A Star Trek for a new generation

by Cap'n Carrot on May 8, 2009 · 25 comments

in Film

star-trek-2009Let’s get one thing straight, this ain’t your daddy’s Star Trek. J.J. Abrams and his team have successfully relaunched a franchise with 2009’s Star Trek. What we’re given us a fun summer popcorn flick with characters that resemble those from the classic TV-show. However, the film isn’t perfect and makes a few too many changes to Trek continuity for my tastes (not all of which can be argued away by the plot’s time travel plot). Is it a good Star Trek film? Yes, it’s by far the best one the franchise has put out since Star Trek: First Contact. Is it a great Star Trek film? Well…

Let’s begin with the contraption by which the entire film hinges. Years in the future Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is involved with an attempt to save Romulus from disaster. The result sends both Spock and the Romulan ship back in time to create havoc and alter the time stream. This basic premise will be used to explain how the film deviates from basic Trek chronology and how Kirk will rise to become Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

As convoluted as it is, as plot point itself I don’t have a problem (and it works much better than Generations‘ Nexus), however the film asks us to believe the death of Kirk’s father (hey, it happens in the first ten-minutes so I’m not giving away much here) has a ripple effect not only on Kirk’s timeline but on the other Enterprise crew members as well. I’m less able to buy the second than the first. In this film all members of the crew, except for Spock who is only slightly older, are all basically the same age. This Kirk doesn’t take control of an Enterprise that was already put together under Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), but one that’s pieced together over the course of the film. Does this work for the film? Yes, but it’s also a bit of a slap in the face to longtime Trekkies.


Also troubling in this version is the fact that Starfleet seems to be more than a tad shorthanded. When a Federation world is attacked the only ones available are ships largely staffed with fresh recruits? Where is the rest of Starfleet (and can you even call it a star fleet if it’s made up of only a half-dozen ships)? And they aren’t the only ones as it seems the entire planet of Vulcan (a civilization far more advanced than humans) seems to be without a single craft that can navigate across space. The film has its share of logic holes like this which will nag your throughout and keep it from becoming the film it could have been had a little more care been taken with the plot.

We’re also given extremely awkward childhood moments of both Kirk and Spock that give us no new information about the characters. Thankfully once these pass and we catch-up to the characters now grown things get better quick. Chris Pine’s Kirk isn’t a Shatner clone though he carries many of the characters best qualities. I’m more on the fence with Zachary Quinto as Spock, not so much with his performance which is quite good, but with the attempt to more humanize the character. Sarek as well (played here by Ben Cross) is the most empathetic we’ve ever seen him portrayed.


The character I liked best in the film is relegated to the shortest screentime. Simon Pegg is brilliant as Scotty, but you’ll have to wait well over an hour before he makes an appearance. Rounding out the cast Karl Urban is good, though of all the actors here he (and perhpas Anton Yelchin as Checkov) is the one that seems determined to channel the original character rather than make it his own, John Cho makes a fine (if slightly too acrobatic) Sulu, and Zoe Saldana, who is given a larger role than Nichelle Nichols ever received, hits all the right notes as Uhura.

Pine’s Kirk and his lackadaisical attitude (this Kirk isn’t driven to become a starship Captain) leads to one of the two biggest groan-worthy moments of the film as J.J. Abrams takes the defining moment of the Kobyashi Maru and turns it into something akin to a fratboy prank. This was one of the few scenes which was so bad it made me squirm in my chair. The other involves a pretty stupid decision by Spock and Kirk’s short time on the ice planet of Hoth. The first is actually damaging to the core of the character while second is just inane.


To quickly sum up a few other minor points. I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, that, much like Casino Royale, we are denied the classic theme of the franchise, which would seem appropriate in many scenes, but is relegated to the closing credits. The special effects are good, and I like the new-old-look Enterprise as well as the squid-like Romulan ship. Eric Bana is passable as the film’s villain Nero (he’s certainly no Khan), but the film realizes he’s the least interesting part of the puzzle and thankfully keeps him in the shadows for most of the film.

So to answer my original question, is Star Trek a great Trek movie? Although it’s does a good job of relaunching the franchise and infusing some energy and excitement to the proceedings it still has enough problems which prevent me from categorizing it as great. That said, it’s still really good, the best damn Trek film in years in fact, and both old and new audiences should be able to find much to enjoy in this newest chapter of Star Trek.

*Note for those who haven’t seen the film: many of the comments below do include spoilers. Read at your own risk.

