With those words, many a Trekker was born. Now, while I was a bit too young to have seen the original Star Trek adventures when they were first broadcast, thanks to DVD and syndication, I can proudly display my Trekker credentials. While I am a STTNG Trekker, I have seen all 79 episodes of Star Trek, 178 episodes of STTNG, 176 episodes of STDS9, 172 episodes of STV, many of Enterprise (sorry — I didn’t fall for Captain Archer and crew), and all 10 films (The Wrath of Khan is by far the best of the 10, and even makes my top 10 films of all time). And now, as Paramount is marketing it, I have seen a new Star Trek that ‘is not my father’s Star Trek.’Though, since I grew up with it, I guess they really mean me.
The new Star Trek movie is being called a ‘reboot’of the series. However, in the truest terms, it’s not. Batman Begins was a ‘reboot’— it disregarded the movies that came before in favor of retelling some story elements, and adding new ones. Instead, Star Trek truly is Star Trek XI — picking up with the canon and history we have grown to know and love, and building a new story from what we know.
So, did they get it right? Is this a good movie? Is this movie worthy of being called Star Trek? I am happy to say, the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’
Now, I am sensitive to spoilers, and this review will only reveal as much as the three trailers and officially released clips have shown. I may give a detail or two, but will keep much of the surprise under wraps. Now, on with the show…
The movie follows Romulan Nero (Eric Bana), a space miner who happened to be out on his mining ship when a catastrophic accident occurs, killing people close to him. In order to avert this disaster, and to punish those he hold responsible, he travels back in time (the cure-all for many a wrong done in science fiction!). Now, when he travels back in time (the film opens with this) he immediately alters history, interacting with the USS Kelvin, the ship that was commanded by Kirk’s father ‘for twelve minutes.’Thus, a new, alternate reality timeline is born. This is the timeline which the new Star Trek follows.
Fast forward a number of years, and we meet a young James T. Kirk, a cocky Iowa farm boy who is content to pick up girls in bars and start fights with Starfleet cadets. Following one such run-in, Captain Christopher Pike sits Kirk down and implores him to live up to his father’s legacy: Join Starfleet and become a captain. He does, and in top-of-the-class manner. Yet, upon graduation, a disaster strikes one of the federation planets, and all ships are called into action, including the USS Enterprise, with much of the crew we know and love.
What follows is a rip-roaring space adventure that sees all of our players assuming their classic roles, even if it can feel a bit forced in places. But, once they are in these roles, the movie truly shines. The Enterprise must confront Nero and save the world — a place that we have long become accustomed to Kirk and his crew being placed. And they do it, making the whole affair feel refreshed and energized.
‘I’m a doctor, not a physicist!’
On the technical side of the coin, the creators do a great job of delivering a thoroughly pleasing movie. J.J. Abrams continues his growth as a director, showing a more confident eye and visual flair than in Mission: Impossible III. His camera work here is dynamic, if it does sometimes border on too frenetic, utilizing hand-held moves in a few spots that would have benefited from traditional panning or static shots. But, he can be forgiven, as the energy with which he infuses the film is simply infectious — a major feat for a Star Trek movie (you know I am right, Trekkers).
The screenwriters, Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (Transformers, Mission: Impossible III), successfully deliver a story that honors the Trek that came before while introducing it to a new audience — not an easy task. And, perhaps the highest compliment I can give: They tell a story that involves time travel that is not confusing or bogged down in too much techno-babble (though it is Star Trek, so there is plenty of that to go around). Rather, I can honestly say, this movie is truly a love-letter to mothers (coincidence that it opens on Mother’s Day weekend?). Spock’s relationship to, and love for, his mother is the crux that motivates his character throughout the film. As well, Nero is motivated by his love of the mother of his children.
