Much of science fiction, at its heart, is about adolescence, whether it’s focusing on the transformation of a person, a culture, or aliens. It’s about testing limits and finding one’s place in the world, even if one’s world is as large as the universe. The best science fiction, however, isn’t just about adventure; it’s about capturing a sense of wonder. It’s about the fantastic, the awe in discovering something new. It’s about transcendence.
How fitting, then, that director J.J. Abrams (Mission Impossible III, Alias, Lost), returns the sagging Star Trek franchise to its boisterous youth.
Launching at breakneck speed, the film opens amidst the chaos of a space battle, which is quickly followed by the most poignant moment in the movie, the birth of James Tiberius Kirk. Filmgoers are then whisked to the childhoods of Kirk and Spock on their respective planets of Earth and Vulcan, where each encounters a defining moment.
Never at a lull, the film leaps forward to Star Fleet Academy, where we begin to meet the future crew of the Enterprise. One by one, cast members appear, and each is superb. The actors capture the essence of their original TV counterparts, occasionally, with uncanny accuracy.
Chris Pine portrays a brash, intelligent Kirk. He exudes the charm and bravado of William Shatner’s Kirk without resorting to imitation that could have slipped into parody.
Zachary Quinto adds gravitas to Spock’s struggles over the duality of his part human, part vulcan nature. His performance is both visceral and intellectual; it resonates throughout the film.
Zoë Saldana’s Uhura is more than capable of handling a flirtatious Kirk. She’s quick-witted, perceptive, and self-assured.
Karl Urban as “Bones” McCoy exhibits the soul of a grouchy old country doctor. He delivers some of the movie’s best lines and gets the biggest laughs.
Eventually, Sulu, Chekov, and scene-stealing Scotty, are all on board, each delivering signature lines. Chekov warns of “enemy wessels.” McCoy proclaims he’s “a doctor, not a physicist.” And Scotty is “givin’ it all she’s got.” For fans, it’s like reminiscing with old friends.
Writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers), manage to introduce all of these characters with hardly a pause in the whirlwind of the narrative. And although the good-natured fun could have devolved into cheesy pandering, Abrams guides the film with a deft touch. He further rejuvenates the classic with energetic cinematography. Angles shift. Lights flare and shimmer. Shots glide, swoop, and soar. We see the familiar, but with a new perspective.
The only major problem with the film resides in the plot. Once again, a Trek film utilizes time travel and faux science. Once again, the Federation is confronted by a villain who seeks vengeance over the loss of his family. And yes, once again, the enemy possesses a device that can destroy planets. Been there, done that, redux, ad nauseam.
This time around, a Romulan named Nero, played by Eric Bana, looks to wreak havoc. While many of the past villains in Star Trek were grandiose caricatures, Bana delivers Nero with an intense minimalism punctuated by explosive moments of violence. Whether this works, however, is almost immaterial, because his machinations aren’t what the film is really about. Hull breaches in logic be damned, it’s warp speed ahead.
The film is about action, adventure, and most of all, friendship.
Big ideas, pseudo science, and morality lessons were all part of creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. But the original series was canceled in 1969, after just three seasons. Nonetheless, the relationships made Star Trek an enduring hit in rerun syndication. And the relationships are what make the new Star Trek so much fun. After all, adventure means nothing, if you don’t care about those at risk.
Abrams knows this. He anchored the film with the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy. In both story and film franchise, the original Spock’s presence provides a key to the past, and conversely, a bridge to the future. His deeply lined face is a map of experience. His presence is an assurance that a break with the past–a break with the familiar–will be all right. He bestows a blessing, of sorts. And when he meets his younger self on the screen, we know that things need never be the same. This is the liberation that is the new Star Trek.
Thus we witness a successful reboot of a classic, and, at last, a new use for time travel. But it is the filmmakers who employ it this time. Star Trek returns to the past and unlocks its future. Now, wonders are out there. Waiting.
New adventures with old friends are coming. Let’s hope that next time, we go boldly where no Star Trek has gone before.
William T. Vandemark can be found wandering the back roads of America in a pickup. He chases storms, photographs weather vanes, and plants curios captured in mason jars. He believes the world needs more buried treasure. His fiction can be found in Apex Magazine, Bits of the Dead, and Northern Haunts. http://www.williamtvandemark.com