Star Trek

Facing tremendous challenges in reinvigorating the artistically stagnant franchise of “Star Trek,” the visionary and gifted J.J. Abrams has responded with a satisfying and enjoyable picture, which among other things impresses in energy, vigor, and speed.

As Christopher Nolan realized while trying to do the same in “Batman Begins,” origin stories are tough to pull off.  Indeed, in his capacities as producer and director Abrams was expected to create magic, make a movie that will be enjoyable on its own terms and thus recruit a new generation of fans, revitalize the dwindling Paramount series (a cash machine for the studio for years) that will appeal to the old trekkies, and also suggests a potent vision for the future; after all, the film's ads promise is “The Future Begins.”  It's a pleasure to report that Abrams has succeeded in all of the above levels.

From a directing standpoint, Abrams’ new film is more impressive in every respect than his previous, the Tom Cruise actioner vehicle “M:I-III.” The best thing to be said about his “Star Trek” is that it's far superior to most chapters of the old series, particularly the last three or four.  The movie is not flawless, though. Overall, it's more proficiently directed and more striking in its technical orchestration than it is decently acted or scripted.

Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (also credited as producers) are smart, cool guys immersed in pop culture, as was evident in their previous collaboration “Transformers.”  Under the various pressures to deliver a tent pole picture, they have come up with a reasonably engaging plot, one that offers direct linkage to the old series as created by Gene Roddenberry and yet also indicates new beginnings and vision for the future. 

End result is a pleasing if not great picture, offering the kind of popcorn entertainment that's perfect summer fare in a way that “Iron Man” was last year. Clearly, Paramount has a big winner and should expect bonanza at the global box-office.

A new generation of actors, some of whom are bound to become stars, such as the handsomer Chris Pine, who looks and acts like the young Brad Pitt, are parading in the film.  They are joined by more experienced pros, such as the Aussie Eric Bana, who is hardly recognizable as the nemesis Nero, and Winona Ryder, who's unmistakably identifiable as Amanda Grayson.  Then there are real vets like Leonard Nimoy, the iconic actor who plays Spock Prime, who's still intimately associated with the old series.

In bravura, breathtaking 11-minute pre-credits sequence, we witness Kirk's mother Winona (Jennifer Morriosn) go into labor and being rushed into the hospital.  She is communicating with her husband George (Chris Hemsworth), who knows he won't be there when their child is born.  After a brief conversation, they give their boy the long, full name of James Tiberius Kirk.  We also get to know Spoke's parents, and witness the death of his mother and other members of their clan. 

At the center of the new yarn is the maiden voyage of a young crew onboard the ultra-sophisticated starship ever created, the U.S.S. Enterprise.  As scripted, the journey taken may be too carefully divided into chapters of character introductions, dialogue-driven scene peppered with humor, acts of cosmic peril, real danger and death, and thrilling action set pieces. 

The new recruits must find a way to stop an evil being whose commitment to vengeance threatens mankind.  Specifically, the fate of the galaxy rests on the shoulders of two seemingly bitter rivals.  James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), a delinquent, thrill-seeking Iowa farm boy, and Spock (Zachary Quinto), who was raised in a logic driven society that rejects emotions and feelings of any kind.

Simple title cards, such as “Three Years Later,” or “Vulcan” are useful in indicating changes in time and place.  The first, more relaxed dialogue-driven scene finds Kirk and Spock as red-uniformed youngsters at the Starfleet Academy, where they immediately clash.

Ideologically speaking, once again we are subjected to the eternal clash in American movies between instincts (dictates of the heart) and calm reason (commanded by the mind). One of the film's key phrases and thematic motifs is to what extent a character becomes or considers himself emotionally compromised, thus unable to command and control. 

Don't get alarmed. The language of the text is anachronistic, perhaps deliberately and necessarily. Some sentences in the dialogue suggest campy, all-too-knowing, post-modern humor, whereas others are more straightforward and conventional, serving the necessary function of providing a connection to previous episodes, subplot, and characters.  There's a pleasure of recognition to be had while watching this “Star Trek,” and aficionados of the old series will get a kick trying to figure out the various references and allusions made, some more explicitly than others.

Freudian psychology defines the two boys, both outsiders albeit in different ways.  Kirk runs wild after his father dies on the Starship Kelvin. Vulcan Spock (Quinto) is also an outsider because of ancestry, on both his father's and mother's side (his mother is human).  Will the outsiders become insiders?

For a while, Kirk and Spock play musical chairs, literally and figuratively.  There's a huge black armchair at the center of the ship, and both Kirk and Spock get to sit on it and command—at least for a while.  We all know it's only a matter of time for the two boys (and they are boys who need to become—and will become–“real men”) to join forces and become powerful partners.

Two weaknesses need to be pointed out.  First, the plot is a bit messy, sort of a hodge-podge, with rough transitions between the acts.  Dramatically, one of the weakest sequences is set on the ice planet Delta Vega, where Kirk finds himself in exile, in total isolation surrounded by snow glaciers and chased by strangely, cheesey-looking animals (out of “Jurassic Park” and horror movie land).  It's here that he gets to meet Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy, truly aged) and get some lessons of mythical history (and the series' heritage).  In a future essay, I'll dissect the plot from a structural and semiological perspectives, but for now suffice is to say that the film's time-travel scneatrio is a bit troubled. 

Second, the special sound and visual effects, striking as they are, are sometimes not well integrated into the narrative, serving as a spectacle of excess of images, sounds, and music, which often soars to melodramatic heights. 

