“Space…the final frontier. These are the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before!”
Every Star Trek fan has had that phrase beaten into their brain about as many times as Uncle Ben’s mantra about great power and great responsibility. Who knew that the tagline was appropriate to filmmaking? When J.J. Abrams signed on to direct the reboot/remake/reimagining/rehash (insert your own word here) of Star Trek, he quickly made it known that he was not really that into the franchise. He considered himself a Star Wars man, and a chill went through the spine of every Trek fan on the planet. I approached the 2009 effort with dread.
Harry Truman had a sign at his White House desk that read, “The buck stops here”. I can well imagine Abrams with one that repeats the whole needs-of-the-many idea. It starts with the realization that Star Trek fans are in the minority, for the most part, when you count all movie audiences. It’s a strong following, to be sure, but hardly mainstream. For decades that worked as a model for releasing the films. The budgets were kept modest, and the studio could always count on the box office coming out a little ahead at the end of the day. They didn’t need to be huge, but they were never going to lose money that way. Most Trek fans always believed that if the masses would just give it a chance, they’d get it and join the parade. Still, the masses have been relatively indifferent to Star Trek. Everyone knows the iconic elements; they just didn’t really go out and spend their money to see the films. Maybe they’re afraid of the rabid convention crowds in their Starfleet uniforms or alien body parts. Perhaps it just seems too “geeky”. Whatever the reasons, they stayed away. Deep inside we still believed we could win them over. That’s where Abrams comes in.
There was another roadblock standing in Abrams’ way. Star Trek has become burdened under its own weight. We’re talking 10 movies, 28 seasons of television, over 500 novels and comic books, and tons of fan fiction and private productions. Add to that the fact that Trek fans take their continuity very seriously, and Houston, we really have a problem. It was becoming impossible to tell a story to fit all of that mythology and remain faithful enough to avoid the wrath of the fans. So Abrams did the only logical thing he could do. He literally blew up all of that Star Trek canon with a clever story that basically re-set the Trek universe with a fresh star field of possibilities. He then sacrificed the needs of the few (fanboys) to serve the needs of the many (masses) and took his movie where no Star Trek has gone before: summer blockbuster status!
This film tells the story of how the original crew met. It begins with a time incursion by the bad guy, Romulan Nero (Bana). He has been chasing Spock (Nimoy) across time because he blames him for the destruction of his home planet. This all coincides with the birth of one James T. Kirk, and from here on out time has been sent into an alternate line of events. Of course, the crew must unite and take out the bad guy and save Earth from his vengeance.
“Don’t pander to me, kid. One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait’ll you’re sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you’re still so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.”
The real story here is the choice of new actors to play the familiar roles. First there are the ones that are spot-on. Zachary Quinto looks almost like young Nimoy’s twin brother. Quinto also nails the expressions while adding his own little touch. He had the hardest job of all. Not only is Spock one of the more iconic characters of the franchise, but he was the only actor in the movie who had to face the original cast member on screen. We didn’t have to go far to make the comparisons. With Nimoy now gone, I think the character is in safe hands with Quinto.
Another homerun is Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy. I was worried back in the days of this film’s production until they released a clip that showed Bones and Kirk first meeting. Urban blew me away, and he delivers the most perfect version of a classic Trek character. I know that Deforest Kelley is smiling up there somewhere. If asked about Urban’s performance, he’d likely respond: “I’m an actor, damn it, not a critic”.
Chris Pine certainly has the command quality that Shatner gave us but without the odd cadence and overacting. It was likely smart to avoid the Shatner imitation. John Cho as Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Chekov do fair if not perfect renditions, as did Zoe Saldana as Uhura. What’s nice here is that these actors have the kind of range that allow them to do other jobs between Trek films. There’s little danger of typecasting here. It’s sad that as I finish this review we’ve lost Anton Yelchin. We won’t see more of that range of talent in the future. It’s a loss to Star Trek, to be sure. It’s a loss to the many movie fans that will be denied his work in the future.
The biggest disappointment is Simon Pegg as Scotty. This is the least like the original character and often tarnishes my favorite starship engineer. I like Pegg. He’s a clever and funny man, but he’s spoofing here. No surprise; it’s what he does best. Unfortunately, he’s the actor given more and more power over the future of the franchise. His script for Star Trek: Beyond looks too much like a cyber-punk music video and less like the beloved franchise that has now lasted 50 years.
The film is certainly a good one and managed to bring Trek back to mainstream audiences. It’s certainly deserving of the 4K treatment.
Star Trek is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The Ultra high-definition image is arrived at by an HEVC codec. JJ went a bit too far with the camera flares in this one. The amazing thing is the 4K color brilliance actually enhances the flares more than the rest of the picture. The uniforms continue to be the nice bright reproductions of color that truly mark the HDR image presentation. Black levels are rock-solid along with nice contrast. Again it’s white ships against a nice black star field. This transfer does not handle the whiteout conditions of the planet where Kirk meets Nimoy’s Spock. There’s too much digital noise here, and the image is very harsh. This is absolutely the next place to start showing improvement at home.
The Dolby Atmos defaults to a 7.1 track that is tamer than I expected. There’s not a lot of aggressive surrounds here. All we’re really talking about is accents and effects. Fortunately, the sub response is fantastic and fills the room with sweeping starships. Dialog cuts perfectly, and the score is as dynamic as in the theaters.
The only extras are found on the Blu-ray copy which is the same as the original Blu-ray release.
Star Trek has found the place we fans always believed it could. This is a crowd pleaser throughout, and you do not have to be a Star Trek person to get it. If you are, all the better, of course. The end credits are worth sitting through. There is no extra footage there, but the Alexander Courage theme is. The Enterprise is back and you know what? “I like this ship! You know, it’s exciting!”