“Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes,” Captain Christopher Pike says to James T. Kirk. “He saved over 800 lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.”
After the (intended?) failure of 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis at the box office and the cancellation of TV’s Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005, the Star Trek franchise would lay dormant. Producer Rick Berman attempted to pitch a prequel film taking place during James T. Kirk and Spock’s Starfleet Academy days (which would’ve been titled Star Trek: The Beginning). Berman’s pitch was rejected and the reins of Star Trek were taken away from him. After a long search, Paramount finally found a team to revitalize the Star Trek franchise: producer J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Abrams would eventually sign on to direct as well). Originally slated for Christmas 2008, the new film was moved to May 2009 where it would face less competition. I not only caught a Thursday night showing the day before it opened, but I would get to see this film six times on the big screen.
2009’s Star Trek follows the early days of James T. Kirk as he attends Starfleet Academy after being talked into joining by Captain Christopher Pike. Three years into his studies (the year 2258), he retakes the Kobayashi Maru exam and becomes the first cadet to beat it. He faces a tribunal in which the test’s creator, Commander Spock, has accused him of cheating. During the hearing, a distress call is received from Vulcan, which is under attack from the Narada, a 24th century Romulan mining ship that arrived 25 years earlier and altered the timeline, mostly affecting the life of then-newly born Jim Kirk. Cadets are recalled to their assigned ships in order to assist Vulcan. Dr. Leonard McCoy, a close friend of Kirk’s, helps him sneak aboard the newly re-designed U.S.S. Enterprise, whose crew includes Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov, Spock, Uhura, and Captain Pike. The Enterprise is the last ship to arrive at Vulcan, finding several Starfleet vessels already destroyed. The crew of the Enterprise comes face-to-face with Nero, a 24th century Romulan with a mysterious grudge against Spock and a plan to destroy Vulcan by creating a black hole in the planet’s core. Kirk and Spock must put their differences aside and learn to work together if they hope to stop Nero.
An excellent ensemble cast was put together for this film: Chris Pine (as Kirk), Zachary Quinto (as Spock), Karl Urban (as McCoy), Zoe Saldana (as Uhura), Simon Pegg (as Scotty), John Cho (as Sulu), Anton Yelchin (as Chekov), Bruce Greenwood (as Pike), Ben Cross (as Sarek), Winona Ryder (as Amanda), Eric Bana (as Nero), Clifton Collins Jr. (as Ayel), Rachel Nichols (as Gaila), Faran Tahir (as Robau), Chris Hemsworth (as George Kirk), Jennifer Morrison (as Winona Kirk), Deep Roy (as Keenser), and Leonard Nimoy (as Spock Prime). With Kirk being most affected by the change in the timeline, Pine was free to re-interpret the character while still capturing the essence of Kirk. Quinto was equally excellent in filling into the shoes of one of Star Trek’s most iconic characters and beloved characters. As for the elephant in the room, all I have to say about Tyler Perry’s cameo is: What the hell? His brief appearance in this film produced a WTF response even from black people in the audience.
Abrams did a great job with his direction, and Kurtzman and Orci deliver a stellar screenplay, one that “reboots” the franchise but still remains reverent to it. Dan Mindel’s cinematography was top-notch, and, unlike a large number of people, I actually liked the lens flares (even in space!). Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey’s editing was terrific, keeping everything moving at an excellent pace without calling attention to itself. Scott Chambliss’ production design was incredible, creating all brand new sets for the Enterprise, the Narada, Starfleet Academy, Vulcan, and other locations, a lot of which utilized re-dressings of present day real-life locations. Michael Kaplan’s costume design was first-rate, creating new Romulan, Vulcan, and Starfleet uniforms while re-working the classic Starfeet uniform designs from the original Star Trek series.
The Oscar-nominated special effects by ILM were amazing, as was Ben Burtt’s sound design and the Oscar-nominated sound design and mixing. The Oscar-winning makeup design by Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, and Joel Harlow was fantastic (it’s great that this film finally brought an Oscar statuette to the Star Trek franchise). Then there’s Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score. He created a new theme for the Enterprise and its crew, a string-heavy Vulcan motif, and a theme for Nero and his Romulan crew that relies largely on the brass section. 2009’s Star Trek is a hopeful film, reminding us that the future is still bright despite all that has happened in the past, and that there is a destiny just waiting for us to reach out and grab it. Indeed, this was the perfect Star Trek film to kick off the post-George W. Bush years here in the United States.