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Release Date(s)2009 (November 17, 2009)
Studio(s)Bad Robot/Paramount (Paramount)
I’m going to be completely honest: When I first heard this film was being made, I really thought the idea of re-booting or re-imagining the Star Trek franchise was just a terrible idea. Having seen Paramount release one mediocre Trek movie after another, and then basically abandon the Star Trek: Enterprise TV series, I just had no hope for this new incarnation whatsoever.
I mean, sure... I’d enjoyed some of director J.J. Abrams’ work in the past, but none of it really excited me or gave me confidence that he and his team were up to the task of re-launching Trek. I just feared this film would be an utter disaster, and I say that having been a fan of Star Trek since the very early 70s – not quite the beginning, but close.
And then I saw that third preview trailer. The one where Bruce Greenwood starts out “I couldn’t believe it when the bartender told me who you are...” What I saw stirred something in me – a spark of hope that maybe they’d actually gotten it right. Hope that I hadn’t dared to expect. So I actually began to feel real excitement... and managed to go into an early press screening with a largely open mind. The film blew me away. The opening sequence alone had me hooked. It’s one of the best 5 minutes of film I’ve seen in years – gripping, emotional, poetic and filled with the spirit of Trek at its best. I was really stunned. Abrams and company just nailed it. The audience – jaded movie geeks and/or movie critics all – were left cheering by the end of it. Boy had I been wrong to doubt. And boy am I glad I was wrong!
What’s clever about this Star Trek, is that it’s both a reboot AND it manages to respect all the Trek continuity that’s come before. Everything that’s good and pure about the franchise has been retained, while all of the techno baggage (“Quick, flux the deflector dish with anti-thalaron particles to reverse the field matrix!”) has been left back at the Spacedock. The actors are all spot on as their characters – Pine, Quinto and Urban make you believe they’re the younger Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The other cast members are good too, especially Greenwood as Captain Pike (inspired casting, if I may say so, and one of my favorite roles in the film) and Eric Bana as the film’s villain, Nero. The production design is spectacular and ILM’s CG effects are absolutely top-notch. This is definitely Trek on a more epic scale that we’ve never quite seen before.
There are a couple things you longtime Trek fans will just have to go with... like the fact that it seems to take only ten minutes to warp from Earth to Vulcan, and the Enterprise’s engine room looks like a boiler room. But there’s so much that’s good here – so much that’s fun – that you can easily forgive those things. The film is exciting, action packed, occasionally funny, occasionally poignant. It’s even very slightly campy, in keeping with the tone of the classic show. This definitely feels like Star Trek – no doubt about it. But I’ll tell you... this film managed to do something that Trek hasn’t done in a long time: Truly surprise me. This Trek is a whole different ball game. What’s even cooler about this is that, because this is a reboot of sorts, many of the events that longtime fans know happen in the Trek universe can happen again... but in a whole different way. So somewhere out there, there’s a Doomsday Machine destroying planets. Somewhere out in deep space, Khan and his army of genetic supermen lie sleeping in the S.S. Botany Bay, waiting to be discovered again. All those possibilities have me very excited for what might come next.
The A/V quality of Paramount’s Blu-ray version is spectacular. It’s one of those discs you’ll definitely want to use to dazzle guests in your home theatre. The colors are rich and vibrant – from the cool hues of the new Bridge to the ruddy earth tones of Vulcan. There’s abundant detail and fine texture in the image, without it ever feeling edgy or overly filtered. And yet it retains all those gritty, glinty and occasionally soft tones offered by the use of the anamorphic optical process. Contrast is superb, with dark blacks and yet the brightest areas of the image are never blown out. Sonically, the disc’s Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix delivers an appropriately wide, expansive sound field, with natural staging, deep bass and highly active surrounds. Clarity is excellent, and there’s just a rich tapestry of background sounds layered into the mix that draw you right into the film’s fictional environments. A perfect example is the firefight that erupts when Kirk and Spock beam over to the Narada – the ping and sizzle of phaser bolts zip all around you. Sound designer Ben Burtt has even managed to honor The Original Series in the almost musical quality of computer sounds, equipment noises and the like. Best of all, Michael Giacchino’s thrilling score is woven perfectly throughout film. When his new “Kirk/Enterprise” theme crashes over the film’s opening titles, you’ll have chills running down your spine.
