I had great fun trying to catch with the whole time-travel thing. It was confusing the first time round, but on my second viewing, perhaps because I was older, or perhaps it was thanks to the subtitles, or perhaps it was because I had been exposed to twistier films like Inception and The Prestige (both Nolan films… wonder what that says? Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a film which my friend and fellow film buff described as “if you thought Inception was confusing, well, then this…”, is coming) or perhaps it was simply because it was a repeat viewing, I found myself perfectly able to follow the ‘whole time-travel thing’, and also I must admit that it’s one of the better ways in which the time-travel plot device has been employed in film.
I’ve never been a Star Trek fan, so I cannot tell how faithful this adaptation is to the Star Trek universe. But what I can tell is the sheer quality of the production. Between the production videos for Lord of the Rings and for this one (and no doubt, for Nolan’s and Spielberg’s and Cameron’s films), I’m convinced I should watch production videos more often. They really give you a remarkable and fantastic insight into a director’s particular brand of filming. Abrams’ style, as I picked up from the behind-the-scenes footage of the DVD, involves a love of ‘flare’, a specific frequency of shaking the camera (poor camera dude, as my friend was saying), and a stroke of genius in the filming of the space-diving-to-drill-platform scene – which was accomplished by having the actors stand on mirrors that reflected the sky, and then filming them from the top so it looked like they were hurtling down from the sky.
My understanding of Abrams’ love of the flare effect makes it so much easier to appreciate the Titanic 3D parody video my friend introduced me to. The visuals are top-notch: there’s a scene where Kirk is thrown off the ship onto an ice planet, and after ignoring the capsule’s warning starts hiking across the frozen terrain, whereupon he encounters not one, but two monsters that leap out of the ice unexpectedly and realistically enough to make me jump. And that’s because so much of it is actually real. As with the Lord of the Rings movies, the most realistic-looking special effects are those that are real. I’ve no doubt the interiors were actual, tangible sets. The make-up, I believe, is actual prosthetics. Action scenes are well-shot, and as if to further prove the point that this is a big-budget production, it’s not in the gritty style of the Bourne films (not that that one lacked funding, but… you get my point). And just as well. Gritty action scenes would have destroyed the sterile space environment of the film. Furthermore there’s something about the action scenes here that makes it impossible to tear your eyes away from the screen. It’s something like the Lord of the Rings films. While the Bourne and Mission: Impossible action scenes glued my eyes to the screen because of their pure adrenaline-pumping quality, the LOTR films had me entranced because of the sheer epic-ness and scale of the action scenes. This film, I suspect, enthralled me because the action scenes were just so refreshingly creative – I hesitate to say original, but that was the original (pun unintended) adjective I used – and whilst not adrenaline-pumping, they were certainly impossible to look away from. The drill platform scene stands as one example, and the sequence on the frozen ice-capped planet where Kirk is chased by a wolfish-looking brute that gets devoured by an even larger monster that then goes after him- well, there’re no words to describe those scenes.
But action scenes do not a good movie make, so what is it that differentiates Star Trek from all the regular cinematic fare we get for summer? It’ll have to be the emotional depth and character development present. Emotions-wise, the most emotional scene is surprising the opening scene in which Kirk’s father sacrifices himself to save the crew – it’s touching without being mushy, and the harshness is not sugar-coated. Another emotional scene would have to be the scene where Spock almost manages to save his mother – that expression on his face is haunting. And let’s not forget the scene where Kirk goads Spock into losing his temper. It’s particularly painful for the audience because you know exactly how much Kirk is suffering, fully aware as he is of the amount of pain he must be causing Spock yet knowing that he has to do this.
Kirk and Spock grow the most as characters – Kirk from an immature rogue to a responsible captain; Spock from an individual full of self-doubt to one more confident about who he is. (Interestingly, I spent the whole film thinking James Kirk was Jim Kirk and Spock was Spark.) There’s also the stellar dialogue, which infuses the movie with subdued yet effective undertones of humour.
If I were to state one criticism, I would have to say it’s the villain. Really, Nero is quite menacing and we do get to hear his back story, but he could have been a more tragic villain if they were to show actual scenes of him with his wife, how he ends up losing his wife and how that turns him evil. And I really loathed Nero’s lines, which were scripted in the way traditional, mustache-twirling (read: flat, one-dimensional, evilly boring and boringly evil) villains intone and menace.
Favourite scenes: opening scene where Kirk’s father sacrifices himself to save the crew, meeting a young James T. Kirk, space diving to the drill platform, Kirk being chased by monsters on the frozen planet, Spock being emotionally compromised
Rating on Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Rating on IMDb: 8.1
Viewing history: Seen 2x. Once in theaters, once on library DVD.