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Star Trek Reborn by Pete Written on 17th May 2009

Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Release date: 7th May 2009
Running time: 127 minutes

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New crew on the block
I'll come clean, I'm a sci-fi nerd. That said, I'm an inclusive sci-fi nerd, so my nerdiness takes in the vast expanse of the Star Wars saga and the rich Star Trek universe as well as other shows like Babylon 5, Stargate SG1/Atlantis and the numerous others out there.

There's been an ongoing argument for decades now amongst nerds about which one of the "big two" is better - Star Trek or Star Wars. With the latter shooting itself in the foot somewhat due to some dubious prequel movies, the new Star Trek movie helmed by JJ Abrams kicks it whilst it's down to win the battle and take the crown. Seriously. It's that good.

Having watched what I'll refer to as the Captain Kirk movies recently, I'll admit that they're far richer in story and emotion than the more all-action efforts that followed featuring Captain Picard. As such I was extremely skeptical about this new film which sees a return to the roots of Captain Kirk's trek that actually kicks off from the moments he was born, through Starfleet Academy and on to his first mission aboard the Enterprise.

I was quite worried that this might be the final, final nail in the coffin (the previous nail I thought surely had to be Nemesis) of a franchise I love so much, and moreso worried initially by JJ Abrams directing as, like so many others out there, he keeps cropping up in my brain unfairly as "that guy who created Lost" - a show that I found irritating and could never get into. After brushing up on what he's contributed in his career I was a little less concerned on that front, but still...

I needn't have worried. The result is perfect. Well, bar a few minor niggles that even I can overlook.

Please note that there might be some spoilers ahead but I'll try not to say anything earth-shattering that you can't work out from the trailers.

Pulling the wonderful time travel card from the deck of Trek playing cards, the film sets out on a series of events that basically allow the franchise to be rebooted - things can be changed from as early as the events at the time of Kirk's birth onwards, so the writers are no longer tied down by events we've seen in series' or films.

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The USS Kelvin - Torpedo Magnet
Kicking off explosively with Kirk's father dying bravely aborad the USS Kelvin whilst saving the entire crew's lives, you're given the overwhelming impresion that this is an altogether different sci-fi beast from those we've seen previously in terms of tone, scale, ambition and sheer guts. Yes, you heard me, I said ambition and guts as I think it's less ambitious and gutsy to do prequels based off a strong franchise (Star Wars) than it is to essentially reboot one that's not experienced much box office success in it's past few outings (Star Trek).

With that event alone, Trek afficionados will be aware that the timeline has already changed as Kirk's father was supposed to live a lot longer than that to steer Kirk through his youth a little more rather than dying at pretty much the moment of his birth. Non-Trek folks will have nothing spoiled by me letting slip that the timeline changes in the first two minutes, as it's quickly apparent that something's greatly amiss anyway - I'll say no more on that subject.

What we see after Michael Giacchino's epic-sounding title music tidbit is a short history of Kirk's youth as a boy - more defiant, more reckless and very much more getting into trouble with the law. Fortunately (as there's a very cheesy line in there somewhere if memory serves) this quickly moves on to a much older pre-academy Kirk showing us that things haven't changed much and he's still a bit of a devil-may-care thrill-seeker, kicking off a bar fight with a bunch of Starfleet cadets whilst trying to chat up a familiar cast member - no prizes for guessing who (no it's not Spock!).

Following that fight Captain Christopher Pike (played brilliantly by veteran actor Bruce Greenwood) convinces Kirk to make something of his life and join Starfleet. (On a sidenote Kirk almost comes off better from the fight but the writers had the sense to show that, vastly outnumbered, you can't win unless you're Jet Li or possibly Jean Claude Van Damme-age).

We then take a jaunt through the crew's Academy days in which there's some fun to be had. We finally get to see how Kirk beats the no-win "Kobayashi Maru" scenario (referred to heavily in Star Trek II), his friendship with the ever-frustrated McCoy, the beginnings of some banter with Spock and so on before returning us to the much larger-scale fight betwen good (our heroes) and evil (Nero, played by Eric Bana who pulls off the whole 'mildly pissed and slightly crazed' villain perfectly).

I can't go too much into the plot beyond that without ruining the film, but the story is epic in its ambitions, the film is astounding in its achievements and the cast are spot on in their roles.

