On Monday 20th April, this reviewer was lucky enough to be sent to preview the new Star Trek film along with a select group of press at Paramount Pictures in London. Paramount were kind enough to supply extensive production notes along with a hearty breakfast. It’s clear that copious work has been dedicated to (re)thinking everything Trek, from the obvious casting choices, through to scouting out beer factories and baseball stadiums for locations.
A recurrent theme throughout was J.J. Abrams’ vision of ‘rebooting’ the film for a new generation creating ‘a state-of-the-art action epic’ whilst paying homage to the ‘optimism’ of the original creator Gene Roddenberry. It was clear that both crew and actors desired to stay true to the spirit of adventure that brought together the disparate characters constituting the Enterprise’s crew.
The always-tentative relationship between a legacy and its modernisation obviously occupied press after seeing the film. All the actors (bar Eric Bana, whose baddie ‘Nero’ is the only new significant character addition) studied their precedents to almost reverse-engineer their characters back to their more youthful days.
Interestingly both Zoe Saldana (Uhura) and John Cho (Sulu) were questioned on the ethnic nature of their roles, given the historicity of the original series. Both the original actors – Nichelle Nichols and George Takei – constituted role models at a time when minority cultures were mostly under- or mis-represented on American television. Both Ms Saldana and Mr Cho thoughtfully confirmed that were proud to take up the baton from their notable predecessors.
Onto the film itself. As suggested by the lack of subtitle, it takes the franchise back to its very genesis. Abrams seeks to shed the sci-fi world of its Treknobabble stigma in favour of creating a good old-fashioned space action film. Do they succeed? Coming from a semi-fan – though the days of ‘The Shatman’ were long before my time – the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
From the stunning opening sequence, it’s clear that long gone are the days of cardboard sets and inexpensive effects – the budget is big, very big. In fact, it seems the film’s seismic stylistic shift from the old ‘campy’ Star Trek, to something that resembles almost Star Wars’ (hyper)realism, is the most sellable aspect of the film. As Abrams explained in the press conference, “despite it being a fantasy, our goal was to make [the film] feel real, feel alive.” From CG to sound production, costuming to The Bridge, little expense seems to have been spared, and it shows.
Similarly, a concerted effort has been made to make the film ‘cool’ – perhaps the hallmark of J.J. Abrams. The narrative’s temporal focus on the younger years of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew provides opportunities aplenty to cram in enough recognisably adolescent capers to keep pace with any other contemporary action film; how many previous Star Trek episodes/films have had anything that matches bar brawls, boyracing, accidentally stalling spaceships, and even Beastie Boys on the soundtrack?
The use of costuming, signature lines and cameos counterpointed with the viewer-as-camera techniques, witty one-liners and even situating part of the storyline in our very own Solar System, to strike the balance between appeasing the old Trekkie vanguard, and re-imaging the franchise as a more inclusive one to the casual viewer.
The film’s focus is the relationship between James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), characterised as two polar opposites whose initial encounter and consequent development establishes the origins for a future partnership of sci-fi lore. Kirk is a likeable cheeky brawler, a mix of James Dean, a young Indiana Jones, with a pinch of Maverick, who is – predictably – persuaded to join the Starfleet Academy on the basis of a dare. Spock meanwhile, is a brilliant but proud class geek, bullied for his mixed human-Vulcan heritage, and battling for control over his human emotions. They clash when Kirk passes the notoriously unpassable Kobayashi Maru simulation test, designed by Spock, by cheating and re-programming the computer. This initial collision is symptomatic of their underlying polarised problem-solving styles, and establishes the framework for the rest of the film to unfold.
Accompanying them on board are younger versions of the famous Enterprise crew: Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Bones (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). The ensemble cast all walk the fine line between homage and facsimile, and whilst the minor characters have negligible roles to play in shadow of the Kirk-Spock relationship, it looks promising for character exploration in potential sequels.
Overall, I really enjoyed the film. This may in part be due to having watched some of the later TV series, and having a general penchant for the sci-fi/action genre, but I’m reasonably convinced that it will appeal to most. After having seen the film I will revert back to my original reaction upon first seeing the trailer – ‘Bloody hell, Star Trek got sexy!’-evidenced by the female Starfleet Cadets’ mini-dress uniforms and the pleasing Chris Pine for the girls in the audience. Star Trek seemed to have reached a crossroads whereby something fundamental had to change to transform a legendary, but outdated, story into something that would bring current generations of movie-goers into the fold; and I think this energizing romp is the one to do it.
Lianne De Mello