The fate of the galaxy rests in the hands of bitter rivals. One, James Kirk, is a delinquent, thrill-seeking Iowa farm boy. The other, Spock, a Vulcan, was raised in a logic-based society that rejects all emotion. As fiery instinct clashes with calm reason, their unlikely but powerful partnership is the only thing capable of leading their crew through unimaginable danger, boldly going where no one has gone before. The human adventure has begun again.
Back in the mid-80s, at about the time Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was going in front of the cameras, then-'Star Trek' movie producers Ralph Winter and Harve Bennett came up with the idea of a 'Starfleet Academy' film that would go back and take a look at how the original crew of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, etc., all first met. The concept didn't gain any real traction with Paramount Pictures until after the box office disappointment of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and the impending 25th anniversary of the original television series, which was rapidly approaching at the time. The movie was actually greenlit by Paramount, but a number of occurrences – not the least of which was fan outrage over their favorite actors being recast with younger counterparts – caused the project to stall. Bennett left the 'Star Trek' franchise, and 'Trek' celebrated its anniversary with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, followed by a string of 'The Next Generation' films. But when 'Star Trek' seemed to run out of gas again at the box office following the release of Star Trek: Nemesis, the idea of a movie focusing on Kirk and Spock's younger years came up again. The result was this 2009 'reboot' (which really isn't a reboot as much as it is an alternate timeline), written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman that – while in no way connected to the Winter/Bennett idea that proceeded it – certainly borrows from the earlier concept, adding a number of creative twists and turns to it in the process.
It's easy now to talk about how great 2009's 'Star Trek' turned out to be, but lest we all forget, that was certainly not the case when the movie was first announced. While Director J.J. Abrams being hired to helm the picture certainly calmed many nerves (if fans didn't like TV's 'Alias' and Lost, they certainly appreciated his work revitalizing both Tom Cruise's career and a fledging TV-to-big-screen franchise with Mission Impossible III), there was an overwhelming opinion that the original actors were so identified with their roles that any attempt to re-cast them not only would meet the ire of loyal Trekkies, it simply wouldn't work. But thankfully, those fears were both unfounded and flat-out wrong. Not only is 'Star Trek' perfectly cast, but it brings a warmth and humor to the proceedings that reminded fans why we came to love these characters in the first place. It would be the second (but not the last!) time J.J. was responsible for injecting life back into a franchise that seemed to be on its last legs.
The plot of 'Star Trek' has been discussed ad infinitum since its release (including several reviews right here on HDD), so I'll refrain from providing yet another synopsis of the plot and instead focus on what works (and what doesn't) in the film. Obviously the biggest complement that Abrams and crew should be paid is in the casting of the movie. Even before the cast was announced, it was pretty obvious that Zachary Quinto was the perfect choice for Mr. Spock. Not only is he a dead ringer for a young Leonard Nimoy, but he has a cool, dispassionate way of acting that fits the character perfectly. Karl Urban looks much less like a young DeForest Kelley, but his gruff impersonation is so dead-on, it's very easy to imagine he's a younger 'Bones' McCoy. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, was the casting of Chris Pine as James T. Kirk. Pine doesn't really look or even act (no dramatic pauses here) like William Shatner, but what he does do is capture some of the character's traits perfectly – the cockiness, the willingness to leap into action before looking, and – yes – the womanizing. While the other actors here are doing their best to pay homage to the originals, Pine makes Kirk his own.
Which is not to say Abrams' film is perfect. Ever since Ricardo Montalban grappled to the last with the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (still the best 'Trek' film by any measuring stick), the creators of 'Star Trek' films have tried to come up with a villain just as entertainingly evil and have failed with every try. They fail once again with Nero (played by Eric Bana), a Romulan from the future with a planet-destroying starship who has followed the original Spock (aka 'Spock Prime' and once again played by Leonard Nimoy) back in time to exact his revenge. Nero isn't very well-developed as a character, and his presence just seems to be an obstacle that our heroes need to overcome than someone the audience really gets to know during the course of the story. In fact, much of Nero's screentime was cut in the editing room (some of it is available in the deleted scenes on the second Blu-ray disc of this set), an indication that Abrams too realized the character was not quite working the way he hoped.
Part of the fun of watching 'Star Trek', of course, is the audience (well, at least most of it) having knowledge about the characters that the characters themselves aren't aware of yet. We already know that Kirk and Spock are going to become great friends, even if they don't yet, and seeing that friendship develop on-screen is one of the joys of the movie. And even though Leonard Nimoy has a brief cameo in this film's sequel, this is for all intents and purposes his final performance as Spock – and he nails it, bringing with him all the history of and love for that character we've gained over the past decades. He's probably in the actual movie less than 15 minutes, but he's a huge part of why 'Star Trek' is as good a movie as it turns out to be.