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  • MavMurdoc

    As someone who was never a Trekkie, I loved it. But I can see how many long time fans of the show could be let down by it. At the same time though, Star Trek is one of those shows that is SO loved by people that it would be near impossible to meet everyone’s expectations (especially those who’ve loved the show for so long).

    I think Abrams at least has given Star Trek an audience that wouldn’t have looked at it otherwise. Several of my friends are now downloading the original episodes of the show, and enjoying them. I plan to do so myself pretty soon.

  • Jay Acker

    While I also concede that there are some very drastic changes to this new universe of Star Trek that make it hard for a fan such as me to really wrap my head around.

    I have to say, I bought into the altered reality posed by the time travel wholeheartedly. In fact it allows me to compartmentalize all that happened in the William Shatner Captain Kirk world and deal with them both separately yet equal.

    For anybody who really can’t let go, I have two points. One it really was hard to reconcile the lack of technology in TOS. And secondly the franchise had dwindled down to a point that something drastic was needed to honestly provide new material.

    I do have a different viewpoint to your complaint about all the different changes in the other characters of this Star Trek. If we are in a sense starting over then things would naturally develop differently due to the inherent randomness of life, and I am okay with how some of the characters are approached differently and in some instances more humanely. In fact, if you wanted to follow this logic, it would be perfectly acceptable (if not stupid movie wise) to just replace some of the basic characters with somebody completely new. For instance maybe Sulu failed Starfleet and became a bartender in Oklahoma City, and somebody else is at the helm…

  • http://www.sinus-gigaset-forum.de Chris

    I remember the old school Star Trek from my my childhood years and I’m glad the story is still alive. Of course they changed some charakters but I think too it’s a well done new movie.

  • m

    I’m a long time old-school fan of the original series. Grew up watching it.
    I loved this movie. It does have some variations to the basic story (all accounted for with all the time travel stuff), but still, great movie.
    And, instead of just another Star Trek spin-off, they are really trying to resurrect the actual characters of the original, and trying to get into the persona of each. It’s a great story and this movie is breathing new life into it.
    I’m looking forward to several movies with this new crew.
    p.s. The only real issue I have with the review to which this comment is attached is the disbelief in Vulcan having “not a single craft that can navigate through space”. Two things: One, all we see is wreckage around Vulcan. There could be Vulcan ships in that debris. Two, Vulcan is a diplomacy driven civilization and not warship dependent. As I think about it, I can’t think of a single Vulcan warship in the entire original series, so it would be natural that the would rely heavily on the support of other allies.
    Now that I have vented my Trekkie nerdom, good day to you all.

  • http://www.transbuddha.com Cap’n Carrot


    Even if I concede your point about the Vulcan’s not having any warships (which seems highly illogical and naive in a universe populated with Klingons and Romulans) that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t still have spacecraft (and I don’t see enough debris around the planet go buy that they were all destroyed).

    Remember it was a Vulcan craft which came to Earth to make first contact. Yet are we suppossed to believe that it’s up to a Federation craft which happens to show up to rescue the leaders of the planet because they would be so befuddled not to have a single ship to carry them to safety? Again, seems illogical to me.

    Like the lack of other Federation ships (as in not a single one protecting Earth, and no debris this time) this is a plot hole I can’t swallow. The only explanation I can come up with is the film simply didn’t have the design budget to create more ships and didn’t have the insight to create a plausible explanation for their absence.

  • m

    Well, Cap’n, another couple of things. My point wasn’t that they didn’t have “any” warships, we just never see them in the original series and it is doubtful that they would choose to develop a military anywhere near the scope that a human society would. Also, you may not have seen enough debris around the planet, but we were given a very Federation-centric viewpoint of the debris…the point where the federation ship warped to. The Vulcan ship could have all been destroyed by the time the Federation received the distress call. That Romulan ship seemed to make quick mulch out of anything it came near.
    Also, they estimated the remaining numbers of Vulcans around 10,000. The Enterprise didn’t beam aboard 10,000 Vulcans. All we saw the Enterprise take were the 4 Spock managed to get from the surface. Some may have been off-world, and others may have been beamed aboard, but the implication is that some DID escape, most likely on Vulcan ships.
    And about the small number of Federation ships, this is the early days of Starfleet, and before any major scuffles with Klingon’s or Romulans. I would imagine it would take a while to build up a massive fleet and it doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me to assume they would only have a dozen or so Starships. They even showed the ongoing construction of one on the surface, again implying that they are in the process of building their fleet. Infact, being a prequel, I would find it a lot harder to swallow if they had 100 or more Starship at their disposal.
    Now, it is true that, if i’m correct about this, the movie didn’t volunteer a lot of this information, but man is anything more par for the course of the Star Trek series? It’s almost a trademark of the series that we have to read alot into what has actually happened.
    I like this discussion…It’s exciting!

