J.J. Abrams’ second attempt to revive a film franchise based on a television series did give me a perma-grin from the first shot to last, but I’m afraid it is not the classic of film that Batman Begins and Casino Royale both are. As soon as the Jiggle-Cam (that can’t stay still even on close-ups!) goes out of style, people will wake up and realise that a clever script was let down by the visual fads of television which have no business on the cinema screen. I suppose that’s what Paramount deserves for sending a TV man to do a filmmakers job, but it might be excused in this case because the franchise is itself of televisual origin.
That, and also because the last couple Trek movies are so visually static, itself the result of an inability to escape TV grammar, that the fad of the opposite extreme is an improvement by virtue of its difference. Ultimately, however, the seemingly opposite stylistic faults of the ninth and tenth Trek films are both the result of TV styles inappropriately transferred to the big screen without accommodation to the medium’s different demands.
Apart from the camera issues, Star Trek can be called the first post-Sunshine sci-fi picture, as so many of the outer space shots are influenced by Boyle’s vision of space. Abrams has also taken studious notes from previous reboots, following Casino Royale in withholding the theme song until the beginning of the end credits!
But I think Star Trek’s most clever innovation is its ability — out of reach for both Batman and Bond — to exploit conventional sci-fi tropes to fold a new-continuity reboot right into the continuity of previous instalments! It is such a clever metafictional device that it threatens to overshadow all else in the film, but in a movie whose primary pleasures are found in seeing how closely the actors playing Kirk, Spock, and Bones hew to the templates of Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley (answer: quite), such self-consciousness is a guilty virtue.
In terms of acting, it surprises me to say that Chris Pine deserves the biggest recognition for his subtle evocation of Shatner’s unique persona in more than one scene without impersonating him outright, as Karl Urban does of Kelley with the unlikely result that as an anglophone Australasian doing an American accent he sounds more often like Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine. Zachary Quinto does the complete opposite, relying exclusively on his physical similarity to Nimoy to portray Spock without making the slightest effort to lower his high, soft voice, nor even stiffen his neck!
In terms of character (SPOILER), making Spock a member of an endangered species is a credible catalyst for his desire to favor his Vulcan side over his Human, although as we know the trajectory of his character need not now meet up with its counterpart in the original series.
In all honesty, despite its faults I’m sure I’ll see it again. And if it came on TV I would easily watch it instead of turn it off like I did to Nemesis this weekend.