Review: Star Trek [2009]; nu-Trek, A New Universe of Stories (With a New Bird)!

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a review by the Spotted Nutcracker.
(big thanks to the Crow and the Azure-Winged Magpie for holding my hand through this!)

🎉 🎉 🎉

Ops Officer‘s log, Stardate 96829.78: Hello all! I’m the Spotted Nutcracker (but you can call me Maja) and I’m the newest member of The Corvid Review! I was meant to join up with the team way back in December but I just wasn’t able to get around to it until now. The Azure-Winged Magpie’s (these privacy nuts, seriously) been name dropping me a lot and I’m finally here. 

Since this is a little bit short notice, there was no time for the official introductions the AWM wanted (and I didn’t get a custom picture for the review either), but I hope we’ll get to know each other soon. 

Seeing how I’ve joined up right at the end of “Star Trek Celebration”, I thought my first post was going to be about one of my favourite Star Trek episodes, but because Di’s out sick so often, I’ve decided to fill in for one of the two remaining films instead! Happily, there was already a draft written for the review, so 

Continuing off the back of the last movie in the franchise, we’ve come up to the first Star Trek film that has nothing to do with the TV side of the series in:

Star Trek (2009)

SPOILER LEVELS at MAJOR

Following the negative response to Star Trek: Nemesis, and a reshuffle behind the scenes involving CBS and Viacom, Paramount decided to reboot the Star Trek series with a new cast while still keeping the basic set-up from the original show. Because of this, Star Trek (2009) is the first movie in the series that could do its ‘own thing’ without worrying too much about continuity, but it decided to do one better.

The film decided to explain why things were suddenly different: why the ships were bigger and the cast appeared similar to, but weren’t, the original crew. The way they decided to explain it was with the idea of a ‘spin-off universe’ created by time travel.

And as far as I am concerned, that is a pretty good explanation. But because Trek fans love picking at details, this caused a few heads to turn. 

I’ll let the Crow explain: 

The Crow: […] there’s one thing about 2009’s Star Trek I find very few people talking about.

I posit that the “split” in the timeline occurred far before the appearance of the Narada. The smoking gun being that — in this timeline — Kirk is born in space. There is no way that the child we see being born aboard the USS Kelvin‘s escaping shuttlecraft could be born in Riverside, Iowa — no matter how one might stretch the imagination.

Given how much the timeline is meddled with in the Star Trek franchise, any number of incidents might be pointed to as the “starting point” for the alternate reality — as described by Spock — we see in this movie. It’s only a minor point, but one I feel must be brought up when discussing the 2009 iteration of Star Trek. It simply makes more sense, this way.

Star Trek starts with the USS Kelvin coming up on a ‘lightning storm in space’. Everyone is very confused by the event and before anyone can understand what is going on, the Kelvin is attacked by a much bigger ship that comes out of the ‘lightning storm’. 

The commanding officer of the ship is George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth in his first major film role). He sends his pregnant wife (Jennifer Morrison from House) off the ship just in time before the Kelvin goes on a suicide mission to stop the enemy ship. Young Jim Tiberius Kirk is born and named just a few seconds before the Kelvin rams into the enemy and the title card is shown.

These first ten minutes of the film are probably the best Star Trek has been in the forty years that had passed before it. I know some fans might not agree with me, but I don’t think there has ever been so much tension in a Star Trek movie before. I have watched only some of the TV episodes, but I ended up watching all of the movies with the AWM when she watched them for her reviews. Apart from First Contact, none of them have been so tense. I watched this (2009) Star Trek for the first time a few days ago and the opening completely blew me away.

After the intro, things become a bit weird. There is a scene with a car and The Beastie Boys which shows how horrible young Kirk’s (Jimmy Bennett) life has become. This scene looked fine when I first saw it, but when I thought about it later, it didn’t make any sense. After that, the film shows a school on Vulcan, where a young Spock (Jacob Kogan) is getting bullied. He gets in trouble for beating up the bully and his pa Sarek (Ben Cross) gets called to the principal’s office.

