A brief note about presentation: I had the opportunity to see Star Trek Beyond at its world premiere in San Diego. The premiere was the world’s first outdoor IMAX screening, complete with the San Diego Orchestra performing the score live to picture. It was an incredible treat… but perhaps not the most ideal way to see a movie for the first time. See, the orchestra needs light in order to perform, and that light inevitably bleeds onto the screen causing the picture to be less vibrant and clear. I don’t want to sound as though I’m looking a gifthorse in the mouth, because I had an absolute ball, but I just want to acknowledge any way in which poor visibility may or may not have affected my opinion on the quality of the film.
If you spend enough time exploring the corners of the internet where Star Trek fans dwell, you’ll inevitably come across a certain amount of hostility towards J.J. Abrams and the pair films he has directed. You’ll also notice that this disdain has less to do with the quality of the films themselves (for the record: one is quite good and the other is reprehensible filth), and more to do with Mr. Abrams’ lack of credentials as a Star Trek fan.
You see, Abrams has made no secret of the fact that prior to directing his 2009 film, he was not much of a fan of the series. This infuriates the fans. “How dare he,” they say, “direct the Star Trek reboot when he’s not even a fan?!” The dirty little secret of Star Trek, though, is that – with one exception – the best films were made by people who had little-to-no prior experience with Trek. The Wrath of Khan, The Undiscovered Country, and the 2009 reboot are all terrific fun, and even the oft-maligned Motion Picture is far more valuable than the likes of Star Trek V or Generations, films directed by men deeply engrossed in the world of Trek. In fact, the only truly great Star Trek film directed by someone with a pre-existing passion for the material is Leonard Nimoy’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Justin Lin is very much a Star Trek fan. He’s spoken at length about growing up with reruns of the original series on television and the way it shaped both his perspective as a filmmaker as well as his relationship with his family. Historically, that would not bode well for the quality of his film, but with Star Trek Beyond, Lin manages to buck the trend and accomplish something remarkably similar to what Nimoy achieved three decades ago.