Star Trek (2009) Blu-ray ReviewJuly 15, 2011
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek is a reboot of the classic 1960s science fiction television series. In an era in Hollywood where the reboot is king it dares to do something different, going where no reimagining has gone before: It acknowledges and, in fact, builds upon the mythos established over the last 40-plus years.
The film opens in the early 23rd century with the Starship U.S.S. Kelvin investigating a disturbance in space, revealed to be a ship from the future emerging through a black hole. Its Romulan captain, Nero (Eric Bana), is bent on one objective: Find and kill everyone's favorite Vulcan, Spock (the always-brilliant Leonard Nimoy), who he blames for the destruction of his home world.
The Kelvin is lost in the ensuing battle thanks to the heroism of young officer George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) who sacrifices himself to save his crew and to allow for the birth of his son, James T. Kirk. The film then follows Jim Kirk as an adult (Chris Pine) and his antagonistic relationship with the young Spock (Zachary Quinto) as the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise must prevent Nero from destroying Earth and reshaping history to his own liking.
It may be easy to write Star Trek off as yet another studio's attempt to cash in on a recognizable name by completely wiping the slate clean, but Abrams and his writers (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) take excellent care to make certain that the integrity and, to some extent, the continuity, of the 40-year-old Trek universe is preserved.
The story is one of the tightest in years, particularly in a genre as light on story as science fiction has become. Every action set piece (including a skydive from low orbit of Vulcan) and space battle unfolds organically from the story. The movie has taken some flack since its release for the ever-present camera motion and Abrams liberal use of lens flares, but the constant motion adds to the pacing and visual's kinetic energy.
Industrial Light and Magic has, as always, produced some incredible images, including a breathtaking digital rendering of the redesigned Enterprise. As for the lens flares, they do tend to be a little more noticeable than they should be (particularly in quieter scenes), but it's nothing that will throw you out of the movie.
What puts Star Trek over the top is the fact that Abrams has tapped into what has always set Star Trek apart in the pantheon of sci-fi franchises: The characters. Pine may be breathing new life into William Shatner's classic portrayal of Kirk, but never is Kirk's boyish arrogance and thirst for adventure lost. Quinto borrows heavily from Nimoy's Spock, but it never becomes a caricature and actually brings further depth to the character's eternal struggle with his human and Vulcan heritage.
And, as always, Trek thrives on moments we've seen a million times before, but Abrams never pulls it off with a "Here we go again!" attitude. Simon Pegg, who portrays Scotty, may look nothing like James Doohan, but he captures everything that made easily-panicked Scottish engineer so likable. And Karl Urban, who may be the least obvious choice to play Kentucky doctor 'Bones' McCoy, pays loving homage to DeForest Kelley's cantankerous nature without ever calling attention to it.
Star Trek is not without its problems, though. Orci and Kurtzman have written in an unnecessary love triangle between Kirk, Spock, and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) that doesn't quite work and feels like a blatant attempt to keep the Twilight audience in the seats. And while Bana does the best he can with what he's got, Nero's not the best villain in the world. His motivation is forced (explained in about four lines during a three-minute interrogation scene), but even that is to some degree forgivable; the object of the movie is to reintroduce the world to the core characters. However, a movie can only be as good as its villain, and Nero's shortcomings to tend to drag the overall effort down a couple of notches.
Star Trek looks absolutely amazing on Blu-ray and, in fact, looks even better than it did in theaters. The disc comes with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer which makes what was already a colorful movie even more vibrant. Skin tones are rendered beautifully, and the blacks are wonderfully sharp and deep. If there's a complaint to be made, it's in the visual effects shots which sometimes appear a little fuzzy and un-detailed.
The sound is equally incredible, as Star Trek boasts some of the most balanced sound of any disc in recent memory. And for a movie with as much action as this one, that's saying something. Dialogue is always crisp and clear, and every explosion packs a huge punch without being overpowering.
And as awesome as the musical score by Michael Giacchino (whose score from The Incredibles still ranks among my all-time favorites) was on its own, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix makes it even better. It's a very brassy score but, as with the action, this sound mix never allows it to overpower you.
Beyond the Feature
Star Trek is absolutely packed with bonus features. Many of them are in the 20-minute featurette category, but unlike most such short features, they actually give you a ton of information.
Audio Commentary: Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman, and producers Bryan Burk and Damon Lindelof have recorded a very insightful (and often funny) commentary for the film that offers info on everything from polishing the script, respecting the long-standing Star Trek canon, and going off in new directions with familiar characters.
Also, you could probably make a drinking game out of every time Abrams answers a question with,"Jewish."
To Boldly Go: This is a 17-minute featurette detailing the filmmakers' goal to make Star Trek accessible to both the die-hard Trekkies from way-back-when and to the Twitter generation. Despite its brief length, it's a really interesting look at what happens when a studio-ordered film becomes a genuine labor of love – something that doesn't seem to happen enough.
Casting: How do you find someone who's both willing and able to take on the task of updating and revising performances that have lived in the public consciousness for over four decades? This is one of the more fascinating looks at casting to be seen from an after-market bonus feature in quite some time and is definitely worth a look.
Aliens, Starships, Planets, and Props & Costumes - These are four separate featurettes and are all worth a look if you get into this sort of thing, but there's no truly earth-shattering information dropped here. If you've seen one featurette on how to make alien make-up or how to draw a spaceship on a computer, you've seen them all.
In addition, each feature has a series of branching pods detailing specific aspects of each category. In truth, the pods (running about 1-5 minutes each) are more interesting than the featurettes themselves.
Ben Burtt and the Sounds of Star Trek: Fans of the Star Wars universe will enjoy this featurette, which features Ben Burtt (the sound designer of the George Lucas Juggernaut) explaining the unusual (and often entirely non-electronic) methods by which he created the sounds of the Starship Enterprise. Truly interesting and surprising stuff.
Deleted Scenes: The Blu-ray also features nine deleted scenes, including the birth of Spock, Nero being captured by a fleet of Klingon warships, a scuffle in the Kirk household, and others. Each scene has optional director's commentary. I've never been a big fan of deleted scenes sections as they're difficult to judge out of context. That being said, these are worth a look if only because the quality is such a mixed bag.
Gene Roddenberry's Vision: A 10-minute tribute to the creator of Star Trek featuring comments from cast and crew (past and present) regarding Roddenberry's idealistic vision of the future.
Score: Giacchino talks a little bit about his thought processes in composing the movie's music and some interesting tidbits about why you won't hear the traditional Trek fanfare until it's been "earned."
Gag Reel: The only thing I can say about this is that Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto look like they're a lot of fun on a set. Even if you find yourself not enjoying this bloopers collection, hang around for the last one. Trust me; it'll be worth it.
Trailers: The three theatrical trailers are almost indistinguishable from one another, but definitely check out the teaser trailer if you've never seen it before – it's a really moving series of shots of the Enterprise under construction featuring some voiceover work that will give you chills.
Star Trek is a movie that, from the moment of its announcement, spawned a wave of criticism and doubt. Most movies cower in fear at the backlash of the Internet (including a few earlier entries in this very franchise), but Abrams and company deserve all the credit in the world for sticking to their guns and giving audiences a Star Trek that surpasses expectations and breathes fresh air into a franchise that, by all rights, should have died nearly a decade ago.
As Star Trek has always been good about reminding us, there are now infinite destinations to which this universe, once trapped by its own continuity, can boldly go.
- Jason Jarman
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