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J.J. Abrams, you had a lot to answer for.  After the catastrophe that was 2008's Cloverfield (Feel the Wrath of Diva here), my expectations were seriously lowered for his subsequent project; a cinematic revamp of the classic sci-fi TV series, Star Trek.  I couldn’t have been more exhilaratingly surprised by what I saw.  As I excoriated the director for making one of the most awful big-budget monster films I’ve ever seen, I am thrilled to give Abrams all props and praise for creating the greatest theatrical adaptation of a TV show ever made.

As Abrams’ Star Trek opens, the U.S.S. Kelvin’s first mate, one George Kirk, assumes the mantle of captaincy under some very trying circumstances.  We discover that his son, Jim was literally born in a cosmic war zone, which may account for the wild, restless young boy and teen we meet shortly after.  Similarly, a half-breed Vulcan child named Spock is fighting his own demons; the brilliant student suffers daily from the taunts and prejudice of his emotionally-challenged alien tribe because Spock is the issue of his adored human mother.  Besides being an origin story about the young crew of the Starship Enterprise, the plot centers on a slightly convoluted bit of time travel coursed by a pack of angry Romulans, led by the grieving, insane Nero.  In the original series, Romulans were kind of the also-rans behind Klingons for the title of alien arch-enemies of Starfleet Command.  One of the failings of Star Trek’s script is the Romulans don’t even merit their own original storyline:  In a rip of the entire plot of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Nero’s planet has been destroyed and he blames the death of his wife and people on a character who is decades away from committing the actions Nero blames him for.  Yeah, see what I mean about convoluted?

It’s okay, though, because there’s so much other stuff to keep the eye busy and the fun factor way high that thinking too hard about the intertwining chronology will just give you a headache.  The film is lovingly shot with the first glimpse of the iconic NCC-1701 spaceship sure to emit sighs of awe and gratitude, as if you’re looking at an old friend all spiffed up for the first time.  The quips from the original show that have become part of the American vernacular are here, there’s a Vulcanate “live long and prosper”, a “Good God, man,” followed by Spock being called a “hobgoblin” “out of his Vulcan mind,” by Bones McCoy.  The uniforms are fairly untouched, including those of the infamous “redshirt” crew.  Fans of Eddie Murphy will chuckle over the inclusion of a green love interest for horndog Kirk.  The famous Captain’s bridge hasn’t much personality, often looking unfinished in scenes; it’s hard to get a read on what exactly the Enterprise looks like inside.  Instead of the rich, saturated colours of the original series, Abrams makes the interiors of the Enterprise blindingly shiny with lens flares off the walls.  One visual clunker is the starship’s transporter; the “Beam me up” effect looks jarringly cartoonlike, with crudely-drawn animated white lines crossing over the teleportee, making the original method from 1966 look downright state-of-the-art by comparison.  The Romulan ship is a sharp, tentacled nightmare and the Starfleet hub itself is a monolith floating in space, with the smaller spacecrafts hitched around it like petals.  There are some fun action pieces including a neat bit of dangerous skydiving and some hand-to-hand combat with a nice modernisation of Sulu’s fencing skills.  One of my irks with the film reminded me uncomfortably of Abrams’ previous cinematic spew; the inability to keep the camera still when there’s stuff going on.  I don’t know how many times I have to tell Hollywood, shakycam does not, I repeat for the zillionth time, does not amp up the action.  Once we have Spock and Kirk’s big battle against the Romulans, it’s difficult to make out what’s happening or even get a good look at their shiny new phasers because of the jumpy cuts.

The skinny on the James Tiberius Kirk; I’d seen Chris Pine previously in a film called Bottle Rocket and found him pleasant, but not particularly attention-grabbing.  Sure, he’s adorable, but he seemed to fade away in the presence of stronger actors.  Unhappily for Mr. Pine, Star Trek’s entire ensemble consists of stronger actors than he is.  With a roguish gleam in his eye, Pine’s Kirk shows moments of scapegrace charm early on, but never convincingly evolves into the strong hero we’re waiting to see.  His Kirk is serviceable, but not particularly standout or memorable.  Perhaps he’ll grow into it over the inevitable sequel?

Instead, much of the brilliance in the film falls on the pointy ears of Zachary Quinto as the youthful version of the bi-racial Vulcan, Spock.  Quinto plays Spock as a sensitive and devoted Momma’s boy (- in the best sense), with a very visible undercurrent of the seething emotions so despised by the natives of his home planet.  Sleek and thoughtful, Quinto seizes the role the way I wish Pine had.  Quinto is vibrant and canny, taking the best effects of the immortal portrayal by Leonard Nimoy.  Somehow, Quinto makes Spock so alluring that he is actually a bit of a sex symbol, complete with a surprising romantic interest.  You go, Vulcan.

There are others in the cast who are simply wonderful; Anton Yelchin is spot-on as the 17-year-old wunderkind, Pavel Chekov, bright-eyed and eager with a Russian accent thick as borscht.  Simon Pegg is Scotty, the Enterprise’s engineer.  I didn’t get too much of a nostalgic feeling from Pegg, more like he was playing an entirely new character with a broad Scots accent.  Still, it’s Simon Pegg and that’s usually good for a laugh, regardless.  Eric Bana proves that even bald and in funny face makeup, he’s still stunning as the twisted Romulan, Nero; capturing the wounded Shakespearian gravity of the vengeful alien survivor.  The other big joy in the cast was Karl Urban as a younger Leonard “Bones” McCoy ( - Yes, we find out how he got the nickname.).  Urban is pitch-perfect and utterly delightful as the acerbic, high-strung ship’s physician.  Through every scene of the good doctor’s increasing exasperation, I kept staring hard at Urban and wondering if there wasn’t some of DeForest Kelley’s DNA in him somewhere.

Star Trek does a remarkable job hitting all the right notes with die-hard Trekkies and engaging those who’ve never heard of a tribble.  Is it as good as last year’s Iron Man or Dark Knight?  No; it’s not nearly as clever and the plot weaknesses are too glaring.  Is it a good, fun time that delivers exactly what it should and then some?  Oh yeah.  The bar for the blockbusters of summer 2009 has been set very high.

Welcome home, J.J, most is forgiven.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 7th 2009

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Paramount Pictures)

 

 

 

 

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