Eric, Clark, Daniel, and Dan make one heck of an away team. I wonder which one is the red shirt? Hmm...
Our review of Star Trek (2009), published November 17th, 2009, is also available.
Probably one of my least favorites lines in the movie, the quote above nonetheless perfectly encapsulates the vision and execution of the Star Trek franchise reboot by current golden boy, J.J. Abrams. From the opening scene to the climactic ending, this movie is a wild ride for rabid Trekkies, casual fans, and just about any person who loves witty, brisk, and fun popcorn films. I, Judge Eric Profancik, have the honor of leading DVD Verdict's latest foray into the realm Supreme Court reviews, hereby bestowed on Star Trek. Along with several of my fellow Judges, we shall discuss this risky proposition and how it all came together to successfully rejuvenate a series left for dead. We'll give you multiple perspectives of the film, the Blu-ray disc, and wrap it all in the hard-earned, loving embrace of a Trekkie who was too excited to have any doubts it wouldn't work.
Facts of the Case
Deep on patrol, the USS Kelvin comes across an impossible spatial anomaly best described as a lightning storm in space. Within moments of its discovery, the Kelvin is attacked by a massive ship that appears from the maelstrom. Onboard that ship, the Narada, Captain Nero (Eric Bana, Romulus, My Father) is on a hunt to locate Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy, Fringe) and he wants Captain Robau (Faran Tahir, Iron Man) to tell him where he is. Robau doesn't know, sending Nero into a fit of unrestrained fury, slaughtering the Captain and destroying the Kelvin, but not before 800 crew members and their families are able to escape, including a young woman who gives birth during the evacuation. The newborn baby's name…James Tiberius Kirk.
The Narada's arrival has changed everything.
22 years later, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, Smokin' Aces) is a rebellious young man, intelligent but unfocused. That is, until one fateful day when he picks a fight in a bar overflowing with young Starfleet cadets and is rescued by the arrival of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, I, Robot). Pike knows Kirk's potential and tries to convince him to join Starfleet, for it is there he will hone his talent and honor the memory of his father, who sacrificed himself on the Kelvin. Kirk accepts the challenge.
Kirk shines at the Academy, where his intelligence, ingenuity, impulsive nature, charm, and leadership emerge. There he becomes best friends with Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban, The Chronicles of Riddick), develops a cold but professional relationship with Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana, Avatar), and makes an enemy of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto, Heroes). With graduation not far off, the Narada reappears.
Nero believes he has found the elusive Ambassador Spock and will finally have revenge. Starfleet mobilizes what ships it can, staffing them with green cadets. Aboard the USS Enterprise, Captain Pike finds himself at the forefront of the battle, but it will be up to Kirk, Spock, Uhura, McCoy, Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin, Terminator: Salvation), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho, Flash Forward), and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz) to stop Nero and save Earth.
"A Trekkie's Trek" by Judge Eric Profancik
As an avid Trekkie, one bordering on hardcore, I remember 2008 as a painful year. A new Trek was to be released at Christmas, which was later bumped to May. The extra five-month wait was horrible, and I was practically foaming at the mouth in anticipation. Yet the incredibly odd thing was I never had a moment of doubt. It never crossed my mind that it wouldn't work, that it would be an abomination to the franchise, or that it would be the final, hideous nail in Trek's coffin.
I eagerly bought my tickets for the first IMAX showing. It was definitely worth $15, and I'm the type of guy that hates paying more than $5 for a matinee. Then luck smiled upon me and I won free preview tickets to a screening the day before. I was set! Star Trek back-to-back, two nights in a row. I was ready to be immersed. And then I began to get nervous. It finally dawned on me that this could be a colossal failure. What if this was the end?
I showed up to the theater with many a geek, ready to go. Deep down inside, I knew it would rock. In we all marched, ready to be wowed. When it was done, I knew it was a good movie, but I needed time to digest it all. I had to think about the simple fact that everything had changed. The past forty years of history, encompassing 28 seasons of television and 10 movies, was obliterated in a mere two hours. Nothing would be the same.