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"Have you been using my blusher again Jim?!"
You've got the comedy element from the series and past movies as well as the familiarity you had with the old cast's character quirks carried almost directly over into the new cast, with Simon Pegg's hilarious scenes as Scotty (his accent is great - don't worry), Anton Yelchin's eager young science genius Chekov, John Cho's swashbuckling Sulu, Zoe Saldana's feminist Uhura, Karl Urban's eerily spot-on McCoy ("Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor not a physicist!"), Zachary Quinto's somewhat more troubled Spock and Chris Pine's thank-God-they-got-that-bit-of-casting-right Kirk.

The film isn't afraid to poke fun at itself and the universe, but never takes it so far that it will enrage the fans. True, there may be some die-hard fans out there that don't like this, but I think that particular minority have forgotten that Star Trek is a light-hearted beast and all the more loveable for it. Star Wars tried the more serious route and that's resulted in three very wooden movies in the last decade and one truly annoying Jar Jar Binks.

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"That's the last time I park it in THIS neighbourhood!"
They've definitely had a good long think about how they can modernise things without making them look too futuristic for Kirk's era. The uniforms are very familiar to folks who've watched the original series for a start. The engine room however is now a vast expanse of pipes and catwalks - I would hazard a guess that it was filmed in some sort of refinery - and has none of the pretty things that are apparent in the rest of the ship. No clean, white walls in there or the shuttle bay, with the shuttles being very utilitarian inside as well. Step outside those areas and it's all gleaming white with bright lights throughout the corridors following on to to the bridge where they've made it feel futuristic - there's just no way you can continue to have old-school CRT monitors embedded into sets any more and still give the impression it's 300 years into the future, so they've re-done it from scratch and added a lot more crew and CGI in the background up there to really make it feel like the heart of the ship. A really nice touch here is that the viewscreen is actually a window, and when they're speaking to people on it, it overlays the window to very nice effect.

The ship exteriors have had a slight update too to move with the times a little whilst not veering too much away from what's been established. A nice touch is that Starfleet vessels now have some point-defense weaponry on board to shoot down any close range missiles and things of that nature, so it's more believeable that warships of the future will be roaming around without an escort of fighters.

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"You want me in ANOTHER Trek movie?"
All that said, they've definitely not thrown out the rule book completely and the movie relies heavily on the established history and universe throughout, as well as borrowing past actors to reprise roles in surprising ways - as in the case of Leonard Nimoy's appearance as Spock.

There are the odd few places where I can poke holes in the movie as a nerd if I really want to - there's a ridiculously long-range transporter beam sequence with some very convenient storytelling backing it up (but an excellent in-joke for the fans), a very odd need for what seems like a giant food mixer to be part of a water distribution system (honestly, why do you need to slice water?) and some other minor quibbles that those ubergeeks will be pouncing over for decades to come I'm sure, but the other 99% of the movie was a thoroughly enjoyable romp.

Industrial Light & Magic's work is, from the very first second of the film through to the flashy end credits, impeccable and undeniably their best work to date. I read somewhere that they'd been pushed beyond anything they've done previously and it really shows. Everything looks beautiful but aids the story and dialogue rather than Star Wars' sometimes unneccessarily destracting panoramas.

The musical score works perfectly in the context of the movie. I'm annoyed by the negative reviews on Amazon (UK) where there are a lot of classical music afficionados who don't rate it much, primarily because they're listening to it before seeing the movie. Seriously, take the broom handle out of your backsides and give it a chance alongside the actual footage eh what? Tally ho! I'll admit that the main theme established at the beginning of the movie might well be repeated once or twice too often for comfort, but everywhere it plays it really feels like it belongs, and at certain points (again, as a comlpete nerd) brings a tear to the eye - for example when the title pops up at the beginning and when Kirk and McCoy see the Enterprise in space for the first time.

Everything about this movie is pretty much spot on from a Star Trek fan's perspective, so what's it got that could spoil it? Well in the eyes of an aging fan base it could be seen as too action-oriented and too fast-paced. It could also be said to detract too much from Star Trek history in places - I'll agree that the writers make some VERY bold and unexpected departures from the established history, but they can do that as a result of the time travel plot and it makes the film that much more epic as a result.

And for regular movie-goers? Well it's a really anjoyable action adventure that doesn't presume that you know the history, lays out the characters quickly for you and holds your interest from start to finish with some explosive scenes, emotional outbursts and touching moments culmiating in arguably the most successful franchise reboot/prequel ever!


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