Movie review: Boldly go to this new 'Star Trek'

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 11, 2009 - 10:49 PM

This fresh origins story isn't your dad's -- or William Shatner's -- "Star Trek."

You don't expect to find much fresh air in outer space, but that's exactly what the reboot of "Star Trek" brings to the musty franchise.

The film finds compelling new angles on iconic science fiction characters, thanks to spot-on casting and a young, sexy "Abercrombie & Trek" vibe. Faithful to the outlines of the classic TV series yet original, this revitalized, reimagined "Trek" is a gift to nerds and newbies alike. It's engagingly acted, intelligently scripted and confidently directed. Put it alongside "Casino Royale" and "Batman Begins" as a fresh start that gets almost everything right.

Take the command deck of the USS Enterprise. It's the same, yet different. Kirk, Spock, Sulu and Chekov sit in the same relation to each other on the bridge, but the controls, instruments and displays have a cool, elegant new design. Old "Trek" was a PC; this is definitely a Mac.

The cinematography and special effects have evolved. Space scenes feature lens flares and nebulas that look stunningly authentic, and the gorgeous landscapes on rocky Vulcan and a remote ice planet would be at home in a coffee-table book.

The first mission of the Enterprise is to neutralize a time-traveling Romulan craft boasting unheard-of weaponry. That's the basic setup of every "Star Trek" movie, and it's the film's weakest link. Eric Bana is all right as the villainous Nero, who has his reasons. And there are nods to contemporary geopolitics that will please "Battlestar Galactica" fans. But the spectacular space battles are beside the point. This is really the story of how the Enterprise crew meets, hammers out its differences and becomes a team, and the telling is pure bliss.

After a scene-setting space battle that opens the story at warp speed, we meet young Kirk, a juvenile delinquent before he enters his teens. He's joyriding in a 300-year-old Corvette, blasting the Beastie Boys, anachronisms that make him easy to relate to. Chris Pine's Kirk contrasts nicely with the original. He's a hellion and a cock-of-the-walk wiseguy who joins the service as an alternative to doing jail time. He grows in the discipline of the Starfleet Academy, but he's still too impulsive to make the grade as a space officer. It takes real skullduggery to get him aboard the Enterprise. He starts out with more than a dash of "Futurama's" chauvinist, swashbuckling Zapp Brannigan, matures in a crisis and becomes an inspiring leader.

The script is ingenious in setting hurdles for the characters and then leaping them. It's delightful how deftly the film touches on and twists the standard ingredients of "Trek" lore, how it uses our familiarity for surprises and graceful storytelling shorthand. You will appreciate it if you are a casual fan, and the more "Trek" lore you know, the more your admiration will grow.

Yes, the red-suited member of the landing party is a goner, but never has his demise been so swift and darkly funny. Of course young Spock's logical Vulcan side and his human emotions are at war, but Zachary Quinto's tilt is far warmer than Leonard Nimoy's. Uhuru (Zoe Saldana) develops a romantic attachment to a shipmate, but not the one you expected. Before you accuse the filmmakers of rewriting history, understand they anticipated your objections and used a classic science fiction idea to answer them.

With the exception of Winona Ryder, wooden and unpersuasively aged as Spock's human mother, the cast is flawless. Simon Pegg is a superb Scotty, the kind of gregarious bloke you'd hope to sit next to in a pub, but that's no surprise. Who suspected that Karl Urban, a specialist in dark drama, would make such a delightfully grumpy "Bones" McCoy? How can you hear him call Spock a "green-blooded hobgoblin" and not smile? John Cho's Sulu, Bruce Greenwood's Pike, Anton Yelchin's Chekov -- all honor the characters' creators but lift the roles to a new level.

The quality that has kept audiences revisiting Gene Roddenberry's universe for more than 40 years is the camaraderie between his characters, and this crew has it in spades. When the film ends, you miss them. After this exhilarating new start, "Trek" is guaranteed to live long and prosper.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

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