Star Trek IMAX review

Benny reviews the biggest Star Trek experience available at the BFI’s IMAX screen in London...


Surely the pressure is off? We’ve already published our first review of the new, much hyped, Star Trek film, so this second look must be easier to get down on paper. But if you’ve been watching Star Trek for as long as you can remember, through four TV series, and nine movies, the first viewing of its return of this big, big movie means a lot.

And when I say big, I mean big – no more so that when you’re watching it in “the biggest screen in the UK” – the IMAX as BFI in Waterloo. In truth, there can’t be any finer way to see and hear and feel the majesty of the Enterprise’s return to the big screen.

Unfortunately, unlike some movies such as The Dark Knight, there has been no parts filmed specially with IMAX cameras – this is an IMAX DMR presentation – a straight upscale to fit the huge screen. If you do get a chance to see Star Trek, or indeed, anything, it at the IMAX, you should take it, though sitting close to the back would be recommended, as from past experience the front-row IMAX experience is somewhat overwhelming.

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What’s in no doubt though is that JJ. Abrams has created a film that’s more than large enough to fill any screen in terms of both story, effects and vision. If he knows anything, Abrams (MI3, Cloverfield) clearly knows how to pace a modern blockbuster and he doesn’t hang about before launching straight in with raw visceral action and drama. And he doesn’t let up for over two hours.

One thing for certain is that this is an accessible film for anyone who enjoys blockbusters, so you won’t have to worry at all about getting your non-Trek loving friend or partner to enjoy. Just get them there and they will be entertained.

It’s not just the action that will draw you in but the emotion too, and if you’re the sensitive type you will soon be shedding a tear as Kirk’s father faces his death at the moment his to-be-famous son emerges into the universe. It’s ironic that the circumstances of Kirk’s birth then are so much more dramatic than the rather flat death he was given in Generations.

We’re soon given parallel snapshots of Kirk and Spock’s respective childhoods on Earth and Vulcan – Kirk – the classic all-American, rebel without a cause, fighting because that’s all he knows, Spock, wanting to fit in, and having to deal with prejudice from his own people because of his split heritage.

We are shown the similarities of Kirk and Spock’s battles and how in their own way they are both rebellious types. There’s an irony in the way that Spock joins Starfleet to give a rather different V-shaped sign to his teachers, while Kirk, the later rebel, joins the fleet in an attempt to conform for the first time in his life.

These early moments could easily have been cheesy, but the fact that we are left wanting to see more tells you that they’re well handled – less is more in this case.

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The actor’s performances are also impressive considering the burden of the past they have to face up to. Chris Pine does well as Kirk because he doesn’t even attempt to ‘do a Shatner’. He wisely steers clear of the Shatner’s well established mannerisms and simply channels his confidence and authority into his own interpretation.

Zachary Quinto seemed made for the part of Spock in both looks and intensity and only when he is called upon to display anger does his Heroes role as the evil Sylar creep through.

The plaudits have to go though to Karl Urban, who turns in a highly likable impression of De Forest Kelley, as ‘Bones’ McCoy.  His irritated retorts at Spock’s impassiveness are bang on, and the “I’m a Doctor dammit, not a…” moment is sure to raise a chuckle.

Simon Pegg’s take on Scotty is perhaps less successful, with a cartoonish take on both the character and the accent, though he is well used for tension breaking comic relief.

John Cho gets to show off Sulu’s fighting prowess, as Chekhov his brain, though Anton Yelchin looks nothing like a youthful Walter Koenig. Then again, Chekhov wasn’t even on board the Enterprise until the second season of the original series (placed there by Gene Rodenberry conscious that he’d omitted the Ruskies in his utopian vision of the future). 

Finally, Uhura has more of a role to play than Nichelle Nichols ever did, and though Zoe Saldana certainly ticks the intelligent and sexy boxes, she lacks the serene earthiness that Nicols brought to the role. How telling is it that the posters for the film show that classic Trek triumvirate  – Kirk, Spock… and Uhura ? If that’s not shameless sexing up then I don’t know what is.

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It also has to be said that our heroes all seem to arrive at their familiar positions on the Enterprise with a rather convenient set of circumstances – it does feel like the script rushes them there, without them fully deserving it, especially Scotty, who appears to become Chief Engineer just by turning up.

Nimoy’s Moses-like, elderly Spock is the only character that Abrams treats with the reverence the fans would expect and it’s welcome. His presence is a necessary and powerful link with the heritage of what has gone before.

Effects wise, the film will sear your eyeballs off – especially in IMAX DMR guise. The scale of Nero’s Romulan ship dwarfing the U.S.S. Kelvin at the beginning sets the tone. The Federation ships look amazing, as does the new Enterprise, but part of me has to wonder why a design tweak was needed for the old girl. The Enterprise in the film looks like an alternative to the 1979 Motion Picture refit – but of the classic original series ship design, there’s no sign.

The bridge of the Enterprise looks fantastic in Apple inspired white with touch screen everywhere. Abrams doesn’t get to build it up though – we see Spock enter a turbo lift and second later emerge onto the gleaming bride and we’re thrust straight into the eye of the storm. Engineering though is disappointing and looks nothing like the engine rooms we’re accustomed to and more like a oil station – did they run out of money?

What carries it all though is that this is the most real looking Trek ever. When ships are destroyed they fracture and shatter into a thousand pieces and one feels the danger of rawness of space. When a blast exposes the hapless crew to the vacuum of space, it is the silence that is suddenly cut in rather than the visuals that carry the impact of the moment. Yes, Abrams has been watching Battlestar Galactica – and that’s no bad thing.

Purists will of course bemoan certain details – the hand phasers look similar but the beams they and the ship emits are more Star Wars than the Trek of old. And we have to ask – why are ships built on Earth rather than on orbit as we’ve been clearly shown in the past.

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With the performances, the look and the editing all off the charts it’s perhaps the story that struggles to quite match up. For one, while Eric Bana does well as Nero, the characters ultimate motivation is a weak point. 

Only those in a Trek blackout will not know by now that the events involve time travel and it is this that allows Abram to give us these characters and this look to the film. The device is used to give him licence to reboot and revamp Star Trek in a way that otherwise might not have been possible.

As a long time Trek purist it’s difficult to reconcile the sweeping, thrilling rush of the movie with the fact that from now on, everything that we know about Trek’s future is now different – from the look of the technology to the existence of certain individuals to the fate of entire planets – it’s all new. It all seemed to change the moment Nero came through that singularity. And unlike a brief foray into a Mirror, Mirror universe, this time there appears to be no way back.

As a long time fan it’s a delight and a thrill to see this re-energised and revamped Star Trek, but also there’s a nagging sadness that it’s not going to be like it was.

But is that a bad thing? Star Trek as a franchise was going nowhere, slowly – and now it’s got a universe of possibilities ahead of it. It was time to change up. And now we too, like the Enterprise, can look forward to boldly going where Trek has never gone before.

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Star Trek at the BFI


5 out of 5