My history with the JJ Abrams relaunch of my beloved Star Trek is long and only slightly hypocritical. (Okay, I’m a massive hypocrite). I was a against it. I was angry. I was Comic Book Guy and my Geek rage would not be silenced. More like Star Wars? Screw you! He wasn’t a fan of Star Trek? Heresy! Written by the Transformers dudes? Hab SoSlI’ Quch! I’d have none of it. Why? It’s just Star Trek. It’s not like your identity as a human is on the line. Just Star Trek? Just?! Here’s the thing, Trek is a part of my personal identity, healthy or not. I was born into a Trek house and unlike many kids that rebel against their parents likes, I wholly embraced Star Trek. I knew all the original series episode titles before I knew my multiplication tables. I took drafting courses because I wanted to design the Enterprise. I got into my first fight in Junior High School because someone said Captain Kirk was gay. (I know, that doesn’t matter now, but when you’re a 12-year old Geek with massive insecurities; and surrounded by hicks, it matters). I got Geek Outed on the regional news when a camera caught me flashing the Live Long and Prosper salute whilst screaming “Yeah! Star Trek!” for my 16th birthday. I still have an Orion Girl fetish. Remake my beloved Star Trek? To hell with that!
Then something happened.
Abrams started releasing images and videos from his version of Star Trek. They looked good and they felt “right”. Sure, I wasn’t sold on the whole time travel thing. (Just because it is Star Trek doesn’t mean you have to friggen travel through time, curse you legacy of Berman)! Still, my anger started to subside. Then the casting happened, each actor a great fit for the character, save Chris Pine. I wasn’t sure on that one. Months went by, more and more information flooding your friendly neighborhood Geek’s inbox. What the hell was happening? What was that feeling? Wait, was I becoming excited? This was Star Trek from the Felicity and Mission Impossible III guy. Then Nimoy graced the screen for a short 3 seconds at the end of a trailer. Something snapped. I was Captain Kirk and Spock was telling me why I should accept my destiny and take command, face my Khan. (That might be the geekiest line I’ve ever written). Well, one does not argue with Mr. Spock, as it is an exercise in futility. I was hooked. Star Trek was coming back and it was coming back strong. After months and months, the film arrived. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I tossed and turned in bed all night long, sleep eluding me. (I realize this review has been 100% navel gazing, too bad, this is Star Trek and I can’t avoid an emotional review, once I get to it).
The lights went down. The Paramount and Bad Robot logos beamed in and out. No credits. Just the USS Kelvin facing an unknown ship in the grandest of Star Trek tradition. As the trailers revealed, this is where Kirk and Spock’s destiny are set in stone and chain of events that leads to legend begins. To say this opening scene felt epic would be a disservice. This is the Star Trek we all knew existed, but Paramount never gave the budget to produce. The action is crisp and tense. The emotions are pure. The humanity is evident. This is Star Trek. But, this is only the opening 5 minutes. Still plenty of time to get it wrong. Still plenty of time to make massive cinematic mistakes and hammer in that final nail Trek naysayers have wanted for years. Did it happen? Did JJ Abrams and Paramount provide the death knell for a franchise pushing half a century?
Hell no! Indeed, I’d say Star Trek is stronger than ever and once you watch the film, you will agree.
Here begins the official review and I don’t care that I’ll be tagged as a plant or biased fanboy. This is Star Trek perfected. JJ Abrams, along with the cast and crew present a nearly perfect film. Miraculously, Abrams made a film that not only targets and entertains everyone, but also provides a respectful smile to the Trekkies that have been there since day one.
The casting and performances are spot on. Karl Urban makes the perfect D. Leonard H. McCoy. This is the simple country doctor in the stars that we all know and love. Simon Pegg, though low on the screen time, brings the humor and brilliance of Montgomery Scott. There is a reason Scotty has some of the most memorable lines in Trekdom, and Pegg nails each one while making it his own. John Cho and Anton Yelchin as Sulu and Chekov fit their roles with skill. Kudos to the writing team of Orci and Kurtzman (a phrase I never though I’d write). They understood both Chekov and Sulu were more than “the guys driving the Enterprise” as was their place in all the previous Star Trek films. Little nuances merely hinted at within the original series are given strong screen time.Does learning that Chekov is also a skilled stellar cartographer distract the Trek virgins? Not at all and we fans get to nod and think “finally”.
