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In the 50 years since the sci-fi adventure “Star Trek franchise” began, those with a somewhat compulsive knowledge of it have come to be burdened (or favored, depending on one’s point of view) with labels of “geek” and “nerd,” and are frequently said to “have no life.”
Nonetheless, almost everyone not only recognizes, but understands, the references to the TV show that have continued to pop up again and again in the popular-culture media of television, film, songs, books, magazines and newspapers ever since former pilot and LAPD police sergeant Gene Roddenberry’s original episodes (known to Trekkies and Trekkers as “Star Trek: the Original Series,” aka “ST: TOS”) started the journey. When someone says, “Beam me up, Scotty,” for example, it is understood by all that the speaker would like
to be, well, gone.
The new movie’s writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, and director/producer J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” “Mission Impossible III,” “Fringe,”) along with an enormous and diverse cast and staff, have created a new Star Trek, one that is contemporary, accessible and complete for people who have never seen a Star Trek movie or TV episode in their lives, and yet is wholly in keeping with the old Star Trek known and loved by untold numbers of nerds and science fiction enthusiasts.
The movie opens with formative incidents in the lives of future captain James Tiberius Kirk and commander and science officer Spock up to the time they meet as young men, coincidentally just before the time they are forced to work together to prevent an unexpected villain from causing an appalling disaster – one which [spoiler alert from here on out] never happened in the universe of the old Star Trek. The two are not the friends they became in that other universe, and their mutual antipathy nearly destroys the whole course of Federation history.
Chris Pine, who plays Kirk, is perfect as the half-wild Iowa rural townie son of a father who, in this universe, died in combat after 18 minutes as captain of a starship, and who James never met. Kirk’s mother (played with appropriate desperation by Jennifer Morrison, Dr. Cameron of “House, M.D.”) went into labor during the battle that ended his father’s life, leaving the boy with a hole in his life that the Kirk of “our” universe did not have to fill. He “pre-fills” William Shatner’s shoes better than well, sans distinctive pauses in
Zachary Quinto, as half-Vulcan, half-human Spock, is just right; he plays the character with the little differences needed for resonance with a contemporary audience, but as much like Leonard Nimoy (“Spock Prime”) as one can imagine. He even stands like him. Mr. Quinto seems to have nothing in common with the maniacal Sylar character of “Heroes” he also plays. Indeed, the old Spock, played by the 78-year-old Mr. Nimoy, has come, in this film, to a new understanding of the universe and his place in it that occasion some new behaviors for him as well.
The rest of the cast is almost too good to be true: good-looking Karl Urban (Eomir of “Lord of the Rings”) is dynamic as the dyspeptic, Dr. McCoy (who has “lost the whole damn planet” in divorcing his wife); Zoe Saldana (“Pirates of the Carribbean”) as the sexy, brilliant, super-competent Uhura; John Cho (Harold of the Harold and Kumar films) is dashing and fresh as a young Sulu; and Anton Yelchin is cute without being precious as Ensign Chekhov. All of them are beautifully cast for the parts originally held by the late DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei and Walter Koenig. Last, but not least, Simon Pegg, of the hysterical oddball British sitcom “Spaced” and films “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” brings his own geeky wackiness to the part of engineer Montgomery Scott, aka Scotty. James Doohan, the original, who died in 2005, would have loved Mr. Pegg as his successor.
Eric Bana makes an exquisite enemy, one whose motivation viewers can understand, while at the same time being appalled by his manner of revenge. The situation is especially tragic since the cause of his derrangement is the result of an unavoidable failure in the face of an act of nature.
This Star Trek is freed to differ from its predecessors by a plot device used from time to time in the various series – that of time travel. In the series, viewers knew that somehow things would “come right” again in the end – invoking some version of the “it was all a dream” maneuver. After several uses, this came to seem a cheat. This film does not give in to this discomfort with change. Against a backdrop of radically different events (rather like Marvel’s re-imagined versions of longstanding comic heroes in the “Ultimate” imprint – “Ultimate X-Men” and “Ultimate Spiderman,” for example), the major players are drawn to each other despite themselves, sometimes with some outside help.
This is the point that allows “Trekkies” and “Trekkers” to be as enthralled with this film as are newcomers: It is an entirely new history, an entirely new Federation, with entirely new characters built on the foundations of the ones known and loved by many. Characters and historical events are different, but they are also the same.
As the ToyFare magazine article on Star Trek merchandising begins, “Sometimes it’s nice to boldly go someplace you’ve been before.”
127 minutes; PG-13 for Si-fi action, violence and brief sexual content.