By Jared M. Gordon
Star Trek – 2009 – dir. JJ Abrams
Before I went to see J. J. Abrams’ version of the classic franchise, I was treated to dark whispers and quiet warnings such as, “If you’re a big-time Trekkie, you’re not going to like it.”
Being a moderate-time Trekkie, as opposed to a big-time one, I hotly anticipated the release through two years of promotional posters, mysterious trailers, and vague, origin-story allusions. I have to confess that along with Pixar’s Up, Star Trek is likely one of the best movies of the year. It’s not just a good sci-fi movie. It’s a good movie.
This is because the focus turns from external exploration – the exploration of space – to an internal exploration of self. It’s not where the characters go, this time around. It’s who they are. Sarek tells his son Spock, “You will always be a child of two worlds, and fully capable of deciding your own destiny. The question you face is: which path will you choose?” This is not a story about space exploration. Star Trek is a tale of people, people who happen to be in space.
And it freakin’ rocks.
The movie might start us off in Kirk and Spock’s childhood, but this is no Anakin Skywalker tale. These aren’t little boys who suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. They fight back. They’re active from the beginning, and we like them. Kirk drives his stepfather’s car off of a cliff. Spock takes down his bullying classmates. These are already characters with axes to grind, and they smash squarely, satisfyingly, against each other.
The film’s comic relief, which is plentiful, never outweighs the gravitas of constant peril. This is a well-written screenplay. Every line is a setup, and every line pulls us deeper into the conflict that easily absorbs our interest. I’d say that we hit the ground running, but it’s more like a flight than a run.
A true strength of the film is its irony. Kirk and Spock butt heads in nearly every scene, but it’s Kirk who needs Spock to turn him from a rebellious trickster into a responsible adult. It’s Spock who relies on Kirk to help him shake off cold logic and trust his intuition and feelings. Of course, this betrays the theme of Star Trek, which is maturing to destiny through learning from others.
Kirk becomes the leader that he was born to be. Spock embraces his trepidation and doubts. Nero, our evil Romulan villain, is unable to let go, and, after a brief stint as the biggest mass murderer in galactic history, suffers the fate reserved for those who cannot – or will not – transition into something greater. While Kirk and Spock’s frustrated incompleteness drives them to act, Nero uses his as an excuse, a pass for barbarous acts. All three characters have lost something precious, but only two of them will draw strength from their losses.
Of special note are Karl Urban’s Leonard “Bones” McCoy and Simon Pegg’s Montgomery Scott. Plus, Bruce Greenwood’s Christopher Pike is an excellent addition to an already well-picked cast.
Last but not least, Michael Giacchino’s stirring score (watch for it come Oscar time, as well as his score to Up) incorporates aspects of the old themes but blasts off on a brand-new tune that’s easily one of the best scores of the year. It’s a fitting, welcome addition on the shelf of Star Trek themes.
Boldly go. It’s the future, and it’s awesome.
And they still have sandwiches.