And now, a humiliating, soul-searing confession: I have never seen a complete episode of the original Star Trek.
I feel like I have. Like soylent green, Jesus and Star Wars, Star Trek is one of those things that's referenced so often you know it without ever having to check out the source material. That's why I never read, watch, or listen to anything; I just run around with my eyes shut and my mouth open and assume I'll learn whatever I need through osmosis.
It's worked out so-so, until now. Apparently learning has a lot to do with swallowing bugs and denting your head on streetlights, which would explain why high school was such a drag. The fact that all the people whose work I like all worship original Star Trek might have been a sign that it is good and worth watching, but it wasn't until seeing the current remake that I've felt compelled to catch up on what I've been missing.
Hours before Chris Pine (as James Tiberius Kirk) was born, his dad sacrificed himself to save the crew of his ship. Years later, Pine is slumming around Iowa, a smart kid with no higher ambitions than getting sauced and punching out the occasional naval cadet.
His brashness catches the eye of Bruce Greenwood, a Starfleet captain who talks him into the academy. Three years later, Pine's on the verge of being drummed out for cheating.
That doesn't stop him from smuggling himself aboard the newly commissioned Enterprise when planet Vulcan sends out a distress call. Starfleet believes it's a natural disaster, but the ship that killed Pine's father has returned, and it's ready to complete its dark mission.
Star Trek kicks off with a ferociously epic space battle that will make nerds everywhere set aside their differences and declare in one unified, squeaky voice "This is awesome." Taking a cue from its man-of-action lead, the movie establishes its momentum immediately and never stops hurtling forward.
Normally this is code for "this movie is for people so dumb they make Dumbo look like Smarto," but Star Trek is packing a secret weapon: director J.J. Abrams.
Abrams has the golden touch for pop culture. I don't know how he would have fared in that terrible era before moving pictures became our collective parents, but fortunately for him and us he's alive now, where he can use his gift to create memorable cinema that appeals to masses on masses of people without feeling compromised or insulting.
Yet no matter how studly Abrams may be — and on the stud scale, he rates around "Superman with a switchblade" — remaking a franchise as all-powerful as the original Star Trek should have been impossible. Shatner is James T. Kirk, and any other man who tries to sit in that captain's chair should be forced to wear pretty elf ears while a parade of bodybuilders in Klingon makeup hit on his girlfriend. But Abrams hones in on the characters' cores while stripping away the details we know too well; what's left are people with the qualities that made the original cast great without being so similar that you can't help comparing them.
Casting goes a long way here. Avoiding the biggest stars in favor of talent and raw likability, Pine, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Karl Urban, and Zachary Quinto (as Spock) are a crew you want to see in action again.
Reintroducing them all while racing through a giant plot isn't easy, and Star Trek is hurt here and there by moments of bare exposition and a story that sometimes rushes too fast past its obstacles. But these are minor flaws, easily forgotten in the whip-crack action and the joy of seeing such an iconic team so deftly reimagined. Star Trek is pop culture in the best possible sense. The old series will just have to tide me over until the sequel rolls around.