Sunday, May 10, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

I simply cannot comprehend the positive press and reactions that this movie has generated. As both a long term fan of Star Trek (particularly in its more recent, less campy iterations) and more generally an enthusiast of most science fiction (including Wolverine, which I saw last week and enjoyed more than expected), I believed Star Trek would provide at least a modicum of basic entertainment. Instead, I left the theater feeling like one of the few remaining moviegoers who do not mindlessly worship J.J. Abrams or routinely freebase cocaine.

Has the collective intelligence of the viewing public so devolved that we are now unable to discern the difference between a shaking camera and a situation offering genuine excitement? Mr. Abrams seems to think so -- and I have yet to discover a single review where his incoherent, nervous style gets called out for the outrageous distraction that it is. Every single scene in the entire film is relentlessly and mercilessly shaky - even the ones we're expected to find "emotional" - with astoundingly frequent cuts from shot to shot, as if the entirety of the footage was recorded on Nokia camera phones (perhaps the one shamelessly flaunted in the film) by children suffering from peculiar, acute seizure disorders.

Pop Cinematography

Welcome to the new standard in popular cinematography: Star Trek, ala Blair Witch. And this visual assault never once pauses - not even for 30 seconds to allow us to contemplate the total annihilation of a planet. There is a difference between breathtaking and breathless, or cool and cruel. Apparently Mr. Abrams believes we are too stupid to know the difference.

The situation is not improved by this film's disconcertingly thin plot. Even in the world of sci-fi television, there have been limits to the inane technological shortcuts cooked up solely for the purpose of camouflaging a weak script. "Transwarp beaming"? Huh? How is it that the ship's transporters are unable to work when a person falls through the sky, or off a cliff, but they operate flawlessly when the plot needs them to transport people across light years of space and onto a moving starship? Red Matter? And how, in any sci-fi universe, could a hysterical, last-minute ejection of an engine core help a ship escape from the edge of a black hole? This would be akin to switching off the ignition in one's car in an effort to avoid a collision with an oncoming freight train.

I read Roger Ebert's criticism of this movie prior to viewing it, but dismissed his remarks as the ramblings of a jaded old man. Jaded he may well be, but also accurate, and perhaps even excessively gentle. The film features one moment after another of this sort of astonishing feeble-mindedness; even as it bases its entire premise on a flimsy time travel mechanism involving the creation of an "alternate universe." A new low is established here for dumbed down sci-fi. The plot devices in this film are so ridiculous that they make Flash Gordon, let alone the previous history of Star Trek, seem like actual science. It's been suggested that the concept of saving whales was previously evidence of a weak script. How, exactly, is "transwarp beaming" an improvement?

Looking for Wires

Upon this train wreck of discordant and violently stretched premises, Mr. Abrams applies a heavy coating of special effects that at times borders on comically cheesy. I must have seen an entirely different movie than many of the other viewers, because I found the CGI and visual style appalling - well below the standards of virtually any contemporary action movie, and yet simultaneously not cheesy enough to function as effective satire. After the first half of the movie, I began challenging myself to look for wires. Seriously.

The acting was relatively inoffensive, but hardly up to the stellar magnitude suggested by this movie's wild torrent of hype. I found the leads weak, but perhaps that was all one could expect, given the insipid material they had to work with, and the fact that not a single line - in any scene, in the two-plus-hour entirety of the film - is uttered at a normal speaking pace. Mr. Abrams instead seemingly forces the entire cast methamphetamines - perhaps appropriate, given the dysfunctional yet lucrative, Ritalin snorting demographic to which this film clearly panders. To my great surprise, the best performance - and the solitary moment of warmth in what otherwise constitutes more than two agonizing hours of brutal, emotionally desolate pounding - was delivered by our old friend Winona Ryder.

Visions and Insults

At its core, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek has always represented a vision for a better future, challenging viewers to think about central, important issues like racism, cold wars, social injustice, conservation. Against this rich history, the new film is downright condescending - it seems, in fact, deliberately intent on discouraging all thought. A breathlessly shallow, disjointed conglomeration of poorly filmed explosions with no nuance, no depth, no artistry, and indeed no redeeming traits whatsoever, as a whole it amounts to nothing less than a thinly concealed insult to intelligence itself.

