Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

For Radhika's take on the new Star Trek movie, click here.
For Joia's Star Trek movie review, click here.

The creators of the new Star Trek movie had a tall order to fill: reboot and refresh an iconic franchise that seemed to be nearly out of steam, appeal to the notoriously devoted fanbase that put the "fan" in "fanatic," draw in an entirely new audience that hadn't previously been invested in the Trek franchise and produce a summer blockbuster movie. Thankfully J.J. Abrams and company succeeded spectacularly on all fronts!

For the general moviegoer, Star Trek is the full package -- a strong storyline with a balance of intense action sequences and engaging, growing character relationships along with wonderfully executed visual effects that keep you engrossed in the story instead of taking you out of it (yes, I'm looking at you, Wolverine).

I went to two Star Trek screenings — one at a regular theater where you could tell that the audience was comprised mostly of folks who were new to Trek and the second at an IMAX theater where there were a large number of serious Trek fans in the audience. (By the way, just getting to see different trailers for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince made paying extra for the IMAX experience completely worth it.) From the spontaneous cheers during both showings of the film and the applause that started as the end credits rolled across the screen, it was easy to tell that both audiences found a lot to love in the movie.
Abrams and his cohorts played it smart by focusing on creating a strong story first and letting the action and the moments for the fans fall into place from there. As a longtime fan of the franchise, I appreciated how many Trek references were included and that they fit organically into the scenes and never felt forced. Non-fans might not realize why McCoy's comment that "all he's got left is his bones" is important or know that the color of the suit the crazy, skydiving chief engineer wore was significant, but neither did they have reason to stop and think "why did they just do something that made no sense?"

Even the set-up for the next Trek movie was handled skillfully. Every moviegoer understood that Pike's infection with a slug that attaches itself to the host's brainstem was bad news. Longtime fans who watched the Next Generation series saw that slug, shuddered and then had to pick their jaws up off the floor (while being thankful that creature effects have improved since 1988).

Most of all, I appreciate the conceit the writers used to set up this shiny new Star Trek universe. When handled badly, alternate timelines feel like cheats. By setting this retooled Star Trek in an alternate timeline however, the movie creators avoid dismissing all the Trek television series and movies that came before (a move sure to anger fans) and provide an implied, feasible excuse for the differences between the new Enterprise and its crew and the one that was made famous by Shatner, Nimoy and company.

And speaking of the actors, the new crew couldn't have been more impressive. The only performance that felt a little bit like an imitation of its predecessor came, surprisingly enough, from silver screen veteran Karl Urban. As much as I like Urban onscreen and him as Dr. McCoy, there was something about his line delivery that made me feel like he was playing DeForest Kelly playing Dr. McCoy.

Chris Pine, however, gave Kirk the familiar cocky swagger and eye for the ladies, but successfully made the distinctive, iconic character completely his own. Zachary Quinto absolutely nailed the role of Spock. From the Vulcan's contained, intense energy to the famous eyebrow quirk, Quinto became Spock without ever becoming a caricature of the character. Quinto should also receive special recognition for delivering the line "live long and prosper" and, with the most subtle of inflections, turning it into the biggest bird to ever be flipped at a Vulcan council.

Leonard Nimoy's presence in the film allowed the torch to be passed to the new crew with class and dignity. Hearing the brittleness of the venerable actor's voice made me all too aware that two of the original Trek cast have already passed away and made me even more glad that this film has given us a "new" crew of the Enterprise who seem well equipped to carry on the franchise's legacy.

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