This is my idea of a movie review. When Aviatrix reviews a movie you are fortunate indeed if you get away without a scene-by-scene retelling containing more notes than the original shooting script, and only a few long asides on social relevance. There are always spoilers, so don't read this if you want to see the movie without knowing all about it.
I would pretend that I saved this review until most of you had a chance to see the movie, but really I saw it while I was still on time off and just haven't had time to fit this post in with all the excitement. Movies can keep.
I almost didn't see this one at all. I figured the only correct way to make a movie like that right was to watch every episode of
the original series, making detailed notes of every mention and reference to the past history
of each character, ship and world. I didn't trust the moviemakers to do this. Even if they did,
there would be probably so many continuity errors contained in those very notes that it would
be impossible to make anything align with the established past history, let alone an
interesting movie. If it couldn't be done right, it shouldn't be done at all, at least not for
me to watch, so I resisted. But everyone, including fans, kept saying it was good, so I
relented and went.
There was a trailer for a movie that looked like it might actually be interesting, but it
was as if two trailers had been intercut: one that had a story and another that consisted
mainly of epilepsy-inducing special effects. Perhaps that was a metaphor for the Transformers.
Perhaps I'm putting way too much thought into a movie about a cartoon about toys. The next
trailer was for essentially the same movie, except in this case the plastic star was G.I. Joe.
I hope there's a scene in the movie where he gets it on with Barbie. if you're going to
cinematically recreate thousands of 1970s toyboxes you can't just stop the cameras when he puts
down the plastic machine gun for the night.
The movie starts off in a battle, on a starship that is not Enterprise. It's your typical
Star Trek stuff with the ship going to investigate an anomaly or a distress call, and
encountering something that is unlike anything they have ever encountered before. The readings
are off the scale; the shields are falling; the ship cannot take it anymore. The captain leaves
the ship to negotiate a surrender, and places a young Kirk in command on the bridge. That
seemed a little abrupt. Kirk orders an evacuation, during which we discover that his wife is on
board, in labour. While everyone evacuates, Kirk sets a direct course for the opposing ship and
his son is born seconds before he dies in the ensuing collision. I guess he turned off his
transponder to prevent the alien TCAS from providing a resolution advisory.
Just before he dies, Kirk senior has an exchange with his wife about the baby's name. She
suggests naming it Tiberius after his father and he rejects that as ridiculous, and says to go
with her father's name. That was when I realized that we were looking at the birth of James T.
Kirk. That's not a canon origin, but I was willing to grant them poetic licence for it. Even
though I think there are canon references to Kirk doing things with his father while growing
up, his mother could remarry, and it was appropriately epic, so I was willing to go along with
it. They got it right that he grew up in Iowa ("I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer
space,") so they weren't completely abandoning the established continuity.
The young Jim Kirk steals and destroys an expensive sports car, almost killing himself in
the process. He first meets his mentor, someone who knew his father, after being beaten up in a
bar brawl. He's is an uncontrolled reckless maniac, and after a moment's reflection I realize
that that is exactly appropriate. The grown up Jim Kirk is an only barely controlled reckless
maniac with an approach to dangerous situations that you don't get without long experience with
same. You don't win interplanetary bar brawls without having lost a few in your youth. The
young Kirk would have had to be like that. In fact as I think about it more, the young Kirk
should have been depicted as less of a James Dean loner and more of a gang leader. One of his
strongest skills is leading a group of people into and back out of trouble. Where do you get
leadership skills ripping around on a motorcycle being cooler than everyone else?
His mentor feels that Starfleet has lost but needs to regain the reckless edge that Kirk
senior had, and knows that Kirk junior has it, so advises him to report to the local space
shuttle station for transport to Starfleet Academy. Kirk seems to disregard the idea, but after
cruising by the under-construction Enterprise (apparently also from Iowa before being shipped
to outer space) on his motorcycle he changes his mind and reports for training, tossing his
bike keys to the first person who admires it at the dock.
We see a bit of his maverick interactions with his stunned classmates on the transport ship:
they have uniforms, he's still in the t-shirt bloodied from the bar brawl. They have probably
applied and interviewed and written essays and aptitude tests to get in. He's just turned up
because someone who knew his daddy pulled strings. Mercifully, the producers know I didn't want
to see much more of this and his academy integration passes with a "Three Years Later" title.
Of course three years later he's getting hot and heavy on a bed with a curvaceous woman, and
why didn't I see that coming. If Kirk didn't try to shag every female within sensor
range it would be a clear violation of his prime directive. The next surprise, which we also
should have seen coming, is when the woman in question calls for the lights to come up. She's a
green-skinned gal. Very nicely done. She hears her roommate coming and asks Kirk to hide
because her roommate is getting ticked off at all the men she keeps inviting over. Kirk's
reaction to "all the men" is great, and the roommate turns out to be Uhura, who has already
spurned Kirk's advances and is none too pleased to see him there.
Uhura is depicted in the series as actually African, not African-American, with a native
language of Swahili, in a Starfleet where her race is a minority. We see green-skinned people
rarely enough that we have to realize that the Orion in San Francisco is a member of a very
small minority, too. The roommate pairing reminds me of a pilot friend who has just accepted a
dispatch job in a community just south of the 60th parallel. She knows that her assigned
roommate is a woman who immigrated from Nigeria: they have already met at a training course. My
friend doesn't have green skin, but she isn't white either and is from another culture. I'm not
sure if they are the only women at their base, in which case it only makes sense, but it's not
uncommon for the "different" to be teamed together. I think it will be good for my friend to
live with someone who shares her outsider status. I doubt that the writers had Starfleet put
the sexy colourful babes together out of either racism or empathy, but just did that because
you can't make a Star Trek movie without Kirk getting naked with a green-skinned alien, and if
the roommate is going to walk in, you just make it the funniest possible roommate, and they
They picked up on a lot of things that were just hinted at in the original series dialogue:
McCoy's marital history and dislike of space travel, Uhura's coolness to Jim and her connection
to Spock. I'm willing to believe someone did watch the whole series with a notebook.