For the next 24 hours I pondered life, the universe, and everything Star Trek. Could I simply embrace the new Trek and all its changes? Would I be a stubborn Trekkie and adhere to my old Trek and everything that it was? What would I do?
As I watched it a second time, this new Enterprise staffed with twenty-something actors, venturing into a new universe, all resonating to Michael Giacchino's score, I discovered I could love and embrace the movie while still being true to all the other material. Yes, Virginia, there is a way to love them all, even though everything had changed, it's all still there in an alternate universe.
I, along with millions of other Trekkies, embraced the movie because it is the encapsulation of Trek, just in a shiny new coat. Simply put, it works because J.J. Abrams, along with writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, took the time to think things through. They found ways to be loyal to the core tenets of the franchise and infused it with 21st century sensibilities. And you know what? It's a lot of fun. Isn't that why we really go to the movies, to have fun and be entertained? By that measure alone, Star Trek is a success. Keeping its loyal fan base appeased is simply icing on the cake.
What makes this a terrific movie?
• Great Story
• Excellent Acting
• Beautiful Set Design
• Brilliant Special Effects
• Expert, Assured Direction
"Appealing to the McMasses" by Judge Daniel Kelly
I consider myself a genuine lover of science fiction, but the Star Trek universe is one into which my imagination rarely ventured. Sure, I've seen bits and pieces from the TV show, its various incarnations, and a handful of scenes from the films, but apart from the basics, I'm a Trek virgin. So upon venturing to see J.J. Abrams much anticipated reboot, I was looking for a good summer film rather than a reverential overlook of everything that preceded it. Hope was on the horizon in seeing that Abrams didn't even consider himself a hardcore fanatic, and the possibility of the reboot offering easy entertainment access for newbies started to seem probable. All I wanted was a hearty and energetic time at the movies, and you know what? Star Trek completely delivered.
The film opens with a neat dose of exposition, presented amidst a fireball of visual ferocity—as good a way to hook in the uninitiated as any. Filling in the story with solid doses of excitement means those detached from the legacy can pick up what info they need whilst the diehards won't be bored. For its entirety, Abrams seems chiefly interested in providing moviegoers a great time, rather than pandering exclusively to badge wearing members of the Gene Roddenberry fan club. The action is frantic and invigorating, while the performances and writing maintain a lively streak and willingness to build the story and characters up from the ground. It's truly shocking to behold how universally lovable this reboot is. All that's really required is a desire for quality cinema and a tolerance for a heck load of fun.
Against other summer offerings (particularly from the 2009 season) the movie sizes up nicely. Star Trek is technically the match of any other big budget blockbuster, with a desire to charm and to enthrall. The digital effects and lavish production design offer the picture a feeling of legitimacy, as key action sequences are carried out with a panache and confidence, something most seasoned blockbuster creators struggle to muster. Plus, the editing is top notch and the CGI seamless. This is an expensive and picturesque beast of a movie.
Great blockbusters need good characters and Star Trek is packed with them. Chris Pine is applause worthy and easy to engage, Zachary Quinto paints a believable Vulcan sidekick, while Zoe Saldana and Rachel Nichols ooze sex appeal (the former providing a strong female figure). I'm not going to discuss the performances any further, but they make for an enigmatic and impressive bunch. I also have to commend Star Trek for maintaining a beautiful dramatic arc (the opening scene is particularly heartbreaking), while showing a willingness to infuse a sly comic edge. In summer entertainment, people aren't looking for something dour and humourless (even The Dark Knight managed a few quips). Star Trek rises to the feel-good challenge, using Simon Pegg and Pine's impish antics to power the laugh potential. It's primarily an action adventure, but I was glad to see it provide some genuinely amusing moments to compliment the questing, unlike the juvenile comic interludes farted out by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
There are some problems with the movie, foremost having to accept the bounding between timelines. There is no denying this aspect of the screenplay treads close to being hokum, but what surrounds it encourages forgiveness. The relentlessly exciting action set-pieces and cinematography merge tastefully with the performances to render such a narrative misgiving possible to overlook. More terminally troubling is the bad guy, played by Eric Bana in a loud and bouncy fashion, but lacking one original bone in his body. The finest event movies always have kick-ass villains (Darth Vader, Sauron, The Joker), so the fact that Star Trek lacks one is probably its most noticeable flaw. However, true Trek-aholics and most science fiction fans should be able to get over these minor quibbles and enjoy this otherwise near perfect film.
