FILMS IN REVIEW: Star Trek (2009)

Like any good nerd, I had my doubts regarding the new Star Trek. Taking a “younger” approach to a familiar franchise immediately brought back memories of the abortive “Terminator 3: Arnold Goes to Dawson’s Creek”. By the time I paid for my ticket, I had come to expect that it might not be very good, and I ought to just reconcile myself to sitting through a piece of junk.

Wrong! Star Trek is a modern wonder of film-making. The film sits upon a foundation of solid acting, slam-bang action, and a story that engages the viewer well, as long as they don’t scratch the surface too deeply. It is nearly perfect science fiction, and certainly perfect Trek.

Defying expectations, Chris Pine turns in a fresh, unexpectedly good performance as Captain Kirk in-the-making, adding much of his own to the role while including just enough touching homage for the diehard fans. At his right hand, Zachary Quinto convincing uses Spock’s youth to portray a man filled with tumult, not yet a master of his emotions. Zoe Saldana as Uhura floods the decks with sex-appeal yet keeps her character a strong woman, clearly a master of her profession and a match to any man. The rest of the gang, including “Shaun of the Dead” star Simon Pegg, bolster the film well with charm, familiarity, and welcome humor.

The films shortcomings are modest and forgivable. The baddie, a gloriously evil Eric Bana, possesses a weapon that doesn’t quite make sense, but is nonetheless visually breathtaking. By injecting a heretofore unknown substance into a planet’s core, the planet almost immediately turns into a “black hole”. But instead of a bolus of infinite density, this hole is more of a Star-gate, allowing plot points to conveniently move from one region of Space-time to another. Although science goes politely out of the universe, the film remarkably manages to keeps its attractive gravity, compelling the audience forward with nary a stutter.

Also in the area of productions design, the director Abrams makes some quirky moves here and there. For interiors he favors massive, open spaces without visible walls, suggesting something out of a Peter Greenaway or Fellini film. Although that aesthetic works well on swampy alien ships, the poor Enterprise ends up looking a bit undone. The engine room, formerly a hi-tech temple in previous outings, becomes in his vision looking rather like a giant brewery. Steam pipes and massive vats mingle with the occasional flimsy-looking glass control panel here and there. However, Abrams wisely utilizes these playgrounds well for both action and wonderful gags.

These are minor niggles. The ultimate look of the film is great, finally giving the Star Trek world back plenty of big-budget, blow-your-mind special effects and sets. That, joined with reassuring futurism and likeable characters, is what I came for and received in buckets.

3 out of 4 stars.


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