Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek (2009)

It’s refreshing, after all these years of diminishing returns and dormancy, to see Star Trek back and as good as it has ever been (which, for me, is the second film Wrath of Kahn and TV series The Next Generation, although that's certainly not all I've enjoyed). The new movie is both an excellent starting point for people whose relationship with the franchise is little to none and a great chance for rediscovery for those, like me, whose interest has waned some in the years since the franchise last churned out interesting product. It is a fast-paced (I’ve seen it two times in two days now and, boy, does this thing move) crowd-pleaser of the summer-popcorn variety and a great revival of these classic characters.

The movie is a reintroduction to the general public, focusing mostly on young Kirk and young Spock, at least at the beginning of the film. Chris Pine (as Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (as Spock) create distinct performances, respectful without ever copying the original performances. Quinto, especially, seems to get into the core of Spock, his Vulcan calm hiding tumultuous humanity. It’s a testament to his performance that when, through a time-warp, Leonard Nimoy shows up playing Spock, Quinto’s portrayal does not seem any less true.

I know it’s traditional for reviews to set up the plot of the film but the movie is so startlingly solid that I hesitate to reveal much at all. The movie’s actual plot (by which I mean the villain’s evil plot) is the weakest link, but it’s not terrible and we needed some way to explain away inconsistencies, round up the characters into one place and show us why we liked these characters to begin with, even all the way back to 1966 when they were first revealed. Director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have allowed the movie to create charges of recognition as the plot gathers steam. I never thought it could be so exciting just to hear the word “phasers” shouted again. Uhura (now Zoe Saldana) is just as striking, but with more emotional complications. That has to be McCoy; Karl Urban’s doing a great job matching DeForest Kelly’s intense yet jovial mannerisms. There’s the Enterprise! It looks great! Now we’re on the bridge. There’s Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Where’s Scotty? Don’t worry; he’ll show up, and Simon Pegg will play him perfectly.

The movie gives great moments to all the cast members and I was so grateful for it and the great rush of nostalgia the movie gave me. This is the kind of big-budget science-fiction space opera movie I’ve been loving since I was a kid, the kind of movie that is fast, loud, colorful fun, by turns funny and suspenseful, filled with the latest, greatest bells and whistles and stuffed full of surprising and delightful turns of events. My first viewing I was distracted by catching all the in-jokes, the winks (look at the member of the away team in the red jumpsuit, ha ha), and the recognitions that I ended up nitpicking the movie as I watched it, wondering if the chances taken with the established back-story were paying off, questioning if the surprising wholesale destruction of a major element of the universe was worth it. And is it just me or is the middle of the film a bit soggy?

My second viewing dissolved all such doubts. This movie works as fast and as successfully as it moves, propelled along by great visuals and a great score (by Michael Giacchino, who has fast become one of my favorite composers). Abrams finds room in the pacing for beautiful shots amid some unfortunately blurry action. Early there’s a wide-angle shot of a line of shuttles moving away from a wounded ship which will be echoed later with a similar shot of a line of missiles moving towards a ship.

So it looks great, sounds great, and moves along quickly. I guess that means the movie is very satisfying, and a total blast to boot. It’s one of the most welcome and enjoyable franchise reboots and, unlike Bond and Batman, doesn’t exist completely outside the established canon. By the end of the movie, I’m energized (no pun intended) and ready for more Trek. I can’t wait to see where the franchise will go after this most promising start. It's okay that they left out Klingons and the reflections of contemporary social issues. They had to leave room to grow.

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