Star Trek is a heroic and wonderfully conceived Hollywood offering, executed with style and obligatory digital excess. More importantly, it guns up a great cast, a stimulating adventure, smile-inducing comedy, and a few dramatically stunning moments. It has the scope and tight plotting the masses desire, a rarity in this increasingly bloated and needlessly overblown filmmaking era. However, to say it's one of the summer's best films would be to sell it short. For sheer entertainment value, it's easily amongst 2009's most watchable and likable cinematic fixes.
"Dammit, Man! I'm Karl Urban, Not DeForest Kelley!, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love J.J. Abrams' Star Trek" by Judge Dan Mancini
Gene Roddenberry's short-lived science fiction television drama Star Trek didn't, against all odds, find new life in syndication and spawn a series of successful and (mostly) entertaining theatrical features because of its brilliant writing (let's face it, for every humdinger of an episode like Harlan Ellison's "The City on the Edge of Forever" there's a stink burger in which an alien race of black and white cookies is locked in civil war). It wasn't because the show delivered whiz-bang special effects (audiences in the '60s weren't credulous dolts; they saw those strings on the USS Enterprise, too). It wasn't because Roddenberry's vision of life in the 23rd century was chock full of chicks in mini-skirts and scantily clad, green-skinned alien sex workers (though that helped). Star Trek escaped total annihilation in the pop culture memory hole largely on the strength of its characters—specifically, the sometimes rocky but mostly genial relationship between ship's captain James T. Kirk, Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock, and ship's doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy. When I first heard that Roddenberry's original Star Trek was getting a Hollywood-fashion-of-the-day reboot at the hands of producer-director-television wünderkind J.J. Abrams, my second thought was that it might be nice to return to a Trek absent of humorless bald men with a love of Earl Grey tea. My first thought was that the picture would be a disaster because there was no way in hell that Abrams could successfully recast Kirk, Spock, and Bones. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley owned those roles—owned them. Without those actors, it just wouldn't be Trek.
Abrams proved me wrong.
The most baffling of Abrams' casting decisions was placing Karl Urban in the role of Dr. McCoy. Let's just say that Urban, who was mostly known for playing the scowling and ruddy badass Eomer in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings flicks, as well as hateful villains in The Chronicles of Riddick and The Bourne Supremacy, didn't seem a natural fit for the grouchy, slight of frame, man of inaction. He's a revelation in the role. Younger and haler than Kelley, Urban still manages to nail the character's posture, his pinched facial expressions, and cadences of speech right down to his Southern gentleman's drawl. Most surprising, Urban has genuine comic timing. His crackerjack delivery of a speech about how outer space is "disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence" is as perfectly comedic as it is perfectly McCoy. Yet it's also clear that Urban approached McCoy as a character, not merely a collection of physical and vocal tics to be mimicked. In a brief but wonderfully written and acted scene of high drama, McCoy questions Spock's decision-making after Spock has been thrust into the role of captain of the Enterprise. McCoy's lines probe at the limitations of the Vulcan's reliance on pure logic and include the sort of "green-blooded hobgoblin" line that made the doctor's interactions with Spock on the TV show so enjoyable, but Urban plays the scene so it's abundantly clear that McCoy is concerned for Kirk's well-being, for the well-being of the ship's crew, and for Spock's success as a leader. McCoy's exasperation with Spock's emotional detachment and fierce intellectualism were a source of much comedy in the original series, but DeForest Kelley managed to exude affection for Spock hiding just beneath the doctor's gruff exterior. Urban recreates that balance between cynicism and warm humanity perfectly. Upon first meeting Spock, Kirk wonders who that "pointy-eared bastard" is. "I don't know," McCoy replies, "but I like him." That's Bones. And that's Star Trek.
