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Star Trek (2009)
120 minutes of unrelenting goose bumps.
An artistic blood transfusion of immaculate execution, the new "Star Trek" boldly goes straight to the senses, providing a full-throated rush of operatic sci-fi, cleverly conceived characterizations, and a swarm of franchise homages and surprises that take incredible care of the brand name's impossible 44-year-long pop culture reign, while forging firm new ground for those who couldn't tell Kirk from Spock with a gun to their head. Director J.J. Abrams has achieved what many thought to be impossible, reaching bare-handed into the venomous depths of absurdly rigid canon, pulling together a sublime space adventure that flies as confidently and triumphantly as "Trek" ever has before. It's not only a victorious series highlight, but perhaps the best picture of the year.
Turned rebellious after the heroic death of his father aboard the U.S.S. Kelvin, James Kirk (Chris Pine) has lost himself in booze and indifference. Sensing great leadership qualities in Kirk, Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) encourages the young man to join Starfleet and live up to his potential. Taking the dare, Kirk journeys to the academy, where his brash behavior upsets his teachers, but endears him to medical officer Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban). Also at the academy is Spock (Zachary Quinto, "Heroes"), an embittered science officer dealing with those who distrust his human/Vulcan heritage, finding Kirk's illogical behavior maddening. When a rogue Romulan named Captain Nero (Eric Bana) appears inside a massive mining ship, armed with a black-hole-creating doomsday device targeting peaceful planets, a crew for the newly christened U.S.S. Enterprise is hastily assembled for protection. With Nero's sheer power and path of revenge fueling his rage, Kirk is forced to assume a leadership role against Spock to find a way to defeat their enemy, finding pertinent advice emerging from an unexpected visitor from the future.
Take into consideration that the sprawling "Star Trek" universe has been flattened and repurposed over and over again for decades now, spawned off into oblivion and merchandised within an inch of its life. That Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman could waltz in and resuscitate the whole concept is a miracle, but that's what this rejuvenation of "Star Trek" feels like: a series of wonderfully imagined storytelling miracles that reclaims the battered reputation of "Trek" and forms it into something innovative, even while buttressed by established iconography.
Undertaking a spine-tingling Lucas/Spielberg route to remodeling the universe, Abrams refocuses "Trek" energies to pure snorts of suspense and action, crafting a thrill ride ambiance to compete with the marketplace and to appeal to those unfamiliar with traditional Enterprise shenanigans. "Star Trek" cuts to the chase from frame one, galloping through origin stories that set up proper motivations (Kirk is a troubled rebel, Spock is a momma's boy with a chip on his shoulder), while embarking on a powerful visual odyssey that finds dazzling new fluidity to the majestic Starfleet ships and a glorious cinematographic fixation on lens flaring for an intriguing optical motif. The picture is a visual barnstormer, dreaming up a rousing galaxy quest for the heroes and villains that hold faithful to the ornamentation of the franchise (no worries, the Enterprise is still the Enterprise), but reconsiders everything else, hoping to entice those standing outside the "Trek" treehouse with a gorgeous platter of warfare, exotic alien worlds, and crystalline Starfleet hardware.
"Star Trek" is a technical tour de force from any angle, showcasing seamless special effects that range from subtle usage of series knickknacks to planet-swallowing nightmares as Nero emasculates his enemies by cruelly robbing them of their homeland. Abrams has a special gift for staging gymnastic feats of action (his "Mission: Impossible III" was the most agile of the series) and backed by a formidable budget, "Trek" is allowed free reign to parade colossal waves of photon-frisky combat and intergalactic suspense that are miles ahead of anything the franchise has been permitted to indulge before. "Star Trek" is an action-adventure film at its core, yet Abrams is careful to preserve the scientific heart of the camaraderie, with ample time allotted for Kirk and Spock to engage in a battle of intellect and the finer points of logic, founding the relationship in a charming glue of muted aggravation and burgeoning respect.
