After 10 films and 5 television series, many believed the campy, iconic Star Trek franchise was dead. But a new prequel film revives it with two franchise firsts: universal praise and appeal even for non-Trekkies.
Star Trek, which premieres today in traditional theaters and IMAX, reboots the series like the Daniel Craig James Bond films did, i.e., by ignoring decades of backstory and starting over with the original concept. The new film takes place before the start of the 1966 series, exploring the backgrounds of James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) from their births to their first adventure together on the U.S.S. Enterprise. To keep notoriously attentive Trekkies happy (but lure in new fans as well) the film takes place in an alternate, parallel Star Trek universe, as the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) explains in a cameo. When the rest of the Enterprise crew unites to save the United Federation of Planets from the Romulan Nero (Eric Bana), their personalities are the same, but they are free to deviate from the story line established in the series and films.
While Star Trek was considered too hopelessly dorky for a comeback, critics say the film manages to preserve the show's core, but makes it sleeker and more appealing to modern audiences. Even critics who hated the franchise say the movie was excellent, and some reviewers who are clearly fans went even further. Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post phrased her entire review as a prayer thanking the "Lord of Star Trek" for "a movie that, against all odds, has miraculously resurrected a wheezing but beloved and still-relevant franchise." Ty Burr of The Boston Globe called it "the greatest prequel ever made." And on Slate it was described as the "blockbuster for the Obama age, when smarts and idealism are cool again." (The President is after all, a Trekkie himself and looking for a special screening, according to Politico. He once greeted Leonard Nimoy with the Vulcan hand gesture and Nimoy told him "It would be logical if you would become president.")
Anyway, below, we explore the the reviews of Star Trek:
Very often the updating of an older franchise leads to a shrieking mass of technological bells and whistles (look how George Lucas tarted up his own Star Wars franchise). Star Trek certainly looks as lively as an ambitious, action-oriented summer blockbuster ought, but Abrams is more interested in the characters than he is in showing off the ship, or the Big Bad, a fellow named Nero (Eric Bana) with a Black Hole complex. Abrams also pays homage to the original with a cameo by one of the old gang. That special guest has one scene too many, but there's a sweetness of intent that makes it forgivable.
But the ultimate back-story, and the heart of the movie, as it should be, is the love story between Kirk and Spock. It's a tumultuous affair, full of insults ("Who was that pointy-eared bastard?"), jealousy and even an expulsion from the Enterprise. It's a good thing that we already know that they live long, prosper - and bicker - together for years to come.
The difficulty is that Abrams' mandate to a certain extent conflicts with the Star Trek ethos, a clash that can't be easily ignored. Despite all the glib talk about how moribund the franchise has become, any TV series that spawned 10 preveious motion pictures and several small-screen series has the kind of deep appeal that Hollywood ignores at its peril.
And being true to the Trekker fan base means more than a part for Nimoy, an adroit demonstration of the Vulcan nerve pinch and lines of dialogue like "our gravitational sensors are going crazy." It means embracing a humanistic, utopian world view that never depended on elaborate special effects for its effectiveness. Given the differences between the Star Trek ethos created by Gene Roddenberry and the one that Abrams and company represent, what's surprising is not that the new film sometimes misses but rather how many hits there actually are.
Star Trek's vision of the future, as guided by creator Gene Roddenberry, was also a relic of its time, the age of NASA and the Cold War and Kruschev pounding his shoe on a podium at the United States. The show's faith in diplomacy and technology as tools for not just global but universal peace might seem touchingly dated in our post-9/11 age of stateless jihad, loose nukes, and omnipresent danger. Yet in a weird way, Star Trek's cheerfully square naiveté makes it the perfect film for our first summer of (slimly) renewed hope. It's a blockbuster for the Obama age, when smarts and idealism are cool again. In fact, can't you picture our president-levelheaded, biracial, implacably smart-on the bridge in a blue shirt and pointy ears?