And here’s a surprise: The extras on this Blu-ray aren’t the typical cheesy fare we usually get on these Star Trek film discs. The special features team (led by producer Mark Herzog) have crafted the kind of bonus material you’d actually WANT to see! For one thing, they don’t pander to Trekkies as though they’ll be excited by any old geeky thing. They’ve actually created a thorough look at the making of this film, both for film fans in general and fans of THIS film in particular. Through multiple, in-depth featurettes, you learn about the difficulties in rebooting the Trek universe, and the challenge of re-casting characters that are so beloved. You’ll learn how the writers and producers approached the story, how the production design team worked to update everything from the Enterprise itself to the iconic props and uniforms. (I have GOT to get me one of those Starfleet badges, man!) There’s a cool piece here on Ben Burtt’s effort to research how the sounds for the original show were made, and another piece on the score. The alien races, the various planets – even Gene Roddenberry’s original vision gets documentary attention here. You even see Leonard Nimoy’s first and last moments on the production, and a couple of the other original actors visiting the set. Each of the documentaries have branching sub-featurettes of their own that expand on the overall topic. As a whole, the documentaries offer great attention to detail, without ever feeling weighed down or taking themselves too seriously. And yet as a Trek fan, you get see a ton of the stuff you want to see, like up-close looks at the new phaser, tricorder and communicator props in action (you barely get a look at them in the actual film), as well as the new Enterprise’s Bridge dedication plaque! (It’s quick, but in HD you can pause and read the text!) One of the only things that’s not here that I wanted was a better look at the other Starship designs in the film. There are 3 or 4 other designs (other than the Enterprise and the Kelvin) that you see only very briefly as the fleet departs for Vulcan. And I would also have liked to see the script pages for the unused Shatner/Kirk scene that was briefly considered for the end of the film. But those are really about my only complaints, and they’re nitpicks at that.
On top of the documentaries, you get some 13-minutes worth of deleted scenes in full HD, a gag reel, the film’s trailers and more. There’s well over three hours worth of behind-the-scenes video material here, and that doesn’t even include the excellent commentary with Abrams, writers Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and producers Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk. Not enough for you? You also get BD-Live access (which so far includes NASA RSS news feeds - a nice touch), a Digital Copy, an Xbox 360 demo for the Star Trek D.A.C. game, and the ability to interact with the Enterprise on your computer screen via webcam (much like the Optimus Prime Experience on the recent Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Blu-ray).
Still not enough for you? Okay... how about this: You also get the best BD-Java feature I’ve seen yet on a Blu-ray. It’s called the Starship Vessel Simulator, and it lets you get a much more detailed look at both the Enterprise and Narada. You can navigate around the ships, and go up close to different parts. You can fire the phasers and torpedoes, and even take the ships to warp! And all of this is in full HD, using the original ILM CG models from the film. I only wish it was even more detailed, and there were more ships! But as it is, it’s still completely badass. I hope the producers expand on this idea for the sequel BD. Taken as a whole, these Blu-ray extras are a blast – almost everything you’d want them to be. My hats off to the whole team involved in creating them.
For my money at least, this new Star Trek is just a completely fun movie. I can’t begin to tell you the pure joy I feel in the idea that this vision and these ideas, that so inspired me as a kid, are fresh and bold and new again! But you don’t have to be a Trekker to watch this film. Anyone off the street can thoroughly enjoy themselves. It’s just a rip-roaring good time at the movies – a classic summer blockbuster that transcends its genre while managing to honor and respect the franchise. It’s also easily one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year. If you buy only one new film on the format in 2009, Star Trek is definitely the one to get!
- Bill Hunt