While an unsavory proposition for any actor, the ensemble does a marvelous job stepping into the iconic boots and tight polyester shirts of the original cast. It's all one big loving tribute, but the performers survive constricting issues of comparison through the screenplay's effort to find fresh psychological threads to pull at. While Kirk remains a panty-removing, button-pushing rascal, Chris Pine unearths more fertile dramatic ground portraying the character's erratically instinctive gifts of leadership; Zachary Quinto develops Spock beautifully as a man torn between species, finding his cumbersome Vulcan logic contradicting his hot-blooded human desires; and Karl Urban positively owns the film as the frazzled Bones, who loathes space travel, yet can't seem to avoid his heroic calling to Starfleet. Urban channels DeForest Kelley in a growling manner ("I'm a doctor, dammit!") I never thought possible before. His moments hoping to talk Kirk down from assured doom are priceless.
The rest of the cast is as equally victorious, as Abrams puts forth an effort to "introduce" the likes of Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (a lively Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana, finding newfound dimension to the role), Chekov (an atypically digestible Anton Yelchin), and Captain Pike with little slices of good guy posturing, uniting the crew early on as a creative force to be reckoned with. While the thought of new faces assuming control of beloved old characters might compel the average Trekker to run asthmatically for the hills, the switch is handled efficiently by Abrams, who establishes every Enterprise team member with a thunderous reverence that helps to swallow this often witty reboot.
The "Star Trek" highlights and glorious oddities are almost too numerous to mention: bosomy green alien girls for Kirk to devour, fierce phaser fights, gigantic snow planet monsters, shuttlecraft births, the use of a Beastie Boys cut on the soundtrack (!), supporting turns from Tyler Perry and Winona Ryder (as Spock's concerned human mother), daredevil transporter action, tributes to "Wrath of Khan" and Abrams's own creative world, a needed ass-covering foray into alternate realities, deliriously satisfying sonic boom warp jumps, a bravura score from the gifted composer Michael Giacchino, sexual fireworks between Spock and Uhura, and a chance to experience the famed Kobayashi Maru test of Starfleet character. Wow. "Star Trek" strikes a reassuring balance between worship and modernization, a masterful one at times, offering fans enough familiarity to soothe while plunging ahead as an (hopefully) up and coming franchise for years to come.
When it comes to visual audacity, "Star Trek" is perhaps the most intriguingly shot film of 2009. The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) is a triumphant facsimile of the theatrical experience, keeping the swirling, flashy photography in a firm grasp to allow the home audience a fighting shot at the required awe. Certainly shadow detail suffers some, with minor levels of detail flattened and swallowed by low-light confrontations. However, the rest of the experience holds together marvelously, with superb detail shining through every scene, from facial nuances to the illuminated mechanics of the lavish "Trek" world. Colors are crisp and expressive, beautifully commanding during Enterprise bridge sequences. Skintones read as organic (even the green ones), and the multitude of lens flares that fill the frame contribute to the mood of the piece, kept away from blowing out the image. This is a good looking BD, sustaining the picture's outstanding visual hold. And yes, the out-of-focus shots are intentional.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix rumbles across the soundstage from the very first frame. A gripping track teeming with intricate audio cues and layers of sound effects, "Trek" is fully engorged on BD. LFE response is excellent, with space battles and ship movement shaking the foundations. Frantic dialogue is always presented cleanly, never falling into the hectic dimensions of the film. Surround activity is tremendous, with the viewer placed comfortably into the middle the event, feeling the buzz of the ships and the near-misses of the phasers. And Giacchino's stupendous score lords over the experience, swooping in and out when called upon. "Star Trek" never overwhelms, it always welcomes -- an atmospheric and forceful invitation to the rebirth of an iconic brand name, booming in all the proper places. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also included.
English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are offered.
Bringing back the core creative group for "Star Trek," the feature-length audio commentary with director J.J. Abrams, executive producer Bryan Burk, writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, and producer Damon Lindelof highlights a distinct clubhouse feel to the conversation. Riddled with inside jokes and playful banter, the track covers most of the "Trek" experience, with a detailed discussion of the various shooting locations and the towering special effect achievements of the picture. What interested me most of all was to hear Abrams and the squad chat up the massive editorial changes that helped to shape the glowing final product, with large sequences deleted to help clear up the narrative for the non-Trekker, while moving pieces here and there to help steady focus. It's an educational track, capturing the friendly vibe of collaboration that informs the feature film.
