Movie News & Reviews

Abrams, casting make 'Star Trek' shine

And now, a humiliating, soul-searing confession: I have never seen acomplete episode of the original Star Trek.

I feel like I have. Like soylent green, Jesus and StarWars, Star Trek is one of those things that's referenced sooften you know it without ever having to check out the sourcematerial. That's why I never read, watch, or listen to anything; Ijust run around with my eyes shut and my mouth open and assume I'lllearn whatever I need through osmosis.

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It's worked out so-so, until now. Apparently learning has a lot to dowith swallowing bugs and denting your head on streetlights, whichwould explain why high school was such a drag. The fact that all thepeople whose work I like all worship original Star Trek mighthave been a sign that it is good and worth watching, but it wasn'tuntil seeing the current remake that I've felt compelled to catch upon what I've been missing.

Hours before Chris Pine (as James Tiberius Kirk) was born, his dadsacrificed himself to save the crew of his ship. Years later, Pine isslumming around Iowa, a smart kid with no higher ambitions thangetting sauced and punching out the occasional naval cadet.

His brashness catches the eye of Bruce Greenwood, a Starfleet captainwho talks him into the academy. Three years later, Pine's on the vergeof being drummed out for cheating.

That doesn't stop him from smuggling himself aboard thenewly commissioned Enterprise when planet Vulcan sends out adistress call. Starfleet believes it's a natural disaster, but theship that killed Pine's father has returned, and it's ready tocomplete its dark mission.

Star Trek kicks off with a ferociously epic space battle thatwill make nerds everywhere set aside their differences and declare inone unified, squeaky voice "This is awesome." Taking a cue from itsman-of-action lead, the movie establishes its momentum immediately andnever stops hurtling forward.

Normally this is code for "this movie is for people so dumb they makeDumbo look like Smarto," but Star Trek is packing a secretweapon: director J.J. Abrams.

Abrams has the golden touch for pop culture. I don't know how he wouldhave fared in that terrible era before moving pictures became ourcollective parents, but fortunately for him and us he's alive now,where he can use his gift to create memorable cinema that appeals tomasses on masses of people without feeling compromised or insulting.

Yet no matter how studly Abrams may be — and on the stud scale, herates around "Superman with a switchblade" — remaking a franchise asall-powerful as the original Star Trek should have beenimpossible. Shatner is James T. Kirk, and any other man whotries to sit in that captain's chair should be forced to wear prettyelf ears while a parade of bodybuilders in Klingon makeup hit on hisgirlfriend. But Abrams hones in on the characters' cores whilestripping away the details we know too well; what's left are peoplewith the qualities that made the original cast great without being sosimilar that you can't help comparing them.

Casting goes a long way here. Avoiding the biggest stars in favor oftalent and raw likability, Pine, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Karl Urban, andZachary 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 bareexposition and a story that sometimes rushes too fast past itsobstacles. But these are minor flaws, easily forgotten in thewhip-crack action and the joy of seeing such an iconic team so deftlyreimagined. Star Trek is pop culture in the best possiblesense. The old series will just have to tide me over until the sequelrolls around.

Grade: A-