Director JJ Abrams wasn’t really a fan of Star Trek before he directed this film. Either were actors Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto or John Cho. And perhaps that’s what makes it one of the most breathtaking moving and enjoyable science fiction films of recent memory – while the film is true to the core elements of the franchise, it’s reinvigorated with an incredible freshness that comes from the actors moulding the characters in their own way.
Warning – there are spoilers ahead. I’ve tried to keep them at a minimum, but read at your own risk.I have to admit – I have never been a Star Trek fan. I, (like the lead actors) came from a generation that was raised on a strict diet of Wookies, Jawas and Ewoks, with Lightsabers and a mysterious “Force” controlling the universe. Of course, that doesn’t mean I was completely oblivious to the Star Trek universe – as a geek (of varying aptitudes), I have seen episodes of each Star Trek series, although never enough to get me hooked. But after last night’s world premiere at the Sydney Opera House, I’m a changed man. If JJ Abrams mission was to bring new fans into the Star Trek family, he has succeeded.
From the opening sequence, where Jim Kirk is born in a rainstorm of photon torpedoes, danger and tragedy, the tone of the film is set – not only as a fast-paced, edge of the seat action ride, but as an emotional journey where you discover the true nature of the characters you have known for so long (whether you’re a Trek fan or not). And as mind blowing as the special effects are in the opening sequence (and throughout the film on the whole) what really drives this movie is the fantastic script and compelling performances from a relatively unknown cast.
When you boil it down, this Star Trek film is as much about the relationship between Kirk and Spock as it is an origin story. Perhaps the biggest surprise (and stroke of genius) is that even though it’s an origin story for the crew members of the USS Enterprise, it’s not the origin story of the original Star Trek crew. It’s set in alternate history, brought about by the inadvertant effects of time travel of the film’s villain, Nero (Eric Bana) and the original Spock (reprised by Leonard Nimoy). That may sound complicated here, but in the film it makes perfect sense.
And because of this twist, the actors are able to really make their respective characters their own. Quinto as Spock offers a deep, conflicted performance, with his Vulcan side continually battling his human side as he tries to discover his own identity. Pine as Kirk is brash, rebellious and arrogant, yet with the skills and confidence to take command of any situation. Simon Pegg as Scotty is fantastic – as funny as you’d expect, but without detracting from the overall feeling of the film. In fact every member of the cast recreates their character in a way that is both moving, entertaining and believable. One particular scene between Spock and Uhura stand in an elevator is so emotionally gripping that you feel the love and conflict between the two (without giving away too much, it’s just after a pivotal moment in the plot) and is probably the best example that this isn’t just another action packed Sci-Fi romp.
But for me the most immersive and impressive element of the film was the soundtrack. The sound effects in particular were unbelievable – and I mean that in the sense that they were so believable you’d be forgiven for crapping yourself every time a phaser was fired. Every single sound effect was used to perfection – there’s no sound for the sake of sound in this film. Attention to detail – like in the opening sequence when a crew member got sucked into the void of space and the soundtrack faded to silence – truly make this an experience to remember. If you haven’t got a home theatre system at home by the time it’s released on Blu-ray, you’ll need to hit the shops and buy one, it’s that important.
For the hardcore Trekkies who think that this all sounds a little bit to sacrilegious for their liking, it’s also worth pointing out that there are plenty of heritage Star Trek references in the film. The Vulcan neck pinch, a red-shirt dying on a mission to a planet’s surface, Scotty shouting out about more power, Sulu’s fencing, the auto sliding doors… plus plenty more that I’m probably not familiar with.
The end result of the film though, is something that everyone can enjoy – don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a geek film for Star Trek nerds (although they’ll enjoy it too). It’s just a great film, from start to finish. And by returning to the origin story, and offering us an alternate Star Trek universe in which to play with, there’s the potential for this film to inspire a whole new playing field for spinoffs, sequels and TV series to capture the imaginations of a whole new generation of fans, like the Original Star Trek did decades ago. There’s no question that with this film’s healthy reinvention of the franchise, Star Trek will continue to live long and prosper for many years to come.