The AWM never forgets to remind me that Sarek is the worst dad ever and he’s not a very good dad when he first shows up in this movie. I’m not a parent (I don’t think anyone on the team is) but I think bad parenting stands out to everyone. But no matter how bad Sarek is as Spock’s dad, his mum Amanda (Winona Ryder) is much better. Like usual, there is no mention of any half-brothers or adopted sisters. By the time Amanda shows up, Spock‘s grown up and he is now played by Zachary Quinto.

Spock is one of the most important characters in the Star Trek series and this was the first time he was re-cast after Leonard Nimoy ‘retired’ the character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I don’t think anyone had a problem with Zachary Quinto taking over the character (I don’t remember anyone complaining) and everyone seemed quite happy he was cast. I never really liked the character of Spock, and even though I don’t like him even in this film, Zachary plays the character very well. His version is a lot cockier than the original. It could be because he’s younger, but Spock in all three of the reboot films (or the nu-Trek films, as we call them here) acts very differently from Leonard Nimoy’s version. With the other characters it isn’t so much of a problem, but with Spock, I really did think fans would really be annoyed if the character was made to be too different.

It doesn’t seem like that was the case. Every Star Trek fan I’ve asked says that they liked what Zachary Quinto did with the role, and his turn at playing the character opened up the doors for the character to be re-cast again in Star Trek: Discovery.

But then we are introduced to the grown-up version of Kirk. Now played by Chris Pine, Kirk comes out of the gate like a total (it turns out swearing’s been cut out of the blog)… ‘hothead’. There is something about him that is very unlikeable. Chris Pine apparently wanted to play him this way. This is not the Kirk I remember from the episodes of TOS that I watched. For the first hour of the movie (and a little more), Kirk is a huge [BLEEP] and he only becomes tolerable after he meets the ‘other’ Spock (Leonard Nimoy). It does actually work even though it makes the difference between the two ‘realities’ in the story much bigger. This film makes sure that the audience understands that it is something new and not a rehash of the original series. When Kirk finally sits in ‘the chair’, he turns into a whole new character. This ‘second’ Kirk is one who we can support. He is no longer annoying or causing trouble. He becomes a captain, but this is where some of the problems with the film become more prominent. 

The film has a problem that the Crow calls ‘anti-gravity’. Apart from Spock and Chekov (RIP Anton Yelchin), the rest of the classic crew members fall upwards into their jobs. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho) and McCoy (Karl Urban) take over the jobs of three previous crew members on the fly, Scotty (Simon Pegg) falls into the ship and becomes chief engineer like he was there all along, but no one is worse than Kirk. Kirk goes from being grounded to being on the ship to becoming first officer for no reason to becoming captain after getting Spock very frustrated.

Bruce Greenwood plays Captain Pike, and while he’s great in the role, but I don’t think his mind was ‘all there’ when making decisions about Kirk. It can be understood that he wants Kirk to be better, but Kirk’s actions don’t match up with the kind of faith Pike puts in him. 

A lot of things in the film do not make sense. The first is that the way black holes are described and shown don’t match at all with what we know. I’m not a science student like the Crow and the AWM, but I can tell you that black holes are very different from what is shown in the film. In the same line, there is a line that talks about how a star will go supernova and threaten to destroy the galaxy, and that is impossible even for the biggest stars. The Red matter doesn’t make any sense either. 

More problems include things like the villain Nero (Eric Bana) having to have his revenge instead of trying to save Romulus from 154 years in the past. San Fransisco has to be attacked again and the Golden Gate Bridge nearly gets it. There is a scene where Scotty is given an equation that he would have invented in the future and the acting is off in it. There are a lot of coincidences in the story but the story tells us that a lot of it is random chance. Even though the visuals are really good, there are too many lens flare effects in the film. The film also asks everyone to believe that Kirk is twenty-five during the story and that Chekov is seventeen and I cannot believe either of those numbers.

