Star Trek

18th May 2009 – 5.53 pm

The new Star Trek film doesn't follow from the previous release or let the cast and crew from a later series explore space in widescreen format, but instead harks back to the original television series. As we are to witness the first flight of the starship Enterprise it is unsurprising to see unfamiliar faces introduced as familiar, in a bid to inject a new spark of life in to an exciting mission to explore new life and new civilisations that had become disappointingly stale.

The main cast are introduced quite quickly, with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura all aboard the Enterprise as it heads off to investigate an emergency on Vulcan, with Scotty turning up to join the others a little later. All of the crew are recruits, only getting their first taste of space exploration as part of the Federation because of the emergency, and the film is the story of their initial relationships and the building of friendships that will last for decades.

Even though there are new actors playing the rôles of the memorable Enterprise crew there is clearly the intention of keeping their characters intact. Bones is realised perfectly, Spock is wonderful, and Chekov has a fabulous spirit and recognisable exubarance, all of which makes the portrayal of Kirk quite the disappointment. The new Kirk appears to be nothing like Shatner's Kirk and simply a generic action hero, with a recognisable pose or two and speech affectations cropping up a scant few times in the whole film. Considering the similarities found in the other crew members I can only assume that, despite my misgivings, Shatner is irreplaceable as Captain Kirk.

It is unfortunate that arguably the most important character is the farthest from the original. It may be that the actor, or studio, want to reinvent Kirk to be a new character in his own right, but it seems apparent to me now that I am watching Star Trek for the characters as I remember them, not for their names. I want Kirk to act like Shatner's Kirk. For all of his delivery, general lack of nuance and exaggerations it's what I have come to expect, and it is clearly what makes him Kirk.

There are other problems with the film. The car chase introducing Kirk is horribly dull and obviously slow, which is a poor mistake to make in a film that has exciting combat between spaceships. The Romulan ship is far too complicated; there is little point in having a million little details if it becomes impossible to discern any of them. I found myself asking yet again why space dramas insist on giving a single, bizarrely often psychotic, crew member the one item vital to completing an important task instead of allowing for some needed redundancy. There is even a brief Lucas-esque CGI beast-fest where the protagonist is disappointly passive, making the whole scene ultimately pointless from a narrative point-of-view. And someone must have been able to come up with a term better than 'red matter'; it may be an attempt to avoid the technobabble criticised in later series, but in this case it is an overcompensation as it is difficult to experience dramatic tension when someone is worried about the 'red matter' exploding.

These are just niggles and don't spoil the enjoyment of the film overall, which is something that sadly cannot be said of the original score. Whilst generally competent the original score is lacklustre in parts and mismatched to the action at worst. The cue for the Romulan ship cries 'these are the bad guys!' in an almost comic book fashion, and a fight scene late in the film would almost be made more atmospheric if the score were replaced by a clown on a kazoo.

Yet despite the complaints I find myself enjoying the film thoroughly. The motivations and actions of the characters seem authentic, there are few contrivances and the effects are great, beyond the niggles I've mentioned. There is a real sense of danger and excitement as well as the pushing of new frontiers in technology, highlighting well how accomplished the newly graduated cadets are. Even the time travel story is handled well, which is quite a feat considering how trite time travel has become in Star Trek. Instead of glossing over any effects that may occur in the future because of changes made in the past, generally essential to the continuation of a series, it becomes a vital part in allowing Star Trek to start again.

The charisma and personalities of the recognisable crew and the interactions between them are fabulous to watch, even as adversity and strife threaten to overcome them. It is a delight to see new relationships forming with the knowledge of how strong the bonds will eventually become between the characters. Now that there is a new history available to create I look forwards to further adventures with the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

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