After thirteen years, two dismal feature films, and a failed television series since the last quality installment (First Contact), the 43 year old Star Trek franchise received a much needed facelift. In Star Trek, director J.J. Abrams (Lost) re-imagines the venerable Trek universe with a movie that respects the past while blazing toward a workable future.
Abrams starts the frenetic film with the beginnings of the original series best known entities: James Tiberius Kirk and Spock. Kirk's dramatic birth, Spock's troubled youth on Vulcan as a half-human child, and their tumultuous meeting comes across as both familiar and troubling. To Trekkers, Abrams strays slightly from accepted, well-chronicled lore. Not to worry. These purposeful “errors” play into the overall tale successfully.
Christopher Pine as the young Kirk uses William Shatner's infamous portrayal as a suggestion rather than a guide. Much more than a parody or an homage, Pine's Kirk becomes his own man fueled with all of the bravado and magnetism fans expect.
Best known for his role as the villainous Sylar from Heroes, Zachary Quinto transcends as Spock. In both appearance and manner, he incorporates the best of Leonard Nimoy's original. Quinto taps the core of Spock's existence, using the inherent pathos of his dual heritage and his divided allegiance to track his character.
Kiwi Karl Urban excels as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. His comedic timing and delivery successfully recall the finest moments from the original Kirk-Spock-Bones triumvirate.
Unfortunately, Simon Pegg hams it up as Scotty, clowning his way through the role. Even worse, Abrams gives Scotty an unnecessary Jar Jar Binks-type sidekick played by the four foot, four inch Gurdeep Roy (aka Deep Roy), the only actor to appear in the Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Star Wars franchises. This utterly useless character serves only as an aggravating distraction.
Abrams lifts one of the few salvageable ideas from the disappointing Enterprise by expanding Uhura's role from a glorified switchboard operator in the original to that of a trained xenolinguist and communications engineer. Zoe Saldana assumes the role made famous by the dynamic Nichelle Nichols and although adequate, she lacks the charisma and screen presence of her co-stars.
Leonard Nimoy as the future Spock plays an integral part in the story. His ease and familiarity with the role enhanced rather than overshadowed Quinto's portrayal as the younger, less confident Spock. Kudos to screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman for not relying on flashbacks or a cliched framing sequence.
Several homages and nods to the Star Trek canon occur throughout. DS9- and Next Gen-inspired designs, a green-skinned woman, and the prominent role of Captain Pike will please longtime fans. Subtle audio effects and a fresh orchestral score serve the reboot perfectly.
A few story problems threaten to derail the movie. A plan to stop a destructive event that becomes a major plot point could have been conceived by a monkey. Considering their personalities and backgrounds, an unbelievable (even for this new Trek) romantic relationship develops between two major characters. Additionally, the elder Spock uncharacteristically reveals future knowledge for expediency's sake.
Ridicule for the decision to use product placement falls squarely on the heads of Paramount Studios and Abrams. The blatant and glaring appearance of two contemporary companies rings false in the non-commercial future espoused by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
Relentless action, excellent casting, and gorgeous effects overcome the shortcomings. Abrams manages a true rarity in creating a reboot that honors and embraces its predecessor in a movie that is sure to excite both hardcore and casual fans. One of the finest Trek films (better than First Contact but not quite Wrath of Khan), Star Trek successfully relaunches the franchise for the new millennium. May it live long and prosper.