  • http://www.transbuddha.com Cap’n Carrot

    You get to the heart of the problem at the end of your comment. These nagging problems I had could have easily been explained with one or two lines of dialogue (“Captain most of the fleet are busy at defending the Neutral Zone, so it’s up to us!” or “Captain, the Romulans blew up the nearby shipyards where everyone was docked having a gay orgy, so we’re all that’s left!”), but weren’t, and that’s just lazy writing.

    And remember, thanks to Enterprise (as much as I’d like to forget it, the show is part of Star Trek canon – and well before timeline alterations that take place here so they weren’t effected), we know Starfleet has been building ships for decades leading up this movie. I’m not saying they needed 100, but don’t you think they should have more than a half-dozen (and maybe a couple not staffed 50% or more from fresh-faced recruits), and at least one assigned to protect Earth?

    Yes it’s more dramatic if the Enterprise is the only ship to stop the Romulans, but there are lines of dialogue where Spock mentions a fleet and rendezvousing with them. It seems obvious to everyone that Earth is the likely next target for attack, so my question is why weren’t any ships ordered home to protect Earth(remember not even the Enterprise was ordered home that was Kirk’s decision alone)?

    As for the 10,000 Vulcans, that’s the estimated number of total Vulcans living in the entire universe after the movie. That doesn’t mean all of them came from the planet. You would have to figure the majority of that number would have to be Vulcans that were on assignment on other planets, in space, or elsewhere. Unless of course they have no ships and live in caves like the ones we see. Heh. Think about it this way, if Pakistan nuked Israel tomorrow and none survived there would still be thousands of Jews living, those that weren’t in Israel when the attack occurred.

    Am I being a bit critical of the film’s shortcomings? Maybe, but then again I’m a critic, so there you go. As I said plot points such as these bothered me, but I still really enjoyed the film, though not as much as I would have had they been addressed.

  • Jay Acker

    ### Is it too late to post some kind of spoiler alert on these comments ###

    Cap’n Carrot

    In fact I think there was some mention about how the other ships are on other missions so its up to the cadets.

    Besides, I was fine with the premise in the final scene of Top Gun so I’m okay with it here.

    And I’d also point out that the Enterprise was the only ship that had any kind of forewarning that this wasn’t just a natural disaster and that there is some kind of future Romulan ship that has far better weaponry. So maybe there were all kinds of Vulcan efforts that were obliterated.

    Maybe the fact that this was just thought of as a natural disaster is the main reason the entire Fleet’s power wasn’t brought to bear on the situation. It seems that Nero has operated with the element of surprise that only the Enterprise was aware of.

    You do make a point, that was one of the things that bothered me about there only being 10,000 surviving Vulcans. That seems to be an extremely small percentage that were offworld, out of 6 billion Vulcans.

    Imagine if the United States were blown up, there would be way more than 10,000 expatriots to carry on the stripes and stars and there are what 200,000,000 Americans?

    While we are nitpicking… The other thing that bothered me is did Nero and his crew just sit around for 25 years in that spot in space and wait for Spock to come through before bothering to do anything about. Maybe there are some aspects of the time travel concept that I missed.

    Also Nero’s assumption on what happened and his response seem to be quite radical, but he is a Romulan after all.

  • http://www.eclecticcommons.com Jon Percepto

    I agree with everything you have said and would add that the score could have been better and there were too many camera flashes to distract attention from the action. I do miss the constitution class enterprise but was consoled by the “Boing” sound from the original series noticeable in the film. One of the reasons the series was so popular was the sounds and vivid colors- An orange or green sky here, a purple wall there and alot of red doors at a time when black and white television was moving into color. This enterprise looked more like the set designs were done by Apple. But even with all this considered, it all worked. Star Trek has always been well served by spacial anomalies, time travel and alternate time lines, all of which are considered among its best stories. It seems quite logical to have chosen an alternate reality along the line of TNG’s Yesterday’s Enterprise. A spacial rift, an emergent ship from the future changing history, the present and future. A “Big Bang” for the franchise and well done with a clever script. Besides, Leonard Nimoy as Spock always had a way of explaining illogical things,logically.