So Abrams did well to eschew celebrity casting and scour the galaxy to find Chris Pine, a relatively unknown young actor (he appeared in the 2006 crime drama Smokin' Aces and last year's Bottle Shock) who understands and channels Shatner's loopy appeal without ever impersonating him. (And what actor is more easily impersonatable than Shatner, with that trademark staccato delivery?) Pine is a jewel, but his performance couldn't work without the right ensemble cast. It takes a while for the gang to get fully assembled on the bridge-Simon Pegg's juicily comic Scotty, in particular, comes on the scene too late in the movie. But by the time they do, even Trekkie loyalists will have accepted Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as communications specialist Uhura (now upgraded from space secretary to "xenolinguist" and equipped with a disconcerting crush on her Vulcan co-worker), Karl Urban as the ship's irascible doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Urban's performance, while enjoyable, comes the closest to straight-up impersonation), and John Cho and Anton Yelchin as the young navigators Sulu and Chekov.
The young Spock is played by Zachary Quinto, who makes the most of the adroit writing. Far from remaining confined by the steely Vulcan logic that came to dominate Spock's personality, the script, by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, revels in Spock's all-too-human emotions — the grief he harbors for the human mother he lost (she's played by Winona Ryder, while Ben Cross plays his Vulcan father), the anger that fuels his sometimes violent rivalry with Kirk, the passion he feels for Uhura (who says ever so sexily, as he's taking his leave of her, "I'll be monitoring your frequency.")
Mr. Abrams doesn't treat "Star Trek" as a sacred text, which would be deadly for everyone save the fanatics. But neither does he skewer a pop cultural classic that, more than 40 years after its first run, has been so lampooned (it feels like there are more South Parkparodies than original episodes) it was difficult to see how he was going to give it new life. By design or accident, he has, simply because in its hopefulness Star Trek reminds you that there's more to science fiction (and Hollywood blockbusters) than nihilism. Mr. Abrams doesn't venture into politics as boldly as Mr. Roddenberry sometimes did, though it's worth noting he does equate torture with barbarism.
Despite these visions, the flashing lasers and latex aliens, Star Trek is fundamentally about two men engaged in a continuing conversation about civilizations and their discontents. Hot and cold, impulsive and tightly controlled, Kirk and Spock need each other to work, a dynamic Mr. Abrams captures with his two well-balanced leads. Mr. Quinto lets you see and hear the struggle between the human and the Vulcan in Spock through the emotions that ripple across his face and periodically throw off his unmodulated phrasing. Mr. Pine has the harder job - he has to invoke Mr. Shatner's sui generis performance while transcending its excesses - which makes his nuanced interpretation all the more potent. Steering clear of outright imitation, the two instead distill the characters to capture their essence, their Kirk-ness and Spock-ness.
So go in thinking "Show me," and within five minutes your arms may be covered in goose bumps from watching the drama surrounding the birth of James T. Kirk. What, you don't care? That's what I thought. But watching Star Trek is like seeing the baby pictures of loved ones - or like being magically transported into the past to meet your parents when they were young and cuddly. In going back to tell the Enterprise story from the beginning, Star Trek presses collective emotional buttons people didn't even know they had. At its best, the effect is like seeing life panoramically, past and future, simultaneous and magnificent.
The story of Star Trek involves a rogue Romulan, known as Nero (Eric Bana, made to look ugly), who has a plan: to destroy every Federation planet. He's the ideal Star Trek villain, in that he provides the Enterprise with plenty to do, but he never becomes the main focus of the movie's attention.
This installment has achieved a nearly impossible hat trick. It's a movie that is exegetically correct enough to appease the most hard-core buffs, while opening up the final frontier to a whole new generation of fans who have yet to appreciate Star Trek's ineffable combination of sci-fi action, campy humor and yin-yang philosophical tussle between logic and emotion. A nifty cameo appearance midway through Star Trek may be a bit too much of a good thing in the film's final chapter, but still gives it a satisfying full-circle touch.
Star Trek - a.k.a. Star Trek XI, a.k.a. Star Trek the Franchise Reboot - approaches the late Gene Roddenberry's original science fiction world not on bended knee but with fresh eyes, a spring in its step, and the understanding that we know these people better than they know themselves. Indeed, much of the vast pleasure of this movie comes from characters suddenly discovering things about each other that we learned watching TV four decades ago. There are flaws to pick at in terms of story line and other matters, but that can wait until the glow has faded. In the pop high it delivers, this is the greatest prequel ever made.
Trekkie In Chief Wants Screening [Politico]