Sorry Wolverine, we have our quality summer popcorn flick. Like Iron Man last year, which also dropped early in the season, Star Trek, a franchise reboot from franchise writers Alex Kurtman & Roberto Orci (Transformers, Mission: Impossible III) and franchise-unto-himself director J.J. Abrams, hits the sweet spot of good storytelling and impressive action and effects.
With lean efficiency, Star Trek tells the origin stories of the crew of the USS Enterprise: Chekov, Uhura, Bones, Sulu, Scotty, James Tiberius Kirk and everyone’s favorite pointy-eared logician, Spock. It also checks off most of the catchphrases and conventions (pay attention to the guy in the red shirt on the away mission), all while telling a ripping action yarn about a Romulan mining vessel captain (Eric Bana, in a tribal-tatoo re-imagining of the Romulan makeup) intent on revenging an action that has yet to even occur.
Confused? Well, what would a Star Trek movie be without time paradoxes? The movie, unlike series from whence it came, is not one to dwell in philosophical speculative fiction. It goes full rudder on character and action, space parachutes and space swords, phasers set on stun and some good ole fashioned fist fights with aliens. (The pilot of the original t.v. series was retooled before it aired to include a fistfight between Kirk and an alien and a Star Trek convention was born.)
As a summer movie that longs to be cinematic dopamine, Star Trek is a massive success on its own terms. It has action, and you care about the action because of the emotional life of the characters (especially the ostensibly emotionless Spock).
What’s missing? There are no Klingons (a scene was apparently cut) and Shatner is upset that his buddy Nimoy got a cameo and he didn’t. Personally, I much prefer Chris Pine to his progenitor.
The special effects are impeccable, and I had a good look at them on the IMAX screen. Too good a look, honestly. Because the camera work was so kinetic and I happened to be in the front third of the theater, it was difficult to take in everything. I do definitely recommend making the IMAX experience a second viewing, primarily because of — and I know I’m a broken record on this — the sound. The speakers, the design — IMAX sound is just better, and this movie has an awesome sound design. First of all, from the first strains of Michael Giacchino’s bombastic orchestral score, you know you’re in for a treat. The times when the music unleashed, especially at the end, as it launches into the familiar theme song, gave me chills. On top of that, the sound effects, from the zaps of the phasers to the snap of ships launching into warp, has the sort of iconic feel we’ve come to associate with the master Ben Burtt (Star Wars, Wall-E).
The picture was letterboxed as projected in the IMAX square frame, much like the non-IMAX portions of The Dark Knight Returns. Unlike Dark Knight, no portions were specifically shot to take advantage of the IMAX format. In fact, some of the framing made me wonder if Abrams and d.p. Daniel Mindel hadn’t opted for 2.35 aspect ratio/anamorphic lens-flare look of the original Alien movie, in which case, the sides of the frame may have been chopped off for IMAX. (Or they just like extreme-tight, edge-heavy composition.)
Reality Check: The Science of Star Trek
Audio interview with Kurtzman and Orci
Ain’t it Cool Mr. Beaks interview with Kurtzman and Orci
IGN interview with Michael Giaccino about composing Star Trek