The Story at the Beginning of Time:
Starfleet must stop a madman from destroying the Federation after he comes back in time to avenge the death of his wife.
Review and Analysis:
[Reviewer’s Note: This is the 7th complete rewrite of this review.]
I have spent several “autopsies” excoriating Rick Berman and Brannon Braga over their interpretation of the Star Trek saga.
After watching this, I am going to make a statement that I thought I would never utter:
I miss Rick Berman.
That’s what this has come down to.
What Does it All Mean:
It means that on the day that this movie was released in theatres, the Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry had created back in 1965, with Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, Majel Barrett as “Number One,” and Leonard Nimoy as Science Officer Spock, has officially been put out to pasture. Think about the mantra of the 5-year (or Continuing) Mission that you hear from William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Patrick Stewart when the show begins. Then think about how many of the shows and the movies actually follow that mantra.
But where Rick Berman attempted to keep the status quo while promoting his series to the detriment of the Original Series, JJ Abrams gives us a full-blown repudiation of Roddenberry’s…well, everything.
Basically, as I mention in this post about the shuttering of America’s Space Program, George Lucas’ vision of space adventure won. Just like the Borg, it simply assimilated Star Trek into its fold.
I made mention on another blog that the only movies where the Star Trek mantra was actually followed were The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier. Star Trek (2009) continues that trend, as no worlds were actually explored, no new life sought out, and no lesson regarding the human condition, which was one of the main points behind Roddenberry’s Star Trek TV series, was ever offered.
Instead, we just get yet another mad man with a technobabbly weapon and a dead female mate threatening Earth in some way. We get explosions. We even get some sexual situations. And nothing more.
But What About the Story?
Most of the people who reviewed this movie noted a number of similarities, thematically, to Star Wars (particularly, Episode 4). On the very surface of the film, there are many allusions to the film.
However, Star Trek is not quite based on Star Wars, even if some of the events are based on it.
Instead, this movie is nothing more than a Lucas-style homage to The Wrath of Khan, wrapped up in character personalities from Transformers: The Movie (1986).
Expounding will take place in another post.
On Nyota Uhura:
In the 1960s, Star Trek had undergone many revisions before finally settling on the “Magnificent Seven.” Uhura herself does not appear until the actual series starts.
The Uhura character actually provides some instructive observations. Many times, you get to see the end result of a studio decision, such as what happened in the episode of “Catspaw,” where Uhura, as the ranking bridge officer, would have taken the center seat (or the Captain’s Chair), but was prevented from doing so by network execs (because showing an African woman in command, especially if she’s not acting sassy or like a mammy, is a very scary prospect to introduce to 1960s White America).
In the six movies, Uhura is given little to do, and is often pushed from any related duties by Mr. Spock. In fact, in my review of Star Trek VI, I note that each of the main characters gets an heroic moment during their attempt to save the Federation President, except for Uhura.
Sadly, this problem continues with Star Trek (2009). Everyone does something to save the ship or the crew during the mission. Everyone uses their skills to show how special they are to the USS Enterprise and/or the Federation. Everyone contributes to the battle against Nero when it happens.
Except for Uhura.
What is Uhura’s contribution to going after Nero?
It’s a throwaway line that happens here:
The whole point of this scene was so that we see Jim Kirk gets to unintentionally “spy” on Uhura as she talks with her roommate (herself an allusion to the Original Series) about something “weird” happening. This, while she strips to get ready for bed (in front of Kirk & the audience, of course). What’s worse? She doesn’t even get to connect the dots to the events of the movie (Nero’s attacks as he travels to Vulcan).
Jim Kirk gets that honor.
This is her only “working” contribution to the film. Note that when she takes over the communications station on Pike’s orders, the Uhura character contributes nothing else to the mission.
There is more to say on the new version of Uhura. However, this will all be covered in another post.
In Gene Roddenberry’s version of Star Trek, Starfleet Command is a quasi-military organization, in which scientific exploration, relief efforts, and diplomacy are usually handled on the space frontier by ships equipped with state of the art scientific equipment and armed with powerful weapons. Rank and structure within Starfleet is similar to that of Earth’s naval forces, with ranks denoting experience, talent, responsibility.
For this movie, ranks and positions seem to be a mish-mash. Additionally, the “Ranks” of Ship’s Commander and First Officer do not seem to be based on military ranking, unless Pike had also given Jim Kirk a battlefield commission to the rank of Lt. Commander. Because Kirk was still a 3rd Year Cadet when Pike does this. Further, at the end of the movie, not only is Kirk a graduate of the Academy, but he is immediately promoted to the rank of “Captain” and given his own command…of the Flagship, no less.
The only conclusion that I can draw from this is that Starfleet is less like a Space Navy and more like a Convenience Store Franchise, where Ship Ranks are akin to store positions. Thusly, becoming a Captain would be like becoming a Store Manager; and Admiral would be a Regional Franchise Manager. When looking at Starfleet Command in this light, Kirk’s ascendency to Captain so quickly makes sense.
On Delta Vega (more on this planet later), Future Spock tells Kirk that he can get Spock to relinquish command of the Enteprise by invoking Starfleet Regulation 619 – being emotionally unfit for duty. However, what ends up happening in the end is this:
Spock performs the Starfleet equivalent of an Article 128 on James Kirk. Even without Regulation 619 hanging over Spock, the Article 128 would have been enough to put him in the Brig for a court-martial proceeding.
Also, it’s clear the Starfleet Security hates Kirk, too. No one intervenes in this fight on anyone’s behalf. This is especially true of the men who are charged with the task of doing so – and even have guns that could ease the job to do so. And this is while the ship is on its highest alert condition AND in the middle of battle in which the survival of the entire Federation is at stake.
Secondly, this version of Spock has even less control over his emotions than Spock Prime. All you have to do is make a “Yo Mama” joke and Spock goes Amok Time berserk on you. Some people would say that Spock is not vindictive, but watch the Original Series “Amok Time” episode and what he tells T’Pring. If that’s not enough, in the Animated Series episode “Yesteryear,” in which Spock is bullied by Vulcan children (because he is half-Human and Vulcans are bigots), has a Future Spock (calling himself Selek) teaching his younger self the Vulcan
Death Grip Neck/Nerve Pinch. Young Spock decides to immediately use it…on the bullies.
One of the reasons why Star Trek attracted such a following in the Sciences Community was its attempts at using actual scientific theory in its stories. It was this plausibility that provided Star Trek with an authenticity that few other series even tried to match.
Unfortunately, this too is dropped.
The backstory works something like this: The Romulan star goes Supernova and Spock gets a spaceship to attempt to stop the supernova by…
…creating a black hole to swallow the supernova.
I hope that Spock’s Red Matter Black Holes come with an ‘OFF’ switch, because while in theory an artificial black hole may be able to “swallow” a supernova, the black hole would simply pick up where the supernova left off.
Failing that, however, even with an off switch, the Romulus system no longer has a superheavy, superdensity, superthermal object in its center. Without this gravity well, Romulus would simply spin off into the furthest reaches of space. Also, without the heat of the star, the planet’s inhabitants would freeze to death…eventually.
Nero dumps Spock on the planet of Delta Vega. [Pointless Trivia Moment: Delta Vega, in the Original Series, was a planet near the edge of the Milky Way galaxy that the Enterprise limped to in an attempt to repair their Warp Drive – from the Original Series 2nd Pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”] If the image that Spock Prime is supposed to be looking at is a real distance image and not a sophisticated rendition, then Vulcan would be less than 10 million miles away from Delta Vega. Even more interesting, Vulcan is a high-heat planet while Delta Vega is snow and ice (science fiction often follows the single-climate model as popularized by George Lucas). And even a “small” black hole created in the center of a planet – why even bother with the drilling when you have a substance that creates Black Holes when detonated? – would also swallow Delta Vega without skipping a beat.
So, being nerdy is “cool,” until you break out some actual science, then you get the Barry Lambert treatment.
Homage, Homage Everywhere:
As mentioned earlier, this movie is more about taking the backstory from The Wrath of Khan and using it to fill out an otherwise uninspiring film:
This was alluding to Kirk’s “Fondness for Antiques” that Spock mentions after giving Kirk his birthday present: An original bound copy of, “A Tale of 2 Cities.”
This whole scene – and the next one where Kirk is confronted by Starfleet over his results of the test – references:
- Spock’s conversation with Kirk outside the simulator in TWOK;
- Kirk acting sagely towards Saavik in the simulator;
- Kirk and Saavik’s conversation in the turbolift on the Enterprise during their training mission;
- The revelation Kirk gives Saavik in the Genesis cave; And,
- Kirk and his son David Marcus reconciling at the end
Interestingly enough, it seems odd that Spock would program a test that he never takes. But this is a case of arm-twisting simply so that we have more character “conflict.”