Star Trek is a film with a lot of problems. 

But Star Trek is fun. There is a lot of comedy in the movie and there are some good action scenes. If you ignore logic (how ironical), Star Trek might be the best Star Trek movie ever because of how fun it is. It’s not really a good science fiction film because it throws a lot of the science out. But Star Trek has always done that. Even the Crow and the AWM talk about how Star Trek has some of the worst science in science fiction. 

A lot of the comedy in Star Trek comes from misunderstandings and references. A lot of the comedy when it comes to Uhura is sex-talk that isn’t really sex-talk (but everyone is thinking it) and I wasn’t a big fan of that.

Thinking about Star Trek as a film on its own, I think it’s best to think about it like it’s an action film. I don’t think hardcore fans of the old Star Trek shows will be 100% onboard with what they showed here, but I don’t think they’ll hate it. It was made for a different generation and it lost something when it crossed over. There are no emotional scenes that match how good the first scene was. Even when Spock’s mother is killed, the movie doesn’t even try to become as good as that first scene. I thought that her death would be a much bigger deal than it ended up becoming, but it didn’t just because of that first scene. Because it didn’t try to do something special, I couldn’t buy how quickly Spock switched his character.

But as an action film, Star Trek has two scenes of unnecessary action. There is a random bar fight, and there is a chase scene with some alien creatures. Instead of those scenes, I would have liked to see Nero’s ship the Narada fighting the Klingons because that sounded like a better fight, and it made more sense than the other two.

I also think that this is the first time the Kobayashi Maru test is actually shown in Star Trek (read about the origins of the test here). We see Kirk cheating and winning the simulation, but the film never talks about how he did it. I think that explaining what happened would have made the story better. Did he hack it? It looks like he did, but nowhere else in the movie does Kirk show off that he can do things like that. 

I like Star Trek. I’m going to say it’s the best Star Trek film yet, but I’m only saying that because I didn’t like the others as much as I liked this one. It could be tied with The Wrath of Khan (which is my other favourite), but Star Trek is right at the top.

I don’t think this film was made for Star Trek fans, but it was a movie that was made to be enjoyed by everyone. It’s a good action and science fiction movie that didn’t have to be Star Trek to be enjoyed. A lot of the other films felt dragged down by the fact that they were Star Trek films and had to do things that only Star Trek could do. With the alternate timeline that this film sets up, all that baggage is gone.

I didn’t like the lens flares or the shaky camera a lot. They look good and they make what is happening on the ship feel very urgent, but they are there to much. I also don’t think that the yellow uniforms really worked with the modern cameras, so it’s a good thing that Kirk was kept in a black shirt for most of the story. Sulu and Chekov were fine because they were behind things for most of the film. 

And that’s all I have to say about Star Trek. I’m recommending it to anyone who likes films with spaceships because the Enterprise is a beaut in this film. Before I write down my final score for the film, I’ll list out a few last points (because I prefer the old scoring system on The Corvid Review) so that you can understand my opinion on the film better.

  • Visuals: 8/10
  • Sound: 9/10
  • Story: 6/10
  • Acting: 8/10
  • ‘Fun’ factor: 9/10
  • ‘Science’ factor: 2/10

Day after tomorrow, the Crow will be back to finish off this Star Trek Celebration with the last film left to be reviewed in the Star Trek franchise, and I think Di’s doing a Team Update tomorrow to officially introduce me 🙂 I’m still settling in to how things work here, so I’d like to thank the ‘bridge crew’ for helping me write my first film review in seven years (and showing me how this WordPress thing works). 

But before I go, I’d like to say hi to all of you reading and wish you a good week ahead.

— Bye!


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Final Ratings

THE SPOTTED NUTCRACKER: 8/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 7.5/10
THE CROW: 5.5/10


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See Also

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Here’s the official poster:


11 thoughts on “Review: Star Trek [2009]; nu-Trek, A New Universe of Stories (With a New Bird)!”

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