  • m

    Good points Jay. The only thing I might somewhat argue is that Vulcan seems to be somewhat insular. They establish contact, and set up diplomatic relations with warp-capable races, but it seems that Vulcans seem to stick to their own. There is very little mention of other Vulcans in starfleet, and Spock’s involvement in starfleet had some to do with being half-human and not fully accepted as a Vulcan. They emphasized this in the movie. The analogy to Israel or the United States doesn’t seem to hold up because we have NO reason to assume that Vulcans have a large, established presence in any world other than their own. Definitely not Romulus or the Klingon home world, and most Vulcan view Humans as being “emotionally compromised” and other than diplomatic relations seem to have little to do with Earth. So which planets exactly are we talking about as having large numbers of Vulcans? Also, didn’t we notice that Spock’s father, the Ambassador, was also on Vulcan? I’m guessing that with the active Vulcan ambassador to Earth, his complement, and the various other Vulcans, most likely involved in other scientific fields, on Earth, the number is a small percentage of that 10,000. It seems in the previous comments we’re assuming that Vulcans would be a prolific settlers and integrators as Humans. I think that’s a mistake. I think it doesn’t fit their profile.
    About the ship numbers, I really liked the “Enterprise” series, but I think we have to be careful of trying to find a perfect continuity with every series in the Star Trek franchise. For example, just about every series has a good bakers dozen episodes involving time travel, often to Earth’s past. Why didn’t Piccard somebody who knew the story of Nero destroying Vulcan do something to prevent it? Maybe they didn’t want to alter the “current” altered version of history, thus altering their own altered timeline? If we try and work all these series out perfectly it is impossible for chaos not to ensue. I think we need to focus on the fact that this movie is a prequel to the Original Star Trek. I really don’t want to have to figure out how to fit in the episode of “Deep Space Nine” where the station was saved by a Leprechan.
    My only comment for Jay was the line about Nero sitting around for 25 years. Well, he didn’t want to blow up Vulcan or Earth until Spock was there to see it. Making his presence known would give several species 25 years to stop him, which obviously took the Federation considerably less than that to actually do it. His ship was powerful, but he knew it could be defeated if he didn’t play his cards right.

    However, it seems like our disagreements are quite minor and we do all seem to agree that we liked this movie, so there is definitely our common ground.

  • Jay Acker


    Okay I’m cool with the Nero line of thought and even your explanation about the Vulcan’s proclivity to staying at home. I’m actually not one to complain over details, but this thread was too inviting to pass up.

    actually well I was mulling over a feature of J.J. Abrams in the recent Time magazine, he answered a series of questions from readers. And one asked him what his style is, to which he said he doesn’t really have one.

    But I’d have to say that the tendency for his creations to create a series of open questions that are too enticing not to try to figure out (I’m alluding to Lost) may very well be his trademark, and this movie has that in spades. For instance what in the heck was that little midget rock thing Scotty was hanging out in? Does anybody know the genesis of that odd comic relief character.

    I would like to point out a lot of the positives. I totally fell in love with the new Kirk character. He is recognizable and fun, while leaving Shatner’s Kirk alone. In fact all the tongue in cheek jokes and references to the the original series, while firmly implanting it as its own universe was well done.

    I’d like to echo the original reviewer in applauding the expansion of Ohura’s role, and what a smoking role it is.

    The action was great, while the movie was more than just a mindless action film. And I’m totally left wanting more, I want to see what might happen next.

  • http://www.transbuddha.com Cap’n Carrot

    “I really don’t want to have to figure out how to fit in the episode of “Deep Space Nine” where the station was saved by a Leprechan.”

    That was awesome!

  • http://www.scene-stealers.com Scene-Stealers

    Alan- You wrote: “a bit of a slap in the face to longtime Trekkies.”
    That’s the problem with this entire line of questioning. It stems from you having a problem letting go of the old Star Trek. From a storytelling point of view, this is a near-perfect Hollywood film. The silly little details and problems that you’ve created in your mind are not deal-killers, just extra baggage you need to let go. I never knew what the Kobyashi Maru was before this movie and I don’t care. The point was–Spock was trying to teach a poise during fear and Kirk found a way to cheat and beat the system. The very game helps define their characters and that’s enough for me. Abrams’ shorthand for good character development was one of the best things about this movie and you need to chill out and watch it again.

  • http://www.transbuddha.com Cap’n Carrot

    I’ll have to disagree with you Eric. I know you loved this movie, and although I enjoyed it quite a bit (in fact I went back this weekend, to see it in IMAX, but stand by all the comments above), it does have its issues. I didn’t create the problems listed here, they exist in the film. Yes, some are the result of continuity problems from a franchise’s relaunch, but some are just head-scratching plot holes.