They even have Kirk cheat at the Kobayashi Maru as it was established he did in an earlier
movie. He gets in trouble for that, but just as his punishment is about to be handed out, an
overused "the fleet is overextended, but no one else can go, so we'll have to take the
graduating class" scenario breaks out. I let them get away with it in Top Gun, so I roll my
eyes and let them get away with it here. Kirk is told he is under academic suspension pending
the outcome of his interrupted hearing, so has no ship assignment, but McCoy uses medical
trickery to get him on board, where we meet more of the original crew.
Sulu forgets to release the parking brake before leaving spacedock. Poor guy can never get a
break. Chekov still has a Polish accent. The actor and director knew that the "nuclear wessels"
schtick wasn't in keeping with a Russian accent, but decided to keep it for continuity. Perhaps
by the 23rd century there has been a great consonant shift in Russian, leaving the V-sound
unfashionable and completely replaced with the W. They didn't however, follow the retro
continuity of the exterior appearance of the ship. The shape of the nacelles on NCC-1701 are
Kirk lounges in the captain's chair on the bridge in just the way his Shatner-portrayed
older self does--and then is yelled at to get out of the chair. The Enterprise promptly
encounters an alien distress call near Vulcan, which our young Kirk is uniquely situated to
recognize as a trick. It duplicates what happened to his father, plus he has some information
most of the others don't, overheard when Uhura was speaking to her roommates about something
they heard from the Klingons while in the radio lab. The audience didn't pay much attention to the
dialogue at that point, as Uhura was taking off her clothes, but here's where Kirk's experience
comes in, because he synthesizes the data to realize what is happening. When the communications
officer admits an inability to distinguish between spoken Romulan and Vulcan, Uhura is
plausibly installed at that station, on account of being conversant in more than one dialect of
Romulan. Kirk, however, is given a completely implausible field promotion to First
Officer. Or maybe that's just me jealous of countries where new grads are dropped in the right
seats of heavy airliners. McCoy also gets a field promotion when the ship's doctor is killed in
the inevitable Romulan attack.
I was disappointed when the Romulan bad guy appears on screen, because part of the plot of
one of the original series episodes was that while the Federation has communicated with
Romulans, no one knows what they look like, and it was a moment of stunning revelation when they
turned out to look just like Spock. Later series wrecked this by giving the Romulans funky
foreheads, and I have to give this production credit for nodding to both sorts of Romulans: the
bad guys have elaborate forehead tattoos that make them look like the Next Generation
foreheaded Romulans without it being a racial characteristic.
Kirk, Sulu and another guy (did he have a red shirt?) parachute onto a drilling platform in
space. Of course the redshirt dies and the other two save each other's lives a couple of times,
then Chekov gets to save them both with his video-game honed transporter skills. I think the
implication is that Chekov is very very good at Russian-invented Tetris. Or they just wanted to
give him something heroic to do.
Christopher Pike, the original Enterprise captain from the original series is present. They
place him in danger, but I watch smugly because I know he has to live to maintain continuity.
And then they kill Amanda Grayson (Spock's mother) and implode the entire planet of Vulcan. The
timing of the next part is perfect, giving just enough time to think, "they can't do that"
before the nature of the enemy weapon is revealed, making me realize this is a time travel
story. So this is going to get fixed somehow, I reason. And then they did one better.
I don't remember the exact details of how Kirk ended up in an escape pod on the surface of a
frozen ice planet, but he ignored the computer's warning that the environment is unsuitable and
tries to walk to a nearby outpost. He's pursued into a cave by a monster than looks like one of
the Transformers from the trailer, and there he is saved by none other than Spock. Not the
young Spock whom he doesn't get along with at all, but the old Spock who has been Kirk's friend
and first officer for many many years. At first I thought that Kirk had time-travelled into the
original series episode where a planet's sun is about to go nova and the entire population
escaped into the planet's past, with Spock ending up in the ice age where he ate red meat
because he was in tune with his ancestors of that time. It seemed a pretty wacky episode to
mine for plot, but before I remembered how they got out of that one in the original series, Old
Spock explains what is really going on.
When the vengeance-seeking, time-travelling Romulan killed Kirk's father in the opening
sequence of the film, he created a parallel universe. The death of Kirk's father, the
destruction of Vulcan, the face-to-face meeting with a Romulan and hey, even the nacelles being
wrong can all be attributed to them being in a parallel universe.
Needless to say, Kirk saves the day and life goes on. Everyone got to say their signature lines, except that Uhura never said "Hailing frequencies open." One question remains: isn't navigation in Earth's solar system going to be a little tricky what with that new black hole they made just by Saturn? Also Kirk gets a medal instead of getting in trouble and they make him captain of the Enterprise. That's just a little stupid. I'm willing to buy making someone
with enormous potential a first officer right off, but there are parts of being captain that
you don't learn in three years of the academy nor by crashing expensive sports cars in the
desert. They should have assigned him a position on a good ship with a good captain, both
recognizable from the original series. I guess one problem is that most of the captains on the
original series were horribly ineffective, in order to make Kirk's guns-blazing leadership
style look good.
So yeah, I liked the movie, and I think if you like funny action movies that someone already told you about, you should go and see it, whether or not you like Star Trek itself. Plus there are a few bits I didn't tell you about (like Scotty!) and probably lots of bits I got wrong.