Science fiction remakes and reboots tend to deplete their original’s soul or play it too safe in fear of upsetting their fanbase.
Reboots usually offer some combination of the two. For example, Jurassic World sanitized the intrigue of the original while simultaneously adopting a much crueler tone than any of the other Jurassic Park films. Similarly, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams technically updates the story but still manages to fill in the same archetypes rather than creating a wholly new piece of work. (Rian Johnson would fulfill that job in the next film, The Last Jedi).
But let’s travel back to 2009 for a moment, when Chris Pine was still best known as the goofy-haired love interest in the notable classic The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Zachary Quinto was still known as the big bad in the TV series Heroes, and Zoe Saldana was months away from appearing in the cultural movie moment, Avatar from James Cameron. The up-and-comers were about to lead the cast of the most iconic sci-fi property in history.
Star Trek (2009) isn’t just the best modern remake of a classic series but the best Star Trek film period. A bold claim, perhaps. However, by setting the 2009 reboot in an alternative timeline, the narrative was able to break the rules while still paying homage to the originals and succeeding where many remakes and reboots have failed. There is no time better than the present to watch (or revisit) J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek before leaving Netflix next week.
Directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the 11th film in the Star Trek franchise takes the old characters from The Original Series and recasts them with new actors. Rather than simply repackaging Star Trek into something safe for fans to digest, the reboot instead demonstrates what happens when filmmakers trust the audience to follow along.
As put in Inverse’s previous recommendation:
If Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens was guilty of ripping off the plot structure of A New Hope to get audiences to fall in love with new Star Wars characters, he took the opposite approach with rebooting Trek.
Star Trek strikes an impressive pace in terms of storytelling that makes the two hours plus runtime fly by. Take the unrelenting first act, for instance. In the initial sequence, we see what happens to Kirk’s parents, then fast forward in time to the bar fight that introduces a bloodied adult Kirk (Chris Pine).
Next, we see the clever and hilarious christening of the Enterprise as Bones (Karl Urban) sneaks Kirk, suffering an allergic reaction, onboard. Then, Kirk, Sulu, and the token Red Shirt must contend with the massive laser drill that then leads to the devastating destruction of Spock's home planet. Between all this, there is simply no time to breathe.
They finally do take a breath after Spock maroons Kirk after his attempted mutiny. The story doesn’t slow down as it allows time for contemplation as the Kirk of this timeline meets the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy reprising his most famous role). It’s also where we get introduced to this version of Scotty (Simon Pegg), fully accounting for the original crew from the 1960’s series and consecutive films.
Star Trek does terrific work in establishing the main cast and their dynamics, specifically their one-on-ones with Kirk. By the time we watch them all assemble into their roles, we don’t just buy them as individual characters placed in this world but as a team that would believably work together.
The best science fiction makes you feel like your heart is in your throat and doesn’t allow it to return to your chest until the credits roll. Star Trek earns that feeling all the way through.
After being gently mocked for his affinity for light flares over the years, Abrams utilizes them along with its immaculate set design to craft a new science fiction aesthetic. Rather than the color dilution that is a near-constant in action and science fiction films — think the Bourne series then or almost any Marvel property now — Star Trek instead opted for crisp white walls to surround the crew. Their vibrant uniforms are much more reminiscent of The Original Series than any of the following Trek iterations.
The details of the production and the unmistakable chemistry of the cast instill a sense of wonder in Star Trek that only the best of the genre can produce. The film’s style builds upon the story’s themes, and the chemistry pulls us in, so we leave the movie thoroughly enamored with this oddball-found family. It ultimately reflects what Star Trek has always been about: hope and exploration — discovering new worlds by way of understanding old ones.
Star Trek thoughtfully touches up The Original Series for modern audiences, sending a gentle nod to old fans and a welcoming embrace for new ones.
Star Trek (2009) is streaming on Netflix through September 30.