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Published: 2009-05-06 - 08:16:14
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Star Trek Review

By Joe Lozito

Rising "Star"

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The last time the "Star Trek" TV series was launched as a motion picture franchise it was in 1979's rather obviously titled "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". Since that notoriously over-long slog through late-70s space sludge, "Trek" has seen its share of onscreen hits ("Khaaan!") and misses (all the odd numbered ones) before finally petering out with 2002's tenth entry "Star Trek: Nemesis". After that not-as-bad-as-you-remember-it film, the "Trek" franchise wisely stayed dormant, letting anticipation build for the inevitable franchise reboot. It is simply titled "Star Trek", and it aims to take the franchise and its characters back to their roots, tracing the origins of Kirk, Spock and the whole Enterprise crew.

As I've said before, I've never missed a minute of "Trek" on TV or film, so you'll understand that it's no small feat for me to say: "Trek" fans couldn't ask for a better person at the helm than J.J. Abrams. As he's proven before - most relevantly with the unfairly-ignored "Mission: Impossible III" - Mr. Abrams knows how to treat a franchise. His "Trek" is reverent without pandering, insider-y without alienating newbies, and above all, it's a solid action movie. In fact, the first hour of the film is virtually nonstop; Mr. Abrams' camera doesn't stand still for a second (really, enough with the handheld).

As is often the case in these retroactive prequels (see "Phantom Menace", et al), familiar characters all seem to meet within a few miles of each other. Playing somewhat fast-and-loose with the "Trek" mythology, young James T. Kirk is a brash young rebel with no aspirations to Starfleet. He meets future communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) at a bar in his native Iowa (apparently, the Starfleet shipyards are scant minutes from Kirk's hometown). After a bar fight, Kirk is persuaded to enlist by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, perfectly cast). Fans will remember Pike as the first captain of the Enterprise who memorably ends up confined to a wheelchair later in the series. In short order, Kirk meets the soon-to-be Doctor Leonard 'Bones' McCoy (Karl Urban in a startlingly good riff on DeForest Kelley), steadfast helmsmen Sulu (John Cho, having a blast) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin, oddly coiffed but more convincingly Russian) and, of course, engineering "miracle worker" Scotty (Simon Pegg, playing up the comic relief).

The script by longtime Abrams collaborators Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman has plenty of winking moments set aside for each cast member (Sulu fences; Scotty does the impossible; Bones yells "I'm a doctor, not a…"). But the heart of the film belongs to two men: James Kirk and the man who was-and-always-shall-be his friend, Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto). Best known as Sylar from TV's "Heroes", Mr. Quinto visually fits the role well. As is so often the case, though, actors have a difficult time playing Vulcans. The fact that the race is meant to be unemotional frequently results in scowling or arrogance. Mr. Quinto never quite nails the measured half-Vulcan/half-human cadence made famous by Leonard Nimoy (who makes a cameo I shouldn't tell you about), but I'm sure Mr. Abrams would chalk that up to the youth of the character.

Meanwhile, Chris Pine is faced with what "Trek" fans might call a "no win scenario". He takes on a role so iconic that it is almost indistinguishable from the man who created it; it's impossible to think of Kirk without William Shatner coming to mind. And yet, Mr. Pine achieves the impossible: he makes the role his own. He possesses a confidence and swagger that is perfectly in keeping with the future captain of the Enterprise. It's possible the young actor doesn't believe in a no win scenario.

As for the plot, well, for a while it doesn't matter. During that nonstop opening hour, it's enough to sit back and enjoy the ride. When the film slows down long enough to tie all the pieces together, the seams begin to show. There's an evil Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana, hamming it up) who's bent on destroying Earth for reasons that are best left unexplained. Suffice to say that the machinations of the plot involve a cheat so egregious (yes, there's time travel) that one of the characters actually mentions that it's a cheat. There's also a plot point that some die-hard fans may consider heresy - and no, it's not that fact that humans aren't supposed to know what Romulans look like yet (see episode 14, "Balance of Terror" - sorry, I couldn't resist!).

But if you can get past that you're in for a good time. I believe the series creator, the late Gene Roddenberry, would be pleased to see his labor of love introduced to a new next generation. Those who don't know their "Trek" from their "Wars" should enjoy it, and there's a lot for longtime fans to love. All I can say is: boldly go!

What did you think?

Movie title Star Trek
Release year 2009
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary J.J. Abrams boldly takes the "Trek" franchise where it hasn't gone in a long time: to box office gold.
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