As for whether this 4K Ultra HD release is worth upgrading to or not, I think it really depends on how big of a 'Star Trek' fan one is, and if you already own one of the prior Blu-ray releases of this movie. For this fan, though, I'm pretty happy at Paramount's decision to make this film (and its lesser sequel) among their first Ultra HD releases. One can only hope that some of the original cast films are soon to follow.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Star Trek' warps onto 4K Ultra HD in a black Elite keepcase, which contains a plastic hub that holds the 4K disc and the first Blu-ray disc. The second Blu-ray disc (with the majority of bonus materials) is on a hub on the inside right of the case. The case also holds a single insert with a code for either an UltraViolet or an iTunes digital copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick and a slightly embossed logo slides overtop.
There are no front-loaded trailers on the 4K disc, whose main menu is a graphical schematic of the U.S.S. Enterprise, with menu selections in the lower left corner of the screen. The first Blu-ray (which contains the movie), however, is front-loaded with trailers for Transfomers: Revenge of the Fallen, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a promotion for the now-defunct Fringe TV series, and an advertisement for the 'Star Trek D.A.C.' video game. The main menu of the first Blu-ray has the same design as the 4K disc. The second Blu-ray in this release has no front-loaded trailers and features a slightly different Enterprise graphic, with the bonus offerings running horizontally down the left side of the screen. For the record, the two Blu-rays in this release are the exact same discs for the 2009 film that are part of Paramount's Star Trek: The Compendium release (including the artwork on the discs themselves).
All the discs in this release are region-free.
'Star Trek' was shot on 35mm film using primarily the Ariflex 435 and is presented here in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Despite some incorrect info out there online, 'Star Trek's 4K transfer is indeed taken from a 2K digital intermediate, meaning that the image here is an upconvert, although this is among the better 2K DI upconverts we've seen on the 4K Ultra HD format thus far. As has been the case with other releases, the real change between this image and the 1080p image isn't necessarily with details (although there's certainly some of that), but the change in the depth of color and contrast that HDR provides.
The two most obvious visual improvements are in terms of skin tones (although star Zachary Quinto's makeup is a little more apparent, as is his 5 o'clock shadow) and both the deeper color and noticeable texture of the costumes. About my only complaint with the enhanced color and contrast is that the red uniforms the cadets wear on Earth (not to be confused with the red uniforms worn by some on the Enterprise) come across as a little too saturated in 4K. Most other reds look fantastic – including actually being able to see the sparkles in the paint job of young Kirk's hijacked sports car at the beginning of the movie.
The 4K disc also enhances those darker scenes that take place aboard Nero's Romulan vessel, with excellent black levels and clarity. While the 1080p version of these scenes looked decent, there was still a level of murkiness to them – 4K solves that problem, so that while the Nero sequences still look dark, viewers will no longer have issues picking up on all the details in the backgrounds.
'Star Trek' was already a pretty good-looking release on 1080p, but viewers should certainly enjoy the enhancement that 4K adds to the film. There are zero glitches in the image that I was able to detect, and while perhaps not reference-quality for the new format, this a really good looking release from Paramount.
'Star Trek' upgrades to 4K with an English Dolby Atmos track (which plays as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track for those without an Atmos set-up) that is aggressive from the get-go and doesn't let up until the end credits roll. It goes without saying that every laser blast and explosion sound great here, but smaller things like the beeps, chirps, and whistles of the Enterprise's various systems are distinct and noticeable throughout.
Viewers/listeners won't have to wait long to find out how fun this track is going to be as one's sound system will rumble with LFE effects as the Romulan ship appears in the early moments of the movie. In fact, LFE is used a lot during the course of the film – most impressively when the Romulans use their planet-killing/black hole-creating drill.
If there are any complaints to be had about this mix, it's in the fact that with all the aural action happening, the spoken word comes off as a little more muted that it should be, particularly in the quieter scenes of the movie. Now rest assured there's nothing muddy sounding about the dialogue, I just wish it was mixed a notch or two higher. That fact hasn't prevented me from still giving the audio here a "5" score, but I would say it does stop just a bit short from being 'reference quality', but only slightly (hence, my reason for still giving it a '5'). Most are going to be quite happy with the audio.
In addition to the Atmos track, the 4K disc also offers up 5.1 tracks in Spanish, French, and Portuguese, as well as an English Audio Description track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Note: Since all of the bonus materials on this release have appeared on prior releases of 2009's 'Star Trek', the Blu-ray supplements descriptions that follow are from fellow HDD writer Joshua Zyber and taken from his fantastic review of Star Trek: The Compendium.
4K Ultra HD Disc
Blu-ray Disc 1
Blu-ray Disc 2
'Star Trek' gets some added 'oomph' from this new 4K transfer of the movie, adding a noticeable level of color and contrast in HDR as well as a Dolby Atmos track. There's nothing new in terms of bonus materials, so casual fans who already own the Blu-ray may want to think twice before upgrading. However, if you're a die-hard Trekkie like myself, this one's highly recommended.