Star Trek
“Bones … Think! How will I … become … big-enough-to-fill-out-this-chair?”


Golden Mug

NOMINEE:
Visual Effects (Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton)
Sound (Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin)

Theatrical Release Date: 05/08/2009
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy, Winona Ryder

Putting a fresh new coat of paint on an old house is all the rage these days in Hollywood. Whether it’s horror films like “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th“, comic book properties like “The Incredible Hulk” or science fiction gospel like “Star Trek” – studios seem to prefer taking the safe route, giving often bland updates to the properties hoping the built-in fan base will work their magic at the box office – feigning interest in actually getting things right for the die hard fans who will line up for whatever is being shoved down their throats that week.

Well, oddly enough, “Star Trek” bucks the odds and is a fresh, welcome reboot to the hallowed sci-fi franchise. Thanks to director J.J. Abrams’ own self-admittance that he wasn’t a trekkie growing up, he came at the project from a perspective free of the fanboy influence.

Sure, I had my misgivings about starting back at the beginning – seeing Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the gang from before their days on the Enterprise (like Elizabeth Edgemont who though this would be “Lost” in Space (nice one, D) ). However, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman found a way to not only make it interesting and fun, but completely in accordance with the Star Trek universe.

Yes, there is a cheat in order to make the differences between the original TV series and films work when compared to this latest installment. However, the ruse is cleverly built into some geeky scientific theory that fans of sci-fi will find completely plausible. Orci and Kurtzman also clearly have a grasp on the source material and threw in a slew of nods to past episodes and films (including the retention of the late Majel Barrett Roddenberry as the voice of the ship’s computer). None of the inside jokes will distract those of you out there unfamiliar with “Star Trek” but they are very much welcomed by those of us in the know (My personal favorite is an oblique reference to “Wrath of Khan”).

Perhaps the best element of the film, though, is the cast. Each of the core members of the starship Enterprise are back and given fresh, young bodies to start the journey all over again. Whether it’s Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, the list goes on and on; Each of them not only take on so many of the character traits that have endeared these fictional explorers to generations of fans, they also add a fresh spin on things – allowing their on-screen alter-egos to push towards something new as well as stay in touch with the foundations of the original characters.

Other supporting roles were also filled in nicely by the likes of Bruce Greenwood, Faran Tahir and Winona Ryder. Okay, so maybe I found Ryder to be a little out of place … but Greenwood and Tahir were great and two out of three ain’t bad. Tyler Perry and Jennifer Morrison (of “House” fame) even get cameo roles here.

Additionally, Eric Bana gives a good performance as the big bad villain – giving him more than just one layer of depth. Unfortunately, that seemed to come completely from him as an actor rather than the script or direction, tapping into some of the elements of his phenomenal role in 2000′s “Chopper”. While it would have been nice to see a villain worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, I’m not too surprised that his character’s development was truncated to allow for focusing on our revamped Enterprise crew and the entertainment level of the film will mitigate this element for most people.

My biggest complaint comes via composer Michael Giacchino. He’s one of Abrams usual collaborators, having scored episodes of “Alias”, “Lost” and “Fringe”. As such, you can guess what kind of over the top, far too noticeable music may be going on here. From the opening sequence, my ears and mind were blasted with epic compositions that over-sold everything on-screen. I kept laughing to myself about what this guy must play on the home stereo when he makes a PB & J sandwich. If it weren’t too late, I’d plan a petition to have the film re-scored but alas, I doubt that wish will come true.

Also on the large annoyance side of things is Abrams’ love of lens flares. If there were a drinking game, this one would definitely be cause for your liver’s concern. It doesn’t matter if the scene takes place near a sun, on the Enterprise’s uber-bright bridge or in a dimly lit alien mining ship, Abrams will find a way to incorporate or, more likely, artificially create a lens flare. That’s cool every now and then … but hardly a scene goes by that doesn’t have at least one, and some scenes seem to alternate between a close-up on one character, then a lens flare, then a close-up on another character, and then another lens flare. Seriously, is someone getting paid each time this effect is used? Is there some ARG (alternate reality game) that “Lost” fans are looking out for? Was Abrams trying to sub-consciously tap into Dr. Seuss and put a lens flare on a boat, or with a goat … on a train, or on a plane?

I had some other minor issues with Abrams shooting choices when it comes to fight choreography (I prefer to be able to tell what’s going on) and the opening scene had enough shaky cam to briefly remind me of “Cloverfield” (which Abrams produced and I did like). Still, he kept the pace of the film brisk which is good since this one tops in just a touch over two hours. There are very few slow-down points and it’s generally full speed ahead as our intrepid crew attempts to thwart Bana and his band of neer-do-wells.

The effects shots regarding space conflicts are handled well and the production design team did a very nice job in balancing a sense of this being at the beginning of the franchise’s timeline as well as keeping things looking sleek and futuristic (the bridge of the Enterprise is sort of how I envision the reboot of “Buck Rogers” but that’s neither here nor there). You’ll have your choice of catching this in IMAX or on the normal screen but seeing as how no scenes were specifically shot in the format, there really isn’t a great benefit to plunking down the extra dollars here. A fairly large and well-kept non-IMAX screen with a decent sound system will suffice.

I actually thought I’d be forced to write another middle-of-the-road review but casting aside my issues with the score and lens flares, J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” exceeded my mediocre expectations and he has succeeded in rebooting a franchise now worthy of new sequels ahead. A solid 4 out of 5 thanks to the blending of the excellent cast, smart script and my own nostalgia, I can only hope the other blockbusters this summer take Captain Kirk and his crew’s lead. It’s early in the season so I’ll think positive … any bets on how long that will last? :)