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).

Comics Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru’

IDW continues its expansion of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ with their latest comic book tie-in… 

ST Disc - Captain Saru

Cover art for ‘Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru’ by Paul Shipper (c. IDW Publishing).

Written by:  Kirsten Beyer & Mike Johnson / art by:  Angel Hernandez / colours by:  J.L. Rio and Valentina Pinto

What’s it about?

After the nearly catastrophic events on the Klingon homeworld and the U.S.S. Discovery’s return to Earth, Starfleet orders the ship, under the temporary command of Commander Saru, to investigate the disappearance of a science vessel…

In review

IDW Publishing continues its winning streak of Star Trek comics with the one-shot 2019 annual Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru, based on the hit CBS All Access series.  Written by Discovery staff writer Kirsten Beyer together with veteran Trek comics writer Mike Johnson and with art by Angel Hernandez, Captain Saru is a superb tie-in to the latest Star Trek series and a great comic overall.

Slotting neatly into place at the end of Discovery’s inaugural season but prior to the closing scenes of the season one finale, Captain Saru further expands on the titular Kelpien’s leadership abilities as he continues his role as acting captain and the faith that Starfleet Command has in his skills when they despatch the skeleton-crewed, under-repair Discovery to investigate the whereabouts of the U.S.S. Dorothy Garrod, a science vessel aboard which Ensign Tilly is spending her leave – only to discover that it has fallen prey to Orion pirates that soon endanger Discovery and her crew.  Can Saru effectively marshal his experience and skills to overcome this latest challenge?

It goes without saying that Beyer and Johnson’s script is excellent given their history as Star Trek writers.  Beyer (appointed to oversee the licensed fictional expansion of the Discovery universe in books and comics) as novelist, co-writer, with Johnson, of previous IDW Discovery titles “The Light of Kahless” and “Succession” and scribe of the outstanding Saru-focused first season episode “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”.  Johnson, comparatively, is now in his tenth year of writing Star Trek comics for IDW and has given fans numerous stand-out stories including the Star Trek (2009) prequels “Countdown” and “Nero”.  Both writers bring all of their talents, knowledge and love for Star Trek fully to Captain Saru where they perfectly capture the voices of the various Discovery characters (aided in no small part by the performances of Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp et al providing strong points of reference), the feel of the show and the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s vision which imbues it in its finest moments.  Saru’s tenure as temporary commander during the Mirror Universe crisis was a highlight of Discovery’s first season and that is strengthened here.  Whilst there is action and suspense in the story, Captain Saru excels in characterisation and emotional investment as Beyer and Johnson dive deep into not only Saru’s capabilities and resourcefulness but also his doubts and inability to view himself as his ship-mates do.  There’s also a great deal of focus on the familial relationship between Saru and Michael Burnham which has, after a fraught beginning, blossomed (but with that occasional hint of professional tension remaining) during the series.

Just as Beyer and Johnson faithfully adapt the narrative dialect and characters of Star Trek: Discovery, Angel Hernandez (who cut his Star Trek comics teeth on the Mike Johnson written Star Trek/Green Lantern crossovers) perfectly recreates the look of the series with meticulous detail and attention and evoking the cinematic scope and direction that the makers of Discovery bring to television screens each week.  Hernandez is also adept in making the reader ‘feel’ the characters with his intricate range of facial work and their placing within the panels.  Colouring by J.L. Rio and Valentina Pinto further embellishes the visuals with a slight painted, water-colour quality that’s a little reminiscent of J.K. Woodward’s work on titles such as Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor WhoAssimilation² and Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever.  It all amounts to a wonderful read and essential for fans of Star Trek: Discovery.

The bottom line:  a highly enjoyable tie-in to the CBS series, Star Trek: DiscoveryCaptain Saru is another unmissable Star Trek release from IDW Publishing brought to life by a superb creative team.

Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.

Incorporated image is used for illustrative purposes only and remains the property of the copyright holder(s).

Comic Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1

IDW launches its latest Star Trek title…

Spoiler-free review

ST Discovery #1

Main cover art by Tony Shasteen for IDW Publishing’s ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1 (image belongs: IDW)

Written by:  Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson / pencils and inks by:  Tony Shasteen / colours by:  J.D. Mettler

What’s it about?

“The Light of Kahless” : the Battle of the Binary Stars is over and T’Kuvma is dead…but what drove the Klingon warrior to pursue conflict and his desire to forge a new era of glory for his people?

In review

For those who have been enjoying Star Trek: Discovery and eagerly await its return from hiatus in January, IDW Publishing’s new ongoing tie in comic is an essential read and an ideal way to get your Discovery fix in the absence of any new episodes.

Written by Trek comics veteran Mike Johnson and Discovery writer/Star Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer, with art from Tony Shasteen (Star Trek: Boldly Go), Star Trek: Discovery #1 kicks off Klingon-centric story arc “The Light of Kahless”.  Doing what the very best Trek comics and novels have always done, IDW’s Discovery title fills in the gaps of what we’ve seen on screen, adding background and depth as well as fleshing out character, delivering a satisfying missing chapter to the story being explored by the television series.  Opening in the wake of the Battle at the Binary Stars (as depicted in the show’s opening two-parter), the comic takes us back into the past as we learn of the troubled upbringing of T’Kuvma – ill-fated warrior and ‘saviour’ of the Klingon Empire – on the Klingon homeworld of Qo’nos, his discovery of the ancient sarcophagus ship and the forging of his path to glory.

Johnson and Beyer’s script hits all the right notes, effortlessly capturing the tone and ‘voice’ of the television series whilst expanding and enriching the mythology of Klingon culture as it is in Discovery, providing a deeper exploration of the themes of religion, tradition and war touched upon in the show together with a more detailed understanding of T’Kuvma’s motivations in his quest to bring about a new age for the Klingon race.

Unsurprisingly, the art by Tony Shasteen is phenomenal with the expected high quality and strong, meticulous detail that’s a faithful representation of Discovery as well as expanding the universe by giving readers a look at the home of the Klingon Empire as yet unseen in the series.

Some readers may be disappointed by the absence of any Starfleet/Federation presence and the main characters of Star Trek: Discovery but there’ll surely be opportunities to tell those stories further in the title’s run.  Right now, this is the sort of arc needed to embellish the narrative of Star Trek: Discovery’s journey on the small screen.

The bottom line:  A perfect companion for fans of the television series, IDW’s Star Trek: Discovery comic delivers an engaging and visually appealing look into some of the show’s backstory.

Star Trek: Discovery #1 is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Book Review: ‘Star Trek: Khan’ #1

Written by:  Mike Johnson / pencilled by:  David Messina & Claudia Balboni

What’s this issue about?

Standing trial for his acts against Starfleet, the genetically enhanced Khan Noonien Singh reveals the truth about his origins…

In review

With Star Trek: Khan #1, IDW Publishing has launched another tie in to director/producer J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness.  I’ve felt that IDW’s Into Darkness related titles have been a bit of a mixed bag, I was a little disappointed with the Countdown to Darkness mini-series (whereas the previous Star Trek: Countdown is essential reading that adds considerably to the enjoyment of the 2009 film) and similarly underwhelmed by the three issue After Darkness” arc from the ongoing Star Trek title.  The lead in issues of that monthly series did however produce some interesting character pieces, particularly the rather excellent flashback to McCoy’s earlier years told in issue 17 and the current post-Into Darkness storyline certainly has potential.

With so little of Khan’s back story dealt with in Star Trek Into Darkness I’ve eagerly awaited this series which should hopefully enrich and enhance the film by fleshing those details out.

Much like the Star Trek: Nero mini-series added layers and complexity to the villain of Star Trek, the premiere issue of Khan provides a platform to do the same with the antagonist of Into Darkness and so far, it succeeds.  IDW’s veteran Star Trek writer, Mike Johnson (with guidance from Trek screenwriter Roberto Orci) serves up another strong tale with some great dialogue (including Khan’s sharp and icy rejection of the court’s authority) that is faithful to the voices of the characters we’ve seen on screen and I was pleased to see the inclusion of Lead Prosecutor Cogley (who defended William Shatner’s Kirk in the classic original Star Trek episode “Court Martial”).

In terms of visual quality, David Messina’s pencils and inks in the opening trial scenes have never looked better with strong character likenesses and each panel feeling like it could be a scene framed and shot for film.  Claudia Balboni provides the art for the majority of the book as we flashback to Earth in the 1970s and the story of Khan’s past unfolds as the science of eugenics is born.  I’ve said before that I’ve been a fan of Blaboni’s previous work on IDW’s monthly Star Trek title and her style complements Messina’s perfectly, not so different that it’s jarring yet subtle enough to ease the reader into another time and place within the story.

It’s interesting to see a departure from Greg Cox’s Eugenics Wars novels in that the young Khan is a cripple and a guinea pig ‘enhanced’ through genetic manipulation (oh and for those troubled about the stark contrast in appearance between Ricardo Montalban and Benedict Cumberbatch, the seeds are cleverly sown for an explanation).  Like all good Star Trek stories this provides the ‘viewer’ with a cautionary and topical tale of man seeking to interfere with nature and the unforeseen repercussions that arise from those efforts.  As Spock put it in “Space Seed”“superior ability breeds superior ambition”.

The bottom line:  It’s hard to judge Khan completely at this point until all six issues have been published and the full story has been told, but it’s all off to a good start of what could prove to be an essential companion piece to Star Trek Into Darkness.

Star Trek:  Khan #1 is out now in print and digital formats from IDW Publishing.

Yet another top cover to a n IDW 'Star Trek' title, this time from Paul Shipper.

Another top cover to an IDW ‘Star Trek’ title, this time from Paul Shipper.