There are certain lines from the endless collection of great films from the last 80 years that, when uttered, invoke strong feelings and memories of, “the first time I saw…” While certain films define generations, these films, and these lines, transcend generations, becoming fixtures of history instead of just the current pop culture. They are the blockbusters, the masterpieces, and the cult classics that tend to embed themselves in our minds. Darth Vader’s often misquoted, “I am your father” brings forth a whole litany of tremendous film achievements and fond memories of a galaxy far, far away. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” reminds many of us of the sheer terror of the ocean and how much damage a 20 foot great white shark can do. The words, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’” serve not only as a pretty solid motto for life in general but also as memento of the, well, redemption that Red and Andy found while imprisoned at “Shawshank.” In the same way, it is impossible to hear the words, “Space, the final frontier…” without thinking of the crew of the USS Enterprise and their exploits.
Recently the Star Trek franchise has been in dire straits. No one seemed to care about the last two films and the overexpansion of the TV show (are you listening “C.S.I.” creators?) ran any ingenuity the show had into the ground. The final edition of Star Trek (“Enterprise”) went off the air in 2005 with hardly a whisper. The once vibrant powerhouse has been relegated to a fond memory to be relived only through DVDs and syndication.
Enter J.J. Abrams. With the success of the TV show, “Lost,” which he created and writes for, Abrams has fast become one of the biggest names in Hollywood. His work with “Mission Impossible III” was quietly heralded and gave that franchise a bit of legitimacy it had lost. His eye for talent is notorious and he generally manages to get the absolute most out of unknown actors in a way that M. Night Shyamalan dreams about. Abrams initially wasn’t interested in this project but was inevitably talked into and the franchise as a whole is much better for it.
“Star Trek” is the telling of how the original crew of the Enterprise (Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Sulu, et al) came together. This is a new angle as the original series never tackled this material, instead just giving basic background information throughout. Because of this, Abrams and his team were allowed to completely make it their own, whereas previous editions of the show and the movies were given a more rigid path to take. Abrams was essentially given the keys to the car and told to take it wherever it pleased him to go. And go he did!
From the opening sequence, “Star Trek” moves a mile a minute, pausing between explosions for genius writing and character building. This film falls directly in line with the new brand of action movie (see: “Iron Man”) that substitutes one liners and terrible dialogue with actual plot points, however far fetched, and phenomenal discourse. The crew of the USS Enterprise is bright and witty and they plan to display it at every opportunity. Mix in a surprise appearance by one of the original cast, a Beastie Boys soundtrack cut, and a “blink and you’ll miss it” glimpse of a tribble and what you have is, without question, the best Star Trek film to date.
Casting wise, the decisions made here are near perfect. Each actor brings a piece of himself to the character he or she plays while channeling the original cast member and paying homage to those cult heroes. Chris Pine takes on the vaunted role of Captain James Tiberius Kirk with brilliant success. He’s a bit less dramatic than William Shatner ever was but come on, even the biggest Shatner fan has to admit that the film is better for that. Zachary Quinto, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin play Spock, Sulu, and Checkov, respectively, give admirable performances. Simon Pegg is provides more direct jokes than James Doohan ever did as Montgomery Scott but he manages to steal the scene almost every time he makes an appearance. (Expect the Scotty character to take a much larger role in future Star Trek films.) Karl Urban in particular gives a spot on interpretation on Bones McCoy but for the most part, the film doesn’t allow itself to become a mere replica of its predecessors. And therein lies the true genius of the movie. Whatever hardcore Trekkies want to say, there is no mistaking that this film stays in keeping with the original series and films. The ships are bigger, the action more intense, and the jokes less hammy (and therefore funnier), but the backbone of the show is there.
This is only the beginning for the new branch of the “Star Trek” franchise and in a sheer stroke of genius, certain plot points have given Abrams an immense freedom to do what he wants and go wherever he feels the Enterprise should go. Regardless of the future, “Star Trek” is joyous and straight-up FUN. Even in the moments that drop below spectacular action and fall into typical sci-fi potholes, the audience cannot help but be entertained and they are more than rewarded for their patience as the film continues to develop. There is an adventurous beckoning inherent to the Star Trek brand and this film brings that spirit in a fresh new form. The cast, the direction, the style, cry out, asking you to take part in “the voyages of the Starship Enterprise” as they “boldly go where no one has gone before.” This film is so good that I almost hate it because it is EXACTLY what all Star Wars fans wish Episodes 1 through 3 had been. Whether a hardened Star Trek fan or not, I would dare just about anyone to see “Star Trek” and not be completely entertained.