Paramount // 2009 // 126 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // November 17th, 2009
It was one hell of a Summer for Paramount Pictures. All three of their tent pole pictures -- Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra -- all broke the $300 Million mark in box office ticket sales, with Transformers exceeding $800 Million. While two of these pictures where skewered by the critics, only Trek emerged victorious in the hearts and minds of the press and fans alike -- an amazing feat for a franchise that had been appreciatively euthanized only five years earlier. The Rick Berman era was no more. The studio was handing the keys to the kingdom over to a new generation, one fronted by their most promising creative force -- writer, director, and producer JJ Abrams (Cloverfield, Mission: Impossible: III). JJ's posed only one qualifier to his team before accepting this Starfleet assignment: "Can we make it cool?" The answer: an unequivocal "Yes!"
The tumultuous birth of James T. Kirk. The tumultuous youth of Spock. An impressive rise through the ranks of the Vulcan education system. A disheartening lack of direction and accountability in the cornfields of Iowa. Two men on a collision course of fate -- clashing personalities, fighting for the attention of the same girl, a battle of wills -- which forged a friendship that ultimately transcended death itself. Over the years, we come to learn certain aspects of their early years together. Now we get to discover the whole story...well, at least one version of it.
The Starfleet Academy idea had been bandied about the studio and fan circles for years and years. But the original cast had retired -- since suffering the loss of two key colleagues (DeForest Kelley, James Doohan) -- the Next Generation had exhausted their box office potential (Star Trek: Nemesis didn't even make enough to cover its budget), and the subsequent spin-off series weren't enough of a draw to warrant a film treatment. The rumored idea came down to two options: introduce an entirely new cast of characters, or recast the originals and explore their origins. Neither came to pass and the studio put the franchise into cryogenic sleep...but cash cows are never fully out of sight or out of mind.
As a fan of the Bad Robot team's work, I knew JJ and company would deliver a great looking picture. However, as a fan of the original series and the films, my greatest concern was the chemistry of the ensemble. There was such an affinity audiences had for those actors breathing life into those characters, that's something you can't manufacture. And yet this script, in the hands of JJ and his team, with these actors, creates an entirely new and vibrant Trek family, rebalancing the ensemble to one in which everyone plays a critical role, something we didn't see until the very end of the original film series.
Since the DVD Verdict team is hard at work on a Supreme Court ruling for the Star Trek (Blu-ray), I'll defer an in-depth analysis of the picture in favor of focusing on the contents of this 2-Disc Special Edition DVD.
Just a side note: If you're thinking about just buying the Single Disc edition, it includes the film, the commentary, A New Vision featurette, and the Gag Reel.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, I have to admit I was spoiled by seeing the film three times in the theatre, the first being IMAX and the other two in digital projection. Now, the movie was shot on film using classic anamorphic lenses, and JJ's team did everything they possibly could in-camera, giving it an old school look. So, when you see the DVD, the image is not the fault the authoring process, but displays as intended...which, in all honesty, will be a step or two down from what you'll see on the Blu-ray. But that's life in a high-def world. The Dolby 5.1 audio field is suitably robust and sure to give all over your speakers a healthy workout. In fact, I had things a bit too aggressively set and had to quickly tone it down to avoid the wrath of my neighbors. There are French and Spanish language tracks (always a kick to hear the alternate voice casts), as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
On to the bonus material...
Commentary by JJ Abrams, his partner-in-crime Bryan Burk, producer Damon
Lindelof, and writers Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman
An engaging discussion between friends and colleagues quickly showcases the care and attention that went into this project, in the face of overwhelming expectations. The level of detail -- lost amidst the action and adventure or sacrificed to the cutting room floor -- is gone over with a fine tooth comb, without ever diminishing the magic displayed on screen. It's like watching a whole new movie. The only hitch is that it takes a few minutes to distinguish the voices, as JJ, Damon, and Alex share a similar high energy, voice treble. There is so much info these guys want to impart to us, there's almost not enough time to get it all in.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by JJ, Bryan, Alex, and Damon
As Damon says, for as great as certain scenes may have read on the page, each of these moments only served to slow down the pace of the film, offering up exposition that unnecessarily muddied the story they were trying to tell. To be honest, I thought there would be more, but the Klingon pieces alone are worth the price of admission.
