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Star Trekkin’

May 11th, 2009

The biggest fans of the new Star Trek film must surely be the tourist board of Riverside, Iowa, who just found their attempt to brand their hometown as the birthplace of James T. Kirk rendered canonical. And as a bonus, the U.S.S. Enterprise itself was built there. High fives all ’round, Riverside.

The promos proclaim “This is not your father’s ‘Star Trek.'” They’re right. If you’re a young adult moviegoer, this is your grandfather’s ‘Star Trek.’ What’s now unspooling in multiplexes across the country is the purest distallation of  Trek since the original series went off the air in 1969.

If the sold-out crowd at Friday’s 7:15 show was any indication, Star Trek may finally be cool. When it was over, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. My wife applauded. And then she said, “They need to do another movie right now.”

From the nearly pitch-perfect casting to the sense of wonder, whimsy and–most of all–fun, this is the Star Trek movie I’d been waiting for since the noble-but-bland premiere of 1979’s The Motion Picture. It may not have had quite the emotional wallop of The Wrath of Khan, but that had the benefit of the original, beloved cast.

spockbootyOne thing I really liked about the new film is that it gave everyone something to do. The old show was very much built around Kirk, Spock and McCoy; we never found out what made Uhura or Sulu tick. Here, Uhura was very much a major character. And Chekov–Chekov!–got one of the best moments with his last-second transporter rescue. While Chekov the Whiz Kid was a new take on the character, I found that it gave him a great hook.

Two aspects of the plotline that initially gave me pause were the time-travel element and inclusion of a Next Generation-era villain. My hope had been that the film would take the Casino Royale approach and simply start the series over from scratch. However, I suppose it’s necessary to throw this sop to the Trekkies: that the old continuity really “happened,” and may even still be happening, albeit in a parallel reality. 

Plus, there was plenty of fan service on display. We finally got to see Kirk beat the Kobayashi Maru “no win” scenario. (Possibly my favorite scene; Chris Pine nailed the old, cocky Kirk.) We got Captain Pike…in a wheelchair, no less. We got green Orion women. We even got a tribble.

That said, the film made it clear that nothing will ever be the same again. By making a major deletion to the makeup of the Federation, they’ve loudly announced things are going to be different, and that we’d all better stop worrying about the “canon.” (I will admit that I’m somewhat glad that I learned about this particular spoiler in advance, as I’m enough of an old-guard Trekkie that it might have thrown me if I hadn’t been prepared.)

Okay, I’m going to get a few quibbles out of the way. I did find some of the comedy to be perhaps a bit too slapstick, especially Kirk’s big hands and the Scotty-in-the-pipe sequence. I’m not sure why the upper decks of the ship look like an Apple store but the engine room looks like a boiler, complete with riveted girders. And the writers seem to have no sense of outer spatial relationships: Vulcan is only a 10-minute warp flight from Earth, and the ice planet Delta Vega appears so close to Vulcan to be one of its moons. And just how far away was the Enterprise when Scotty executed that mid-warp transport? It had presumably been warping away from Delta Vega for hours by that point in the narrative, and thus far, far too far for even the most Scotty-riffic transporter use.

However, that really is pretty minor stuff compared to what’s great about the film. There were terrific performances by Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as McCoy, plus good work from pretty much everyone else. While Ben Cross didn’t really do it for me as Spock’s dad, I thought that his relationship with Spock was well explored, and liked that we finally got a sensible explanation of why he married a human woman. (Two of ’em, actually, and the second one brought a tear to my eye.)

In the end, what I love about this Star Trek is that finally takes the franchise back to its roots. The later generations of Trek had their pleasures, but Kirk, Spock, McCoy and company were the template. It’s great to have these characters back, not as aging, increasingly unlikely action stars, but in the prime of their careers with nothing but an unknown future ahead of them.

Also, Starfleet miniskirts. Glad to have those back as well.

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