Inevitably, some characters are more fully drawn than others, and the actors who play them rise and fall, accordingly.  Showing strong dramatic potential, Zachary Quinto gives a dominant performance as the piercing, often severe Spock, who become humanized when he falls for a real woman and begins to feel, thus compromising his ethos.

Bound to become a leading man and major star, Chris Pine is more than adequate and nasty rumors on the Internet about his acting chops are unsubstantiated.  To be fair, his acting is a bit stiff, but considering the dialogue he's given–largely one-liners, some of which quite funny, others just displaying the kind of arrogant cockiness that the young Tom Cruise had–he acquits himself honorably.  Young female viewers will find Pine, who walks around in sexy outfits, most appealing.  He has the looks, the figure, and the charisma of a romantic lead, very much in the mold of the young Brad Pitt.  It's therefore too bad that his make-up and hair color are inconsistent, perhaps a result of the prolonged production process. 

Most of the male supporting cast is rather good. Karl Urban and Anton Yelchin have good moments as the gruff Leonard “Bones” McCoy and the jolly heavy-accented Russian Chekov, respectively.  The always reliable Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood nails the part of the stoic, always-in-control Caprain Pike, and so does the Aussie thesp Eric Bana, who disappears completely into the role of the wounded, vengeful Nero, striking strongly both physically and emotionally in the saga's latter chapters.

Though there are three or four women in the cast, all the female characters are underwritten and have all too-brief scenes.  This shortcoming  may explain why the performances of Winona Ryder and of Zoe Saldana, a sexy actress who plays the love interest (and the woman in between), are underwhelming.

Dosages of healthy and campy humor are interspersed throughout the proceedings, as in the scene in which Leonard “Bones” McCoy smuggles the academically suspended Kirk onto Captain Pike’s U.S.S. Enterprise as a medical case by injecting into him vaccines and smacking him around.

As far as prequels are concerned, and the numbers of these sub-generic items are growing, “Star Trek” is more entertaining films than the three prequels of Star Wars” and those of “Batman.”  Nonetheless, if the film lacks the resonance of Nolan's “The Dark Knight,” it is not because it lacks a scary character like the Joker and a brilliant actor of Heath Ledger's caliber–which it does–but largely because of its conscious avoidance of broader political concerns.

But give credit where it's due: Abrams has not only rescued the old Star Trek franchise from artistic stagnation artistic and commercial demise, but also from sinking into insignificance as an artificial pop culture pheonom.  Abrams' “Star Trek” is a movie for “Here and Now!” one that unlike Spielberg's retro “Indiana Jones” last year, is truly cool, reflecting state-of-the-art effects and the zeitgeist as far as technology and conceptions of time and space are concerned.

I will not be surprised if “Star Trek” becomes a cult movie, with repeat viewing, among younger audiences.  With the exception of the “Bourne” franchise, particularly the chapters helmed by Paul Greengrass, you'll be hard-pressed to find an American picture which moves more swiftly, determined to entertain viewers who like their entertainment to be breezy, matching the speed with which they use and manipulate all of their technical accessories.

Last but not least, the running time of the picture should be singled out, just over two hours (126 minutes to be exact), way below what's has become the norm of American actioners, including summer blockbusters.


James Tiberius Kirk – Chris Pine
Spock – Zachary Quinto
Spock Prime – Leonard Nimoy
Capt. Nero – Eric Bana
Capt. Christopher PikeBruce Greenwood
Leonard “Bones” McCoy – Karl Urban
Uhura – Zoe Saldana
Montgomery “Scotty” Scott – Simon Pegg
Sulu – John Cho
Chekov – Anton Yelchin
Sarek – Ben Cross
Amanda Grayson – Winona Ryder
George Kirk – Chris Hemsworth
Winona Kirk – Jennifer Morrison
Gaila – Rachel Nichols
Capt. Robau – Faran Tahir
Ayel – Clifton Collins Jr.


A Paramount release of a Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment presentation of a Bad Robot production.
Produced by J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof.
Executive producers, Bryan Burk, Jeffrey Chernov, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman.
Co-producer, David Witz. Directed by J.J. Abrams.
Screenplay, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry.
Camera, Dan Mindel.
Editors, Mary Jo Markey, Maryann Brandon.
Music, Michael Giacchino.
Production designer, Scott Chambliss; supervising art director, Keith P. Cunningham; art directors, Curt Beech, Dennis Bradford, Luke Freeborn, Beat Frutiger, Gary Kosko; set designers, C. Scott Baker, Kevin Cross, Andrea Dopaso, Scott Herbertson, Joseph Hiura, Billy Hunter, Dawn Brown Manser, Harry Otto, Anne Porter, Andrew Reeder, Jane Wuu; set decorator, Karen Manthey.
Costume designer, Michael Kaplan.
Sound, Peter J. Devlin; sound designers, Ann Scibelli, Tim Walston, Harry Cohen, Scott Gershin, Geoff Rubay; supervising sound editors, Mark Stoeckinger, Alan Rankin; re-recording mixers, Paul Massey, Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson, David Giammarco.
Visual effects and animation, Industrial Light & Magic.
Visual effects supervisor, Roger Guyett; ILM visual effects supervisor, Russell Earl; special effects supervisor, Burt Dalton.
Stunt coordinator, Joey Box; fight choreographer, Robert Alonzo. Associate producer, David Baronoff,
Assistant director, Tommy Gormley.
Second unit director, Roger Guyett; second unit camera, Robert Bruce McCleery.
Casting, April Webster, Alyssa Weisberg.

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runing Time: 126 Minutes