Thursday, June 4, 2009

Star Trek: The Review

(This review may contain minor spoilers)
Full disclosure: I am not a Trekkie.
I don’t remember much from the original series besides campiness and hammy acting. I have fleeting memories of blue-skinned alien girls in beehive hairdos and spangled eye-shadow; spaceship interiors that looked like Hugh Hefner’s den (velour furniture, purple wall sconces); Spock mind-melding with a paper-maché creature that resembled a moldy pizza (that was a weird episode); and red-shirted ensigns being gruffly pronounced “dead, Jim” by Leonard “Bones” McCoy.
The classic show led to numerous spin-offs, and while I have my nerdish leanings, I’m not a fan of “hard sci-fi,” a term that sounds pornographic, but unfortunately is not. All it means is the writers of “Deep Space Nine” and “The Next Generation” got the theoretical science right when it came to explaining the intricacies of warp drives and particle accelerators. I went to summer school for high-school algebra for Spock’s sake, so crazy moon-man talk about quantum physics fried my non-math-understanding synapses.
All I wanted out of J.J. Abrams’sStar Trek” reboot was an intelligent, character-driven sci-fi/ action movie, a scarce multiplex commodity in these dark days of Bay, Ratner and Emmerich.
Abrams did not have to march lockstep with the franchise’s much obsessed over canon to make me happy, and truly, the red-hot “Lost” creator does his damndest to make the movie his own while (hopefully) keeping even the crotchetiest Trekkie pleased. The result is an ambitious, well-cast, but ultimately imperfect sci-fi experience.
The story smartly twists the origins of the famous USS Enterprise crew. Abrams contrives an alternate “Trek” universe that uses the series’ beginnings as a kind of pushing off point. The result is an all-new film cosmos that recognizes the origin story while remaining free of that story’s sticky narrative constraints.
Unfortunately, Abrams makes his solid if clichéd time travel/revenge plot less important than the re-introduction of the Enterprise crew. Abrams knows how familiar fans are with these mainstays, and ensures most everyone hits their stock catchphrases and shopworn character moments. Chekhov mis-pronouncing “V” words with “W?” It’s in there. McCoy grouchily insisting he’s a doctor, not a physicist, dammit? That’s there, too. Young Kirk hooks up with a blue alien babe, and there’s even a “red-shirt moment” (Ah, Chief Engineer Olson, we hardly knew ye) for particularly nostalgic fans.
I understand the necessity of offering such filmic signposts to help re-launch a foundering franchise. However, this new “Star Trek” has almost too much of a prologue feel.
A game cast of virtual unknowns elevates the proceedings, and gives me hope for the inevitable sequel. Chris Pine gets Capt. Kirk’s brash arrogance just right without having to do a William Shatner impression, while Zachary Quinto’s Spock is all simmering emotion under that placid Vulcan exterior. Karl Urban’s McCoy channels a bit too much from DeForest Kelley’s original-series performance, but it’s still a dead-on imitation. The only cast member who suffers is Eric Bana, whose villainous Romulan ship captain doesn’t get enough screen time to be a daunting presence.
My tiresome hair-splitting aside, I recognize that “Star Trek” is in talented hands. From his work on “Lost,” “Alias” and the fun monster flick “Cloverfield,” Abrams has shown he knows how to craft a smart, action-packed product. A meatier plot for the sequel will ensure his new franchise both lives long and prospers.

Enhanced by Zemanta