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Star Trek (2009)
Director: J.J. Abrams

review by J.C. Hartley

Re-launch, re-branding, franchise reboot, re-imagining, whatever; once they were called remakes but such are the negative connotations it would always have been necessary to coin a new term. And, creatively speaking, these are not remakes. Re-imaginings, I love the clumsiness of a term which I'm sure nobody uses, are nothing new. The Avengers (1998), the refashioning of the British TV series, was re-imagined with none of the wit of the original, only the chilly pairing of Fiennes and Thurman. Lost In Space (1998) was re-imagined with disturbingly pointy bosoms. Superman Returns had a nauseating messianic subtext. And, I'm sorry, but Casino Royale had some flabby writing, none of the wit of Peter Sellers' section of the 1967 version, and I actually preferred Quantum Of Solace.

With a new generation, a charmingly retro Enterprise, and a host of other TV spin-offs, it was hard to see where a new Star Trek movie could go to reinvigorate a flagging series. The answer turned out to be back, back in time, only with a twist.

Attending at a huge spatial disturbance the USS Kelvin is attacked by a Romulan vessel the Narada. The Romulan Captain Nero (Eric Bana, Hulk) kills the Kelvin's captain who has left his First Officer George Kirk in charge. Kirk successfully evacuates 800 personnel including his wife who is in labour with their child. Remaining on board the Kelvin to fight a rearguard action, Kirk hears the birth of his son who they name James Tiberius after his grandfathers.

James Kirk (Chris Pine) develops into a self-destructive young man. Rescued from a bar brawl by an old friend of his father, Captain Pike, he is urged to join the Star Fleet Academy which he subsequently does. Facing a hearing in front of the entire Academy, accused of cheating in the geeky Kobayashi Maru test, Kirk first clashes with Spock (Zachary Quinto, Heroes) the half-human half-Vulcan programmer of the test. A resolution to the hearing is forestalled by a general mobilisation due to a distress call from the Vulcan home-world. Kirk is grounded but smuggled on board the Enterprise, a new flagship under the command of Captain Pike, by his friend Dr McCoy (Karl Urban, Chronicles Of Riddick). Also assigned to the Enterprise are Spock, and Uhura (Zoe Saldana, to be in James Cameron's Avatar and the adaptation of Andy Diggle's The Losers), a high-achieving communications officer whom Spock has mentored and Kirk fancies. An intervention by Kirk saves the Enterprise from destruction by the Romulans but they witness the destruction of Vulcan by the Narada. Pike is taken prisoner by Nero to obtain security codes to allow him to attack Earth, and, in a confrontation with Spock, Kirk is marooned on an ice planet where he meets two characters who are no strangers to fans of the series.

In an interview in Empire, J.J. Abrams seemed to suggest he was not overly aware of the original series and not out to make a tribute, a suggestion that was either a piece of distraction, or open to misinterpretation, in that this new Star Trek is a remarkable tribute, a translation that is a work of some creativity in its own right. The references are subtle and telling. Captain Pike is of course the same Pike, as originally played by Jeffrey Hunter (Martin in John Ford's The Searchers), who starred in the original Star Trek pilot The Cage, later cannibalised for The Menagerie episode. Volunteering to attack the Romulans, having been trained in hand-to-hand combat, Sulu reveals to Kirk that his area of expertise is in fencing, surely a reference to his exploits in the TV episode The Naked Time. The planet where Kirk is marooned is Delta Vega which featured in Where No Man Has Gone Before. There are also references to The Wrath Of Khan, generally seen as the best early Star Trek movie; the Kobayashi Maru test originates there, and its unpleasant brain-nibbling parasitic cockroach crops up here.

There are some admittedly dodgy bits. As soon as someone suggests a time-travel scenario to explain the Narada's presence everyone immediately accepts that as the correct explanation. Uhura boasts about her 'oral skills'. And the monsters of Delta Vega come across as a bit of CGI flimflam to open out the action.

The cast are excellent, Quinto's Spock has received plaudits but Karl Urban's Dr McCoy is an uncanny impression of DeForrest Kelley from the original series. With all this ability on show it is easy to overlook Chris Pine who discovers likeable depths under Kirk's swagger, without ever needing to get his shirt ripped off. Simon Pegg is an admirable Scotty. The aliens in the Academy are introduced naturally without any of the look-what-we've-done-with-our-makeup-box gawping, apart from one of Kirk's girlfriends whose green flesh-tones go nicely with her underwear (She-Hulk adaptation anyone?).

The film is pretty much non-stop action, which is essential, and a sequel is already planned. The Star Wars: A New Hope style well-done-everybody style ending is a bit corny, as is Spock talking to himself, but that doesn't go on too long. Thing is, like the Chinese meal of popular comedy, 20 minutes after you've seen this movie you're wondering where it went. There is, in retrospect, very little which is original and very little substance. The great Viv Stanshall deplored comedy impressionists, complaining that they only offered 'recognition' and much of the joy of this film comes with that. I am sure a new generation who know nothing about the old Star Trek will love this film, and rightly so, but having seen it and loved it I don't think they'll find much more to say about it. But, be assured, it's great and exciting and a splendid way of spending a couple of hours.

Of course Nero's time-travelling has altered the fabric of time itself, and whatever the crew of the Enterprise, and everyone else, might have been, has also changed. So Spock gets the girl, and who knows where the sequel might boldly go in mangling the grammar of future reviews?
Star Trek - 2009

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