Star Trek still alive and prospering in updated and stylish prequel
Star Trek is back, in more ways than one. Seven years after the dismal 10th movie, Star Trek: Nemesis—following the equally dismal ninth, Star Trek: Insurrection—the sci-fi franchise has gotten a kick-start that should propel it to new quadrants.
The architect of the re-launch is J.J. Abrams, the creative force behind Alias, Lost and Fringe and the director of Mission: Impossible III. Here, he’s director/producer, working with longtime collaborators (i.e. producing partner Damon Lindelof, writer/producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman), and the result is a film appealing to Trekkers and newbies alike.
It’s billed as a reboot, so even though it’s essentially a prequel, it has the license to take liberties. It takes but a few, however—on relatively minor points that only a stickler would notice. Surprisingly, Star Trek is true not only to the TV series (plural) but also the motion pictures (even Star Trek: The Motion Picture … but fortunately not too true to that dense opus). Differences can be rationalized within the confines of the story.
Abrams’ movie opens with a climactic battle between an early Federation starship and a mammoth vessel captained by an angry alien named Nero (played by Eric Bana, almost unrecognizable from Hulk, Troy or Munich). After Nero kills his Starfleet counterpart, a young officer with a wife in labor takes command and buys time—with his life—for the crew and loved ones to escape.
That officer: George Kirk. His newborn son: James Tiberius Kirk. Aha!
Turns out the alien is a Romulan, an enemy well-established in Trek lore. He’s got an axe to grind with Mr. Spock, the venerable Vulcan, who isn’t even around at that particular star date. Aha!
This point—plus the fact that Spock is played by both the role’s originator, Leonard Nimoy, and Heroes’ Zachary Quinto—foreshadows the use of a been-there/done-that plot device: alternate timelines.
Discrepancies? Seemingly wiped away. (Fortunately, no one uses the phrase “space-time continuum,” or I’d have docked the film another star.)
While a true prequel devoid of such a gimmick would have been preferable, this movie works. It’s fast and fun, tense and humorous, new and nostalgic—often all at the same time. Chris Pine makes as great a young Capt. Kirk as Quinto makes a great young (relatively speaking) Mr. Spock, and Karl Urban is spot-on as Doctor McCoy. The rest of the crew—Sulu, Scotty, Uhura—get similarly smart reintroductions.
Is this the best Trek ever? No. But it’s pretty good, and after the flops that nearly proved the franchise’s undoing, it’s a welcome addition to the pantheon.