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a review of Star Trek 2009 by Randall Landers
first published in as an on-line exclusive May 8th 2009

My youngest son, Jeremy (14), came to me Tuesday night and said that he wanted to see the new Star Trek movie. I smiled, and told him I'd be glad to take him. I asked my other two children if they wanted to go. Neither Ryan (17) nor Kimberly (18) wanted to go. Ryan has not watched Star Trek since they killed Data, who was his favorite character. Kimberly simply had no interest in seeing it. I asked my wife Linda if she wanted to see it, and she didn't want to. Her favorite Star Trek was Star Trek: The Next Generation, and this movie was not her Star Trek. And like Ryan, she hasn't seen any Star Trek since Star Trek: Nemesis.

So tonight, Jeremy and I went to Star Trek, he with hopes for a good movie. And me with hopes that it wasn't awful. We both got what we wanted; he thinks it's a good movie, and in my opinion, it's not awful.

SPOILERS AHEAD...

The story itself was yet another revenge story, with Nero serving as both Shinzon (from Nemesis) and Khan (as in Wrath of...). He's yet another demented loony with designs on forcing Spock to watch Vulcan destroyed just as Romulus was destroyed by a supernova. Nero even goes so far as to put a Ceti Eel...oops, I mean a Centaurian Slug (or whatever) into Pike's mouth in order to get information out of the Enterprise's captain. His motivations are obscure (ill-defined) and clearly insane. Nero blames Spock because Romulus was destroyed even though Ambassador Spock tried to save the planet. That simply doesn't make sense. And his crew doesn't even challenge him.

Science-wise, the supernova that threatens to "destroy the galaxy" unless Ambassador Spock stops it doesn't make sense either. The blast even destroys Romulus (for which Spock gets blamed) because the Vulcan ambassador was supposed to be able to stop it by dropping (get this) "red matter" into the supernova to generate a black hole to stop the explosion... Huh? Quite often the result of a supernova IS a black hole. Somehow, the red matter manages to generate a black hole that sends Nero's ship and Ambassador Spock's ship back in time: Nero to the point where his ship comes out of a wormhole and destroys the U.S.S. Kelvan, killing Lieutenant George Kirk (JTK's dad), and Ambassador Spock to the same point twenty-five years later.

Nero waits around for twenty-five years, captures Ambassador Spock, steals his "red matter" and drops him off on, believe it or not, Delta-Vega which is no longer on the edge of the galaxy. It's so close to Vulcan, that Vulcan is clearly and largely observable in the sky. Remember in Star Trek: The Motion Picture we get a full view of Vulcan's sister planet. Well, you better believe it: Delta-Vega is that sister planet.

So in 2387 or so, to recap, a star goes supernova. Its shockwave destroys the planet Romulus, despite Ambassador Spock's effort to stop it with "red matter." Shinzon...oops, I mean Nero goes after Spock, but both get sucked into a black hole, and Nero's ship emerges in 2233 and destroys the U.S.S. Kelvan, killing Jim Kirk's dad. He waits there for twenty-five years. Ambassador Spock's ship emerges in 2258, and is captured. Spock is marooned on Delta-Vega so that he will be forced to watch Vulcan implode into a black hole. Whatever this dreaded "red matter" is, one drop of it was capable of collapsing Vulcan into a black hole, and thereby killing the Vulcan race.

Meanwhile...James T. Kirk is born in 2233 or so, and is quite the rebellious teenager. He crashes a car, gets in a bar fight (grabbing Uhura's tits in the process), and joins Starfleet where he meets Leonard McCoy who's going through a bitter divorce. While McCoy is perfectly acceptable, this James Kirk isn't the "stack of books with legs" as described by Gary Mitchell (who is absent from this movie). And meanwhile, on Vulcan, the young Spock grows up being picked on by the other Vulcan children (I should add this coincides nicely with the events of "Yesteryear").

Three years later (and they tell us that), Kirk cheats at the Kobayashi Maru in a rather amusing scene. Unfortunately, the designer of that test program really takes exception to this, and Kirk is brought before the Starfleet Academy Board of Review (hey, it's Madea!) and the designer (who happens to be Spock--a shocker to be sure!) presses the matter. Before it's resolved, there's a galactic crisis as it's now 2258, and Khan...damn, I mean Nero is drilling a hole in Vulcan from orbit using the biggest drill bit that ever could make the space elevator guys drool all over their popcorn. It hangs down from the orbiting space ship to a point a hundred miles or so it looked above the surface and fires a beam at the planet to drill a hole to its core.

