"Trek" boldly goes

May 11, 2009, midnight | By David Tao | 13 years ago

A new cast and a new director brings this film forward

Every now and then, an age-old series will need a little something to keep it going. In 2005, Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan resurrected Batman. Daniel Craig electrified the screen in 2006's "Casino Royale," rocketing the 007 franchise back to the top of the box office. Now, J.J. Abrams and an ensemble cast of unknowns accelerate the 60s-era "Star Trek" franchise back to warp speed.

On the surface at least, this latest installment is textbook "Trek." Though the actors are younger and the special effects are marvelously state-of-the-art, the awkward techno-babble that made the franchise a haven for the socially inept are back in full force. The story, scripted by frequent Abrams collaborators Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci, centers on two characters, Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), two Starfleet officers stationed aboard the Starship Enterprise. Together, they must stop Nero (Eric Bana), an alien villain in a giant super-ship, from executing a campy, farfetched plan (something about time travel and red matter) to destroy Earth. In the process, they encounter a "lightning storm in space" and utilize a special method of transportation known as "trans-warp beaming."

Fortunately, the script is as much a story of its characters as it is a space opera. Kurtzman and Orci don't dwell on their overcomplicated plot devices, sprinkling the lingo conservatively to appease hardcore fans. Instead, action is the script's keyword. The film begins with a space battle, filled with beautifully-rendered visuals and fast-paced "camera"-work. Lasers strike the screen, decks explode and crew-members are hurled into vacuum. Abrams has seen fit to update sets, props and special effects, Trekkies-be-damned, for the modern audience. The ships are sleeker, shinier and yet vaguely familiar. The bridge of the Enterprise in particular is a smooth, polished-white version of its former self. All of this careful design blows up on screen with delightful detail.

When things aren't busy being consumed by fire, the script contains smartly-written expository dialogue that gives the two leading men room to build their characters. Kirk, portrayed expertly on-screen by newcomer Pine, is from his first minute as strong as he is overconfident, a rampant womanizer and headstrong student whose problems with authority become the Enterprise's saving grace. Spock, on the other hand, was raised on Vulcan, home of an alien species that seeks from an early age to eliminate all traces of emotion. Yet Quinto works past this barrier, inflecting annoyance and anger through a façade of calm. His arguments with an angry, red-faced Pine are a lesson in contrast. And when tragedy strikes and Spock's mental shield implodes, Quinto's near-lethal reaction reflects his character's pent-up rage.

Sadly, the supporting cast is more of a mixed bag. Karl Urban as space-fearing Enterprise physician Leonard McCoy, gives a quirky, neurotic performance. Comedian Simon Pegg injects comic relief into the film as Scotty, the Enterprise's chief engineer. Bana is suitably creepy as Nero, but given last year's slew of mentally unstable supporting characters, his performance seems dated and unoriginal. Certain lines in particular ("Hi… I'm Nero!") seem ripped from the mouth of the late Heath Ledger. This is where the good part ends. John Cho as Sulu, the Enterprise's pilot, is just another Hollywood Asian who packs a katana to a gunfight. Zoe Saldana as Enterprise communications officer Uhura is included as a feminine afterthought, functioning entirely as the object of Kirk's lust. And Anton Yelchin as "Russian wiz-kid" Chekov truly grates against the audience's nerves. Chekov's overly-exaggerated Russian accent and eager-to-please demeanor plays in the audience's head like a broken record, despite his lack of screen time.

Fortunately, Kirk and Spock are the main focus and in that regard the film shines. Their acting chemistry, coupled with state-of-the-art special effects and edge-of-your-seat action guarantees a new day for an old franchise.

"Star Trek" (126 minutes) is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

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