While far from crap, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek clearly has a lot of problems. What's less clear is if it makes sense to blame this particular film: it's not in any unique way maladroit but succumbs to a series of diseases endemic to modern-day Hollywood, specifically its action and sci-fi sectors. It would be a brave detractor indeed who could deny the fun of simply watching a 2009-based set of filmmakers revamp these 23rd-century characters and settings for the 21st, but it would take an even braver defender to acquit them of doing it within an intricate framework of clichés.
Now would be the time to shamefully admit that I've never seen a single episode of Star Trek the original series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager or Star Trek: Enterprise. (It didn't occur to me that I could probably watch the old shows on Internet.) My track record with the movies isn't much better: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock on cable when I was eleven, Star Trek: Generations on VHS around the same time and Star Trek: First Contact in the theater. From all that, I seem only to remember a scene where William Shatner chops wood.
So I'm in either a remarkably poor position to talk about a series reboot or a remarkably advantaged one. Because, in one of my many vain childhood efforts to break into nerd-dom, I spent a couple years of childhood poring over Alan Asherman's The Star Trek Compendium, I at least know my Sulus from my Chekhovs. It's just barely enough of a foothold from which to admire the very effort of dragging the concept into 2009, and Abrams and company do indeed make some choice moves, such as strategically tying off the main arteries of canon-related nerd bitching by establishing a timeline isolated from every other Star Trek thing. Alas, this is accomplished with the unfortunate device of time travel, but I'd say such a noble end justifies the ugly means.
This sets the stage for a brave new Star Trek, the opening salvo in a fresh series that boldly goes where no Star Trek has gone before. Disappointingly, it goes where the worn-out boots of a thousand action movies have trod instead. Even the final hero-versus-villain fistfight (yes, really) goes down in a Romulan starship that functions, for all intents and purposes, as the old Vertiginous Flame and Spark Factory. There is also a parachuting sequence — this in the age of beaming, mind — and a classic Corvette — again, 23rd century — that plunges off a cliff but is bailed out of at the last possible moment. Now imagine all this delivered by rapid cuts, motion blurs and the wobbly handheld camera for whose sorry introduction I choose to blame Battlestar Galactica. I don't necessarily blame Star Trek for doing any of this — it's all run-of-the-mill movie junk these days that most productions of a certain genre and budget seem to unthinkingly slide right into — but I do blame it for not not doing it.
I'd be lying if I said the picture wasn't enjoyable — compared to some of the probable dreck trailered before it, I'll bet it's fantastic, and I rode its megadose of goofy humor in spite of myself — but the missteps pile high and rapidly, the most fatal of which being its compression of at least six hours' worth of of material into two, reducing the viewing experience to watching about some stuff happen and then watching about more stuff happening and then watching about other stuff happen still. It's just one damn thing after another, with no contrast or breathing room; this not only kills the pacing, it salts the earth where once pacing grew. Not to mention that it opens with a fever-pitch space battle which ends with a kamikaze Federation craft, piloted by the future Captain Kirk's doomed father, plowing straight into the aforementioned Romulan warship. Explosions and childbirths ensue. Where on Earth — or in space — do you effectively take the tone from there?
Then again, you must remember that I was recently studying Solaris, so my sci-fi standards have been impossibly fluffed and now I'm one cranky S.O.B. Don't listen to me.