Anyway, Kirk is suspended for cheating pending the review, and McCoy sneaks him aboard the spankin' brand-new U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk realizes that the "lightning storm in space" that describes a recent event means that whomever destroyed the Kelvan (and killed his dead) is responsible. He rushes the bridge, and with Spock's agreement, convinces Pike that this is an attack on Vulcan. The Enterprise comes out of subspace into a debris field. All the other starships launched from Earth have been destroyed.

In the most improbable of moves, Nero has Pike join him on his spaceship, and Pike leaves Spock as Captain and Kirk as First Officer (no sign of Number One or Jose Tyler, by the way). That's not exactly military procedure. (They also leave the seventeen-year-old Ensign Chekov in command twice!) Pike gets captured and tortured; Spock manages to save his dad, but not his mom; Kirk and Sulu stop the drill bit too late. Another improbability, Nero spares the Enterprise from destruction because he wants this younger Spock to watch the destruction of Vulcan, too. So once the dust from the imploding Vulcan clears, Spock dumps First Officer Kirk out an escape pod and has the Enterprise head for a rendezvous with the rest of the fleet. Yeah, that's military procedure, you know, at least in this version of Star Trek.   

Again, another improbability happens: Kirk crash-lands on Delta Vega where he meets up with guess who? Ambassador Spock, who happens to explain everything to Kirk including the fact that this entire movie and its events are in an alternate universe. Together, Kirk and Ambassador Spock traipse off to a Starfleet facility where the meet up with the deus ex machina to get Kirk back to the Enterprise: Montgomery Scott who's quite the comedian. With Ambassador Spock's help, Scotty and Kirk beam back to the Enterprise which is lightyears away and traveling at warp speed. Kirk gets command of the ship by getting Spock to go amok. Kirk gets the crap beaten out of him, and is about to be killed until Sarek intervenes by calling his son's name. (Pity they didn't have him shout "Kroykah!") Spock realizes his emotions got the best of him, and relinquishes command to Doctor McCoy (?!?!?!?!) who immediately relinquishes command to Cadet Kirk (?!?!?!?!). Poor ol' Sulu! Poor ol' Uhura! Poor ol' Chekov! No one objects (?!?!?!?), so the Enterprise heads to Earth which is Nero's next target for reasons again that only make sense to him--"I intend to destroy every member world of the Federation and thereby save Romulus!"--and since he's got plenty of "red matter" and only a drop is needed to implode a planet into a wormhole, his plan is bound to succeed (although I'm not sure how destroying the Federation will stop the star from going supernova and destroying Romulus in 2387).

With Scotty's machinations, and after Spock's lengthy kiss with Uhura, Kirk and Spock beam aboard Nero's ship which is above Earth while the Enterprise is above Saturn. They rescue Pike, destroy Nero's ship, and are rescued by the Enterprise (Scotty's so proud--he beamed up three people from two different locations at one time!) as Nero's ship and the red matter implode into some sort of super black hole from which the Enterprise can't escape! Fortunately, Scotty (the god of engineering, you know) has the Enterprise jettison all these warp cores into the super black hole, and the Enterprise escapes.

A short time later, Cadet Kirk is promoted to Captain of the Enterprise for saving the day. Spock meets with Ambassador Spock, and they come to an understanding. Later, on the bridge, Kirk and Spock make peace with each other, and they're heading out to explore strange new worlds. In another weird transition, it's Ambassador Spock's voice who gives us "Space the final frontier..." Why they didn't use Chris Pine to do this, I dunno.

Casting was genuinely good. Chris Pine made a good if out-of-character James T. Kirk (even though it wouldn't have hurt to give him hazel-colored contact lenses). Zachary Quinto made an excellent Spock (he looked the part). The same is true of Karl Urban who was a terrific Leonard McCoy (although it wouldn't had hurt to give him blue-colored contacts). The minor characters of Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) were well portrayed. I thought Ben Cross did an admirable job as Sarek, and Winona Ryder was a reasonable Amanda. Bruce Greenwood did a terrific job as Captain Pike. Nice cameos by Tyler Perry and W. Morgan Sheppard. My only problem was Simon Pegg as the comedic relief of Montgomery Scott. Outside of "The Trouble with Tribbles," I never saw Scotty as comic relief, let alone as an overly proud deus ex machina used to solve every plot contrivance thrown at our gallant crew.

Uniforms were reasonable, but I would've preferred the ones from the original series or even "The Cage." I did like the Vulcans' outfits. Aliens were scarcely visible, except for the Vulcans, but that's consistent with the original series. I'd've preferred to have seen a few more at Starfleet Academy.

