Friday, May 15, 2009

Star Trek ***1/2

Star Trek
***1/2 out of ****

Let me start out with a disclaimer that I know is instant death to me if anyone reads this who is a true Trekkie: I am a Star Wars fan.
When I heard there was going to be a new Star Trek film, I didn't care and didn't want to see it. Even when I heard it would be directed by J.J. Abrams, the mastermind behind Mission: Impossible III, the best in the series, and the guy who jump-started Lost, my favorite show, I still remained skeptical and didn't feel like wasting my time.
I have never seen any of the previous Star Trek films, or any episode of any of the series. I have, however, seen all of the Star Wars films- multiple times- and thought that any other sci-fi epic taking place in space was merely a wannabe of George Lucas' films. I forgot that Star Trek came first. And that liking Star Wars and Star Trek doesn't have to be mutually exclusive.
Abrams has rebooted the franchise in the same spirit that made Batman Begins and Casino Royale such big hits and so unique to their respective franchises. It's not necessarily a prequel to the original series, as it promises new adventures for the future of the franchise- and there will be another franchise, believe me. Work on a sequel has already begun.
The movie opens with an attack on a Federation ship by a giant Romulan mining cruiser, killing its captain. One George Kirk steps up and saves the lives of most everyone on board by making them evacuate. Among those evacuated was his wife, who was in labor delivering their son, the legendary James T. Kirk. We see brief scenes from both Kirk's and Spock's childhoods and then fast-forward to Kirk being convinced to join the Starfleet Academy, instead of being a genius bum on the road in Iowa. Fast-forward another three years, and Kirk and Spock are bitter rivals at the Academy. Kirk cheated on the simulation that Spock programmed, and Spock- he of no emotions but a galaxy's worth of logic- believes there is no way the little punk kid could ever be a captain.
But a Romulan attack on Spock's home world of Vulcan puts Kirk's court martial on hold, and soon everyone is beaming up to ships- all of the important characters onto the brand-spankin-new U.S.S. Enterprise- and warping off into deep space. Kirk realizes this attack is the same as the one that killed his father and warns the captain. When they arrive at Vulcan, they find the same giant Romulan ship attempting to destroy the planet, in a method far more ingenious than the Death Star's methods of destroying planets (point and shoot). Giving away anything after that would be spoiling.
The casting for this film deserves a special Oscar, as it is simply genius, down to the last extra. It's more than just re-casting these legendary roles with younger actors. They've reinvented the entire characters and made them much more real. Newcomer Chris Pine (who IS this guy?) plays Kirk as a smartass with a thing for the ladies that doesn't evoke the slightest essense of William Shatner. Zachary Quinto plays the ultra-logical Spock like he was born for the part, letting the difficult dialogue tumble out of his mouth effortlessly. Zoe Saldana plays the sexy-smart Uhura, who surprisingly, has a thing for Spock and detests Kirk. Karl Urban is Dr. McCoy, Kirk's friend at the Academy, who has a fear of space travel despite working in space. John Cho and Anton Yelchin play Sulu and Chekov, respectively, the two pilots who take lots of crap from Spock and the captain. Simon Pegg plays Scott, later Scotty, as the Scottish (haha) engineer genius who, frankly, should have had more screen time as he is by far the funniest part of the movie. And Eric Bana plays Nero, the Romulan villain bent on revenge against Spock for a mistake he has yet to make. Bana is the perfect villain for a movie like this- creepy, cool, and genuinely evil.
The cast is also sprinkled with unknowns and big stars, all who serve their purpose and make the screen sparkle. Look for Winona Ryder as Spock's mother, Tyler Perry as an admiral at the Starfleet Academy, and of course, Leonard Nimoy as an older Spock, playing the part that made him a legend with grace and dignity.
Star Trek was always imaginative; it was always successful in telling good stories; and it was sometimes successful in wowing the audience with its visuals. But it has always been something that has been incredibly dorky, something to be mocked, and something that often should have been better. This new movie has given the old stuff a boost of hip and cool, with a lot of amazing special effects and a healthy dose of humor all the way through. With its almost non-stop action, you will quickly forget this was something you used to laugh at. I hate to say it, but this reboot is better than all three Star Wars prequels combined.
The film isn't perfect, of course. It skips over three years of our charcters at the Academy, that we wish we had seen at least a little bit of. It has a time-traveling subplot that actually could have been more complex. And Yelchin, with his thick Russian accent, seems to be overacting a bit, but who cares? The flaws are there, but its strengths far outweigh its problems. My main concern is making sure the sequels and TV shows that follow are just as good as this movie.
I would recommend this film to Star Trek fans on any level, from hard-core Trekkie to mildy interested; and fans of sci-fi and action films.

You can watch the trailer here:

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