At The Picture Show
With 'Trek' reboot, Abrams revitalizes the space opera
Director: J.J. Abrams
Screenplay: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoë Saldana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl
Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Winona Ryder, Leonard Nimoy and Eric Bana
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 6 minutes
Opens May 8, 2009
(out of four)
If its predecessors had somehow died out in American pop culture, I have a feeling
that Star Trek - this Star Trek - would still have found a passionate following
anyway. I suppose that has been one of J.J. Abrams' objectives - to reach a new
generation and a new fan base by re-booting the franchise instead of following
lockstep with the canonical standard.
That said, Abrams isn't reinventing the wheel -
only revitalizing a dead franchise with the style, wit and poppy visual panache
we've come to expect from him. Drawing not only from the existing mythology
but also Star Wars and probably some of the same fiction that has inspired Lost,
Abrams has expertly crafted a film that not only fits in as a worthy piece of an
established series - indeed, this is easily one of its best entries - but stands alone as
a thrilling space opera in its own right.
Is there any philosophy or worldview under the surface? No, not really; not this
time - beyond the obligatory Destiny! of its characters, of course. This is a flashy
exterior of a movie, by and large. But as flashy exteriors go, this one is something
to savor. Abrams and his technicians put together a truly vibrant interstellar
landscape, both within its spaceship corridors and Starfleet halls and in the great
wide open of space itself.
Abrams' camera slides around with urgency and grace, capturing the pulse of
every emergency - be it mid-flight or otherwise - with a sense of detail that is
Star Trek is a film that succeeds not so much in its
ideas but in its characters, well-cast and well-performed by a mostly lesser-known
group of actors.
We may know these characters already (and indeed the filmmakers take the time to
reaffirm traits and catchphrases that even non-diehards will find familiar), but
Abrams has taken us back to the beginning - to a new beginning, really, where he
redefines the origins of James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), Commander Spock
(Zachary Quinto), Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) - and of course my favorite, the
spectacularly gorgeous Zoë Saldana, who plays Uhura and wears exactly the right
amount of clothing.
Once again, the U.S.S. Enterprise - led by Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood),
who not only captains the ship but is also the man who recruited Kirk to join
Starfleet in the first place - is locking horns with the Romulans, this time in the
form of captain Nero (Eric Bana), who is bent on revenge for . . . well, you'll see.
Like many Star Trek movies, the plot requires a
lot of action - and in this case, it works. Everything is so well-visualized that it
never seems to overwhelm - only entertain. Without fail.
Of course, Abrams isn't satisfied simply with a tightly wound plot. Instead, he
manages to throw in the wonderfully game-changing kink of time travel into the
proceedings - an aspect that alters and rearranges the story's implications.
Seeing a movie succeed as effortlessly as does Star Trek, one can't help but think
how refreshing it is see a film so bright and flashy and yet cohesive, smart, careful
and restrained. How can Michael Bay's cheap, ruthless vapidity and unyielding
stupidity even compete? I know, I know - I'm changing the subject. What does
Michael Bay have to do with any of this?
Nothing, in fact. But we get special-effects blockbusters about once a week every
summer, and it's the good ones we need to treasure.
As if his great television work hadn't proven this
already, Abrams has now joined the ranks of the big-budget directors who can
smoothly weave entertaining conceits, creative or experimental ideas, rich
characters and exceptional CGI work into a cohesive and enthralling narrative.
Star Trek doesn't break new ground, but it does infuse old ground with a renewed
sense of vitality and purpose. And it doesn't hurt that it's the most entertaining
movie of the year so far. On those terms and others, few summer blockbusters are
likely to be able to compete.
Read more by Chris Bellamy