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Best of Providence 2009

Review: Star Trek

Going boldly and well
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  May 7, 2009
3.5 3.5 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Star Trek

Star Trek | Directed by J.J. Abrams | Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman | with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Cross, and Winona Ryder | Paramount Pictures | 126 minutes

Cross country trek: A two-day mission. By Brett Michel.

"These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise." In 1966, when William Shatner first spoke those words, he can hardly have known how far the Enterprise would journey. The original Star Trek, after all, didn't even complete its five-year mission. Four spinoff TV series (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise), 10 theatrical releases, and millions of dollars of merchandise later, the Enterprise goes back into space with the original cast, if not the original actors. Live long and prosper indeed.

Directed by J.J. Abrams (creator of Lost and Alias; director of Mission: Impossible III), this new Star Trek is a kind of origins movie: it starts with the birth, in space, of James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), and the adolescent tribulations of the half-Vulcan, half-human Spock (Zachary Quinto). They make their respective ways to Starfleet Academy, where wild-and-crazy Kirk is run afoul of order-and-reason Spock. He's about to be called on the carpet when a crisis sends all the cadets — their number including McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Sulu (John Cho) — into space to try to prevent renegade Romulan Nero (Eric Bana) from destroying the Vulcan home planet and its six billion inhabitants.

The twist here is that Nero has fallen through a singularity and altered the course of events. Which means we're in an alternate universe: familiar characters, different outcomes. It's a master, if obvious (think back at least to TNG's "Parallels" episode), stroke from the filmmakers. We can surmise that the original's Magnificent Seven — they pick up Scotty (Simon Pegg) along the way — will wind up on the Enterprise. But we're liberated from foreknowledge of events. Not everyone who's alive and well in the original series makes it through in this incarnation.

The first Star Trek was all about casting; it engaged with the endearing quirks of its stars and their ensemble chemistry. The new version follows the same flight path. Pine is a Top Gun Tom Cruise of a Kirk, irreverent, candid, and can-do, but not a show-off and, in the end, a team guy. Quinto is a youthfully self-righteous Spock, Urban a youthfully irascible McCoy, Pegg a youthfully enthused Scotty. Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu boast actual skills and personalities; they're not just cartoon foils to Kirk and Spock. (Chekov even has a genuine Russian accent.) There are the familiar tropes to prove the scriptwriting duo has done its homework, like McCoy's "Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a physicist," and Scotty's "I'm giving it all she's got, sir" as yet another engineering crisis threatens to engulf the Enterprise. There's humor: when Kirk's hands blow up in reaction to a vaccine McCoy's given him, he gets all Shatner-stupefied, as if thinking, "I'm Kirk. I'm the star. This can't be happening to me." There are surprises, a big one being the object of Uhura's romantic interest. There's Leonard Nimoy as Old Spock (alternate universes means we can have two Spocks) to anchor the proceedings.

Older Trekkies may suffer here from sensory overload. The '60s Star Trek was marked by civility and lucidity; now we have CG and video games, and the franchise has evolved the same way the Bond movies have. This new film is to the original what Quantum of Solace is to You Only Live Twice; an episode like "The Devil in the Dark," with McCoy ("Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer") troweling on the cement to heal a wounded Horta, seems almost quaint. You could carp about the plot: it's a stretch to get Kirk into the captain's chair, and the appearance of Old Spock in a cave on the snowy waste planet Delta Vega seems improbably providential (or maybe it's a reference to the 1969 Mariette Hartley episode "All Our Yesterdays"). And there's that trademark (and bad) Gene Roddenberry moment where the camera goes ga-ga over the Enterprise while the soundtrack soars in cosmic majesty. At the end, though, it's the familiar theme we hear, and Old Spock's voice taking up the familiar refrain, with a crucial difference: "Its continuing mission. . . ." He's right: this Star Trek will be exploring the cinematic universe for many years to come.

Related: Hope springs infernal, Review: Observe and Report, Punisher: War Zone, More more >
  Topics: Reviews , Alex Kurtzman, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood,  More more >
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