Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek

Trekkies will no doubt give this exhilarating prequel to the "Star Trek" franchise a great big thumbs up. But even those who have never seen an episode of the original "Star Trek" TV series -- created by Gene Roddenberry (and to whom the film is partly dedicated) -- its spinoff series, or the 10 big-screen films that preceded this one should find "Star Trek" (Paramount/Spyglass) a superior action-adventure romp.

Director J.J. Abrams -- working from a Trek-savvy script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman -- has breathed new life into the series by skillfully balancing well-executed action sequences -- though the fast-cutting and kinetic camerawork may be off-putting at first -- with an absorbing human story, leavened with humor and optimism.

Chris Pine -- looking a bit like 1950s "rebel" James Dean -- plays the William Shatner role, James Tiberius Kirk, here an unmitigated 23rd-century rabble-rouser. He's persuaded to forgo his brawling ways by Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and enter the Starfleet Academy, with an eye to joining the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

In the film's dizzying opening sequence, we watched Kirk's mother -- in the midst of labor, no less -- being evacuated from a spaceship as his father met his death at the hands of the vengeful Romulan Nero (Eric Bana), the film's dastardly villain.

Young Kirk eventually joins a team comprised of such "Star Trek" favorites as medical officer Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), linguist Uhura (Zoe Saldana), helmsman Sulu (James Cho), young Russian officer Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), and of course, the very proper Spock (Zachary Quinto), conflicted son of a Vulcan father (Ben Cross) and a human mother (Winona Ryder). Along the way, engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (Simon Pegg) joins the team.

They become wary rivals until they unite against Nero -- who traverses the galaxies in his forbidding Narada spaceship, hell-bent on the destruction of the planets Vulcan and Earth.

What puts this "Star Trek" above most films of this ilk are likable characters you care about. Pine and Quinto have a good chemistry that echoes that of originators Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and the ultimate bonding of these two disparate personalities -- one instinctual, one rational -- imparts a good life lesson in teamwork for younger viewers, as does the Starship code of honor. Nimoy, incidentally, makes a not-insubstantial appearance as an aged Spock. But all the performances are winning, and pay respectful homage to their TV forebears.

Despite the deadly machinations of the sadistic Nero and a particularly frightening sequence on the ice planet Delta Vega where Kirk is chased by a horrific monster, the film is refreshingly different from the bleakness of so many futuristic stories. Print this post


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