Flashback: ‘Star Trek’ (2009)

In 2009, the ‘Star Trek’ franchise made a bold return to the big screen…

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The cast of J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ (c. Paramount Pictures).

Year:  2009

Starring:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Cross, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana

Directed by:  J.J. Abrams / written by:  Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman

What’s it about?

A young James Kirk and Mr. Spock meet for the first time aboard the newly commissioned U.S.S. Enterprise where they soon find themselves tasked with saving the universe from a vengeful out-of-time Romulan…

Retrospective/review

With the underwhelming box office and tepid critical reception of Star Trek Nemesis in 2002 and the cancellation of television series Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005 due to declining ratings a creative refresh of the Star Trek franchise was needed in order to rekindle fan interest and bring in a whole new audience that would help carry Gene Roddenberry’s creation into the future.

Whilst Star Trek would remain dormant on the small screen until the arrival of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, it’s theatrical voyages would recommence just four years after the conclusion of Enterprise.  Enlisting J.J. Abrams (together with his Bad Robot production company) to produce, direct and help craft the story – with screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (co-creator and executive producer of Discovery) – Paramount Pictures commissioned Star Trek for the big screen.

Released in May of 2009, received to favourable reviews and a healthy worldwide box office of around $385 million (a fairly respectable figure at a time when $1 billion grossers were few and far between and comparable to Marvel’s Iron Man), Star Trek would prove to be a rollicking action adventure that, although favouring popcorn spectacle and Star Wars-style visual grandeur over the deeper philosophical explorations of previous iterations, excels in its characters and engaging story.  In order to be free from the burden of decades of continuity whilst still tying into the established universe, Star Trek would employ the popular time travel trope by bringing Leonard Nimoy’s (gifting the project with true Trek royalty) Spock back in time in an event that would create an alternate reality – now referred to as the Kelvin timeline – allowing a new series of Star Trek films to forge their own creative path.

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Eric Bana as Nero (c. Paramount Pictures).

Star Trek opens with the arrival of the Romulan ship Narada, thrust back in time after the destruction of the Romulan homeworld in the wake of a catastrophic supernova, which Ambassador Spock and the Vulcan High Command pledged, and fail, to avert.  The Narada, under the command of the embittered Nero, is discovered by the U.S.S. Kelvin which is subsequently attacked and its captain killed – leaving Lt. George Kirk (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) in command.  The Kelvin’s crew, including Kirk’s wife (played by Jennifer Morrison) – about to give birth to their son, are evacuated as Kirk sacrifices his life to save others.  Jumping forward several years we meet a young trouble-making James Kirk and an equally troubled Spock, struggling to reconcile his half-human/half-Vulcan heritage.  Little do both know that destiny awaits (which for Kirk includes the captain’s chair of a certain starship), events drawing them together as the fate of both their worlds hang in the balance.

Finding new actors to inhabit the roles of the beloved original series crew was undoubtedly a daunting task and fortunately, the casting of Star Trek is exceptional.  Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are perfect choices for the roles of Kirk and Spock, respectively, both actors bringing respectful and recognisable performances to classic characters whilst making it their own and their chemistry helps drive the core narrative.  Likewise, Karl Urban is a revelation as the cantankerous but loyal Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy – the final component in the celebrated Kirk/Spock/McCoy troika that was such an important part of the original series.  There are equally strong turns from Zoe Saldana as Communications Officer Uhura, John Cho as Helmsman Sulu, the late Anton Yelchin as the incredibly eager Ensign Chekov and Simon Pegg as Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.  Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter in Star Trek’s original pilot episode, “The Cage” and by Anson Mount on Star Trek: Discovery) is also a highlight, particularly in his relationship with Pine’s Kirk as he inspires the bright but directionless young rebel by daring him to be better and enlist in Starfleet.  Playing the part of the villainous Nero is Eric Bana, who had previously starred in Ang Lee’s Hulk.  He’s not necessarily the most complex of antagonists but Bana gives it his all, delivering a decent measure of menace.

