Retrospective: Star Trek (2009)


Reboots by their very nature are divisive. There are always going to be a variety of opinions on each version of Star Trek, a franchise which comprises of a variety of TV series and some rather terrible (if iconic) movies along with some of the most dedicated fans. The J.J. Abrams reboot is divisive because he modernises it and more importantly makes it assessable to non-fans who want an adventure. It deals with the various extraneous bullshit which the series has accumulated over its many years by approaching it through doing what comic books call a ‘Year Zero’ reboot where all the characters are returned to their early days under a different timeline. The clearest evidence for this is in the far more explicitly military nature of the Federation and a wonderful redesign of the ships and consoles. I absolutely love the mix of clean glass modernism with a 50s/60s chrome and streamline twist.

The story isn’t important – it’s the visual treat and the humanity that makes this movie. It boils down to the whims of space-time making an interesting story with strong characterisation which may not seem exactly like the more traditional Star Trek, but you can still see the influences clearly.

The original series was very liberal as creator Gene Rodenberry was a utopian and believed in this incredibly detailed world which was expanded over and over again until its contradictions were exposed. Controversially, Deep Space Nine ends the optimism of the series with genocide, war and moral flexibility and not much in the way of ethics. Star Trek’s long history and generally terrible movies coupled with incredibly confusing plots featuring various realities means that whatever the reboot decided to do, large amounts of the original fans would be unhappy. To me this a good thing as expanding to new audiences can only be positive though making it a light, fun and engaging movie without the associated baggage. This is a huge asset as it allows the director to tell the story he wants without having to negotiate the crap that has come before. It’s effectively turned into a galactic swashbuckler, which isn’t a problem in itself as a simple introduction can allow for all sorts of craziness in the inevitable sequel. See the recently rebooted Sherlock Holmes as a good example. The first is a whodunit and then the second is a more complex chase story inspired by European politics of the 1880s. It will be curious to see whether Abrams does indeed go for something more ambitious storytelling-wise in the forthcoming sequel whilst still keeping hold of what made the first movie so much fun.

This movie is nicely filmed although both its CGI and combat scenes have undoubtedly been heavily inspired by the Battlestar Galactica reboot (2003-2009), with the space scenes done in a cinéma vérité style of shaky cams, silences in space, rough styled pans all heavily borrowed by J.J. Abrams. Likewise, the more human moments have significant amounts of shaky cam, albeit not quite Paul Greengrass levels. This gives it a significant vibrancy and drags you along nicely. Another nice little touch is how it fulfills one of my little golden rules which is that films set in a military environment have to have plausible radio chatter and have to follow basic rules. A small detail for some but important nonetheless.

This is a nice, energetic movie which doesn’t put any great pressure on the viewer’s intelligence. It’s colourful, well-acted and well-shot. It’s science fiction but without all the challenging questions about humanity. It’s simply a clever modernisation which is sympathetic to the past but not beholden to it, allowing anyone to take pleasure in its adventure.

Retrospective by Harry Riedl

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