For a few of the featurettes, additional material is housed in "Branching Pods," corralling deleted sequences unfit for the rest of the Blu-ray journey. Playing like unfinished thoughts, there's no real reason for their exclusion, and it gums up the navigation somewhat while trying to hunt everything down. If you want the full "Star Trek" supplementary experience, the BD makes you work for it.
"To Boldly Go" (16:41) (Branching Pods - 8:28) is the starter pistol on the "Trek" supplemental odyssey, revealing the early stages of development. Dealing with origins, fandom, multiple concepts, screen tests, and gauging the filmmakers' "Trekometer," the mini-documentary captures the commencement of such an ambitious project, with plenty of cameras around to grab every cautious step along the way.
"Casting" (28:53) goes into the finer points of the actors and their introduction to the new take on "Trek." While programmed to gush, the interviewees keep a nice sense of humor about them, articulating the demands of the franchise, hopeful to maintain their own interpretations.
"A New Vision" (19:31) (Branching Pods - 3:08) observes Abrams and his crew as they search for the proper tone to relaunch "Trek" on, choosing specific visual tools to convey a "vastness" to the production, including lens flares and the finer points of camera shaking.
"Starships" (24:33) (Branching Pods - 9:29) heads to the heavens, spotlighting the reassessment and redesign of the Enterprise and the creation of Nero's colossal mining ship, the Narada, which, stunningly, is revealed to be seven miles long.
"Planets" (16:10) (Branching Pods - 5:14) visits a good portion of the shooting locations, investigating the cheats that turned normal American parks and buildings into a futuristic "Trek" playground. A fun tribute has the crew returning to the Vasquez Rocks park area to sub for Vulcan, where a young Captain Kirk once did battle with the dreaded Gorn back in 1967.
"Props and Costumes" (9:22) (Branching Pods - 1:08) demonstrates how the equipment works, with great pride taken in the redesign of the phasers. Most of the design work was heavily influenced by the original "Star Trek" televisions series, with adjustments made to help the film appeal to modern audiences and fit Abrams's particular vision.
"Ben Burtt and the Sounds of 'Star Trek'" (11:45) interviews the legendary sound man at home, where he discusses the inspiration and the execution of the sound effects he created for the film. The demonstrations here (phaser fire from a slinky!) are delightful to watch.
"Score" (6:28) talks to composer Michael Giacchino and showcases the recording process. However, there's a strange fixation on Giacchino's efforts to weave Alexander Courage's TOS score into the new film, and not enough on the gorgeous new stuff.
"Gene Roddenberry's Vision" (8:47) is a tribute piece on the "Star Trek" creator, interviewing filmmakers and authors on their respect for the late "Trek" mastermind, and how his vision for the future has touched so many lives.
"Deleted Scenes" (13:30) restore the connective tissue to the film, but not always for the best. The big draw here has Nero and his ship captured by the Klingons, forced to endure hard labor on a prison planet as they plan their escape. For all the hullabaloo it generated in geek circles this past summer, the Klingon material is shockingly brief and pointless (though nicely performed by Victor Garber). The rest of the clipped contributions offer the same empty quality -- smartly snipped exposition and melodrama the film didn't need. The scenes can be viewed with or without commentary from Abrams, Burk, Kurtzman, and Lindelof.
"Gag Reel" (6:22) is a standard collection of cast and crew mix-em-ups, only the package here is highly produced to maintain flow.
"Starfleet Vessel Simulator" offers a rare chance to crawl all over the new Enterprise (and the Narada), exploring the ship through a CG model, topped off with text-based information and selected video of interiors.
A Theatrical Teaser and three Theatrical Trailers are included.
"Star Trek" is a stupendous revitalization of a concept bled dry long ago. It offers nothing but pleasures to those in tune with Gene Roddenberry's original creation, and provides ample comfort to newcomers who should immediately set aside anticipated Trekkie bias and suit up with Starfleet for the true roller coaster ride of the year.