Since Nero is supposed to be a Time-Travelling version of Khan Singh, it would only be fitting that he uses the same thing that Khan does to get the Federation Captain in his custody to do his bidding.
Nero is holding a Centaurian Slug, which apparently has the ability to latch on to a Human’s brain stem. Once there, it releases a “toxin” that
renders the victim open to “suggestion” that forces the victim to answer any questions given to them.
This moment is actually a throwback to Joachim trying to persuade Khan to give up his quest for vengeance after they escape. In this case, Captain Pike reminds Nero (and the audience) that he is in the past – and can warn Romulus of its impending (well, in 129 years) doom.
However, Nero is supposed to be so far gone that he wants to destroy the Federation before he warns Romulus of the coming Supernova. If he simply went to Romulus and warned its Council, then we would have probably been spared the schlock that is this movie. But, like Braga and Moore before them, Kurtzman and Orci skip the character buildup and go straight to the action; thus another Star Trek villain ends up forgotten when all is finished.
I also failed to mention that Nero’s motivation mirrors Shinzon’s from Star Trek: Nemesis. But, like Annorax from The Year of Hell series in Star Trek: Voyager, he fails the most basic tenets of Quantum Mechanics, not to mention plot details.
This one is from Star Trek VI, when Kirk, McCoy, and Martia escape from the Klingon prison.
Also, some people make reference to the 2nd “Predator” that shows up that kills the 1st Predator that was chasing Kirk as being a Cloverfield Monster. This being an Abrams film, that would not be a surprise.
Remember back in The Wrath of Khan when McCoy gives Kirk his birthday gift: A pair of prescription glasses? McCoy mentions that he would normally give patients with eye issues a dose of Retinax 5. Kirk responds that he’s allergic to Retinax, which McCoy acknowledges. We’re treated to the allergic reaction to a vaccine, though not necessarily Retinax, (through humor, of course) as Jim Kirk must save the ship from utter disaster.
You know you’ve watched the Star Trek movies a few too many times when you can tell that the shuttle’s path here in this film is almost the same as the one from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (repeated in The Wrath of Khan): Full side profile of the Enterprise, over the top of the saucer section, between the nacelles and over the engineering section, then docking. In TMP the shuttle docked in the portside airlock of the cargo bay. TWOK changed the destination to portside photon torpedo bay. Since this NCC-1701 has no airlocks, the destination is the main shuttle bay.
Ejecting and detonating the warp core to save the ship, as the ship is blown across space from the explosion’s wake? I hope Orci and Kurtzman are paying royalties to Michael Piller (writer of Star Trek: Insurrection).
The last image of Captain Christopher Pike in Roddenberry’s Universe was “The Menagerie, Part 2,” where Spock faces court-martial for his mutiny on board the Enterprise to take the ship to Talos 4 (the only Forbidden Planet in the UFP Statutes). The whole court-martial turns out to be an illusion created by the Talosians who were keeping Kirk distracted from taking back his ship and diverting it back to Starbase 11. But this is the episode that featured Fleet Captain Pike in his famous beeping wheelchair.
Now, here in Star Trek, Admiral Christopher Pike’s last image will be…in a wheelchair. Although it is nice to see a disabled (and wheelchair-bound) character in sci-fi, I cannot help but wonder if he would have been in a wheelchair if his “Prime” character was not.
A Crew “Born of Fire”:
The entire bridge crew of the USS Enterprise gain their positions on the ship in nearly the same way:
– “Captain” Kirk becomes the commander after Pike is captured by Nero and forces Spock out of the chair at the behest of Spock Prime.
– Spock becomes First Officer after the post is left abandoned by Captain Kirk.
– Montgomery Scott takes over as Chief Engineer after saving the ship (using Geordi’s methods, BTW).
– Leonard McCoy takes over as Chief Medical Officer after the Romulan attack killed the ranking Doctor on staff.
– Hikaru Sulu becomes helmsman after the appointed helmsman comes down with Lungworm.
– Nyota Uhura takes over as Chief Communications Officer when the appointed officer is relieved by Captain Pike (because he can’t tell the difference between
Japanese and Chinese Vulcan and Romulan languages).
Pavel Chekov is the only one who retains his original appointment. Pike also refers to him as the “Russian Whiz Kid.”
The William Shatner Backlash:
In reading many reviews of Star Trek (2009), the acrimony of many long-time fans is still apparent; even going as far blaming him for things in which he himself had no control over. Example: Sulu’s character promotion – Far too many fans blame Bill Shatner for that when they should have been pointing their guns at Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett, since they were the ones responsible for actually producing, writing, and directing the movie. But when you’re attempting to justify a full-on hate for a person – and not just his character, anything goes.
