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Star Trek (2009) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

ImageI don't even know where to begin. Star Trek has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. First catching repeat episodes of the original series on backwater TV stations, I initially thought the show was silly. And then came The Next Generation, and I got it. Going back, I discovered the feature films, both the good and the bad. But more importantly, I came to love the characters that populated the universe. Kirk, Spock, McCoy. Picard, Data, Riker, Worf and Uhura. These were people (and aliens) that I knew and loved. Their adventures may not always be great (I still find The Motion Picture to be insufferably slow), but they were always larger than life and memorable. Back in the late 80's and early 90's, Star Trek was riding high, and the possibilities seemed endless.
So what happened? Deep Space Nine departed from the standard formula, telling long, season-wide stories that to this day polarize fans. The Next Generation graduated to film, with mixed results. Voyager was faceless, quickly turning the exciting universe bland. And Enterprise, Paramount's last attempt to revive the ailing franchise, was even worse. Taking place before the original series, the show was stiff, uninteresting, and the special effects were often unforgivably bad. Paramount's once star franchise was now dead in the water, falling apart under its own bloated weight.


So you might find it surprising when I say that the new Star Trek film is one of the best in the entire series. In fact, more than that, it's one of the most fresh, exciting, and lively films I've seen in a long time. Paramount, faced with declining revenue from Star Trek titles, let the franchise rest for a while. In that time, they revived an idea that had been kicking around since Star Trek II: A prequel that reveals how Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the crew met at Starfleet Academy. To realize this idea, they brought in TV guru J.J. Abrams, last seen behind the camera directing the surprisingly solid Mission: Impossible III. Abrams, not much of a Trek fan, made it his priority to tell a story that anyone could relate to, while still giving a nod to the Trekkers who kept the series alive all these years. The result is even better than any of us could have imagined.
The film begins with a temporal anomaly. A Romulan mining ship from the future has somehow come back in time. Upon encountering a Starfleet vessel, the USS Kelvin, the ship's captain, Nero (Eric Bana), attacks it, killing the ship's captain and first officer. That first officer, George Kirk, lives just long enough to hear his wife give birth and name his new child: James Tiberius Kirk. Jump forward 25 years, and Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) is a brash hothead, not caring what happens in his life. When Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) discovers Kirk, he urges him to follow in his father's footsteps and join Starfleet. He does so, whereupon he comes to clash with Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) over a training simulation, the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Nero returns to attack Vulcan, and all cadets are called to active duty. Kirk ends up on the Enterprise, along with Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), Pavel Chekov,  and Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana). When Nero proves to be a more formidable foe than anyone expected, Kirk and company have to work together to overcome him.


There's a lot more going on in Star Trek than I could or should divulge. Suffice it to say that the story, while a little dense at times, is the perfect setup for this new, alternate timeline. Yes, that is correct. This movie does NOT take place prior to the original series. It takes place beside it, if you will, sitting comfortably in a "What if?" scenario that allows Abrams and his writers to take liberties that they never could have otherwise. But while the details may have changed, the spirit has not. In fact, this film feels more like Star Trek than the last two TV shows ever did. To watch this film must have been what it felt like to see The Wrath of Khan upon its original release. The movie is bold, exciting, and makes you care about these characters all over again. Abrams directs the piece with a sure hand that is miles above any project he has ever worked on before.
The casting is practically perfect. Chris Pine, an unproven entity, rushes headlong into the role of Kirk. His performance defines the term "breakout." In one film, he has established himself as the definitive Kirk of the new millennium. Shatner's portrayal will always be the archetype, but Pine gives new dimension to a character I thought had long since been laid bare. Zachary Quinto plays a much more troubled and emotional Spock than Leonard Nimoy ever did, and it will be interesting to see where he takes the character in further sequels. Zoe Saldana is a fiery and beautiful Uhura, while Simon Pegg steals the show as a much thinner Mr. Scott. Karl Urban is perhaps the most fun to watch as Dr. McCoy. He channels DeForest Kelley without imitating him. The chemistry between the cast members is a joy to watch. I could watch a dozen films with these guys. Abrams gives them each a chance to shine, and in the process throws in a few classic lines for them to re-imagine. You don't know how exciting it is to hear Simon Pegg shout, "I'm giving 'er all she's got, cap'n!" until you see it for yourself.


The film is full of goosebump moments. When the Enterprise first appears on screen, goosebumps. When Kirk takes the captain's chair, goosebumps. When the Enterprise rushes in to save the day, goosebumps! In addition, there is an important cameo by an original cast member (you probably already know who it is, but I won't be the one to spoil it in case you don't) whose appearance makes the whole film ring true. Make no bones about it, this is Star Trek down to its core. It's not entirely perfect. Nero isn't an especially interesting villain. I wouldn't say the film grinds to a halt when he's on screen, but I never cared about him the way I did Khan or General Chang. The ship physics feel more like Star Wars than Star Trek, but a change like that was an inevitable concession to summer blockbuster audiences. However, neither should be so much of an issue as to take you out of the movie for one second.
J.J. Abrams has truly performed a miraculous hat trick. To turn such a thoroughly beaten down franchise into something interesting and new is no mean feat. The fact that he did so means a new start for Star Trek and for the first time in a long time, the possibilities once again do seem truly endless. Or, to put it in Trekkie, Abrams puts us on course to boldly go where no one has gone before.

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