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Wednesday, May 13, 2009 03:22 pm

Star Trek: A bold reboot

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The new crew of Star Trek.

I laughed, I cried and I was on the edge of my seat watching J.J. Abrams’ inventive and wildly entertaining prequel Star Trek.

And that was just during the first 15 minutes.

It’s no secret that one of Paramount Studios’ cash cows is the Trek franchise and that execs there have been wringing their hands over the languishing property, wondering how they can squeeze a few more bucks out of it without alienating its legion of fans. Even trickier — how do you get new viewers to jump on board with a bunch of characters who seem so yesterday? When the Paramount suits pulled the trigger and handed the reins over to Abrams (Lost, Mission Impossible III), they were more than a bit concerned and required him to keep the budget at $130 million, cheap for a film of this kind.

They shouldn’t have worried. As Abrams has proved with his other work, he brings not only a degree of intelligence to whatever he does but also an innate sense of fun. This holds him in good stead as he pulls out all the stops while fleshing out the origin of the crew of the starship Enterprise, plunging us into the story before we can catch our breath. We witness the birth, literally, of James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), his troubled youth and his rise to Starfleet commander, and see the ridicule Spock (Zachary Quinto) must endure on his home planet of Vulcan for having an Earth mother, and come to understand why he would feel more at home in space, working towards uniting various alien cultures. These two storylines provide the film with its spine, as the relationship between these two seemingly opposite beings — one driven by emotion, the other ruled by logic — forms the basic moral and ethical dichotomy that all of the Trek stories have employed in dealing with the themes they have tackled.

If Abrams’ film is weak in any area, it is that it does not take on any important social issue, as the original series did. It’s more intent on providing a grand space opera, which it does with a sense of reckless abandon. The quickly-put-together crew of the Enterprise, which includes standbys Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), find themselves going toe-to-toe with Nero (Eric Bana). This Romulan psychopath is traveling back in time to destroy all the planets who are members of the Space Federation in an insane quest to prevent his own home from being destroyed in the future. Frankly, his warped logic and time travel shenanigans make little sense, but they do allow for Abrams to employ some nifty planet-destroying special effects and weave Leonard Nimoy into the movie as Spock from the future.

Really, the Nero subplot is just that — a minor story thread used as an excuse to show us how the gang got together. What makes the film entertaining is seeing how all of the pieces first came together, according to Abrams, and he does not disappoint. Hearing McCoy yell, “I’m a doctor, Jim, not a physicist!,” seeing Scotty run around frantically trying to coax more out of the Enterprise’s engines and watching Spock take Kirk out with the Vulcan neck pinch is what fans want. The film delivers these moments not only with reverence, but also with fun. With Abrams looking towards the future while recognizing Star Trek’s storied past, there’s no doubt that this franchise will continue to live long and prosper.

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