As I note in my review of Star Trek V, many fans have never forgiven Shatner for his behavior as reported by other cast members (mostly Doohan and Takei) over the years. His betrayal of Nichelle Nichols (he had written in his Star Trek Memories memoir that Nichelle had a fling with Gene Roddenberry over the years – after telling Nichelle that he had no intention of publishing that factoid) is a very valid bone of contention, but one that has to be settled between William and Nichelle. Many of the complaints of William Shatner’s acting during the Original Series can be traced back to Season 3 – and lots of fans don’t talk about the behind-the-scenes issues that occurred that season, in which most of the production and writing staff had left the show (IIRC, including Roddenberry himself) and the budgeting for the show was smashed into cookie crumbs.
Regardless of the reason, it seems that most people take their frustrations out on the Kirk character, and it should be noted that Kirk in this movie never wins a single fight with only his wits – he loses every fist-fight in the film. he also seems to hang off of more cliffs than Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker combined. Even though the Original Series Kirk had an discerning taste in women (he actually “bedded” fewer women than Picard or Riker), he is portrayed as having not only a high sex drive, but also a total lack of respect for the women he happens to be with. In essence, he is reduced to being a pick-up artist.
Basically, as far as Chris Pine as Kirk’s attitude goes, he would be rightfully tossed out into space without looking back. Mainly, it seems as if the writers wanted to point out all of Kirk’s “Bad” qualities and simply have him make Captain in spite of them, just so “all is right with the Universe” and we could, as the audience, get behind him quickly. It doesn’t seem to work out, however. It’s like watching a character never mature, but being expected to win, nonetheless.
And This Movie Also Hates, and With a Passion of an Exploding Sun:
Look at the roles for women in this film.
Winona Kirk – Only needed to give birth to Jim. Is only mentioned being off-planet for the purpose of having her second husband complain to Jim after having his car stolen. Is never seen nor heard from again. Even though seeing her son following closely in her father’s footsteps (as well as her own, unless she isn’t Starfleet…which would be…most unfortunate) may make her proud, we never find out.
Amanda Grayson – Only needed to provide “emotional” anchors to Spock and Sarek. She dies before Vulcan is vacuumed into a Red Matter Black Hole. Note that her death was needed to provide a storyline excuse for Kirk to provoke Spock into attacking him so that Spock would have to relinquish command. Her death served no other purpose in the story.
Uhura – Her character “revamp” is only to provide eye-candy for the audience and emotional/character conflict between Kirk and Spock. Also note that her dialogue towards Kirk borders along unprofessional, even when such behavior is unnecessary and uncalled for.
Gaila – Only as homage to Vina. The sad thing is that Vina was the young woman who becomes attracted to Captain Pike (From the Original Series Pilot “The Cage.” Neither she, nor any other Orion women ever mentioned had anything to do with Kirk. Even more sadly, it is implied that Gaila is as sex-crazed as Kirk, only this is way-sided very quickly. That was supposed to be an embarrassing moment for Kirk, although the reason is because we (as the audience) are not supposed to see women having multiple partners at different times as anything but a possible moment to slut-shame them. Even in the 23rd Century, attitudes about sex and sexual relationships are as prudish as they are in 21st Century America.
[Orion Sidebar]: The closest that ever happened was Marta (from “Whom Gods Destroy” from the Star Trek Original Series). The first mention of Kirk having done anything with any Orion woman actually comes from one of Eddie Murphy’s stand up comedy routines. But pointing stuff out like this tends to get in the way of a prescribed narrative, namely Kirk having carnal relations with every woman he sees, so we’ll ignore that. That was actually Pike’s territory, but then again, she wasn’t really Orion, either.
Additionally, there are, once again, no female characters working for the Bad Guys at all. They are, however, the impetus for Nero to go on a time-traveling killing spree that takes him through Klingon space before vacuuming Vulcan away. In fact, she is only named in the credits as “Nero’s Wife.” You see the same kinds of gender-based failings in Batman and Robin.
And Now, A Word on the Cinematography:
The “Shaking Camera,” which has its roots with The Blair Witch Project, has been used as filming crutch in many movies ever since. The thing that makes Shaking Camera a poor gimmick to use is the fact that it is often paired with other cinematic tricks like Jump Cuts, Camera Whip-Arounds, and Scene Cuts of 18 frames or less.