Zoe Saldana displays strength, intelligence, and grace that we fans have come to expect from space’s first lady. Her Uhura is sharp and quick, but with an all too human side; and the new addition to her character is something I am very much looking forward to. (No, I won’t say, this is spoiler free friends). Zachary Quinto is Spock, pure and simple. As one that isn’t a big follower of Heroes, I can’t say if he’s channeling Sylar. What I can say is playing a younger Spock, one not in complete control of his emotions is no small task. A task Quinto performs perfectly. Then we have Chris Pine, the lone actor that no one was sold on from day one. Who is this pretty boy sitting in the center seat? I’ll tell you who he is. He is Captain James Tiberius Kirk and don’t you forget it! This is Kirk distilled to his core element. Brilliant. Brash. Smooth. Human. Pine makes Kirk his own and yet never once do you think “this isn’t my Captain Kirk”. Because against all odds, Pine’s performance as Captain Kirk is my Kirk. As were all the characters in this film. Bones, Spock, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, and Scotty. They are all there, in their iconic glory.
These characters, like so few in literature, have transcended the actors who portrayed them. They are part of the collective modern mythology. Their personalities reflecting something within all of us. Passion. Logic. Self-sacrifice. Love. Hate. Abrams clearly understood this fact when shooting Star Trek. These are characters that will endure long after we are gone. Stay true to the icon and you stay true to Star Trek.
As to the plot itself. Well, it is a Star Trek film, there are certain elements that must happen. Space anomalies? Check. Galaxy at stake? Check. Enterprise only ship able to help? Big check on that one. Still, for as many times as we’ve seen one variation or another on this plot, Star Trek keeps it fresh. Abrams knows exactly just how long to linger on a shot or element, and just you start to think about questioning the current path; he pulls you another direction. Yes, this is an origin story. One that many fans felt was unnecessary. Well folks, when Spock Prime (played by the venerable Leonard Nimoy, and whose first scene did make me tear up) enters the story, all bets are off. This is no longer the Star Trek history you’ve come to memorize. Characters are changed forever. Paths altered. No one and nothing is safe in this new Star Trek. And let me tell you, forget everything you know about Trek canon. The JJ Abrams Star Trek is an exciting universe where anything can and will happen.
A few months back Abrams made a comment that his Star Trek would be more like Star Wars. A comment that made my Trekkie blood boil. Dammit Jim, Star Trek was never supposed to be like Star Wars. I love Star Wars, but it had no place in my cerebral and morality laden Star Trek. Well Trekkies, relax. This is still Star Trek, but with an eye to ILM style effects and design. Again, this is Star Trek with an actual budget and feeling not seen since The Motion Picture. (Yes, TMP flick is boring but boy is it pretty). This Star Trek is pretty and not at all boring. You feel every torpedo hit. Phasers crackle the air all around you. Warp speed pulls your imagination right along with the Enterprise. Speaking of which, let me spend a moment to write about one of the most important characters in Star Trek. The USS Enterprise, NCC-1701. If there is another vessel in popular culture more recognizable, I don’t know what it is. (Yes, I place it over ships from Star Wars). She is sleek, sexy, modern, and yet retains that classic 1960s feel we Trekkies will forever love. Sure, the bridge looks extremely high tech now, but that had to happen. Even a “prequel” such as Star Trek needs to bend to modernism. Audiences, even Trekkies, won’t buy a craft from the 23rd century having bulky knobs and buttons. If my 2009 phone has a touch screen, you can bet an interstellar craft made 200 years from now will. Still, the production designers kept an eye on Trek tradition. The Enterprise uses a throttle to increase speed and the engine room is still littered with bizarre transistor ducts and Jefferies Tubes. Like I keep saying over and over again, this is the Star Trek for everyone.
When the Enterprise, crew at their stations, Warps toward the Final Frontier and Michael Giacchino’s excellent score kicks in, I was beyond elated. All my childhood memories came flooding back. This was the Star Trek that I grew up with, the Star Trek that did help make me the man I am today. This is the Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry envisioned all those years ago. The Star Trek that very few episodes and even less films rose to aspire. This is City on the Edge of Forever, Inner Light, Far Beyond the Stars, and The Wrath of Khan. This is the Star Trek that made me sneak out of bed at 3am and sit inches from the television just to watch one more episode.
The Star Trek that promised me humanity survives. That we rise above our petty differences. Where we all go where no one has gone before.
Star Trek opens May 8th. Those in Portland, OR, look for me at the Roseway Theater!
Those wanting a review with a little more emotional detachment, click HERE for Bobby (Spock) Roberts Star Trek review.