The sets were, unfortunately, quite bad. The new bridge is ridiculous. The main viewing screen is an augmented and reinforced window. That was just horrible. The set was overlit, and had far too many stations, including a few holographic ones. Simply put, it was supposed to be visually stunning, but it ended up being a distraction. Engineering was far too large, and looked more like an abandoned chemical plant than something that would actually fit within the starship.

The Enterprise itself was ungainly. I remember when the Excelsior was introduced, and many fans called it the "pregnant guppy." I cannot help but wonder what they'd call this monstrosity. The bloated whale? Just a badly rendered version of the starship which spent more time being shown from unusual angles (spinning, upside down, rising out of the atmosphere of Titan, dodging space debris) than actually being realized in a realistic manner.

Afterwards, the reaction of the viewers were ambivalent. There was a brief scattering of applause. A few negative comments. A few positive ones. Jeremy said it was a good movie when a man asked him what he thought. When asked, I said, "Well, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." Another man remarked, "It was all right, but I liked the real Kirk and Spock from the old show better." That led to a lot of verbal agreement among us as we left. The theater for the 7:30pm show was only a quarter-filled.

Of course, I've been bombarded by emails since last night asking what this film means for Orion Press. A few contributors want to know if we're going to try to make any of the events of this film fit our timeline, and the answer is definitely not. It's too much of an alternate universe and alternate timeline that it simply can't fit into the Star Trek universe as we know it. It doesn't even fit the Modern Trek timeline. It's simply too different. So don't expect to see anything built on this visualization of the Star Trek universe to appear on our website.

Right now, whether the movie is a success or a bomb will dictate whether or not there's a sequel. Oh, I know, there's a lot of hype about the sequel. There always is.

But the real question for Star Trek fans everywhere should be "Who did they make this movie for?"

Wasn't made for fans like myself, to whom the original series episodes are simply the best Star Trek to date.
Wasn't made for fans like my wife or son Ryan, to whom Star Trek: The Next Generation is their Star Trek.
Wasn't made for folks like my daughter who will occasionally watch an episode with me, but who has far more interest in things like Twilight, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.
No, it wasn't made for the non-fans either. They weren't in the theater. They were next door watching Wolverine (which is what a prequel should be like -- true to the characters!), Hannah Montana, Earth and even Aliens vs Monsters

No, face it. The movie was made for J.J. Abrams and his buddies. It was made as another attempt to milk the cash cow that Star Trek once was. And I don't doubt for a second that they'll try again rather than give us something...anything NEW.

     Other Views...
from Orion Press regular contributors

Jim Ausfahl writes:

From my standpoint, the folks at Paramount showed their usual lack of concern for serious science in crafting the movie, but very cleverly managed to build a gripping (and at times hilarious) plot that allowed the continued use of the major Classic Trek characters while totally erasing any and all of the history that the original series created. They start with the known, and greatly beloved, relationships between the characters and a totally clean slate.

Fred Dixon writes:

I must admit I am somewhat ambivalent about the new Star Trek movie. Even though the movie was two hours long, it seemed rushed. It went from births to adolescence to young adults going through Starfleet Academy. Then suddenly, raw cadets are transformed into senior officers aboard starships. The producers of Star Trek really had to push hard to get all the characters in their places aboard this Enterprise and at warp speed at that. The wake of this rush left more holes in the plot than a piece of Swiss cheese.

Yet another Star Trek movie had a time travel story that was spun with all the built in paradoxes. I was left thinking on many occasions, "what?", "why?", and "how?". (Because it moved the story along and it was cool that’s why.) Allow me to riff now, this the only way to describe how the plot flows. We need Kirk on the Enterprise, but he is on suspension for rigging the Kobayashi Maru test. No problem, McCoy cooks up some baloney story that Kirk is under his care and he must come along to the ship. Once on board, he crosses Spock. Spock then determines that Kirk must be ejected from the ship and not be thrown in the brig. Magically, he winds up near the older Spock Prime (almost Spock past his prime) on Delta Vega Delta Vega has inexplicably moved from near the Galactic Barrier to be within visual range of Vulcan. The narrative at this point in the middle of the movie was an unfortunate literary device to keep the movie from imploding upon itself. Everything is explained: how Spock is on Delta Vega, why the Romulan Nero is doing what he is doing, etc. Kirk and the elder Spock are also near a Federation outpost manned by none other than Montgomery Scott. (By the way, this outpost looked like my old junior high complete with linoleum floors and fluorescent lights) Oh, you get my drift.

