As he took on the very first Star Trek movie, director Robert Wise certainly had his work cut out. Pleasing fans of the original series while translating a somewhat cartoonish 60's show into a legitimate, impressive 70's space opera to rival Star Wars was never going to be easy.
How to bring these characters back together? How to update the look of the show without sucking all the iconic charm out of it?
Turns out: by making a really long episode :S
Yes this Star Trek isn't so much the big, awesome movie you'd expect but rather an extended episode of the original series with different sets, different costumes and better (but still mostly cheesy) effects. Which is not to say it's bad, even if critics and audiences over the years have panned it quite a bit, it's actually very decent (a very decent episode that is). As a movie...
Star Wars this isn't.
To give you an idea: it takes about 35 minutes for the main crew of The Enterprise to come together and for it to actually take off. Actually, I think 20 minutes of that is spent just looking at The Enterprise itself! Gosh that intro sequence when we first see the ship was long. But anyway, Kirk (William Shatner, duh) is back and he's somehow managed to become captain of the updated ship despite his notoriously reckless leadership skills. In the future, we soon find out, everyone wears beige pyjamas and is more than ok with that. A moustache-wearin' Scotty leads Kirk onto The Enterprise and he is greeted by the usual bunch (Sulu, Chekov, Uhura) but it turns out he's taken over the job of a dude who is much less ass-kissy, and understandably so. Soon enough, DeForest Kelley's McCoy shows up sporting a glorious Zach Galifianakis beard and eventually Spock (Leonard Nimoy, duh!) does get to The Enterprise much to the joy of Kirk who looks waaaaaay too happy to see him.
Like, crazy happy.
I know I haven't mentioned the plot yet. Know why? Because nothing actually happens for those first 35 minutes! It's just the main players talking and meeting up again. The plot really gets going when the team is finally reunited. Basically the involves some giant space starfish anus vagina thing (aka V'ger) that's coming right for Earth and looks ready to destroy our planet for whatever reason so it's obviously up to the Enterprise gang to go to it and try and sort it out. What this boils down to is yet another Star Trek episode which sees Kirk and co meet some space blob which plays tricks on them until Kirk outsmarts it and all's well that ends well. With added God/birth imagery and worse-looking sets and costumes all around.
Oh, and a bald lady.
The film moves at a snail's pace and although it looks like Robert Wise was really going for a grand space opera vibe with its giant orchestral score, its quiet moments of wonder and its big existential themes, you can't shake the feeling that a lot of it could have been edited out and we would have been left with a really good episode of the show. For a blockbuster, this Star Trek movie could have done with much more action (at least ONE big battle would have been nice!), more stuff happening, more emotional conflicts between the characters. As it stands, it's a Star Trek flick that fans will enjoy in parts (the first half-hour will, alas, feel tedious for all) but everyone else will feel alienated by. No pun intended. On the plus side, the cast is as good as ever: Shatner overacts, Nimoy is cool as f***, Bones complains, Scotty's Scottish, classic stuff. Like I said, once they all finally come together, the film gets much more interesting. It all builds up to a pretty nifty twist and by the end, if you're a fan of the show, you will be invested in the story, which is good. The look of the film is hit-and-miss with The Enterprise looking fab but the V'ger effects looking crazy-dated. A scene, to give you an idea, sees everyone wobbling around in slo-mo for AGES while green and red streaks of light and pixels smear across the screen.
Oh sure it's loltastic but it looks really unimpressive.
Plus it makes J.J. Abrams' lens flares look amazing, and that's just wrong.
Overall, while not the definitive Star Trek film you'd expect, if you loved the original series, you'll like this one, just think of it as an extended season premiere episode not as the badass Trek flick it could have been. Wise's film ticks all the right boxes for a Star Trek episode, it's just a shame he played it safe rather than reinvent the show in his own way for the big screen and, more importantly, for mass audiences.