"STAR TREK" 5 Hawaiian shirts by guest reviewer Dave Creek
Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Based on STAR TREK created by Gene Roddenberry
So here's the challenge in front of director J.J. Abrams - take a beloved but tired, four-decade-old entertainment franchise and revitalize it for a new generation. And do it without angering old-time fans, like me.
I watched the original STAR TREK show as it aired on NBC in the sixties. I kept up with the movies and the newer TV shows - NEXT GENERATION, DEEP SPACE NINE, VOYAGER, AND ENTERPRISE, despite the varying quality of some of those later productions. Something was missing.
Abrams' idea was to go back to the beginning - tell the origin story of how Kirk, Spock, and all the others first came together on the Enterprise. And he wanted to give the movie an injection of action and just plain fun that TREK had seldom seen since the original show.
He's done so admirably. First, let's look at some of the cast - Zachary Quinto bears an uncanny resemblance to Leonard Nimoy's version of Spock and does a fine job of portraying a younger version of the character, complete with his agonizing attempts to balance logic and emotion. Karl Urban evokes Doctor McCoy in a performance that seems to channel DeForest Kelley. I think that's actually an appropriate choice for this character, since he's a bit older than the others and, presumably, more fully formed, a bit more mature.
But it's Chris Pine's performance that I think is the best, and, I believe, probably was the most difficult. When this project was first announced, I feared having new actors play these characters would look like a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skit. How, I wondered, can you do Kirk, for instance, without also doing Shatner? And how do you do Shatner without it looking like parody?
The answer is that you play all of Kirk's brashness that we saw in the original series without the sense of responsibility he had to maintain as a starship captain. This younger version of Kirk, hasn't found his life's goal yet. His intelligence is off the charts and he's pretty good even in a scrap against four or five guys, but he's pretty unfocused. This movie is about him finding his focus.
It's also about Spock, who is even more torn between his human and Vulcan heritage than he was in the original show - this is, after all, a younger version of his character, as well. The writers and actor Zachary Quinto do an excellent job of sketching in the background of his childhood and how it informs his decision to join Starfleet rather than blindly becoming a part of the Vulcan Science Academy just like all his peers. And when, mid-movie, we are re-introduced to "old Spock," Leonard Nimoy's current interpretation of the character provides a wonderful contrast to what Spock will become.
In fact, what would normally be the main thrust of the story - working to defeat Nero, a Romulan determined to seek revenge upon the Leonard Nimoy version of Spock - takes a back seat during much of the film to character development as the Enterprise crew comes together. Eventually circumstances and Kirk's own determination find him sitting in the captain's chair, and Nero becomes the focus of the movie.
That's not to say there's a lack of action - this is easily the most action-packed of the TREK features, and the pace is relentless. Looking back at the previous theatrical outings, WRATH OF KHAN, the gold standard of TREK films, looks pretty cheap and basic in its production values, though its story trumped any budget concerns.
The usual CGI effects are so effective that I gave up trying to figure out where "real" sets ended and the green-screens began. Which is as it should be, because after that I just accepted the "reality" of what I was seeing.
In all, J.J. Abrams has taken the essence of what made STAR TREK great in the sixties and has re-interpreted it for a new century. He raised the production values and quickened the pace without sacrificing character. And it has always been the characters that defined the appeal of the show.
Now for the real geeky portion of this review - many fans who have watched the TREK universe expand over the years didn't want to see a total reboot of the franchise, as Christopher Nolan did with BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT, and as the James Bond producers do every time a new actor plays the role. Why give up all that rich continuity, including 700+ episodes and the previous ten films?
So Abrams and his writers came up with an ingenious twist - the new STAR TREK actually tells the story of alternate versions of Kirk, Spock, etc. That gives them the freedom to tell the story they want without the weight of all that continuity bearing down upon them. And the general audience with no idea of that continuity, no sense of that history of the franchise, doesn't know and doesn't care - and has no reason to.
I think it was exactly the right thing to do. It gives Abrams the freedom most directors don't have in doing prequels. And it wipes away in an instant any continuity objections. Those include the obvious - the Enterprise interiors don't resemble those from the original series - to the truly obscure - Kirk can drive a stick shift in this universe, but couldn't, to comic effect, in the TV episode "A Piece of the Action."
Any objection to this new twist on the series puzzles me. I think it's done well and, after all, TREK is all about embracing new ideas. Nostalgia, I believe, is the death of science fiction.
Dave Creek is Fox 41's Web Producer. He's also a published author whose short story collection A GLIMPSE OF SPLENDOR was just published by Yard Dog Books.