Monday, May 11, 2009

Trek FTW

I just saw the new Star Trek movie. Wow. I mean... Wow.

I have never been a big Star Trek fan. I mean, the original 1966-1969 TV series had its moments of lo-fi genius to be sure. It was a fresh approach to science fiction with enough fun gizmos and aliens to trigger the nerd endorphins, but it also had a campy side and a cast that wasn't afraid to go overboard in the name of entertainment. I think the subsequent movies and spin-offs, however, largely lost that sense of newness and excitement. The franchise got stale catering more and more to its base, and lost itself in the process.

In the wake of the Star Wars phenomenon, the Star Trek franchise managed only one brilliant movie (1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan), then fell hopelessly behind. (And this despite the fact that Star Wars creator George Lucas has spent every moment since 1980 trying desperately to drive his own franchise into the ground.)

But it didn't have to be that way: whatever missteps it made along the way (1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was one of the worst sci-fi movies ever), there was a solid core there: memorable characters and a rich back story.

So how to recapture that original magic? Reboot the franchise!

And that's just what J.J. Abrams and company did. To be honest, the new movie doesn't completely wipe out everything that came before it: without going into too much detail, Abrams uses time travel as a gimmick to establish this reboot as an alternate timeline that parallels the original instead of replacing it. It sounds confusing, but it is actually handled quite well, and given the series' rabid fan base, it is a nice way to keep longtime followers happy while simultaneously wiping the slate clean.

While that will keep longtime Trekkies happy, though, what keeps everyone else happy is the fact that the moribund old Star Trek is dead. Part of the promotional campaign for this movie says: "This is not your father's Star Trek." How true that is! From this point on, anything goes.

The new Star Trek movie is both edgier and more fun than we have come to expect Star Trek to be. The braininess is still there in the background, but it takes a backseat to emotions, tension and excitement. These characters are as strong as ever, and the young cast of actors assembled to play them is superb. In fact, while this may be sacrilege for longtime fans, in many cases I prefer the new interpretations hands-down to the old ones. They are reverent enough to capture the spirit of the original character, but re-imagined enough to make them relevant for modern movie-going audiences. They swear a little more, they argue a little more, they love a little more.

Probably the most surprising character for me was communications officer Lt. Uhura, played by Zoe Saldana. In the original series, she had seemed little more than a secretary in space. That may have been a groundbreaking role for an African American woman in 1966, but in 2009 that same role would have seemed dated. So in this movie, Uhura is a key character with a major role.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Zoe Saldana is smoking hot.

In fact, the entire crew is sexy: Chris Pine as James Kirk, Zacahry Quinto as Spock, John Cho (Harold from the "Harold & Kumar" comedies) as Hikaro Sulu. And, honestly, why not? J.J. Abrams wastes no opportunity to entertain us. Given the opportunity to reboot the franchise, he pulls out all the stops. Brilliant English comedian Simon Pegg (of Shaun Of The Dead fame) is brought in as Scotty. Karl Urban perfectly channels DeForest Kelley as medical officer Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. ("I'm a doctor, not a physicist!") And pay attention to Anton Yelchin, who plays a small role as Pavel Chekov in this movie, and in just a few weeks will star as a young Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation. (That's the character who eventually travels back in time in the original Terminator movie to save Sarah Connor.)

The plot does have some holes and certain aspects of the story aren't very well developed, but honestly that's just nitpicking. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire movie, and I can't wait to see it again. Beautiful sets, spectacular visual and sound effects, riveting character interaction, and compelling storytelling make this the best big-budget film I've seen since last year's Iron Man.

My rating is ***** five stars (essential) - for Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike. (Note: rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content.)

Yes, this franchise has legs. And I can't believe it, but I have to say that I now consider myself a Star Trek fan. I guess I'd better get used to it and go buy a pair of pointy rubber ears and an English-to-Klingon dictionary, because the Trekkies have won. After this movie, we're all Trekkies now.

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