Thursday, May 7, 2009

Go Boldly

I have been a fan of "Star Trek" for a very long time. I still remember one night when I was very young, and my dad let me stay up to watch the show with him when it came on at 10 pm. The episode was "The Doomsday Machine," one of the best episodes of the original series. Unfortunately, recent Trek productions have been underwhelming. The last film, Star Trek: Nemesis had some great moments, but simply didn't have a cohesive enough story to hold up to the best of the franchise. (I'd say it's probably the weakest of the franchise's "even-numbered" films; the tenth in the series.) And the last official piece of Trek film was the final episode of the Enterprise series, and I will only use up enough space here to say that it had to be one of the worst final episodes of any television series...ever. Trek had been under the control of one production team since the early 90's, and they had clearly run out of steam.

So I was excited to hear about the new film, simply titled Star Trek, being produced and directed by JJ Abrams. Abrams produced "Alias," which I have never seen, as well as two shows I enjoy a lot, "Fringe" and "Lost." Abrams also helmed Mission: Impossible III which I thought was excellent. The exciting trailer that popped up when I went to see Quantum of Solace a few months ago made me a lot more excited--this film looked good.

Tonight I was fortunate to get to an "early" showing in a nearby IMAX theater. Sparkling reviews, mass marketing, and more excellent previews really had me hoping that my hopes weren't too high for this film.

They weren't. Star Trek is outstanding.

I won't go over the fine details of the plot, though like all the best Trek films this one does involve some time travel which allows classic Trek stalwart Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to get in on the action. Zachary Quinto does an admirable job as the younger Spock--he's nowhere near as creepy as he is on "Heroes" and he looks strikingly similar to the Spock we know and love. The only major difference is Quinto's raspy voice, which sounds quite different from the resonant baritone that Nimoy had in 1966. Chris Pine really shines as the young Kirk, evoking the ego and overconfidence we expect but in no way does he evoke the cringe-worthy William...Shatner......
deliverythateveryonemakesfunof. The top trio is rounded out by Karl Urban (totally unlike his portrayal of Eomer in The Lord of the Rings) as Dr. McCoy, and there are times I suspect he may really be channeling the late DeForest Kelley. More important than reminding us of the previous actors, these men have a real chemistry together, something that can't be acheived just through dialogue, costumes, and special effects.

The rest of the cast is also excellent: Zoe Saldana is a strikingly attractive Uhura (I can't complain about this film's resurrection of the mini-skirt uniforms) who holds her own with the volatile Kirk as well as showing some surprisingly touching moments with Spock. (She banishes once and for all the notion that Uhura was good for little more than "opening hailing frequencies" 14 times an episode. Which really happened once.) Anton Yelchin turns Chekov into something more than the novelty Russian-who-can't-pronounce-V's, though it is a little strange to hear a real Russian accent from the character. Simon Pegg is a scene-stealer as the really-Scottish Scotty. He doesn't show up until the film is half-over and yet manages to make every scene his. John Cho gets a good quick action sequence as Sulu, fighting Romulans with what appears to be a nifty retractable katana. Venerable elders Bruce Greenwood (Captain Pike) and Ben Cross (Sarek) provide a strong anchor for the younger cast members. Indeed, it's great to finally see Christopher Pike in a non-"Cage/Menagerie" story.

The bad guy is Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan with some strong resentment issues and a vendetta against old Spock that sets the story in motion. The special effects are top-notch--one marvels at the imploding planet, not the cool CGI that is making it happen. The script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman keeps things moving along nicely, and the expected character lines ("I'm a doctor, not a....") are thrown in as unobtrusively as possible. This film is a wonderful tribute to a beloved piece of American pop culture. It is a testament to Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future. (The recently-departed Majel Barrett Roddenberry again plays the computer voice and the film is dedicated to the couple.) But more than that, it is a whole lot of fun. I walked out with the same feeling that accompanied The Wrath of Khan after the well-meaning-but-slow Motion Picture and the triumphant Undiscovered Country after the silly Final Frontier: this is the one we've been waiting for.

You don't have to be a Trekker (that's the preferred term!) to enjoy Star Trek. You very likely will be one after it's over.


  1. I've been a fan of Bruce Greenwood. I was pleasantly surprised to see him in this film, which I agree was all-around excellent.

    Have you heard anyone yet say they didn't like it?

  2. I've heard some comments (mostly reviewers; not people I know) about this or that aspect that someone didn't care for, but overall I think everyone seems to agree that it's an exciting and entertaining film.