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A slick redesign for the U.S.S. Enterprise (c. Paramount Pictures).

The design of Star Trek is exemplary, from the Academy Award winning make-up, costumes and props (both nifty updates from the original series) to the lavish, brightly lit sets by Scott Chambliss and the sleek redesign of the Enterprise herself, providing viewers with a pleasing new look which respectfully adheres to the overall configuration conceived by Matt Jeffries.  Whilst there’s a comforting sense of the familiar, Star Trek also takes some creative risks – primarily the destruction of Vulcan by Nero and his cohorts in retribution for the failure to save Romulus from its own obliteration in the future.  It’s a shocking and dramatic sequence that establishes the highest of stakes to unite the Enterprise crew and allows for a more emotionally vulnerable depiction of Quinto’s Spock.

As director, J.J. Abrams (who made his feature film debut in 2006 with Mission: Impossible III) brings energy and enthusiasm to Star Trek, keeping the viewer invested whether it’s in his execution of action and visual splendour or the tight and attentive focus in the quieter, more intimate character moments.  A good film is always enhanced by a great musical score and composer Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is a memorable one, exciting, emotional and wonderfully intertwining cues from Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek theme with fresh themes to take the new big screen franchise forward.

Star Trek may have been divisive so far as the fanbase is concerned but there are those that enjoyed it for what it was, a polished and highly entertaining rejuvenation of an ageing franchise that opened up the universe to a whole new audience which is something that shouldn’t be undervalued.

Geek fact!

The story of Star Trek was fleshed out via tie-in comic books from IDW Publishing (and overseen by co-screenwriter Roberto Orci) with prequel titles Star Trek: Countdown and Star Trek: Nero adding a lot of insightful detail and background to the narrative of the 2009 film.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

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Quick Review: ‘For the Love of Spock’

Featuring:  Leonard Nimoy, Adam Nimoy, William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Nicholas Meyer, J.J. Abrams, Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Simon Pegg.

Directed by:  Adam Nimoy

What’s it about?

A documentary charting the life and career of actor Leonard Nimoy and the character of Mr. Spock…

In review

Declared as the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever, Adam Nimoy’s celebration of his father Leonard’s career and most significantly the creation of the iconic Star Trek character, Mr. Spock, arrives just in time for the franchise’s 50th anniversary.  Enlisting the thoughts and opinions of family, friends, colleagues and fans (celebrity and none), For the Love of Spock is affectionate, funny (including some brief pondering of that hilarious and infamous Kirk/Spock ‘slash fiction’ with Leonard’s Star Trek co-star George Takei), candid and even, in moments, a little tear-jerking.

Via the guidance of Adam Nimoy, For the Love of Spock digs deep to explore the man behind Spock and how he ultimately created and refined the character who is beloved by millions all over the world.  Incorporating archive footage of Leonard (who passed away last year) and newly recorded interviews with the likes of fellow Star Trek stars William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig along with the principle cast of the reboot film series, directors Nicholas Meyer and J.J. Abrams, scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons and Leonard’s daughter, Julie the documentary is insightful in its dissection of the cultural impact of Spock and why a fictional character would mean so much to so many (its perhaps J.J. Abrams who encapsulates it so perfectly as he talks about the outsider in all of us).

For the Love of Spock is also a very personal endeavour for Adam Nimoy as he discusses, quite honestly, the often strained relationship he had with his father and the effect that fame had on the young Nimoy family.  It’s to the benefit of the project that Nimoy is open about this and is not reticent to attribute how issues in his own life contributed to the schism between father and son and is ultimately triumphant in celebrating their reconciliation in the years before Leonard’s death.

Technically, For the Love of Spock is well-structured and deftly assembled with clips from the original Star Trek series and spin-off films interspersed neatly between the various interview segments and archive footage – including a treasure trove of family home movies.  There’s not a great deal that’s new for die-hard Star Trek fans but ultimately, Adam Nimoy delivers an unmissable celebration of a man and his legacy.

