Space Balls

J.J. Abrams takes 'Star Trek' and polishes it for a new generation, creating a daring reboot of a culture fixture

by Tim Plant
Published on May 7, 2009, 12:00am | Comments

J.J. Abrams may not be boldly going where no man has gone before, but he's boldly doing what few have done before: creating a daring, kick-ass reboot of a cultural fixture.

When discussing Star Trek, it's important to announce one's level of Trekker-ness. On the scale of ''I was too busy getting laid in high school for Star Trek'' to ''Trekker Conventions Rock,'' I'm closer to the ''Too busy'' side at ''Watching it was fun when there was nothing else to do.'' In other words, I can get some of the inside jokes, but definitely not all of them. But one doesn't need to get all of them to enjoy Abrams' vision of the USS Enterprise.

Star Trek: Quinto and Pine
Star Trek: Quinto and Pine

In starting over, Abrams goes all the way back to the birth of James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine). It's an opening scene that equally incites tears and goosebumps. And it rapidly establishes that Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are not going to be bound to any rule or previously established timeline. There are going to be changes, some of them big. Explanations are provided for some of the changes, but there is definitely a touch of special J.J. magic in the project.

After the fantastic set-up, Abrams moves to introduce all the other familiar starship crewmembers: Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Sulu (John Cho), and finally Scotty (Simon Pegg). But Star Trek is really about Kirk and Spock -- the original bromance. From the moment they meet, during the famed Kobayashi Maru test, to when they realize they need each other, watching them meld into a unified duo is a wonderful voyage.

The casting of the crew is perfect, but Pine and Quinto are quintessentially Kirk and Spock. They bring enough of the original characters to the parts to quell concerns that they're going to ruin the legacy, but each takes control enough to make the role his own. Quinto, who has the challenge of appearing along side Spock's originator, Leonard Nimoy, performs flawlessly. It's clear why he was the logical choice.

Also perfect is how Nimoy's appearance is incorporated into the film, a much larger and central role than just a cameo. In fact, he seems to get more actual screen time than Urban and Pegg.

Aside from some wonky science-fiction plot lines, which are more Lost than Star Trek, Orci and Kurtzman's script is fairly straightforward. And this is the biggest tribble -- er, quibble -- to take with the film. There is just enough to establish the Enterprise's crew and place them in their roles, but otherwise villainous Romulan Nero (Eric Bana) is hardly the most fearsome enemy Kirk will have to face. The part is wasted on Bana, who is cloaked behind facial tattoos and never really achieves menacing proportions. As a nemesis, Nero is definitely just a starter for Kirk and his crew. He's a training wheel.

STAR TREK
starstarstarstar
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto
126 Minutes
Rated PG-13
Opens May 8
Area Theaters

The main challenge with any ''origin'' film is the known element of who's going to survive and who's a "red-shirt" doomed to die a quick death. What overcomes this issue is the quality of the direction. Except for a pseudo-The Empire Strikes Back catwalk fight, the action scenes are muscular and well-choreographed. Yes, you know Kirk will ultimately win, but you're glued to the edge of your seat nonetheless.

Without doubt, Star Trek succeeds because it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's part homage, part tongue in cheek. Spock can expound on the virtues of logic just as easily Kirk can respond with ''bullshit.'' That's not to say the uncomplicated plot is fluffy; there are cataclysmic, life-altering events that take place, and the crew faces dire consequences. But the humor keeps pace with the action and moves the whole enterprise forward at warp speed.

J.J. Abrams, who has proven himself a Hollywood powerhouse through television hits like Lost and Alias and films like Cloverfield, has once again succeeded. He's taken Star Trek, equally beloved and mocked, dusted it off, and polished it for a new generation. In his hands, it's clear that Star Trek is going to live long and prosper.