The screenplay tells a vast story, with a number of characters and jargon to get through, but does so in a very accessible way. The screenwriters go to lengths to “humanize” the world and its characters (I especially love how Nero greets Captain Pike on the viewscreen: “Hello, Chris, I’m Nero.” — just like a phone call). In addition, the screenwriters pepper in a number of nods to the Treks that came before for long-time fans. You’ll hear a number of classic lines spoken by the cast (including a wonderful rendition by Scotty), the famed beating of the Kobayashi Maru scenario (a little bit disappointing in the tone they use in playing the scene), a reference to Captain Archer’s beagle (ever wonder what happened to it?) and the phrase ‘live long and prosper’spoken as a chilling threat (a first as far as I can recall).
The score by Michael Giacchino is the biggest departure from previous entries, as it avoids using the traditional Trek theme (which is only played over the closing credits). Yet, the score works well here, propelling the movie into the realm of grand space-action-opera.
Finally, the special effects by Industrial Light & Magic are top notch. The Enterprise has been redesigned again, and the effects in space truly give it the weight and scope of a massive vessel. The bridge is bright and brimming with light (old Star Trek by way of Las Vegas) — but the screens and displays are spot-on and inspire the mind. Look for the new transporter effect — the first time transporting truly ‘feels’three dimensional. In the end, the effects serve and expand the story; they don’t get in the way or dominate for effect’s sake.
‘I have been, and always shall be, your friend’
Star Trek is probably the closest I (and most of you) will come to seeing a movie made about our lives: the places are all familiar, and we know all the names, but the people playing them are all different. However, the good news for all the Trekkers is that this movie ‘feels’like Star Trek. The film makers got the essence of the characters right.
So, how did each actor stack up to their iconic role? A rundown…
Chris Pine inhabits a young, brash, and cocky Captain Kirk. He is a much younger, unproven version than any Kirk we have seen. He is a little bit more of a summer-movie action hero than the James Kirk with whom we grew up. Yet, it fits the movie. That said, I do wish Chris Pine had brought a bit more gravitas to the role. Instead, the true heart of the movie rests with…
Zachary Quinto is Mr. Spock. Not only does he have the physical look down, but his mannerisms and delivery are spot-on. This task was even more of a challenge, given that Leonard Nimoy is the only original cast member in the film. However, seeing the two in the same film reinforces that in Zachary, the character is in very safe, capable hands.
Karl Urban slips seamlessly into the role created by DeForest Kelley. His McCoy is cranky, wily, smart, and a great doctor. While he isn’t on screen as much as I would have liked, the scenes with McCoy are wonderful to see. Especially nice is the one-off about how McCoy got his nickname ‘Bones.’
Zoe Saldana is given the most expanded role, as the character Uhura is fully fleshed out in this movie. Gone is the token female (sorry fellow Trekkers, but she was woefully underutilized in the series) and in her place is an integral player in the film. Her expertise in alien language is integral to the plot, and she provides added emotional heart with her on-screen romance.
Simon Pegg’s Scotty is the movie’s comic relief. And, while Scotty is portrayed in a much more comic way than we have previously seen, he never veers into ‘court jester’territory (for that, see Chekov below), Instead, Scotty is smart, even a bit of a smartass, but an exceptional engineer who takes an immediate liking to the Enterprise (classically his ship more than anyone else).
John Cho is a hip, heroic Sulu, whose skill with the blade saves the day, and the future. Getting off to a rocky start (he is a new helmsman after all), he more than redeems himself as he steps up to flex his ‘combat’skills. His rendition of this character made me truly see Sulu as an action hero for the first time (though Sulu was pivotal in Star Trek VI).
Anton Yelchin gets the job of portraying a 17-year-old Chekov, complete with overtly thick accent and youthful exuberance. His character, apart from all others, seems to have made the worst transition in the new Trek. I understand the need to draw clear differences among the main players (there are 7 of them here), but he seems too green for my tastes. That, and why would you choose the character with the thickest accent to make ship-wide announcements?
‘Live long…and prosper.’
The bottom line is that Star Trek is a rip-roaring science fiction film — a wonderful summer movie that proudly carries on the title of Star Trek. It has a daunting task of introducing Star Trek to the next generation of movie-goers while honoring the fans that have made the franchise a success. I am happy to report, it succeeded.
With this new crew of actors in place, I am once again excited to ‘boldly go where no one has gone before!’
Star Trek hits theaters Friday, March 8.