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Star Trek – Rating: B

Submitted by on May 18, 2009 – 9:40 AMNo Comment
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The new Star Trek movie is the first major motion picture in the franchise to appear in seven years. There has been much talk about it—and both reviled and revered. Some fans hate the film because it is tampering with beloved characters; others think it’s high art. An avid trekkie myself, my reaction fell somewhere in the middle.

The new work is based on a script by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Orci is best known for his television scripts of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Alias, and, most recently, Fringe. He also wrote the two Transformers movies (2007, 2009) and Eagle Eye. He also is collaborating with Kurtzman and Damon Lidleof (Lost, Crossing Jordon)on the script for the Star Trek sequel due out in 2011. Kurtzman also collaborated on Eagle Eye and wrote some Fringe scripts. There is talent in this writing pool, and it is carried forward in Star Trek, providing a substantive vehicle for this new telling of the Star Trek saga.

Exploring the early days of the Enterprise, the film concentrates on the origins of both James T. Kirk and the enigmatic Vulcan Spock. They are thrown together during a crisis when Nero, a Romulan from the future, comes hunting for Ambassador Spock, seeking revenge on Vulcan and on Earth. The non-stop action that follows is enough for any science fiction fan and offers some interesting what-ifs. This film also shows fan favorites in a totally new light.

What this new film has also done is create a whole new universe, an alternate time line for more adventures and even new things to be discovered about these characters that couldn’t be done with the current Star Trek cannon. Historically, everything that has been written about Star Trek characters in print, on television, or on film has become part of Star Trek history. And, I don’t mean just literary or film history. I’m talking about what an author writes about a Star Trek character, ship, or world becomes a part of the fictional history of that character, that ship, or that world. Orci and Kurtzman have reset the history back to the births of Kirk and Spock. Whatever happens now is virgin territory.

If the writers had chosen to continue star-trek-3what has already been written about these characters, worlds, and occurrences, the only creativity would have been in just how the new actors would recreate what has been done before. As it is, there is everything new to look forward to.

With that said, I still had problems with the film. The first was the rapid-fire action scenes. These were so quick they appeared as flashes of scenes, almost strobe like. Some also seemed to be filmed with hand held cameras and rotating cameras because there was that sense of jiggling images and constant movement that has become characteristic of action dramas on the small screen as well as the big one. This may be the filming wave of the future, but it is very difficult to grasp everything that’s going on. Maybe that’s not a problem with viewers raised on rapid-fire imaging, but for someone who was raised on the flat images of the early Star Trek TV series, this was sometimes overwhelming. Yet, it gave me a sense of high technology that would be present in the era of the early Star Trek beginnings and not the “salt shaker scanners” and cardboard ship monitor panels that were used in the television show.

I also had a problem with some of the acting. Despite the abilities of each of the players, the responsibility for some of the blatant gaffs was due to the director J.J. Abrams.

First let me say, that Zachary Quinto as the young Spock was a stroke of genius. He delivered a Spock that was fresh, conflicted, and emotional. It was a pleasure to see Quinto in a positive role after being thoroughly creeped out by him as the villain Sylar on Heroes. He will, as Lenonard Nimoy did, grow into this role and pull much more out of the Vulcan character.

Zoe Saldana’s Uhuru was a surprise, but created an Uhuru that Nichelle Nichols would be proud of. John Cho’s (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, two Harold and Kumar films) Hikaru Sulu was refreshing and Bruce Greenwood as Capt. Christopher Pike was a solid choice. Even though Ben Cross as Spock’s father Sarek and Winona Ryder as Spock’s mother Amanda Grayson were unusual choices, they are solid actors and fit well into their roles. And, of course, seeing Leonard Nimoy return as Ambassador Spock was a treat.

It was the other characters that we have come to identify with Star Trek that were problematic. Though Chris Pine (Bottle Shock, Blind Dating) made a much younger Jim Kirk, it was a good casting call. However, Abrams needed to pull back some of Pine’s bravado that just spilled all over the stage, becoming rank overacting. It was almost as if Pine stayed too long in his backstory without using it as a fire to heat his portrayal of Kirk.

The other blatant overacting offender was Karl Urban (Bourne Supremacy, Chronicles of Riddick, Doom, Lord of the Rings) and his version of Dr. Leonard McCoy. The classic “Dammit, Spock, I’m a doctor not a physicist” line was awful as was another of McCoy’s well-worn saws. Even McCoy’s grousing about space travel did not ring true. This was a real surprise since Urban is a talented actor. I don’t know if Urban was a bad casting call or whether Abrams just didn’t see how Urban’s in-your-face attempts as comedy didn’t work. Those lines could even have been thrown away and still have been funny. We viewers didn’t need to be embarrassed by this actor’s lack of restraint.

Simon Pegg’s (Mission Impossible III, Shaun of the Dead) rendering of Scotty was odd, sometimes making him another comedic character and showing him as less capable than he came to be. But then maybe in this new universe, Scotty really doesn’t always save the day.

And, then there was Anton Yelchin’s (Alpha Dog, Fierce People) Pavel Chekov. There was really nothing wrong with this Chekov, though his accent seemed really contrived and often garbled his lines. He was just plain young. We find out later that he’s supposed to be 17, and that explained a lot, making his character brilliant (which the original Chekov really wasn’t) and believable.

Finally, this new Star Trek even did a number on the Romulans. Frankly, I liked Eric Bana (Black Hawk Down, Hulk) as Nero, the Romulan bad guy. I was impressed with the new makeup for the Romulan race, having them with shaved heads and a lot of head and facial tattoos. This probably was an outgrowth from the bald Picard clone, raised by Romulans, that figured in Star Trek: Nemesis, the last Star Trek film.

Even with its flaws, this new Star Trek is fresh and offers viewers more than just a dose of the same-ole, same-ole. As we become more comfortable with these latest renderings of our beloved characters, by the time the new film rolls around, a whole new crop of Trekkies will have been born.

Beer pairing: Sam Adams Scotch Ale, very malty with a smoky undertone and a long finish