Thursday, December 4, 2014

Star Trek (XI, 2009)

A few days ago I finally got around to watching the 11th Star Trek film in the franchise, 2009's Star Trek(trailer). Paramount took seven years off after releasing Nemesis, and released this prequel with an all new cast based on the origins of how Spock and Kirk and the rest of The Original Series crew joined Starfleet Academy and first became colleagues on the Enterprise. I was especially looking forward to seeing this again for the first time since it hit theaters five years ago now that I have seen all the prior films and have a better understanding and appreciation of the Star Trek universe in general this time.

Going into Star Trek's theatrical release in 2009, it was easy to notice that the brand was in a bit of a lull for a few years. It is worth reiterating it was seven years since the last film. On top of that, Star Trek: Enterprise was prematurely cancelled in 2005 after just four seasons, making the new fall 2005 television season the first without a Star Trek series since The Next Generation debuted in 1987. Paramount went to fixate this by bringing in JJ Abrams to direct this film, fresh off his breakout success on the hit television series, Lost. JJ was not shy admitting he did not have much experience with Star Trek until he got the director's gig, but was adamant on this new film retaining the essence of Star Trek while making it contemporary for a new generation.

There is an extended early years opening montage for both Kirk and Spock. For Kirk, we witness his birth as his father, George(a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) takes the captain's chair of the USS Kelvin as it is under attack by this film's villain, the Romulan, Nero(Eric Bana) and his ship, the Narada. After a montage of a couple other childhood events, we finally fast forward to Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) as young adults joining Starfleet Academy. The two are not the close friends we knew them to be and kick off their relationship as bitter rivals once Kirk is brought to trial for cheating on Spock's Koboyashi Muru exam, yes that same one that kicked off the opening of The Wrath of Khan. The two eventually have to put their differences aside as Nero resurfaces and goes at great cost to get the attention of Kirk and Spock as the two are fresh on the maiden voyage of the very first Enterprise we all grew up to know and love.

All the primary crew members you remember from The Original Series are back and fresh out of Starfleet for this new film. I love all of Paramount's picks for their new cast selection as not a single actor disappointed for the new versions of Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Bones (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg). Even with the elder, Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) at the helm of the Enterprise, there was a little part of me that felt like there were a few too many tweens aboard the Enterprise, but as soon as the action kicks in those reservations are understandably put to the side since a emergency crisis rushes the Enterprise into her first tour of duty. Speaking of the Enterprise, I absolutely love the updated look of the ship. It just instantly pops out at you and seems all new with a vibrant white interior, yet there is still the ever-present captain's chair and a few other nods to the past so it still captures the classic Star Trek look and feel.

While I have stated on previous blogs here I have never been a hardcore Trekkie, I have always identified with it more than Star Wars as I appreciated Star Trek's emphasis on dialogue and their style of sci-fi action over Star Wars. Abrams amps up the action here with more in-your-face close combat sequences than I am use to in previous Star Trek films, but somehow, someway Abrams found a way for all this more-than-average action to seem totally appropriate and not out of place. This is easily one of the most action heavy Star Trek films to date, but there is still plenty of scenes featuring the trademark dialogue heavy scenes full of the vast Star Trek lore and history to not make this feel like this extra dose of action is being forced against your will, but more of a natural evolution for the Star Trek brand.

I never thought the old school Star Trek phazers would gel in today's latest and greatest sci-fi movie gadgetry, with even the last couple of Star Trek films putting the classic phazers to the back seat as the crew upgraded to those heavy duty phazer rifles. In this Star Trek, Abrams brought back the phazers, and to my surprise made them seem especially effective and not as laughable as I thought they would come off in modern sci-fi cinema. There are plenty of other nods I already mentioned, and yes expect a red shirt moment for the ages in this Star Trek. Being this film is already five years old I feel it is safe to say that I loved how they found a way to tie this film in with the previous Star Trek canon and have it still stand on its own as a new canon among itself.

If you recall my blogs on the last few films, I was really impressed at how fast the CG and special effects were improving. They increased exponentially so in the seven years since Nemesis, because while I still think Nemesis has some terrific CG that still holds up today, you can tell Paramount spared no expense and let the people behind production at Bad Robot pull out all the stops because this blows Nemesis out of the water with some unbelievably awesome CG. All the shots of the Enterprise whether it is just cruising in warp speed, or in the middle of an intense dogfight look remarkable.

How a lot of that CG and special effects were accomplished are covered in the film's plethora of extra features. The initial BluRay release I bought of Star Trek earlier this year is just the film and a commentary track, which is all I have noticed to be available right now whenever I saw Star Trek for sale at retailers. I later tracked down a pre-owned copy online of the three-disc set that was only available during its initial video release that was jam packed with all these extras, and if you are into extra features I recommend you do the same. I listened to a majority of the commentary with JJ Abrams, Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk. Being a five person commentary, it was a delight that there was nearly nonstop, very involved and focused discussion with each person trying to cram in as many production stories and other random anecdotes as possible. Also make sure to watch the deleted scenes as there were a few noteworthy scenes that did not make the cut, mostly from the intro setting up Kirk and Spock's childhood, and an early side story that features a brief cameo of the Klingons.

There are 10, yes 10 behind-the-scenes features totaling nearly four hours and there is not a poorly made one out of all of them. If I were to only recommend a few as must see however, absolutely make sure to check out Casting, which is a half hour look at how each new cast member was determined and interviews with each one on what they were able to learn from their predecessors and some new wrinkles they were able to weave in. To Boldly Go is a 16 minute feature rating each of the five main people behind production at Bad Robot on their Star Trek expertise and how that related to their vision to "make Star Trek cool." Starships is an in-depth half hour look at how they redesigned the Enterprise for this film and a quick look at designing Nero's ship, The Narada.

It is too bad that Disney had to swoop in and throw a bunch of money in Abrams' face to get him to make the next Star Wars movie, because he did a phenomenal job with Star Trek and its successor, Into Darkness which I will be covering here soon. These two new Star Trek films, along with the documentary Trek Nation were the impetus for me to track down the first ten films and rediscover my appreciation for the franchise. Regardless if you are a hardcore Trekkie, an off and on fan like myself or have zero Star Trek experience under your belt, this film can be watched by anyone and is the perfect jumping on point for newcomers to the brand because it is essentially a modern day origin story for the cast of The Original Series.

Star Trek Film Ratings

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - 5.5/10
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn - 10/10
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - 7.5/10
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - 9/10
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - 6.5/10
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - 7.5/10
Star Trek VII: Generations - 8/10
Star Trek VIII: First Contact - 9/10
Star Trek IX: Insurrection - 8/10
Star Trek X: Nemesis - 9.5/10
Star Trek XI (2009) - 10/10

Additional Star Trek Blogs

Star Trek Evolutions and Captains Summit BluRay Bonus Discs

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