I don’t really get it when people say J.J. Abrams made Star Trek cool again. Abrams just knew what was already cool about Star Trek, and used his populist sensibility to craft a summer blockbuster around it. I’m not a Trekkie, but to me the reboot seemed less like a game changer and more like someone stripping a franchise down and rebuilding it. Abrams treats it well, subtly updating the aesthetic and ripping away any of the fat built around the franchise. The Original Series stayed cool through all these years, something about the progressive and sexy vision of the future just sticks, and Abrams honed in on exactly why the series has never left the cultural radar.
Casting has a lot to do with it. The cast here is all around solid. What could of easily been a said parade of parody and impersonation is instead a cast of established characters freed from a lot of the restraints of legacy. It was a smart move and does a lot to humanize the characters. Sure, there is a few winks to the audience, but that’s to be expected. Again Abrams went for the overall aesthetic. Karl Urban may not look a whole lot like DeForest Kelly, but he personifies the beaten down sarcastic doctor better than any physical impression could. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto effortlessly inhabit iconic characters and instill them with a new history. As tight as the screenplay was, it would have all fallen apart with weak casting. Luckily, that was far from the case here. The weighty challenge is pretty much brushed off right away. Plus, Bruce Greenwood and Simon Pegg never hurt.
The biggest thing Abrams and company got right though was the sound. Star Trek is auditory sex. The transporter beam may not be one hundred percent exactly the sound from The Original Series, but the whole feel is so dead on it doesn’t matter. The movie is full of comforting sounds. They come straight from the sugar and Jetsons fueled visions of the future I had as a kid. The phasers, the steady beep of the cockpit machinery, and pretty much anything that isn’t part of a big action set piece is clean and precise. And it’s exactly how the future needs to sound. But, the set pieces sound amazing too. They’re HD sound showcases, and expertly edited and crafted. Michael Giacchino’s score is a fitting tribute to some of Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner’s best work, and is equally as bombastic as their earlier scores when it needs to be. Nothing sounds bad here. A year later, it’s still one of the best TrueHD mixes on the market.
Of course the pretty sound and visuals are wrapped up in some decent Hollywood storytelling. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman managed to do a fantastic job reworking the franchise, reintroducing ideas around audience expectations but also making it pulpy enough that a complete Star Trek virgin would have no problem following. It works. It’s gimmicky and plotted to stretch, but it works. Still, it’s a shame the whole film is taken up by it an origin story, pretty much making Eric Bana useless. The film is so tightly wound around the reset concept, Nero is reduced to a Chekhov’s gun. Bana’s Nero is about as menacing as a wounded kitten, so he doesn’t really even succeed in that.
In that regard, Star Trek misses the point a bit. The best part of the franchise was never the canon or science fiction backdrop, it was always the existential and human stories they tackled. Up until Next Generation, the franchise didn’t have a complicated canon. It was Bonanza in space until it was Shakespeare and Moby Dick in space. Star Trek is a movie that very much wants to stand on it’s own, so much so that Abrams spends a little bit too much time cutting the strings. It’s really only a problem when comparing the film against the best of the franchise, and that’s saying something for the quality of the film.
To the credit of the creative staff, they somehow managed to slip in the complete change of format and not have the movie feel bloated and pandering. It never felt like some cheesy Star Trek gone extreme reboot, even with the emphasis on action set pieces and big budget pacing. Star Trek is pure summer fare, and with that it in mind everything plays perfectly. You just have to accept it’s more Bruckheimer than Roddenberry. Inspired casting and a tuned sense of storytelling keeps things tight and interesting. Action set pieces are varied and plentiful, Abrams must have learned a lot about pacing after Mission Impossible III. Not much really happens in Star Trek, it’s mostly Kirk going from point A to B, but still Abrams is confident enough to let the film slow down when it needs to. It doesn’t feel like padding though, it feels like Star Trek. That melding of confident big budget filmmaking and classic Trek feel is what makes the film so good. It makes something old and stale feel fresh again, and more importantly, relevant.
Don’t ever bring up Ed Begley Jr. to Denzel Washington. I don’t know what happened between those two, but Denzel flips the fuck out.
You know what’s really funny about Dr. McCoy? He’s a casual racist in space. While the revamp version tries to soften him…the anger is still there. What must it be like to be a racist with intergalactic travel? So many new worlds and people to hate. I wonder if it just turns into sensory overload.
In it for the money.
The Acklay’s going to be pissed when he realizes that he’s in the wrong prequel.