2009’s Greatest Cinematic Achievement
by Heather Trow
Film Monthly Home
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
2009 brought us, like every other year, a wide variety of movies in every genre, of every quality. Some were enormous disappointments (Where the Wild Things Are), others delightful surprises (The Box, It’s Complicated), and, of course, some of them just blew (Nine the musical, Fame the musical).
Without question, the greatest film of 2009, the one I will spend an entire article rhapsodizing about, was STAR TREK. And here is why:
It’s a perfect movie. It’s a whole package. It’s a marriage of all the elements of filmmaking, molded together beautifully and seamlessly, to create a package that rivals the greatest action movies in existence. It outstrips its predecessors, both on film and television, and it’s the most fun you can possibly have at the movies.
To fully appreciate it, one must break down the elements one at a time. To begin, the script. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, assisted by helmsman J. J. Abrams, put together a story filled with intriguing principles: time travel, destiny, and new beginnings. And to top it all off, it was hilariously funny. With a foundation so solid, they already had a huge advantage.
The production elements are unparalleled: a sequence in space shifts so beautifully and realistically to a scene in the bridge, you forget they weren’t actually filming on a moving space ship. The visuals of space are stunning, but even more amazing when you realize they were created on a computer. The entire production team was clearly on the same page, and created a re-booted look for these iconic characters and settings that at once reminded you of their predecessors, and were still new and exciting and in a different league.
The direction was masterful. J. J. Abrams created a world, and then shot it so skillfully. There are such sweet little shots throughout the film- shots that demonstrate without words a character’s point of view, and of course, in the scene on the bridge before the final showdown, a shot of the core cast, together, finally a team and ready to conquer the enemy. It’s a fleeting moment, but one of great importance.
Maybe the reason why action movies are so difficult to compare to dramas is the performances from the actors. It can’t be denied that to pretend like you’re seeing something that’s actually a tennis ball on a stick must be extremely difficult, but nonetheless, try watching Speed without cringing at every line reading.
Star Trek is full to the brim with beautiful, specific performances. And these actors had even more challenges on their plates, because the actors who created their roles are legends now. But to sit and watch Chris Pine, or Zachary Quinto, you’d never think there was anything else at stake except creating a great movie. And those two especially contribute to the wonderful acting. Pine’s comic timing in the Kobayashi Maru scene, Quinto’s believable, understated grief after the death of his mother… exquisite. And the supporting actors hold up their end of the bargain flawlessly. Karl Urban’s hilarious disgruntled McCoy, Zoe Saldana’s beautiful, intelligent Uhura, Anton Yelchin’s charming, naive Chekov… these actors work together as a team to rival ensemble casts in the dramas that came out this year. And of course, you can’t talk about Star Trek without delightfully recalling Simon Pegg’s Scotty… one of the most brilliant casting decisions of all time.
It’s a story that surprises you with its wit and emotion. The opening sequence, as George Kirk gives up his life to save his wife, newborn son and crew, is nothing short of moving. And the destruction of Vulcan is surprising and shocking. The final sequence is tensely paced and deeply satisfying.
The entire movie is so pitch-perfect. Sequences of exposition and introduction flow swiftly and smoothly into space jumps, fist fights and alien chases. You thrill in the ride and feel complete elation at its conclusion.
In short, Star Trek is one of the greatest movies EVER made, not just one of the greatest of last year. It took an exclusive club and made it accessible and enjoyable to a vast, thrilled audience. This critic happened to see the movie 12 times in theatres alone. Yes. It’s still just as brilliant the 12th time.
2009 wasn’t one of cinema’s shining years. But Star Trek more than made up for its disappointments.
Heather Trow is an actress, writer and alternative comedy enthusiast.
Got a problem? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org