From the moment I saw the first trailers for J.J. Abrams’s (Lost, Alias) new take on the monolithic science fiction franchise that is Star Trek, as clichéd as it may sound, I had the sensation of knowing I was being reunited with a group of old friends. The decision by Paramount to back the project and bring back together Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, Bones, and Chekov revealed to me that, in my chest, the heart of a Trekkie beats. And I’m okay with that, especially so after seeing the outstanding piece of movie magic.
I don’t plan on purchasing a regulation uniform, or obtaining rank through the local chapter Starfleet, the oldest and most organized Star Trek fan group in existence. I will allow myself to correct those who use the phrase “Vulcan death grip” as it is, in fact, a nerve pinch. If that makes me a TINO – Trekkie In Name Only – so be it.
In a way, the overhaul of the ailing Star Trek franchise by dusting off the old characters from the original television series parallels the nature of series creator Gene Roddenberry’s ground-breaking science-fiction program itself. Star Trek was a blend of the familiar and the future as Roddenberry hoped it would be. Doctor McCoy and Captain Kirk came from real places on Earth, and enjoyed real things. (A good mint julep was “Bones” favorite drink to cool down after dealing with Spock’s rigid Vulcan nature.) Yet, in the time of the 1970s, when sentiment in certain corners of American society was still mixed on the civil rights reforms of the 1960s, earthlings and extragalactic creatures functioned side by side without any evidence of prejudice. In this way, Roddenberry’s universe and stories did what all good science fiction should do: give the audience a way to inform their behavior in the present to make society a better place.
None of these profound thoughts occurred to me as I stood with several family members outside of the downtown Cinerama this past Sunday. No, it was a pure nostalgia-driven craving that was behind my bookmarking the recent Star Trek film as one of the few each year I label in my planner as “must see in theater” attractions. The recycling of the original cast of characters (something I despise in other ventures) was more than a welcome change in a series in each generation of its development had become geared to increasingly narrow audiences, watering down the original Roddenberry formula until the franchise was indistinguishable from its competition.
What will surprise many moviegoers is how exactly the soul and mannerisms of the original cast are preserved by this new group of stellar performers. Even more amazing is that it is done without the feeling of watching actors do impressions of other actors. In a breakout role of galactic scale, Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk retains the same swagger and overflowing bravado of William Shatner, absent any trace of patronizing mimicry. Zachary Quinto’s (Heroes) Spock is a full-featured character, just as are the other familiar faces. And voices! The spirit of the late DeForest Kelly must have found its earthly avatar in Karl Urban who plays the role of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. His performance is an absolute thrill to hear and watch.
Set in the years prior to the timeframe of the original television series, Star Trek (2009) tells the story of how the crew of the USS Enterprise were thrown together in a sequence of events that contorts many events and facts that stood firm from previous plots. Don’t worry though. The writers have accomplished this in a way that should satisfy even the most detail-oriented techno-geeks out there. Audiences will not be either disappointed or confused.
The story itself is one that will thrill fans of the series and non-fans alike, a peek at the brilliance of the film’s creators. By transporting the audience to a time before what has already taken place, every single viewer can enjoy the story that unfolds as an original work. Maybe that is due to the genius of Abrams who, by his own admission, was not a fan of Star Trek but has shown an ability to create fascinating tension between characters while maintaining a high rate of momentum in his work as a writer and director.
Bring the story to life are outstanding acting performances from: Zoe Saldana, as Nyota Uhura; Bruce Greenwood, as Captain Christopher Pike, a character from the original 1964 pilot “The Cage” that never aired); John Cho, as Hikaru Sulu; and Simon Pegg, as the irascible Montgomery Scott. Of notable brilliance are the comic moments contained in the role given to Pavel Chekov, played by Anton Yelchin, who steals many of his scenes. Of course, I can’t neglect to mention that fan favorite Leonard Nimoy does appear in the movie in the role that he will forever be known for. It is refreshing to see an actor with the humility to embrace the fans appreciation for a beloved character instead of fleeing under a
If anything is missing from Roddenberry’s format that might still offer legacy fans a reason to complain it is the lack of any heavy-handed political themes. Not that the film doesn’t have themes, but they aren’t the sort of black-and-white polemic that was typical of the original television series and its offspring. Really, though, the purpose of this picture was almost certainly to reestablish these characters, give time for the audience to get to know them. Heavy plot has a way of crowding out character development, but now that millions are reconnected with the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, expect the next film to dig once again use its platform to offer statements on present-day issues.
(The next film, according to the Internet Movie Database, is tentatively slated for release in 2011. One would assume that the producers of the current Star Trek film signed the pivotal actors to obligations for sequels, so it is likely that all of the current cast will return.)
I will not reveal anything about the plot, other than to say that there is action, drama, sexual chemistry, plenty of moments providing laughter, and a warmth in the film’s resolution that I dare you not to carry with you for at least a day or two after seeing the movie.
My advice: Gather a group of friends or your family and head to your nearest big screen at warp speed.
[This post originally appeared on UnequalTime.com at http://unequaltime.com/2009/05/istar-treki-as-close-to-a-guaranteed-good-time-as-life-offers/]