The bottom line:  For the Love of Spock is a fitting tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy that’s lovingly crafted and an essential insight into an important cultural icon.

For the Love of Spock is available to download/stream now via iTunes, Amazon and a host of other video on demand platforms.

Man and icon: Adam Nimoy's 'For the Love of Spock' is a fitting tribute to his father and the legacy of Mr. Spock.

Man and icon: Adam Nimoy’s ‘For the Love of Spock’ is a fitting tribute to his father and the legacy of Mr. Spock.

Fim Review: ‘Star Trek Beyond’ (spoiler free)

Star wreckin’…

Starring:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella

Directed by:  Justin Lin / Written by:  Simon Pegg & Doug Jung / 120 minutes

What’s it about?

Attacked during a rescue mission in uncharted space, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise find themselves stranded and fighting for survival against Krall, an enemy who seeks to destroy the Federation and the way of life its citizens hold dear…

In review

Arriving as the beloved science fiction franchise approaches its 50th anniversary, Star Trek Beyond is the third (with a fourth already confirmed) cinematic instalment set in the rebooted ‘Kelvin Timeline’ featured in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) and sequel Star Trek Into Darkness (2013).  Directed by Fast & Furious veteran Justin Lin, Beyond proves a worthy continuation of this new series of Star Trek films that’s crowd pleasing fun if not as wholly cerebral as some of the franchise’s highpoints.

Whilst Abrams is arguably the better filmmaker, Lin is a credible successor who does a commendable job of crafting a commercially viable summer blockbuster, his affection for the franchise and its characters clear as he deftly balances an eclectic ensemble with large scale action and jaw dropping visuals.  Although this is a Star Trek for the era of serviceable billion dollar blockbusters, Beyond offers something a little more with a script (by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung) that delves into themes of unity and the strengths found in diversity, reflecting on the social concerns of today.

Via the two J.J. Abrams outings, audiences have grown to love the characters of Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al thanks to a wonderful cast, melding nuances of their own personalities with the legacies of these established characters.  Thankfully that continues here and we get some great character moments amongst the spectacle and social commentary where everyone (albeit some more than others) gets an opportunity to shine.  Zoe Saldana, John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin (as Enterprise crewmembers Uhura, Sulu and Chekov respectively) all feature in the action and have relevance in the story (Simon Pegg’s Scotty is also served better beyond being mere comic foil).  Idris Elba makes an imposing villain with physicality and gravitas, although the character of Krall could have warranted further exploration he delivers a fair measure of menace and threat.  Fellow guest star Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) also provides a memorable and enjoyable turn as Jaylah, the alien ‘badass’ that a stranded Kirk and company enlist for help against Elba’s Krall.  Once again, though it’s the three main stars that compel the most with numerous standout moments for Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban.  Through Pine we get a universe weary Kirk, with Quinto a contemplative Spock and Urban a McCoy who’s irascible as ever and provides both humour and the supportive conscience Kirk and Spock need as they face their respective emotional dilemmas.

Against the backdrop of story and character, Justin Lin brings his Fast & Furious credentials to the fore during the action of Star Trek Beyond with big budget CGI and explosive pyrotechnics marrying to produce some jaw dropping spectacle (most significantly the decimation of the poor old Enterprise, as already depicted in the film’s pre-release trailers).  It’s a little frantic at times, but no different from what you would experience in any modern blockbuster.  In addition to all of this, there’s a plethora of references, tributes and respectful call backs to the history and legacy of Star Trek that all in all make for a pleasing and fitting celebration of one of pop culture’s most beloved and enduring franchises that will most definitely continue to go boldly.

The bottom line:  Star Trek Beyond is an enjoyable and fun blockbuster that has something to offer both fans and casual viewers alike and proves a fitting tribute to the legacy of the franchise on the eve of its 50th anniversary.

Star Trek Beyond is in cinemas now.

Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) prepares to lead the fight in Paramount Pictures' 'Star Trek Beyond'.

Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) prepares to lead the fight in Paramount Pictures’ ‘Star Trek Beyond’.