If Karl Urban was an odd choice to play McCoy, then Zachary Quinto was perhaps the most obvious fit for Mr. Spock. Lean, tall, dark-haired, and striking angular features, he looks the role. He'd also proved a capacity for playing steely emotional reserve in his villainous, star-making role on the hit television series Heroes. Still, Quinto is surprisingly good as Spock. Looking and sounding the part with comfortable ease, he makes hay with a script that allows him to explore Spock's oddball status as a boy raised Vulcan though his mother is human. While Spock's half-breed status was occasionally used as a plot device in the old series, in Quinto's hands it becomes a sea of hostility and self-doubt roiling constantly beneath the character's cool and collected surface. For Abrams, Spock's underlying emotionalism (including his secret passion for Lt. Uhura) is an integral part of the foundation of the Spock-Kirk bromance. In this reimagined Trek universe, Spock can relate to (and maybe even admire) Kirk's impulsiveness, because Kirk is like the human side of himself completely unfettered from the rigorous discipline of Vulcan culture. In Abrams' Trek, it's not just that Spock is the ego to Kirk's superego (or, occasionally, the superego to his id), their friendship is an essential component of Spock's coming to terms with his own humanity. It's to Quinto's credit that he plays this more emotional Spock with such subtle precision that he doesn't seem at all out of step with the character created by Leonard Nimoy four decades ago. Quinto's Spock is Spock, just younger and less comfortable in his own skin.
Despite the quality of Urban and Quinto's work, the movie's most impressive performance is Chris Pine's turn as rugged bad boy and fledgling Starfleet officer James T. Kirk. Because William Shatner's unique rhythms and cadences have become fodder for scores of impressions (good and bad), Pine was faced with a minefield of choices when approaching the role of Kirk. He deftly avoids catastrophe, crafting a performance that captures the essence of the character without ever sliding into Shatner impersonation. Kirk's arc is one of a wild young man who becomes a great leader, when his self-destructive impulsiveness is reined in by prodigious talent and the guidance of father figure Captain Christopher Pike. In the movie, a convoluted series of unlikely events puts the young and inexperienced Kirk at the helm of the Enterprise (why, it's as though he was fated to be there). Pine plays the risk-taking, self-confidence (even in the face of fear and uncertainty), decisiveness, and charisma which define Kirk so perfectly by the end of the movie we buy that the ship's crew would not only accept his leadership but would gladly do just about any crazy thing he asked. More important, we buy that Spock feels the same way. And Pine does this without a hint of any Shatnerisms—no dramatic pauses or oddly placed emphases in lines. He just is Kirk—so much so that, while watching the movie, Shatner never even crossed my mind.
The quality of these performances would be meaningless if the screenplay by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci didn't give each of the actors the opportunity to explore his character's relationship with the other two. It does. Star Trek doesn't ride a wave of nostalgia so much as it exploits our emotional familiarity with this trio of characters and how/why they make a formidable team. Without that emotional core, no amount of dazzling special effects, Ouroboros-like time-hopping plotlines, or shameless pandering to Trekkers would have made Star Trek a good movie. Showing characters on a journey with a well-established destination is the lifeblood of prequels and reboots. J.J. Abrams' stab at Star Trek is extraordinary because it reveals the unexpected: Trek was never about the screen personas of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley; it was about Kirk, Spock, and Bones all along.
"Will You Be Able to Fly This Thing? A New Composer Boards the Enterprise" by Judge Clark Douglas
While the various Star Trek films have been hit-and-miss, the music written for those pictures has been a generally reliable element of quality. Jerry Goldsmith's grand, sweeping effort for Star Trek: The Motion Picture remains a truly majestic achievement, one of the great film scores of the '70s. James Horner's thrilling music for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of the composer's most-loved works, bringing a crackling sense of energy into what is arguably the best film of the franchise. Cliff Eidelman's work on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is an underrated gem, beginning with grim, moody, Stravinsky-inspired ideas and working towards a soaring major-key finale. Though these three efforts have long been regarded as the crown jewels of the franchise, nearly all of the scores are very fine outings (with the arguable exceptions of Leonard Rosenman's silly score for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Dennis McCarthy's somewhat dull work on Star Trek: Generations).
