*. Is the auteur theory dead, or just all the auteurs? How well would such a theory apply to Joss Whedon? To J. J. Abrams? Can anyone tell them apart? Which one did this film?
*. Executive producer Jeffrey Chernov: “J. J. is a maverick filmmaker, there’s no denying that.” Mercy. Well, I guess I stand corrected.
*. It was time for a franchise re-set. Actually, a re-set was about twenty-five years late. It took a while because the original gang took a very long ride into the sunset and then the Next Generation had a run. The emphasis here had to be on a youth movement: the crew of the Enterprise as rebels, punks, and hackers. Even Young Mr. Spock is a hot-headed scrapper. What are these little rascals doing in command of a starship? Well, that’s a bit complicated. But make no mistake, they’re up to the task.
*. Pretty much everything here was going to ride on the cast, and for the most part they came up aces. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are perfect as Kirk and Spock, and the rest of the crew are just as good. The only misfire is Simon Pegg as Scotty. I wasn’t buying him in the part at all (he doesn’t even sound Scottish!), or the way he was shoehorned into the plot.
*. In fact, I’d say this film is pretty much saved by the casting. The villain Nero (Nero? really? who would name their kid Nero? at least Tiberius had some good qualities) is a flimsy figure, obviously meant to recall Ricardo Montalban’s Khan in various ways. But he just comes across as a generic bad guy, maybe a bit dim, with a motivation that is hard to figure. Why does he blame Spock for the destruction of his planet? Are we meant to feel some sympathy for him? There’s just not enough presented for us to get our teeth into him either way. I wasn’t even sure what he was. I think he’s supposed to be a miner, a Romulan living “a life of honest labour” who happened to be off world when Romulus was destroyed.
*. The retro uniforms signal a return to roots as well, and it’s less of a surprise than it is an in-joke when we see a redshirt evaporate in a pillar of fire. Meanwhile, “Bones” can be counted on to spout lines like “Damn it, man, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” while Scotty cries with exasperation that he’s “giving her all she’s got!”
*. The rest of the script is borderline awful. I really wished they hadn’t gone with another time travel story. As I see it, such a conceit has two ends: it sets up an alternate universe so that perfect consistency need not be maintained between this film and the other films in the franchise, and it allows for the introduction of Leonard Nimoy to effect a passing of the torch (the same sort of thing that had been done in Star Trek: Generations).
*. The downside is that it launches us into all the usual questions about paradoxes and dilutes from the main thrust of the narrative. I really, really didn’t want to see Nimoy in this movie. Indeed the whole business of Kirk being marooned on the ice planet was a waste, just an excuse to have him running away from some CGI monsters before introducing us, in a highly improbable way, to Scotty and his hairless Ewok companion. The movie would have been a lot better without such a detour. Especially since Spock’s whole justification for not revealing himself to Young Spock (so as not to deny him “the revelation of all that you could accomplish together” with Kirk) is pure mush. What the hell does that even mean?
*. Say what you will about the original Star Trek television series, they made up for their low budgets with compelling stories. With this film they knew they would have to “go big” with the special effects and the story was an afterthought. I don’t know if we can speak of there being an inverse rule at work there. The stronger a film’s visuals the weaker the writing? It’s as if good writing has to come to the rescue of low budgets, or big budgets have to compensate for an inadequate script. Well, perhaps this isn’t a law, but I think it works as a general principle.
*. I take it as given that the science makes no sense at all. Warp drive is all part of the suspension of disbelief. But I was still baffled by the idea that you can be sucked into a black hole and then just pop out of it later in another dimension.
*. Red matter. Hm. I’m glad they’re keeping that big ball of it in a glass case so it’s awesome gravitation field doesn’t get out. But why does it have to be injected into the center of a planet to work?
*. It’s nice to see that global warming has had no adverse effects on American agriculture and that there are still endless fields of something growing in Iowa a few centuries from now.
*. The action sequences aren’t very imaginative are they? We see young Kirk hanging from a cliff. We see older Kirk hanging from the platform of the drill. On the Vulcan ship he’s hanging from another ledge. This is pretty standard stuff and I don’t know why you’d repeat it three times unless you just couldn’t come up with anything else to do. They even repeat the shot of his phaser skidding off the ledge twice.
*. If, after Kirk’s warning, everyone accepts that by going to Vulcan they are heading into a trap, why do they still go there? Shouldn’t they have come out of warp drive a little early so they could sneak up on the Romulans?
*. There’s not much point saying anything more. It’s a popcorn film that gave audiences what they wanted: lots of state-of-the-art big-screen special effects and a reintroduction to the old gang made young again. It’s just that the audience has been growing even younger, while time’s arrow has been pointing the other way for me. I remember the original television series being silly but more substantial. Many of the episodes remain with me forty years later, due mainly to the strength of the writing. This movie, on the other hand, is just more loud, expensive nonsense. Somehow, they even got rid of the nostalgia.