Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
May 2009

Rising 'Star'

With 'Trek' reboot, Abrams revitalizes the space opera

Star Trek
Paramount Pictures
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 almost tactile.

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

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