With Star Trek, you see most of the above, along with another cinematic gimmick: The Lens Flare. This, along with the brightly colored bridge, had many people close to Abrams compare this to The Apple Store (a place I’ve never had to set foot into, and, if I can ever help it…never will).
Cam-Shake blatantly shows up during the space sequences late in the film, so its more subtle appearances (all covered by the more distracting Lens Flare) are not really noticed. The bigger issue here is that these cinematic gimmicks are used to cover the holes in the plot AND to keep the mind from processing the CG sequences “properly.” The Lens Flare attempts to fool the visual sensory inputs into believing the scene to be in natural and ambient lighting, thus keeping it from focusing on the very sterile scenery that is the Enterprise bridge. (Note that you do not see much Lens Flare on the Romulan “Mining Vessel”)
Trek Nerditry on New Continuity:
With this movie, the only Star Trek series in continuity is Star Trek: Enterprise. However, only the “original” universe version is the only one left intact. Because of these events, the Mirror Universe can no longer exist, since it receives its boost with the arrival of the Prime Universe USS Defiant (Constitution-class version, events from “The Tholian Web” Original Series Episode). Thus, no rise of Empress Hoshi Sato.
It’s unclear whether Sarek has his marriage to a Vulcan Priestess, which brought us Sybok. Also, no relationship between Kirk and Carol Marcus (because Gary Mitchell, also not in Starfleet now, never points her in Kirk’s direction).
No Robert April as the first Captain of the USS Enterprise. At this point, no Captain Tracy, no Fleet Captain Garth of Izar, no T’Pau, no T’Pring, no Stonn, no Commodore Decker nor his young son Willard, no Ilia, no USS Intrepid (with its all-Vulcan crew), no treaty, no vaccine, and NO LT. YAR! (Sorry….)
This is a pretty instructive movie. Like Galaxy Quest before it, Star Trek (2009) reveals interpretations of the original Star Trek, its characters, and its theme, that are markedly different from Gene Roddenberry’s original intention. But the problem is not in this assessment; the message that the audience receives is often different from the message that the makers display.
The problem however, starts with the basic attempts at comedy in Trek. Because where David Howard and Robert Gordon (the writers of Galaxy Quest) attempt homage with comedy, Roberto Orci and and Howard Kurtzman attempt homage with conviction. Characters not named Kirk or Spock get little backstory.
Star Trek writers have been trying since 1983 to write a villain as memorable as Khan Singh. Nero does not really register in the end because his quest for vengeance was never made personal enough, and the time-travel element, through which the story starts, derails the plotline for destruction in ways similar to those in Star Trek: Generations.
I almost failed to mention that the blatant advertising and product placement made for a nice derailment of the film.
This movie, like other Dark and Gritty Re-imaginings™ (Universal Pictures), carries most of the set pieces of the original (or 1st Remakes) and proceeds to add more scantily-clad women (and call it “Sexy”), more mindless violence (and call it “Daring”), and some visual effects gimmicks (and call it “Edgy”). The issue at hand, however, as a movie which is supposed to be an updated adaptation of “Star Trek” as presented by Gene Roddenberry back in the late 1960s, it is an unapologetic failure.
Unfortunately, Abrams was able to accomplish what Rick Berman could not: Give a full repudiation of Gene Roddenberry’s storytelling theme and methods. Kirk is a turn removed from being a “Reality Porn” Performer; Spock is a hair-trigger sociopath; and Uhura is just eye-candy who sasses Kirk at every turn. Everyone else is a one-note, one-dimensional prop who just says their old catchphrases and/or performs the mannerisms from the Original Series. There is no lesson on the Human Condition (there has been none since “The Undiscovered Country”), no exploration, no discovery. Just blackest space being lit up by turbolaser fire, bracketed by destruction.
Basically, if you take away the Star Trek name and characters, you get, once again, a typical space action movie of the era. Your main characters are all about character conflict – and they even fight each other. The villain gets a rushed backstory, but is reduced to killing random people and yelling at everyone. But instead of coming off as a man who wants to kill his enemies without remorse, Nero sounds more like a petulant teenager as the film drags on.
Peeled away, this film hates women of all stripes. But, then again, this is a failing of nearly every science fiction and fantasy franchise.
Star Trek has somewhat pretty visual effects, breakneck-pacing, and enough shiny baubles to keep most audiences happy. This movie made money during the blockbuster season, so a sequel has been in the works.
But is it not a Star Trek movie by any stretch of the imagination.