By 2009, composer Michael Giacchino had already made a name for himself in the realm of film and television music with strong scores for such projects as Alias, Lost, The Incredibles, and Mission: Impossible: III. Even so, Giacchino had very big shoes to fill when he took on J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. The franchise was certainly in need of a shot in the arm, but some were concerned the music might veer into gritty, less melodic territory, as a part of giving the series a more contemporary feel (see the Batman franchise's switch from colorful musical flair to ominous thumping and bumping). Fortunately, Trek music fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief upon hearing the score. Giacchino had delivered an exciting, memorable effort that managed to fit comfortably within the impressive oeuvre of Trek scores, while also allowing Giacchino to let his own distinct voice shine.
Though the Alexander Courage fanfare which opens the main title from Star Trek: The Original Series has played a role in every Trek score, each new film composer has been given the freedom to write their own theme. In this way, the Star Trek franchise is actually comparable to the aforementioned Batman franchise (as opposed to franchises like James Bond, Terminator, and Harry Potter, which require each composer to adopt the established main theme as the series continues). Fortunately, Giacchino's signature theme for Star Trek is a memorable and involving idea; an adventurous, almost swashbuckling minor-key melody that works quite well both in its understated and aggressive variations. Giacchino rarely tinkers with the basic melodic construction of the theme, instead varying the intensity of the performance. It's by no means as ominous as Eidelman's Undiscovered Country theme, but it does seem to have a greater element of danger than the regal Goldsmith or joyful Horner themes.
Some may complain that Giacchino doesn't provide enough variation over the course of the score, considering the theme does get quite a lot of play throughout (though not so much it becomes tiresome). Giacchino explains that his theme is essentially an intentionally "unfinished" idea that will continue to be developed along with the characters (though the theme is said to be primarily tied to Kirk) in the future. The theme is repeated with such frequency that the score may initially feel monothematic, but that isn't the case. There's also a rather ferocious theme for the Romulans which, while not as instantly memorable as Jerry Goldsmith's Klingon theme, nonetheless provides Nero and his army with a distinct musical signature. There's a considerably more delicate idea (frequently performed on the erhu) for Spock, and a seldom-heard but very affecting theme featured most powerfully during the film's moving opening sequence.
All of Giacchino's primary ideas are wrapped up very nicely in a terrific end credits suite, which deserves a lot of applause for two reasons. First, it's not too common these days that composers are actually given the opportunity to provide an original arrangement of their themes over the end credits. More often than not, viewers will either be treated to a pop/rock song or to a cut-and-paste selection of cues heard earlier in the film. Fortunately, Giacchino gets to take the old-fashioned route and deliver his ideas in a liberated manner (as the pieces are no longer required to note specific on-screen events). Second, the piece generously incorporates the original Alexander Courage theme into the suite. As I mentioned earlier, the brief Courage fanfare has appeared in all of the Trek scores, but everyone has more or less ignored his considerably more cheerful and (some would say) campy main theme melody. Giacchino embraces it, giving it a vigorous performance and sometimes allowing his own main theme to play as counterpoint. While some have criticized the use of the Courage theme (claiming it feels out of place with the rest of Giacchino's score), I think it works wonderfully, particularly in the context of the film. J.J. Abrams' Star Trek has brought a sense of joy back to a formerly tired franchise, and the exuberant Courage theme accentuates that nicely.
I certainly recommend picking up the soundtrack album, but there are a few of nagging issues that should be noted. The score album is frustratingly brief, offering only 45 minutes of music and leaving out a great deal of terrific material. Additionally, some may not be particularly fond of Giacchino's trademark pun-loaded track titles, with serious dramatic selections being given such names as "Nero Sighted," "Nice to Meld You," "Does it Still McFly," etc. However, my single biggest problem with the soundtrack is the way it chops up the end credits, offering the fanfare that concludes the film in a very brief track called "To Boldly Go" and then segueing into the "End Credits." It would have been much nicer if they had simply made this section of music one 9 1/2 minute track instead of one 30-second track that bleeds into one 9-minute track.
