After years of cautious optimism, this is the week we've long lived and prospered for: the return of Star Trek to the silver screen. Much has changed in the seven years since the last film, including the cancellation of the TV series Enterprise, marking not only the end of a continuous 18-year run for the franchise on the small screen, but also a changing of the guard. A familiar cadre of talent had run Star Trek for decades — into the ground, some would say. The 2009 film, directed and produced by J.J. Abrams and starring mostly unknowns, could either invigorate or distort Star Trek. With my father (who introduced me to the show in 1987) and my oldest brother, we were there for last night's premiere. How did we — dedicated and casual Star Trek fans, young and old — react?
I'll answer for me: The first ten minutes had me in tears. That isn't hyperbole or dramatic effect; it's literal truth. This action-packed opening sequence is so tragic, yet so heroic; and what it does to the Star Trek universe is terrible, yet also elegant and necessary. This film is both a prequel and a reboot, documenting the first voyage of Kirk, Spock, and company — but it's not the same ship and crew we remember from 1966. There are differences, both subtle and profound, which the opening sequence makes possible, thus giving the creative team the leeway they need to make something both fresh and familiar.
Fans will find much to like here, such as in nods to Trek lore that don't feel forced, be it the death of a character or Chekov's accent. But there's more going on here than in the details, such as the recasting of the iconic crew. I found it surprisingly easy to accept fresh faces in roles that we've long identified with particular actors, and these newcomers' performances are mostly true to the characters as originally written, without being mockeries. Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty each get notable scenes; Bones and Uhura, a bit more. But this adventure is really about the young, brash Spock and Kirk. These aren't the older, wiser Starfleet officers we're accustomed to, yet I can imagine Chris Pine's Kirk acting and reacting just as William Shatner's Kirk would've under these circumstances.
More difficult to swallow are the earth-shattering alterations to the Star Trek universe. This is not Roddenberry's sandbox: it is dark and disturbing, with protagonists defined not by heroism as much as tragedy, whose victories are pyrrhic at best. For someone as immersed as I am in the details of this timeline, I'm disturbed to think of the ramifications this film has for everything that has come before. I just have to remind myself there are those charged with preserving Trek's heritage, and that nothing can take away my memories of those voyages.
As a Trekkie, I loved this movie, despite my conflicted feelings. That perspective aside, Star Trek is still a fantastic film. It has humor, conflict, breathtaking action sequences, space and hand-to-hand combat, and more. There several coincidences and inconsistencies, but what Star Trek has been immune to those? Certain liberties need to be taken not only to be freed from 40 years of backstory, but to still acknowledge it and tie it together into one neat package. It's astounding that a plot this complex and nuanced could've come from the same writing team that gave us the detestable Transformers, or the entertaining yet predictable Mission:Impossible III.
Despite an almost empty theater at last night's premiere, Star Trek seems to be doing well with both hardcore fans and newcomers to the franchise, if we can believe Rotten Tomatoes' 96% rating — the highest of any Star Trek movie. I can only speak from my Trekkie status, as I cannot excise the passion or knowledge that precludes that perspective. But I saw the film with a teenager who'd never seen any Star Trek before and who'd been attracted to this movie by the previews — a leap of faith which I found encouraging. When the credits rolled, he was quick to praise the film though, when pressed, admitted he found it "a bit" confusing.
If, unlike this next generation of Star Trek fan, you've been around the galaxy a time or two, this film may cause you the same turmoil it did me. I've loved this series for decades and, never found it to be stale, even after 716 episodes. The show's declining ratings, culminating in Enterprise being the first Star Trek since the original to be cancelled after fewer than seven seasons, indicate I was in the minority. For the franchise to live, Star Trek as we've known it must die, or at least evolve. I can see its spirit in J.J. Abrams' creation, and not just as a shadow of its former self, but as something cherished and integrated into something new. May this direction give us another 40 years of Star Trek, whatever shape it may take.
(The review ends here. For those who have seen the film and wish to discuss plot particulars, there are spoilers on the next page.)
The earth-shattering ramifications I alluded to above are the result of the destruction of Vulcan. The enormity of this act demonstrated Nero's ruthlessness, making him a villain on par with Darth Vader — but Vulcan is no Alderaan, a planet never seen or heard of before its explosion. Vulcan is core to Star Trek's history; without that planet, First Contact would've been very different. Although I'm comforted to know Enterprise predates this temporal incursion (as demonstrated by Scotty's tale of an admiral's beagle), it still means that TNG, VOY, and DS9 are impossible.