character that we know from the Bill Shatner version. This humour was an all important factor in the success of the original series as it was evident in the bond between Kirk, Dr McCoy and Spock. It was great to see it again as it put all of the high tech action into perspective against human relationships.
Suffice to say that the expensive CGI work looks first class and JJ Abrams direction is fast paced with a significant use of handheld camera techniques as well as lens flares. I find 'shakey cam' a bit distracting as I feel that the action should take place within the picture frame, rather than have the frame move around - but hey, it takes all sorts.
For those who did not grow up with Star Trek, the new movie succeeds on a blockbuster Sci-Fi adventure level that provides a rollercoaster ride for the whole family with plenty of thrills along the way. It also serves to assimilate a new audience into the Star Trek collective.
Without revealing the whole plot and spoiling the movie for those yet to see it, there's enough to hold the attention of an audience comprising a wide age range and taste in movies. For me, it was like meeting up with people I hadn't seen for a long time and there was also a feeling of relief that today's film makers hadn't 'mucked it up' through the desire to be different or to make it darker somehow.
The music score by Michael Giacchino is rousing and the new theme is grand enough to become recognizable in the same way that the original was. It was also very emotive to hear the Alexander Courage theme used over the end titles as it helped encapsulate the story.
All in all, 'Star Trek' (2009) is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining movie and while it will always have its detractors, those of us with imagination will join the new crew as they continue to boldly go where no-one has gone before.
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