These quibbles aside, Giacchino has provided his first Star Trek assignment with a very fine film score, and I greatly anticipate hearing him develop these musical ideas further as the series progresses. Is it the best score of the series to date? No, but on the basis of what he's accomplished so far, I believe Giacchino has what it takes to create a classic Trek score. In the meantime, we'll just have to settle for a damn good one.
"I Like This Disc. You Know, It's Exciting!" by Judges Eric Profancik and Clark Douglas
The lineup of summer 2009 blockbusters didn't compel me to want to buy too many on Blu-ray. Atop that short list was Star Trek. Some of the others have yet to be released, but the ones that have didn't impress me. Transformers 2 is a lousy movie, but the eye and ear candy was so delicious I wanted to try and taste it again. Hoping to replicate that excitement at home with its Blu-ray was a disappointment; the bonus materials went on for hours but weren't especially enjoyable. That's not the case with Star Trek. The Blu-ray is an impressive piece of work, clearly destined to be near the top, if not number one, for best release of the year.
Video is a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that impresses at every level. From fine details and rich, accurate colors, to deep, lustrous blacks, the movie shines. As you watch, you'll never see a problem. Instead, you'll be rewarded with a presentation that allows you to see the tiny chevrons in the Starfleet uniforms, count the dust particles in the Saturnian moon, and easily discern the black Narada against the nothingness of space. It's reference quality video. That continues with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix. Whether it's a whisper or a sonic boom, the track delights in producing an accurate, lively, and nimble aural experience. I had this disc cranked in my man cave and it produced the requisite wall vibrations, but also conveyed every word of dialogue without the slightest imperfection, all the time feeling like I was in the middle of every scene. The sounds never felt forced; it all felt perfectly balanced to give an authentic, immersive experience. This is a movie to pull out, when you want to impress.
Vetting out this three-disc set…
• To Boldly Go (17 minutes)
• Casting (28 minutes)
• A New Vision (20 minutes)
• Starships (25 minutes)
• Aliens (16 minutes)
• Planets (16 minutes)
• Props and Costumes (9 minutes)
• Ben Burtt and the Sounds of Star Trek (12 minutes)
• Score (6 minutes)
• Gene Roddenberry's Vision (9 minutes)
• Deleted Scenes (14 minutes)
• Gag Reel (7 minutes)
• Starfleet Vessel Simulator
Finally, you get all of the trailers (teaser and full-length) for the film, in addition to some disc credits. Remarkably enough, watching the entire disc went by rather quickly, and I never entered the sort of "bonus feature fatigue" that often sets in when one tries to dig through a loaded release in one sitting. Best of all, absolutely everything is in glorious 1080p!
• Star Trek D-A-C Demo
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With all the lavish and loving praise doled it, it must be acknowledged that there is never perfection in cinema. Close, yes. Perfect, never. Here's what I didn't like, in order of annoyance:
• Lens Flares
• Montgomery Scott
• Hikaru Sulu
• Blu-ray/DVD Packaging
• Delta Vega Ice Monster
And you know what? In the grand scheme of all that could be wrong with such a monumental undertaking, this is still exquisite work by Abrams & Co.
You've been hearing monstrous praise like ours since May, and it's well-deserved. Watching Star Trek for the fifth time at home was just as if not more exciting than any of my first four viewings. It's just that good—an honest-to-goodness summer blockbuster packed with action, humor, heart, and a healthy dose of movie intelligence. Best of all, you do not have to be a fan of the series, nor seen a single minute of anything Trek to enjoy it. This is a stellar Blu-ray release, with outstanding transfers and a resplendent mix of bonus materials. Buy this disc. It's the best release of the best summer blockbuster of 2009.
Star Trek is hereby found not guilty of violating the temporal prime directive.
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