* Spock Birth
* Klingons Take Over Narada
* Young Kirk, Johnny, and Uncle Frank
* Amanda and Sarek Argue After Spock Fights
* Prison Interrogation and Breakout
* Sarek gets Amanda
* Dorm Room and Kobayashi Maru (Original Version)
* Kirk Apologizes to the Green Girl
* Sarek sees Spock
A New Vision (20 min)
JJ, Bryan, Bob, Alex, dp Dan Mindel, first ad Tommy Gormley, production designer Scott Chambliss, vfx supervisor Roger Guyett, and more talk about taking the sensibilities of the original series, grounding them in a tangible reality, and injecting it all with a bit of that Star Wars rock 'n roll vibe. What was originally intended to be 80% stage and 20% location wound up being 60/40, providing a classic, sweeping, anamorphic widescreen experience in the style of a John Ford western, bringing it all back to Gene Roddenberry's original Wagon Train to the stars concept. This is old school Hollywood magic for a generation who have all but forgotten it.
To Boldly Go (17 min)
Leonard Nimoy reflects back on the original series, as the Bad Robot gang embarks on creating a bold new chapter in the franchise's history. With a group of guys running the spectrum of hard core Trekkers (Bob Orci) to no knowledge of the series whatsoever (Bryan Burk), it provided the perfect mix of perspectives for crafting a film that would speak to die-hard fans and newbies alike. But breaking a story that lived and died on the involvement of Leonard Nimoy as Spock was a huge gamble. Thankfully, it all paid off in the end.
Casting (29 min)
Shakespeare was able to create characters and stories which have been cast hundreds of thousands of times over the centuries, breathing new life and new energy into iconic roles. So how do you achieve that same magic with something like Trek which is now firmly ingrained into our modern cultural zeitgeist based solely on the performance of one ensemble cast? Zachary Quinto was the lynchpin around which all other casting decisions were made, this production team worked miracles. Chris Pine exhibits all the key elements of William Shatner's performance repackaged in a form uniquely suited to this new vision of series. Karl Urban channels the brilliance of DeForest Kelley's irrascible southern doc and lends it a nuanced gravitas (not to mention an unmistakable chemistry with Chris Pine) that can't help but make you smile. Zoe Saldana grabs the nobility and internal fire of Nichelle Nichols' Uhura and cuts loose in a way the original character was never allowed. John Cho offers a very different take on George Takei's Sulu, one I'm not completely sold on, but it works. Anton Yelchin is an inspired choice to supplant Walter Koenig's Chekov with a naive but compelling energy and intelligence for a role that was originally designed as comic relief. Simon Pegg, oh Simon Pegg...no one could out-Doohan Jimmy Doohan but him. This performance is sheer genius. And Bruce Greenwood provides the backbone for Starfleet in this universe, with a presence and style upon which the younger cast all play off beautifully.
Aliens (17 min)
Budget limitations necessitated the practical creation of three levels of alien species -- A's (foreground), B's (midground), C's (background). The trick was casting actors who had a very specific body type to match the character. This, of course, was in addition to the countless number of Vulcans and Romulans. The subtle variations in the design of Spock Prime and Spock's ears was a monumental task, as were the shape of their eyebrows. After a large amount concept design and testing, budget and time constraints necessitated a more primal, simplistic approach to the Romulans. Even then, each set of Romulan eyebrows were hand crafted at a work pace of four hours per set per day. Yeesh.
Score (7 min)
JJ's personal composer, the great Michael Giacchino, steps into the huge shoes of Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and others. The goal was to pay homage to the original, while giving this adventure an entirely new feel of confronting and overcoming tremendous odds in order to survive, rather than play the grandeur of most modern space epics.
Gag Reel (7 min)
One of the most entertaining and well cut gag reels I've seen in a long time. Well done!
I did not have time to try out the Star Trek: D-A-C game for PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation which enables you to pilot one of several Federation and alien ships during the massive space battle shown in the film.
How much longer are we going to keep this up? Does anyone really use these things?
Caveat Emptor: There is more content created exclusively for the Blu-ray release than is available here, and I know that will raise the ire of those not HD equipped. However, the cost of Blu-ray players are reported to drop considerably for the holiday season, so if you have even the slightest inkling about getting one for your home, Star Trek should probably the first title you purchase.
There's very little to say other than Star Trek exceeded all expectations. Not only were they faithful to everything in the franchise that came before it, but JJ and company have created an entirely new universe in which to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and craft compelling, big budget summer films accessible to audiences of all ages. You may not completely agree with how they got to this point, but you have to admit it's a thrill to have Starfleet back on active duty.
"So, the Enterprise has had its maiden voyage, has it? She is one well-endowed lady." Not Guilty!
Review content copyright © 2009 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Digital Copy
* Cinema Verdict Review