I had no previous affiliations with Star Trek before this movie. To be honest, my mental image of the show and the movies was that it was stodgy and overly thoughtful vis a vis trying to be a cultural voice of reason over a sci-fi show.
And that’s fine. M*A*S*H* worked great like that, too. It was a show of my parents’ age and, since my parents never watched it, I never watched it.
I only saw this reboot because shit blew up in space. At least, the first time.
I saw a second time because I was blown away by how well paced, well acted, well scored, well directed, and well put together the movie is.
I saw it a third time because I had the chance to see it in IMAX. Simple as that.
But I wouldn’t have seen it subsequent times if it weren’t a great movie, and one that made me actually start watching Trek in syndication on late night television.
Let’s start with the first ten minutes of the film–when George Kirk only hears his son’s first breathes as he flies into the ship to save 800 lives. This movie starts off with a powerful setpiece that packs a lot of emotion and kickass visuals into a small amount of space.
To the untrained eye, this is just something that’s really cool. But to the trekker, this is the first indication that this is a different Star Trek, on a different timeline. Spock Prime mentions this later in the film when he tells Kirk that he knew his father, and that that was the reason he went into Starfleet.
In this universe, his dad dies about 30 seconds after his birth.
And James T. Kirk as a small boy is a rebellious little Iowan. The first scene we see of him is after he’s stolen his dad’s incredibly vintage car, goes out for a joyride, and then drives it off a cliff.
Cut to Vulcan where young Spock is terrorized by full blooded Vulcans because he has a human mother. Then he beats the shit out of their ringleader. And bleeds green.
These first three portions of the film are fucking awesome. They’re paced quickly, and throw you headlong into this universe by giving you a glimpse of them as children.
The rest of the movie is just as badass, I promise.
The biggest thing for me about this movie is one I didn’t find out about until I got the special edition DVD and watched some of the behind the scenes featurettes. It turns out that director JJ Abrams wanted to use as much practical effects and real locations as possible–this is why they filmed the scenes on the engineering deck of the Enterprise in a brewery instead of building a set (though when Kirk gets marooned on an ice planet, that part was shot in a parking lot. You do what you can).
The other thing they showed was that Abrams would slap the camera body during scenes to get the shaky effect of being on an starship in battle. This is something that’s really easy to do in post–Final Cut calls it the “Earthquake” (or Short Cuts [spoiler alert link]?)–but looks so much more authentic when the actual apparatus doing the filming is shaking.
It didn’t stop there, either. The VFX guys decided to enhance some of their footage by putting a motion capture device on a desk, slapping the desk, and adding the movement to the “camera” of the CGI. I thought that was pretty wicked that they continued this idea to its endth instead of trying to make it look completely perfect and thereby inorganic/completely different from the shakiness of the onboard shots.
As these last 300 words can attest to, this is a movie that allows nerds to completely go balls deep about. There’s so many little intricacies and fun things about the production to discover. To someone like me, the discovery heightened the viewing experience.
Even if you aren’t a nerd or a geek or a Trekker or whatever, there’s still a lot to appreciate about this movie.
The cinematography is fantastic for a modern day action film. I have no qualms about Baycam, it’s shakiness, or it’s lack of geographic continuity for the viewer, but this film is done in a completely different style that actually shows you a wide angle on what’s occurring as well as shaky closeups. Watch an action scene from Transformers then watch, say, those opening ten minutes. Completely different, right?
And I like that about this movie. It’s completely different by its eschewing both modern action aesthetics and it’s actual, y’know, storyline.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman films started this whole rash of thoughtful, compelling, tentpole films that focus on story as well as kickass visuals.
Sure, Spiderman and Spiderman 2 did this, but there was no darkside to it. And that’s the major difference–tentpoles are free to play, now, with the whole psyche of a character. It’s almost becoming expected.
When it doesn’t occur–cf, X-Men Origins: Wolverine–it’s even more disappointing than it used to be because of great big beautiful films like the Dark Night and Star Trek and Watchmen. At least it’s disappointing to me. I like story. I like shit blowing up. I like set pieces. I like shakycam. Make me care about what’s going on and you’ll guarantee my ass will be in the seat again.
This movie makes me care about what’s going on. It builds characters deep enough to care about and intriguing enough to keep your attention. I love that Spock flares up with rage from time to time. I love that Capt. Kirk is arrogant and confident.
I’m pretty sure I’ve gone on record and stated that Michael Giacchino is my favorite composer right now. His score in this film is probably some of his best work. The problem, though, is that I haven’t really figured out how to articulate how well a score works for me. So we’ll leave it at that.
This movie’s sequel is due in 2012. I hope the world doesn’t end before I get to see it in IMAX.