Thursday, May 7, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

The gangs almost all here. Chekov, Kirk, Scotty, Bones, Sulu and Uhura.

Reinventing a sci-fi franchise made up of 6 TV series, 10 movies, millions of fans, volumes of complex mythology and a spoken (albeit totally fictional) language would be like trying to reverse the polarity of dilithium crystals without factoring in a possible fluctuation in the neutrino field surrounding the core. A really bad idea.

Seems that J.J. Abrams was right to take some time off from compelling millions of American’s to repeat the sequence “4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42” in their dreams every Tuesday night in anxious anticipation of Wednesday night’s couch date. But with Star Trek, the Lost creator and Cloverfield producer along with a few self-proclaimed Trekkies (or is it Trekkers?) and writers of Fringe, Alias and…wait for it… Xena: Warrior Princess fame, have done it. They’ve diverted power from unessential systems, thrown everything to the forward shields and have re-modulated the phaser array to “awesome”.

But, Star Trek is not only for the initiated (those of us that have been to more than 2 comic cons and can summarize the plots of every Star Trek movie made to date), it’s actually for you too.

J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reaffirms the message of hope of the original series, a series that also began with America in turmoil and at war, and then makes it his own vision. Avoiding the beloved yet cheesy Rodennberry messages about our Utopian future, Star Trek is a fast, fresh and funny prequel with as many old friends (just much younger) and familiar lines as new twists on the origins of these beloved crew members. Cleverly utilized time travel allows the canon to be ignored and the histories of the Enterprise crew are askew in this alternate reality. But, the essence of these characters remains and through exceptional casting it feels as though old friends have retu
rned and they are way hotter this time around. Nods and winks to sci-fi action movies of the past, including Star Wars and past Star Trek flicks make it a treasure trove of fun references. (Some one said "Punch it." queuing the helmsman to jump to warp speed and I squealed a little.) Star Trek is a self aware thrill ride with a clever, but hardly complex plot, reinvigorating a franchise with just the right balance of sex appeal, comedy, action and heart.

It begins an attack on a Federation ship by a Romulan vessel from the future and the birth of one Kirk an
d the death of another. After a few vignettes of the dichotomous childhood antics of Kirk and Spock respectively we flash forward to their time at Starfleet Academy. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) have their first of many altercations which is interrupted by a call to battle stations to defend the Vulcan home planet from an oddly advanced and familiar Romulan vessel. The young soon to be heroes, along with a few hundred cadets and officers, are thrown onto the best ship in the fleet, despite their inexperience. Sure, it’s a little reminiscent of Space Camp, but these elite Starfleet cadets are totally capable of manning the USS Enterprise, right? Our villain, a particularly grumpy Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana), obsessed with revenge for the destruction of his home world, vows to destroy the entire United Federation of Planets. Now, if only Kirk and Spock could stop arguing long enough to stop him.

Kirk & Spock. "Wait, Spock, man, if you kill me now we can't go back in time in the future and save the whales! Think about the whales!"

The greater story arch is solid enough, there’s this evil guy with the ability to destroy planets and the good guys have to stop him. But, the real excitement happens as these familiar characters find their identities through the obstacles and conflict surrounding them. Spock struggles with his half human heritag
e battling between emotion and Vulcan logic as Kirk begins to define himself as the leader he is destined to be. Quinto, of NBC’s Heroes, as young Spock is simply spot on. Pine’s Kirk is an engaging combination of Indiana Jones, a few Shattner-esque moves and a surprising aptitude for slapstick and being beaten up, really beaten up and often. The swagger, the decisiveness, the cowboy self-righteousness, it’s all there and it simply works.

Kirk and Spock clash wonderfully as other familiar characters shine. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) actually has a job this time as a brilliant and talented linguist, all while dawning the standard Starfleet uniform for ladies – a mini dress. Uhura has, and I quote, “exceptional oral* sensitivity”. I’m pretty sure that exact phrase is said not once but twice and I’m sorry, but I giggled both times. But, seriously, she actually exists to move the story forward and is a much needed presence on the bridge. The ship's doctor, Le
onard “Bones” McCoy, portrayed freakishly well by Karl Urban, is still far from an impersonation though he’s got the voice down cold. Luckily the subtlety in performance of well known characters is shared across the cast. The crew is rounded out by Simon Peg as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, the brilliant if under appreciated engineer, John Cho as Hikaru Sulu representing all Asians in space, Anton Yelchin as a baby faced Anton Chekov complete with inability to pronounce "W's" and of course Leonard Nimoy as "old" Spock.

While most of the deviations from the Star Trek canon are welcome, the score is missed. The music, which only references the familiar theme at the very end, is a little weak and maudlin at times. The space jump that a few of our brave crew undertakes is a bit of a stretch even for sci-fi. Skydiving through the upper atmosphere is just a little silly, especially in a gold skin tight space suit. Looking
good, Mr. Sulu. The bridge of the Enterprise resembles an Apple Store, but the rest of the ship it illustrates the beginning of advanced space travel very well, before starships were seamless and sleek. This Enterprise looks as if it was built by human hands with guts full of steel girders and massive pipes.

My photo of Star Trek Mecca. Proof I am a "fan".

After three abysmal Star Wars prequels and one laughable Indiana Jones follow-up it’s easy to think that this sort of “old school” sci-fi or adventure film was just not possible to make anymore. While some hardcore fans may have issues with the significant changes made, hopefully most of them and newcomers to the series will just sit back and enjoy this exceptionally entertaining and energetic ride. The snarky dialogue sans Trekno-babble, the eye-popping action, and smart plot are all thanks to a clearly well crafted screenplay. Abrams was attached as a producer, but after reading the script, he just couldn’t let anyone at this thing. He had to do it. That passion is evident as his Star Trek simply delivers. This Star Trek is sexier and more fast-paced than any other and like those that have come before, it's a family picture - but this time it's also a pretty damn good movie.


Star Trek
Opens tonigth in IMAX, tomorrow galaxy wide! (Sorry.)
126 min
Dir.: J.J. Abrams
Wri.: Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence/action and very brief making out with a scantily clad green hottie.

*OK, it might have been "aural", but whatever.