Thursday, May 21, 2009
Star Trekkin,' Across The Universe . . .
Boldly going forward, 'cause we can't find reverse!
(with apologies to Dr. Demento)
ATTENTION: Here there be Spoilers. If you haven't seen the movie yet and still want to, DO NOT read this review. You have been warned.
More than three years after I first heard about it, the new Star Trek movie is finally here. I'd say it was worth the wait.
I saw the movie (which is mercifully unburdened with a ponderous or pretentious subtitle) last night with some friends, and we all had a great time. Good fun for hardcore Trekkies/Trekkers and newbies alike. My friend Bill, who, of the three of us, initially seemed the most skeptical and least enthusiastic about a new Star Trek movie, was laughing and hooting delightedly at the action sequences like a kid on a roller coaster ride. Indeed, the whole film is played up like a gigantic action adventure romp, and if the story has a fault, it tends to rely a bit overmuch on eye-popping visual effects, with things crashing into other things and exploding dramatically. On the other hand, the film doesn't take itself too seriously and has a sense of humor, which means that viewers are spared pious lectures about how "non-interference is the Prime Directive," which was never really anything more than a plot contrivance anyway.
Speaking of the plot, it's based on one of those temporal paradox/alternate time line thingies so beloved by Star Trek writers and fans. A renegade Romulan named Nero, who blames the elderly Spock (Leonard Nimoy) for the destruction of his home planet (don't worry, it's all explained in the movie), contrives to travel back in time and attempt to destroy the young Spock early in his career and eliminate Spock's best friend, James T. Kirk, at the moment of his birth.
Nero's first attempt at temporal mayhem fails, however, thanks to the heroic self-sacrifice of Kirk's father, and young Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) and young Spock (Zachary Quinto) meet years later, when the two of them are hotshot young punks fresh out of Starfleet Academy. At first, the two future heroes and fast friends can't stand each other, but events soon force them to put aside their differences. Nero is still up to no good, and he's out to turn the planets of the Federation into black holes, one by one, with the help of a monstrous "space drill." His first target is Spock's home planet Vulcan, followed, of course, by the Earth.
Starfleet pulls out all the stops to meet the crisis, mobilizing its new state-of-the-art flagship, called the Enterprise, and, because experienced crews are in short supply, manning her with untested young cadets. Among these are a cranky Southern surgeon named Leonard "Bones" McCoy; a brilliant young communications officer named Uhura; a nervous fencing expert named Sulu; a cheeky Russian named Chekov; and an irascible, eccentric engineer named Montgomery Scottin short, all the beloved supporting characters from the original series. Under the wise guidance and heroic example of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the heroes we know and love come together for the first time. When Pike is forced to put himself in jeopardy to protect the Enterprise, it's up to his brash young first officer, Jim Kirk, and the hyper-logical Mr. Spock to devise and execute a desperate plan to save the Earth. Can they do it?
C'mon! This is Star Trek we're talkin' about! Of course they can! Suffice it to say that at the end of the movie, Pike recommends that Kirk replace him as Captain, the crew is assembled on the bridge with Kirk in the center seat, and Leonard Nimoy, in a husky voiceover, proclaims them ready "to boldly go where no one has gone before," like a priest intoning a benediction. The torch has been passed from one generation to the next. The new adventures of the old heroes have begun.
The blend of new and old elements are what the movie is really about. There are many nods to the original series, from the use of the original sound effects to the retro-styled uniforms (Kirk is back in a yellow shirt, Spock and McCoy in blue, and Scotty in red, with Zoe Saldana, the new Uhura, ably filling out a miniskirt-like costume for female officers). And speaking of skirts, Chris Pine as young Jim Kirk chases more than a few of them, and tends to be the "shoot first and ask questions later" kind of captain that fans of the original show may remember. Zachary Quinto, perhaps best known as the psychotic supervillain Gabriel Sylar from the NBC show Heroes, is pitch-perfect as the young Spock. Only Karl Urban, as the younger Bones McCoy seems to be doing a bad DeForest Kelley impersonation. His obligatory, "Damnit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a physicist!" line seems a bit forced. Otherwise, it's almost as if director J. J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman really do have a time machine and are able to show us the pasts of these characters we know so well.
However, even as Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman make it clear that they respect the broad outlines of the Star Trek mythology, they also make it clear they are going to do Star Trek their way and not be bound by a slavish obedience to any previous continuity. About halfway through the movie, young Spock observes that by traveling back in time, Nero has irrevocably altered the fates of the Enterprise crew in a way that's impossible to predict. I take that as a message to hardcore fans that if they are looking for absolute consistency between previous versions of Star Trek and this current incarnation, they will be disappointed.
Hence, there are some new wrinkles and surprises in this new version of Star Trek even as it deliberately hearkens back to the old. Fans will be startled and perhaps saddened to learn that in this outing, the planet Vulcan is destroyed, claiming the life of Spock's mother Amanda. Also in this version, there is an open and passionate romance between Spock and Uhura, as opposed to the clandestine and unrequited love between Spock and Nurse Chapel from the original series. Another smaller surprise is the look of the Enterprise herself. The designers and art directors have kept the classic saucer and cylinders configuration that's become something of an icon, but the new/old Enterprise looks both sleeker and more muscular, a starship that really looks like it could kick some serious alien bad guy butt.
Overall, this is a great summer movie with plenty of action, a dash of comedy, and a new look at old friends in a science fiction universe that feels simultaneously familiar and brand new. Let's hope the adventures continue.