Star Trek Movies:
Star Trek Eleven (untitled)written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
produced by J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof
directed by J.J. Abrams
feature film, 126 minutes
If there is one thing I really do like about this film, it is its refreshing and far more accurate take on time travel, something that had become extremely rare on Star Trek. Although I had begun to suspect some deviations from the established history of James Kirk early on, I must admit I groaned and cringed inside when it became apparent that time travel was involved in yet another Star Trek feature, knowing this had never been the franchise's strength. I groaned and cringed even more when the planet Vulcan imploded, taking Spock's mother with it, as I now fully expected the usual magic-wand fix that Star Trek was infamous for using to get out of its time travel conundrums. But suddenly, both versions of Spock seemed ready to acknowledge the legitimacy of this new line of history, and in the end, it is shown to continue. No magic sweeps through the universe to change everything in one fell swoop. Good move.
You might actually have to listen to the writers' commentary to hear this called an alternate universe (or parallel universe), but that's basically what it is. Those of us who like the Star Trek universe the way it was previously, like me, need not fear. That version is as healthy and happy as ever in its own parallel dimension, not to mention in our DVD and video collections. As refreshing as this might be to have no bogus explanation for time travel go unchallenged on screen, the explanations that we do get on screen are not as clear as they could be either.
More importantly, the writers really don't display much of a clue to the reasons people like me have for pushing for new alternate histories so hard. For me, it's all about using the freedom of this unrestricted model of the time/space/choice continuum to give you permission to follow the highest philosophical and behavioural ideals possible, and not get caught compromising those to preserve the past as you remembered it. This new version of Star Trek's origins pretty much operates on lower ideals and philosophies at every turn instead, producing a very gland-driven excess of pop-culture frenzy that bears little improvement over today's city nightlife.
This film's James Kirk is hard to like at first, especially as a small boy. What is he trying to accomplish when totalling his stepfather's car? Maybe there's some justification in the deleted scenes scheduled to precede it, but it can't have been a wise idea even then. Let's face it, it's here to satisfy the filmmakers' need for an adrenaline rush, as they assume their audience will want and approve of the same. Too bad they totally ignored the layer of having some thought behind it.
Once again, the second feature "The Wrath of Khan" seems to have been regarded as the holy grail of Star Trek and plundered for inspiration as much as in the last film. Here we laboriously go through all the motions of the infamous Kobayashi Maru test for Starfleet cadets, without it really making much philosophical sense this time. A debate springs forth on how it is meant to train leaders in how to handle fear.... which wouldn't really work if you think about it. Fear can be better triggered when cadets know they have to be at their best in order to make it through a test. The more that the Kobayashi Maru gains a reputation as being unwinnable, the more likely that cadets will show up despondent, dejected, and not really willing to invest their time and energy. At least, back in Star Trek II, it seemed that cadets showed up for simulator tests never knowing if it was going to be the Kobayashi Maru scenario or something else, so they're probably coming prepared to do their best with whatever scenario comes along, thinking it likely will be one of the winnable scenarios, and wanting to ace it with flying colours.
The writers also seem to have no sense of astronomy and its scale. It is only natural that stars sometimes go supernova and explode. Spock Prime's assertion that this would threaten the entire galaxy betrays a lack of awareness of the size of our Milky Way galaxy, of which the Romulan star system is a part. Is it the sun of Romulus that went supernova? The writers apparently don't think far enough to figure it out.
Next question, if Spock's ship is Romulan as implied in the flashback monologue, traveling from Romulus to the problem star, how can he still be en route when the star envelopes Romulus? When the distance of his entire path looks as though it has shrunk to nothing, in what part of that distance should we imagine he and his "fast" ship are still in? Of course, there are lots of possibilities for what might have happened, which just makes it bizarre to leave an impossible idea implied on screen instead.
"Delta Vega" is one of those names that conveniently sounds similar to astronomical Bayer notation labels for stars without making any real sense in Bayer notation, and one can only presume that the writers pulled the name from the second Star Trek pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before", in which Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Sulu attempt to maroon Gary Mitchell there. Yes, it's a desolate place with one unmanned Starfleet outpost on it, but it looks nothing like what we get in this film. More to the point, it was way out on the leading edge of the galaxy then, but in this film is somehow ridiculously close enough to Vulcan for Spock to get a good view of the planet imploding with his naked eye. At that range, how would Delta Vega not get sucked into the new black hole as well? Rounding off this planet(oid)'s ridiculousness is the usual city boy perception of wild animal behaviour, as we witness two separate creatures mindlessly and relentlessly subservient to the pursuit of a tasty human protagonist, with a complete absence of any of the other concerns that animals naturally exhibit. Sigh.... Really, this place should have its own brand new name.... it is established in episode six "The Man Trap" that Vulcan has no moon, so perhaps this can just be another planet in the same system, or a moon of some other planet in the same system, perhaps getting drawn unbelievably close to Vulcan because of the new black hole. As a new place we haven't seen before, the writers would naturally have the freedom they seem to want to exercise in making it their own.
The film's biggest conceit seems to combine ridiculous space concerns with the determination to plunder "The Wrath of Khan", in the creation of Nero and his space vessel. Nero and his crew really don't look Romulan, nor do they talk or act like Romulans. They're really just modern skin-head idiots with pointed ears. Gone are the distinctive foreheads and haircuts that the last film had recreated so faithfully. You can tell yourself that there's a bit more of the Reman influence here, but it seems to have come about more by coincidence than design. It's also a huge stretch to believe that someone would design a ship like Nero's for simple, honest, mining work. The huge empty spaces are ridiculous, the fact that this ship is armed to the teeth is ridiculous, the fact that it has to lower a lengthy drill head into a planet's atmosphere is ridiculous (how exactly do they extract any minerals?), and the fact that this drill head, when activated, blocks all transmissions and transporter abilities makes no sense for mining operations. This ship is a weapon from start to finish, designed by the writers to hamper the protagonists and look gothic on screen. Pretending it is anything else just doesn't work. The Genesis device in "The Wrath of Khan" sparked as an idea worthy of Star Trek because it was designed as a tool of creation first, and most obviously. This film hasn't come close to matching such sci-fi originality, or positiveness of purpose.
