Star Trek (***½)

Posted on May 8th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Boldly Going Again

We saw the new Star Trek movie today (opening night), and it was fantastic.  To give some context, I’m an old geezer and religiously watched the original Star Trek series during its initial run, and many more times in syndication.  I’ve seen the Star Trek movies that included the original cast.  I never really got into any of the subsequent Trek series, films, fanfic, spin-offs, books, conventions, etc, so I’m not a slavish Trek nerd, but I’m an old guard, indigenous Trek fan.

And coming from that perspective, my take is that J.J. Abrams did a great job of refreshing and updating the original Star Trek series with this prequel, and he was both faithful to the original and also daring enough to make changes in what felt to be a near-perfect proportion.  The new cast, playing younger versions of the original characters, do a pitch-perfect job of capturing the essence of their characters without seeming like they are doing imitations. 

The Original Star Trek (TOST) has been around for so long that I was skeptical that it could be refreshed in any meaningful way.  However, this new episode should jump-start a whole new incarnation of the franchise.  I can tell you that I’m excitedly awaiting the next film in this series, after having seen this version once a few hours ago. 

WARNING: Spoiler ahead, don’t read any further if you don’t want to know anything about the plot.
The film starts with a sequence that includes the birth of James T. Kirk, and I have to say that it was so well done that I got a bit misty-eyed.  As the film progresses we see early scenes of many of the main characters, prior to their meeting each other.  Eventually, fate plays a hand and puts *most* of them aboard the Enterprise, albeit not in their familiar roles/ranks, at least not initially.  However, by the end of the film, all of the key characters from TOST are present and accounted for (and in their correct roles).

In between there is a reasonably engaging story that involves time travel, the destruction of one character’s home planet, a meetup between a character’s new incarnation and their older self played by the original actor, dealing with a vengeful enemy, and unexpected love blooming.  The action and effects sequences are superbly well-done, and don’t jolt you out of your enjoyment like so many other of Hollywood’s expensive-yet-clumsy digital effects behemoths.  This film is more along the lines of Iron Man, where the effects serve only to enhance the story, never to *be* the story or distract you from the storytelling.

All of the new cast members inhabit their characters fully, and capture the essence of the original characters beautifully.  I didn’t quite buy Chris Pine as Kirk for the first few scenes, but by the end, in my mind, he *was* Kirk – and it’s hard to consider anyone but Shatner as Kirk.  But Pine does a great job with what could have been tragicomic mockery of Shatner’s Kirk.

Zachary Quinto does a great job as Spock, and his character has the most emphasis in the ensemble.  John Cho (yes, Harold from Harold and Kumar) is solid as Sulu, Karl Urban almost seems like DeForest Kelley Junior, Anton Yelchin is suitably non-fluent as Chekov, and Zoe Saldana plays Uhura complete with cat-eyelashes and enough sex appeal (and smarts) to entice a young Vulcan.

Bruce Greenwood plays Christopher Pike, who will be familiar to any TOST fan as the immobile, wheelchair bound, disfigured character from the initial episodes of Trek.  Here he is the elder statesman, dealing with (and educating) his young charges.

There are also familiar faces in various roles.  Winona Ryder plays Spock’s human mother, while Tyler Perry (yes, from Tyler Perry’s This and Tyler Perry’s That) plays a Star Fleet Admiral.  But most enjoyable of all is Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scott.  Yes, Shaun of the Dead is Scotty, and he is hilarious.

The film also manages to include a lot of the catch phrases and conceits of the original series without them seeming forced.  Spock says “Fascinating”.  Bones says “I’m a doctor, not a ____”.  Kirk slouches on one elbow in the captain’s chair, looking pensive.  Scotty has to struggle to deliver more power.  The ensign in the red shirt dies.  Bones calls Spock a green-blooded hobgoblin.  Phasers are set to stun, shields are set to full power, photon torpedoes are fired, and people are beamed all over the place.  In other words, this film *is* Star Trek, and I hope this new incarnation will live long, and prosper.

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