On the positive side there was deference to the canon and history of Star Trek. Tribbles, Iowa, Delta Vega, Archer and his dog, "I'm givin' ya all she's got, Captain", "I have and aways will be your friend", "Kirk to Enterprise", "Eye, Keptin", "I'm a Doctor, not a...", Pike in a wheelchair, the aforementioned Kobayashi Maru test and on and on. They certainly found an attractive and talented group of actors to take on the iconic roles. The exterior of Enterprise was well rendered. However, it seemed to have a Lost in Space sense of the spatial for the interior. The ship had large portions of itself envisioned as warehouses and the basements of office buildings--complete with water pipes, old fashioned valve cutoffs and stairs going up and down. Yet it looked good, the proceedings moved along and most importantly, it entertained.

The soundtrack was fine, but the original Star Trek theme wasn’t struck until the very end of the movie. Note: in the end credits, they gave credit to the Star Trek theme to Alexander Courage and Gene Roddenberry (because he wrote those awful, unused lyrics).

It certainly wasn't the worst Trek I have ever seen, but it wasn't the best either. I give it a C+. Now that all the exposition has been dispensed with, I would expect the sequel to have a coherent story, you know, like they taught us in tenth grade English.

(Note: I felt comfortable taking my 14 year old daughter to see it. She didn't think it was as good as Twilight.)

Diane Doyle writes

Even though I realized the new Star Trek movie, being directed by J.J. Abrams, would be different in many ways, I still anticipated its arrival. I saw it twice, once in a traditional theater and once in an IMAX theater. My review of the movie will be in the Good, Bad, and Ugly Format.

The Good:

One of the greatest strengths in this movie is the portrayal of the original series characters. The writers and the actors did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the characters. Chris Pine adeptly portrayed the brashness and swagger fans would associate with Captain Kirk. Kirk was portrayed as being a rebel in his younger days, but that was not unusual in both professional and fan fiction that depicted a young Kirk. The back story shown in the movie on Spock showed his conflict between his human and his Vulcan side and the fact that the inhabitants of Vulcan were prejudiced against him because of the former and that Vulcan children are as cruel to those who are "different" as Human children are. The first meeting between Kirk and Doctor McCoy that occurred on the recruit transport struggle gave hints as to their future relationship and showed McCoy’s dislike of some of the hazards in space. Urban does an excellent job of portraying McCoy who got some of the best lines in the movie including "space is disease and danger" and "you don’t leave your prize stallion in the stable."

It was great to see Uhura get a good part that is instrumental to the plot. Too many times, she was relegated to "open hailing frequencies". In this movie, she was shown as a strong female. It was interesting to see Kirk’s pursuit of her, romantically speaking. Chekov is shown as a young whiz kid. I can certainly imagine a younger Chekov being hyper if he figured he needed to save the ship in a hurry. While it disagreed with events portrayed in the original Star Trek series, the portrayal of Captain Pike as a father figure to James Kirk was believable and well done.

The Bad:

There were some events portrayed in the movie that were unbelievable. One instance of was Kirk advancing almost immediately from a cadet in who was in trouble to Captain of the Enterprise. This does not happen in the military. As brilliant as Chekov may be, it is not quite believable to have him graduate from Starfleet Academy at 17. I am assuming that the Academy operates like the current service academies, with a 4 year program, which would have meant Chekov starting at age 13. Chekov almost seemed like a Wesley Crusher type character.

It seems like the making of action/science fiction movies these days is like the amusement parks’ creation of new roller coasters. In other words, how can it be made bigger, faster, and more thrilling? For example, was it really necessary from a dramatic point of view to have the planet Vulcan destroyed?

The Ugly:

Nero used Centaurian slugs to help extract information from Captain Pike about Federation defenses. This device was very reminiscent and derivative of the Ceti Eels that were seen in The Wrath of Khan. While revenge is certainly a great motivation from a dramatic standpoint, the same type of revenge scenario should certainly not be rehashed in all Star Trek movies.

Overall Assessment:

Overall, the new Star Trek movie is good. It is engaging and entertaining and has great character moments. It was well reviewed by critics, getting a "fresh" rating on the Rotten Tomatoes.com site from 95% of the critics. So far, it has earned $222.8 Million, already exceeding the box office totals of any previous Star Trek movie. The movie has probably gained some new fans for Star Trek and is still entertaining for many old fans even though many events in the movie contradict event depicted in the old TV show.

Grade: B

Carolyn Kaberline writes:

I finally had a chance to see the new Star Trek movie, and in general, I agree with many of the other reviewers: Not the best Trek I’ve seen, but not the worst either. While it was entertaining in its own right, there were so many errors in basic science, not to mention their own science that I’m surprised it came off as well as it did.

While the story is set a few centuries in the future, the Enterprise has enough steam pipes showing that I’m not sure I’d trust it to get me out of the solar system let alone halfway across the galaxy. And that space port that Kirk leaves from looks like more like an oil refinery than a modern transportation hub. While the bridge is extra bright, I think I prefer that to the dark bridge and corridors of Voyager and Enterprise—I kept thinking that those two ships spent so much money on building their vessels that they couldn’t afford light bulbs afterwards.

It was also interesting that there were attempts to relate to canon by borrowing parts from the series and the other movies that seemed to have audience appeal, i.e. the creature they put in Pike was reminiscent of the one put in Chekov in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, although Nero never seemed to do anything with the creature or Pike after that. Other attempts to follow canon include McCoy’s "I’m a doctor, not a..." lines. And while the actors were relatively good for their roles, I have trouble picturing a humorous Scotty or a ship full of so many youngsters that I kept wondering where the chaperones were.

Plot holes were many: Kirk and Sulu were captured in a transporter beam while falling, but a transporter lock that had already been established on Amanda could not be maintained as she fell over a cliff. And while Nero is after Spock because the Vulcan failed to inject this mysterious "red matter" into a supernova in time to save Romulus, Nero seems to have determined its properties and how to use it on his own using the technology of his incredibly well-armed mining ship. I also have trouble believing that Kirk would need to explain to Pike the similarities of the vessel they were up against to the one that destroyed Kirk’s father’s ship. Pike supposedly wrote a lengthy dissertation on the subject, and one just doesn’t forget writing that type of paper.

Also, it was obvious that Abrams and company have never visited Iowa—not only are there no desert regions as shown in the film, there are also no holes of the magnitude that swallowed the car Kirk was driving.

In general, the film was entertaining, but...I’m glad Orion Press is going to stick with stories from the original series; the movie is fine as an alternative universe—and at least the relocation of Delta Vega works in that, but I prefer staying with stories that actually have substance and tackle the problems of the day.

David Landon writes:

Once upon a time, the future of Star Trek was in grave doubt. The last film in the series was viewed as a failure, and while Paramount had enough confidence in Star Trek’s value to commission another one, they made it clear that a new approach was needed. A young director who freely admitted that he was not a Star Trek fan was hired to take the reins, and he delivered what might be termed a highly irreverent take on the Star Trek universe, where the Enterprise was a cadet ship on a mission to seek out revenge-crazed bad guys and blow them up real good. And we loved every second of it, because the year was 1982 and we were watching The Wrath of Khan, directed by Nicholas Meyer. In the twenty-seven years since The Wrath of Khan hit theaters, its many inconsistencies and plot holes have been pointed out again and again, yet its popularity endures.

Which brings us to the present day, and J.J. Abrams new Star Trek film. In order to make the franchise relevant to modern moviegoers (remember, these are the same folks who loved the scene in Transformers where Bumblebee urinates on a Federal agent) Abrams’ team has delivered a conventional summer blockbuster. It’s a loud, frenetic, and flashy roller-coaster ride, full of plot holes and improbable coincidences, and must be set in a Bizarro World that has some kind of Logan’s Run thing going on, since almost every character is under twenty-five. But like The Wrath of Khan, it’s so entertaining that I don’t care. If you pay much attention to Internet message boards, then what J.J. Abrams has done with Star Trek either makes him the Super Captain of Giant Awesome or a villain worse than Hitler. My own opinion is not as extreme. Good Star Trek is like ice cream—it comes in many different flavors. Although my favorite flavor will always be Original Series, Twenty-First Century Summer Blockbuster is pretty enjoyable in its own right. We all have different preferences, though, and arguing with someone because they did or didn’t like the film is as silly as arguing over the best ice cream flavor, in my opinion.

More capable folks than I have already examined Star Trek 2009’s shortcomings, so I thought I’d point out some things I liked about the film. Ben Burtt’s sound design wonderfully incorporated sounds from the original series in a believable way. Only a true original series geek would pick up on this, but did you notice how the Academy bridge simulator (which was meant to resemble a class of starship older than the Enterprise) actually incorporated the background sounds from the Enterprise bridge as seen in The Cage? Genius. Also, the film’s opening sequence aboard the U.S.S. Kelvin brought a kind of gritty realism to Star Trek that we’ve never seen before. In fact, it’s hard to believe that the competent, military Starfleet that Captain Robau and Lieutenant George Kirk belong to would hand the captaincy of their newest, most advanced starship to a third-year cadet just twenty-five years later.

All in all, I found the eleventh Star Trek to be like an enjoyable thrill ride: fun, as long as you don’t think about it too much.


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