While we're picking at design, I think it was also a mistake to shoot so many of the Enterprise interiors in a beer factory. It doesn't convincingly look like a space craft on screen. It looks like the beer factory that it is. Same goes for the U.S.S. Kelvin. Missing from all the spaceship design concepts in this film are the safety concerns should the hull develop a hole, which is likely considering all the battles shown here, and similar to design in submarines. Each section needs the ability to seal itself off, airtight, in the event of being exposed to space, before you lose oxygen in the entire ship. Anything happens in this Enterprise, and the whole beer factory is rendered useless. Same goes for Nero's cathedral.
Most disappointing is the apparent need to drive the entire plot with another clone of Khan. Nero is motivated by nothing more than revenge, triggered by loss, which is the oldest and most primitive trick in the writers' book of tools, failsafes, and crutches. And pretty much all of the victories that are accomplished by the various heroes of this film are dependent on the opposition from the villain. If he weren't here, what would our heroes have left to show for themselves? Even Spock Prime's initial heroics depend on the threat of the supernova. Real heroes know how to be heroes without needing villains. There's a whole avenue of more enlightened philosophy, equally dramatic and far more interesting, of which this film badly fails to show any awareness. And even after all the concerns of saving lives from the villain's machinations are taken into consideration, both Kirk and Spock have elements of loss and revenge fueling their emotional takes on their heroism. Really, this is far from the best showing for either of these two characters.
Eric Bana himself puts some nice moments into his portrayal of Nero, but he ultimately gets fewer quality scenes to play than his predecessors in previous films. I'd much sooner have the better written and more complex characters of Ricardo Montalban's Khan or Tom Hardy's Shinzon to watch anyday.
You may not notice the final insult to astronomy until you get to the extra DVD featurette "A New Vision", in which director J.J. Abrams proudly shows off his idea for putting excessive lens flares in virtually every shot of the movie, because he figures the future is full of so much light that it can barely contain itself, or something. This phenomenon is currently known in astronomy circles as "light pollution", and is common in today's big cities as we waste far more energy than necessary to throw light in all kinds of directions that are not useful. It's a particular pain for astronomers, as it hinders their ability to see the stars in the heavens, not to mention all the cool nebulas and other subtleties that they typically have to leave cities for in order to study properly. Experiments have been done, and I saw photographs of this from university astronomy professors, where city streets get a far smarter than usual lighting scheme, where far less electricity is used to directly light only the things we need and want to see. It's much easier on the eyes, and greatly improves one's ability to see where one needs to go and what else might be coming at you. And it's an energy saver instead of an energy waster. That is obviously the future. Sorry, Mr. Abrams, I think you're backing the past.
Between this film's painful lighting and its constantly moving camera, it seems to be an exhausting two hour ride that accomplishes far less in story terms than a film of such length should. It's interesting to count the sheer number of times we return to the peril of falling off of a ledge - once would have been enough. It really isn't gripping at any point. A good contrast is a late rock-climbing sequence in the Roger Moore James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only", where a fresh and unique action sequence was achieved, something all too rare in today's copy-cat cinema adventures.
Star Trek's original crew of characters are quite rightly paid due homage though, and the roles are generally recast well and played well by the actors. It is an enormously difficult task to live up to audience expectation in that regard, let alone find enough freedom within the constraints to bring something new and unique to these roles. In that respect, I find myself liking Karl Urban's portrayal of Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy the best, although I must say I also applaud the respectful inclusion of Captain Christopher Pike in the script, and thoroughly enjoy Bruce Greenwood's portrayal of him. It is also nice to see each of the crew's superior skills demonstrated in at least one scene, with Uhura's seeming to echo the sentiments that Martin Luther King's comments conveyed when he implored Nichelle Nichols to stay on the original series. As for Scotty's equations, it's nice to see the writers effortlessly fall into an appreciation of our James Doohan Scotty Prime coming up with it, passing it on to Leonard Nimoy's Spock Prime, and then "sliding" it sideways onto the alternate Simon Pegg Scotty, avoiding the kind of timeloop confusion plaguing the discovery of transparent aluminum in Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home, or "timey-wimey" Steven Moffat Doctor Who conundrums as in "Blink" or "Time Crash", or the conundrum often falsely perceived surrounding the discovery of fire in the first ever Doctor Who story "An Unearthly Child".
I digress. Back to the new cast, they all do well in their own way and put something special into their portrayals. Chris Pine even seems to channel Shatner in a few of his gestures and more subtle moments. But all things considered, I'd sooner invest in a crew of these cast members if they were playing new characters with completely unknown futures that moved Star Trek forward from its last position seen on stardate 56844.9 in the tenth feature "Nemesis". Following them as they continue where Shatner and company have gone before, now in a universe without Vulcan where vengeful emotions run high and unchecked, isn't really something I'm excited to invest in emotionally. Yes, I feel a bit cheated out of more adventures with Picard and crew, even if some of them need to be substituted with castmembers from DS9 and/or Voyager. But failing that, give this worthy cast their own character identities and stay in modern Star Trek's present, where we can continue to better ourselves and move our philosophies forward.
Star Trek 11 is available in various incarnations on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:
Review written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page: