New 'Star Trek' goes boldly

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009

'Star Trek'

Paramount Pictures

2 hours, 6 minutes

There are very few long-running series of films in Hollywood these days. You've got your sequels and prequels, part threes and fours, and a few, like "Harry Potter" that are desperately trying to get through all the books before the leads start drawing social security.

But, aside from James Bond and "Star Trek," you'll be hard-pressed to find a continuing series of adventures that has the stuff to go the distance. Unfortunately, even the most creative of concepts begins to get tired eventually. A couple of years ago, Bond got a face-lift. New origin story, edgier feel, and a brawler of a 007 added up to huge box office and a whole new generation of fans.

Now, after 10 films, six television series, and a galaxy worth of conventions, Kirk and his crew are hitting the reset button and betting it all on a new young cast, a radical storyline, and most of all, a hot young director who's become the god of geekdom.

J.J. Abrams, creator of "Lost" and "Alias," and the creative hand behind "Cloverfield" and "Mission Impossible III" is certainly no stranger to sci-fi action. But up until this point, aside from an outing with Tom Cruise, it's all been TV action, and the sci-fi has been oblique at best. What better way to jump into the deep end than by rebooting the most ubiquitous sci-fi television series of all time?

In a bold move, considering how famously uptight Trekkies can be, Abrams takes us back to the birth of James T. Kirk, and from there blazes a whole new path. The story begins with the USS Kelvin, a starship under attack by a mysterious behemoth of a vessel which has just emerged from a newly formed black hole. First Officer Kirk has been given an emergency promotion to Captain during the crisis and must make the ultimate sacrifice to save his crew and his newborn son.

This, as any angrily spitting Klingon speaker will tell you, is NOT how the story is supposed to go, but Abrams, employing the tired old device of time-travel to great effect, neatly sidesteps all continuity controversy by establishing his "Trek" as existing on an alternate time-line, thereby completely freeing him up to tell the story he wants.

And what a story it is. We get young Kirk, young Spock, and the reintroduction of Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, McCoy, and Uhura, all played exceedingly well, riding the line between character and caricature with expert precision. The acting, as it must be in a reboot like this, is top-notch. The cast is mix of unknowns, TV stars, and comedians, but the result is pitch perfect. Karl Urban, who glowered his way through "The Lord of the Rings," is perhaps my favorite as "Bones" McCoy, but I was also very impressed with Simon Pegg as Scotty, and John Cho, the "Harold" of "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle." as Sulu. Apparently the guy can really act.

But most vital of all, the producers hit the nail on the head with Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. The two not only get the characters right, but the chemistry between them is just right for the story, and for a slew of stories to come. I hope this cast thought long and hard before taking these roles, because they could be playing them for a long time to come.

We get the "Star Trek" universe as we've rarely seen it, painted on a grand scale and played out on a pedal-to-the-metal pace. Yes there's humor, but gone are the lame jokes, amateur set-ups, and tedious morality lessons of the Next Generation films. Yes there's depth, but there's too much to do to stop every 20 minutes and ponder the meaning of the universe as Shatner used to love to do.

But best of all, the "Trek" we all know and love (and sometimes loathe) is still there. It's cooler looking, it's faster, and it's hipper, but it's all still there: the optimism, the bright future full of service and exploration, the ideals of a people who put duty and the welfare of mankind above personal gain.

Abrams and crew have managed to do something that would have seemed impossible -- they've created a "Star Trek" that is better than the original by embracing what made the original great in the first place. Unlike the new Bond films, which basically threw out the old 007 and started from scratch, this new "Trek" is a loving homage inside a shiny, powerful new shell. It's one of those rare movies that literally makes you want to cheer in parts, and the spontaneous applause as the credits roll has not a whiff of sarcasm.

Interestingly, J.J. Abrams played with fire early in his career and very nearly became a pariah to the fanboys rather than their new messiah. Commissioned to do a script treatment for the reboot of the "Superman" series a few years ago, Abrams suggested not only that our hero's homeworld didn't actually explode, but that Lex Luthor was in the CIA, and gives us a climactic battle with Kryptonian ninjas and city-destroying war machines culminating in the death of Superman himself.

Needless to say, the fans freaked out when word of this leaked, and in the end, Warner Brothers released "Superman Returns," an enjoyable, but not particularly imaginative film. Whether he learned his lesson, or just bullied his way into realizing his vision, Abrams has, with "Star Trek" redeemed himself for all time.

Grade: A

"Star Trek" is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi action, mild language, and a scene of sensuality.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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