    And the Kobyashi Maru test was just awful! The entire scene, played entirely for laughs, feels like something taken out of a bad sitcom and forcibly inserted into the film.

  • http://www.scene-stealers.com Scene-Stealers

    I’ll admit that Kirk chewing the apple during the test was a little more campy than cocky, but the one thing you left out of your review completely was the palpable sense of fun this film had, which is something I can’t say for any of the movies since they saved the whales. For a review of the movie that’s way more fun (and therefore reflects the movie better than Alan’s niggling diatribe), click here.

  • http://www.transbuddha.com Cap’n Carrot

    It wasn’t just the apple, it was the complete nonchalance of Kirk and the entire scene which was going for nothing more than the cheap laugh. Most of the movie is handled with much more care, which is why that scene looks so poorly done.

    And yeah, it’s fun, and enjoyable for multiple viewings, but no way (NO WAY!) is it Iron Man.

  • CoosCoos

    Overall, I thought it was great. Especially considering it was a complete reboot and none of it dealt with canon. Spock Prime said he came from 129 years in the future, which by my calculations is after TNG, and significantly altered the timeline starting with Kirk’s birth. The effect of having a starship destroyed (that wasn’t in the original timeline) would have had a ripple effect across the entire universe and could have theoretically changed all of the character’s lives, not just Kirk’s.

    My only real concerns were with the “secondary” characters — to me it seemed as if they were trying too hard to make them fit, especially Sulu and Chekov.

    I’m excited about the possibilities this new franchise has with a Kirk that is ever MORE crazy than the original and a Spock that is almost ready to embrace some of his strongest emotions, plus a Spock Prime who can give the Federation technology that is 129 years away from being invented!

  • CoosCoos

    I have heard from my inside sources at Paramount that the next movie picks up immediately where this movie leaves off, with Spock Prime finding out that none other than his half-brother Sybok is one of the 10,000 Vulcan survivors. He hunts him down and kills him, thereby sparing us any possibility of another “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”.

  • http://www.transbuddha.com Cap’n Carrot

    “He hunts him down and kills him, thereby sparing us any possibility of another Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”.

    Make it so.

  • MavMurdoc

    I have to agree with Scene-Stealer. I thought that even though in the scene Kirk was a little TOO relaxed about the whole thing, it definitely showed a good comparison between Spock and Kirk. Spock being overly “rational” and by-the-book, where as Kirk flies by the seat of his pants. If a situation seems unbeatable, Kirk will drive forward while doing what he can to give himself the advantage, while Spock is the “Let’s wait a minute and think about things before we jump into a hornet’s nest” guy. Both are good qualities.

    It’s also what started their whole angst toward each other, and the strife between Kirk and Spock wouldn’t have made sense without it.

  • http://www.transbuddha.com Cap’n Carrot

    Ah, but MavMurdoc you’re talking about the scene after the one I have problems with. I’m okay with the scene between Kirk and Spock in front of the academy (although I was disapponted how they went for the easy out rather than resolve the situation). My problem is with the test itself which should define Kirk’s unwillingness to give-up and bend or break the rules to win the day. It should be a victory for him (for which we know from Khan he won a commendation for original thinking) and a defining moment of his character.

    In this film however the entire sequence is done strictly for laughs. Instead the Kirk we are shown a dick who doesn’t really seem to care all that much about the test, decides to cheat because he can, and isn’t able to properly defend his actions afterward. This version of Kirk is more reckless throughout the film than the original but at least at other moments he has reason to be and a strong belief and reason to believe that he is right in each situation (which when he’s preening to the audience in the test scene is sorely lacking).

    It’s only one scene in the film, but one where the tone is too over-the-top compared to the rest. I still like the film, but if I’d been the director I’d have sent them back on set and told them to do it again, this time not acting like they were doing a skit for MadTv.

  • MavMurdoc

    I guess I can see where you’re coming from. The scene didn’t stand out that much to me. Only in retrospect did I ever think, “Hey, that was a bit cheesy”, which for me is okay. The only time I ever have an issue with a scene is when it really breaks your concentration from the movie and makes you ask, “What just happened.” Being unfamiliar with the characters of the Star Trek universe probably helped me in that respect as well.

  • m

    The Kobayashi scene was a little comedy-centric, but I din’t have any problem with it. We are dealing with a different Kirk here. The original Kirk, inspired by a father who was present, probably would have acted much more serious in his Kobayashi manipulation. The Kirk in the movie, who lost his father and seems to have develop a stronger aversion to authority figures, would have done exactly what he did…act nonchalant and flippant just to throw it in their faces that he beat their unbeatable test.

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