It is difficult to believe I would ever suggest this, but the Star Trek franchise would have been better off dying a graceful death than having been so deeply bastardized by J.J. Abrams with this abomination. Overwhelmed with disappointment in both the movie and a general public either unwilling or, perhaps even scarier, unable to perceive what it actually represents, I left the theater despondent.

[Post-review afterthought: A Star Trek in name only, this film retains only the most superficial aspects of the franchise, while discarding its mind, heart, and soul. What formerly was geek domain has been sacrificed to the mass market gods of profit. Those with even half a brain are no longer welcome. The apparent runaway popularity of this film shows exactly why American youngsters lag behind their foreign peers in mathematics and science. The fault lies not with our hard working teachers, but with ourselves, as individuals and a culture, for embracing this sort of anti-intellectual garbage.]


Therin of Andor said...

You chose to slam "Star Trek" as your first ever blog entry?

I'm a Star Trek fan since December 1979, at a time when loving "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", my first ST experience, was considered quite a crime by 60s' TOS-loving diehards.

Sorry mate, I thoroughly enjoyed the new movie. All three times I've seen it so far.

Saint Euphoria said...

I actually agree wholeheartedly. I think the film was a mess that has no real connection to the true heart of Trek. Instead we got big, dumb and not as great as every one is saying. I hate to say it but if this is what Trek is now, I am no longer a fan.

Daryl said...

Dont let the door hit you on the ass on the way out

atomicker said...

Very well put... it seems as if TPTB thought Trek had to be lobotomized in order to help it appeal to the mass market. Disappointingly, it appears they may have been right.

Jinky the Killer Clown said...

I have to say, this is very well written. Your points are very clear and even had me rethinking some things. Some of your key complaints are definitely some of the things that really, really bothered me as well. The key areas being the shaky camera scenes and everyone talking like my 20 year old niece.

Even Spock Prime didn't allow a second to even absorb his wise words. I couldn't make the personal connection between him and young Kirk because it felt like the scene was moving too fast. Some moments need to be embraced. For example, the scene in the turbo lift with Uhura and Spock was really wonderful. Similar to what you described about Winona's scenes.

I didn't dislike the movie as you did. I enjoyed it for the most part. I liked it better than "Nemesis" and "Insurrection" anyway. That may not say much. But I felt like it was a couple hours well spent.

I'm sorry it sucked for you. But I totally understand your perspective.

Martin said...

Finally someone who else who didn't love the movie! I thought I was the only one and that there was something wrong with me. The film had many flaws - shaky camera work, badly written dialogue, a contrived plot and a weak villain. This film has killed my long interest in Star Trek since I know Abrams' Trek will be the only Star Trek there is for a long time to come.

Father Robert Lyons said...

I accept this film as a necessary evil... and I don't mind the alternate timeline idea, though I would have just plain preferred to see a complete and utter reboot with no connection to existing Star Trek canon.

The story, I agree, was pretty poorly concieved, and I find the film to amount to a comic book one, not a tentpole sci-fi franchise.

I wanted a more 2001-esque Star Trek. I got a more Superman-seque one.

Colour me dissapointed.


PS- My review is on my site at, and my review of the novel adaptation is at

newo said...

Congratulations on an excellent review. I intensely hated the movie as well, but almost entirely on the "death of Gene Roddenberry's vision" aspect. Facebook has a great group called, "I hate the new star trek movie" yall should look at that.

Anonymous said...

When you said you liked "Wolverine," I actually got windburn as your credibility flew past me and out the window.

But when you singled out Winona Ryder for praise, that's when the laughter started ... and when I realized your entire review was just a big joke.

Very Andy Kauffman of you. Well done. You actually had me going for a while. I'll look forward to your review of the sequel.

Sarek said...

Spot on review. Couldn't agree more. To all of you so called 'fans' praising current pop-corn movie... You do not understand the essence of Roddenberry's vision. This is not intelligent, thought provoking science fiction. If you find that boring, go and watch your 'Transformers' and 'Star Wars' instead. There's enough crap in theatres already.

Basti said...

I am really glad there are at least some people who share a similar opinon. And I have no idea what went wrong with most people having reviewed that "movie", were they paid that much? It surely has nothing star trek in it, but leaving that aside .. even considering it was a movie with no connection to star trek whatsoever, it's a very bad movie, there IS no plot, a tattooed guy who is evil because .. well, he looks evil and wants to .. whatever, it's all been said. rip star trek