Monday, May 11, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek

Star Trek *** ½
Directed By:
JJ Abrams.
Written By: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman based on the TV series created by Gene Roddenberry.
Starring: Chris Pine (James T. Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime), Eric Bana (Nero), Bruce Greenwood (Capt. Christopher Pike), Karl Urban (Dr. Leonard 'Bones' McCoy), Zoe Saldana (Nyota Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Hikaru Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Pavel Chekov), Ben Cross (Sarek), Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson), Chris Hemsworth (George Kirk), Jennifer Morrison (Winona Kirk), Rachel Nichols (Gaila).

If it’s true what they say – that everyone is either a “Star Wars” guy or a Star Trek guy, then I am a Star Wars guy. Sorry, Trekkies, but it is true. I was never a religious watcher of any of the TV programs, and think I have only seen one Star Trek movie from beginning to end before watching this new version. Sure, I knew the characters and the basic outline – and the famous catchphrases – but that was about it. To be honest, Star Trek never really did much for me. Until now.

J.J. Abrams Star Trek is a fun, action packed space opera in the best sense of term. It is a movie that takes its time establishing (or re-establishing anyway) the characters from the series for a new generation. Yes, there are lots of nods to the past that even I with my limited Trek knowledge picked up, but it’s not necessary. Someone who had never heard of Captain James T. Kirk or the Enterprise could watch this movie and be thoroughly entertained.

The movie is basically an “origin” story that tells us how the crew that everyone knew from the original series, came together. Kirk (Chris Pine) is an intelligent, but rebellious young man, angry at the world and lashing out in futile ways. He is smart, he is charming, and he knows it. When he gets into a fight at a local bar with some recruits for Star Fleet, he ends up talking with Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who knew Kirk’s father (who, in the film’s opening sequence, we see sacrificing himself to save his crew, and his pregnant wife who is going into labor). Kirk is wary, but signs up for Star Fleet anyway. The first person he meets is Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), who complains that his ex-wife took everything but his bones in the divorce – a nickname, and friendship is born.

We then flash to the planet of Vulcan, where we meet the young Spock (Zachary Quinto). Born to a Vulcan father, and human mother, he is picked on as a kid. As a brilliant teenager, he applies to the Vulcan Academy of Science, and Star Fleet as a backup. He gets accepted to the Academy, which no one ever turns down, but Spock does. He doesn’t like how the review board counts his human heritage as a disadvantage.

Anyway, through the course of the movie we will also meet Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who Kirk tries to seduce without any luck, Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and of course Scotty (Simon Pegg), who arrives late in the movie and then steals the rest of his scenes. Pegg was the most inspired casting choice in the film. I enjoyed the rest as well, especially Yelchin, who does a loopy Russian accent to perfection, even if they were, by necessity, a little underwritten. This movie is about Kirk and Spock, and Pine and Quinto do a great job at reinventing their characters. Pine doesn’t worry that much about playing the character like Shatner did in the original series – he decides instead to make the character his own, and he does that wonderfully. Quinto seems more reverent of Nimoy’s performance (perhaps because Nimoy is in the film), but it isn’t just a carbon copy. He does a great job as well.

If the movie has a flaw, it could be that they spend so much time establishing the characters, that the actual “story” of the movie is a little underwritten. Eric Bana makes up for this with his wonderful performance as Nero, a Romulin (sp?) hellbent on revenge for his planet, and taking it out on the Federation – starting with Spock’s home planet of Vulcan. Bana, despite an underwritten role, does a fine job of being a menacing, crazed villain and he keeps this part of the movie going all by himself.

Director Abrams is a TV guy, and it shows. From the movie concentration on characters over action and special effects (although the special effects are wonderful, the action sequences are often a little too chaotic and not clear enough) and at times the movie does feel like a pilot for a TV show rather than a movie unto itself. That’s because, I guess, in a way it is. Abrams wants to make this into a series of movies using these characters and these actors. Star Trek is a great first chapter in their story. Now it’s time to move on and make an even better second chapter. I think they can do it.

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