May 6, 2009

To boldly go


I was fortunate enough to attend a free Paramount-sponsored screening of J.J. Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek a couple weeks ago in the Twin Cities area, and with the film coming out on Thursday/Friday (depending on who you believe), it seems like a good time to share my reactions (now that I’ve stopped bouncing around like a kid on Christmas morning…TWO WEEKS LATER).

Fans of J.J. Abrams’ other work will know that, many times, he likes to jump right into the middle of the action after a deceptively calm opening. On Lost, it was Jack stumbling out of the all-but-silent jungle into the chaos of the plane crash on the beach. Mission: Impossible III opens with an engagement party and then segues into a rescue mission to save Ethan Hunt’s protégé. Similarly, Star Trek opens with the crew of the U.S.S. Kelvin checking out a mysterious outer-space lightning storm, then finding themselves suddenly bombarded by an enormous, seriously freaky-looking ship, the Narada, that turns out to be captained by a bitter, ever-so-slightly unbalanced (read: completely insane) Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana). Long story short, the Kelvin’s captain bites it (sorry, SPOILER), the acting captain, a young man named George Kirk, orders the ship’s crew to evacuate, and sends the Kelvin on a collision course with the Romulan ship. Meanwhile, Winona, George Kirk’s wife, is giving birth to their son in the medical shuttle. The boy is named James Tiberius Kirk after Winona and George’s fathers, respectively, and then George dies when the Kelvin crashes into the Narada.

Welcome to the new Star Trek.


The thing I like about Abrams’ version of the oft-mocked camp and kitsch of the original Star Trek television series is that he doesn’t take the hard line that so many remakes and “reboots” have been doing lately—Battlestar Galactica went dark and gritty for its makeover (as brilliantly parodied in the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode “A Space Oddity” that aired April 16); James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Batman have been reinvented as gritty action heroes, the camp of early Bond and the Batman TV series nowhere to be found; even the revived Doctor Who takes a darker look at its universe than classic Who (I’m still a little terrified by Stephen Moffat’s “Blink”). There are endless remakes coming out on television and at the movies in recent years, and it seems like the majority of them chose to turn the source material into very dark iterations of what came before. This new Star Trek finds the middle ground—not everything is hunky-dory, but it’s not all despair, either. Kirk bleeds when he loses a bar fight—boy, does he bleed—and so does the child-Spock when he’s bullied back on Vulcan, but nobody horrifically loses an arm or gets a compound fracture (like Montand and John Locke on Lost, respectively…and ew). This is a universe where planets can get blown up and people can die, but not one where utter devastation is the status quo. Frankly, I find it refreshing.

The dialogue doesn’t make me want to cringe—quite an accomplishment, given the scripts from the original series and from the two Trek films I’ve seen that feature the original crew (Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock)—and yes, they work in lines like “I’m a doctor, not a physicist, damn it” and “I’m givin’ her all she’s got” in a way that doesn’t make me roll my eyes. (I saw the movie in a theater full of Trekkies, and they got a genuine kick every time something familiar popped up. It was fun.) The effects are great, the redesigned Enterprise is fabulous inside and out, the Narada is terrifying in the best possible way, and the cast?

The cast is GORGEOUS.

Chris Pine plays Kirk with the right amount of careless charisma and recklessness, and my female and male friends at the screening were big fans by the end (I know him from Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, so I was somewhat prepared for his aesthetically-pleasing face); Zachary Quinto (also known as the reason I watch Heroes) is an amazing Spock, and very believable as the younger Leonard Nimoy—you can definitely see how Quinto’s very controlled Spock grows into Nimoy’s slightly more relaxed Spock through his relationship with Kirk. Rounding out the Enterprise crew are Zoe Saldana as Uhura, John Cho as Sulu, Karl Urban as McCoy, Simon Pegg as Scotty, and Anton Yelchin as Chekov, plus any number of redshirts and women with weird hairdos. (And yes, there’s a green Starfleet cadet who gets up close and personal with Kirk because he is, as always, a total letch.)

The other thing about these actors is that they’re not only easy on the eyes, they’re funny. Really funny. And the whole movie (written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) is surprisingly—but not overwhelmingly or inappropriately—funny. Only twice (maybe three times) did I feel like the comedy could be construed as a little over-the-top, and those moments will be easy for anybody to spot. I think it’s to the credit of everyone involved (from the screenwriters to the actors to the director) that the scenes that could make a purist throw up his/her hands and declare that they’ve made a farce of his/her beloved franchise instead garner laughs from Trekkies and Trek newcomers alike (at least, they did at the screening I attended).

The new Trek makes a few departures from the original series, but I think they work and they make sense for a franchise trying a fresh start in a new century. Even as a relative bystander to the phenomenon for most of my life, I could tell that some of the Star Trek media started to inhabit the uncharted wilds of Ridiculous (oh, I’ve read the plot summaries on Wikipedia), and even though I watched a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation with my mom when I was kid and really liked Voyager and Captain Janeway when I was in junior high, I think this is a well-deserved and well-executed makeover. Kudos to J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (because writers deserve much more credit than they get!), the cast (including a voice cameo by Abrams’ lucky charm, Greg Grunberg!), et al for a job well done.

(I’m not going to lie: I’m probably going to see it in theaters at least three times.)

(And like it more each time.)

(I am such a nerd.)


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