Star Trek *** (out of ****)

Director: J. J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl, Zoe Saldana, Simon Peggm, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison
Rating: PG-13 (sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content)
Running Time: 126 min
Release Date: 5/7/09

As a longtime fan of the original Star Trek television series (but not so much the spin off series), J. J. Abrams Star Trek film was highly anticipated. Frankly, I would have liked it much more if I had not been a fan of the orginal. It has all you would expect in a contemporary science fiction film. It has great special effects, lots of action, and a solid cast. Zachary Quito’s Spock is excellent. However, I don’t like what they’ve done with the story line.

We meet James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) the son of a Star Fleet hero who gives his life to save the rest of the crew in a battle with a Romulan mining ship from the future. James drives someone’s classic car off a cliff and grows up to be a brawler in bars who seems to be doing nothing with his life. Then on day he tries to pick up an attractive young Star Fleet Academy cadet named Uhura (Zoe Saldana) only to get into a really bruising brawl with come Academy tuffs that no doubt are at the bottom of the class and destined to become security guards. So surprisingly Captain Pike shows up and gives the bloodied Kirk a recruiting pitch for Star Fleet. The next day Kirk motorcycles over to the shuttle to heads off to the Academy. No tests, no physical, no appointment by a politician. Cool!

The basic plot has to do with a supernova in the future, Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy), and the Romulan mining ship from the future whose captain is named Nero (Eric Bana). Spock Prime, i.e. the Spock from the original series was attempting to capture a supernova with a black hole that is generated by a drop of “red matter”. Huh? This red matter makes no sense. Anyway, the black hole doesn’t form in time to save the Romulan home world. This sets Nero off on a vendetta against the Federation and Vulcan in particular. By falling through the black hole both the Nero and Spock Prime arrive in the past. The actions of Nero change history setting up an alternate timeline which will allow J.J Abrams to make a series of movies.

One problem with this is that it places most of the main Star Trek characters in a narrower age range than was the case in the TV series. One doesn’t think of Uhara as being as old as Kirk and the age difference between Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) was 12 years rather than just a few. The destruction wrought by Nero leads to an emergency deployment of the brand new Enterprise on a mission to save Vulcan with crew of cadets. This is an amazing concept that Star Fleet has more ships than trained personnel to man them! By the end of the show Kirk has become captain of the Enterprise.

We are treated with absurd scenes of Nero’s mining ship boring a hole in the target planets. The Romulan ship lowers a giant “space drill” that fires an energy or particle beam. Only after the hole is drilled can the small black hole be dropped to consume the planet. I guess the writers don’t realize that small black holes would fall through the surface of a planet easier than a hot knife though butter. But, I don’t need to continue to quibble about the poor science in this film.

I would suspect that most viewers won’t mind any of this. So leaving out the destruction of what is known as the “cannon” not mention the planet Vulcan and adding in the absurd science, we are left a rather “good” contemporary sci-fi action film. The whole film has a Star Trek done with a Star Wars attitude. Sure, I enjoyed it. It’s just they could have done something more with it. Why did they need to bring in the whole crew in this one and in ways that totally changes their age relationships? Why not develop the character of the young Kirk as Star Fleet cadet and junior officer? Or, if that isn’t good enough we could have a more realist first mission of the Enterprise with a new captain, etc.

Star Trek has given the franchise a new start given that a movie version of Enterprise doesn’t seem marketable. I can remember after the success of the Star Wars movie in the last 1970s predicting a “golden age” for science fiction films. Wow, was I wrong about that! The plots of today’s science fiction films are closer to comic book plots that good science fiction novels. Frankly, I’d like to leave the Star Trek universe behind and move on to others. Why not movie versions of novels like Ring World, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, or Childhood’s End? With CGI these are all feasible but instead we await Transformers with foreboding.

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