Mr. Movie

'Star Trek' beams into theaters

Stardate 1905.08. Red alert. In local movie theaters, a Romulan vessel looking more like a giant squid than a space ship, has invaded Federation space. An intense, dramatic, brilliantly shot and edited battle scene develops. It ends with the birth of James T. Kirk.

Star Trek is back at the beginning.

-- Beam inside this interactive graphic.

-- Read The Critic of Pure Reason's review.

-- Times, theaters.

Since Star Trek: The Next Generation left television for big screen failure, the franchise has been sputtering through the cosmos on impulse power. Most fans were convinced that Voyager and the last nail in the coffin Enterprise, doomed the late Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic saga to its final resting place in a black hole.

Only the most rabid of fans left the neutral zone when the announcement came that there would be an 11th Star Trek movie. A few more converts beamed aboard when Lost and Alias creator/producer J.J. Abrams said he’d take the helm.

It turns out to be a great choice.

Abrams kicks his film into warp drive and boldly goes where the Star Trek actually has gone before. Only better.

Twisting time, shifting characters, making them the same but different, undoing then redoing Star Trek history, Abrams reinvention of the franchise stretches series creativity to a whole, new level. From the mind-boggling opening scenes to Leonard Nimoy’s fond, fitting, and quite familiar farewell, Star Trek is more fun than a night spent tickling tribbles.

Twenty-five years later, the same Romulan ship pops into Federation space again and attacks Spock’s home planet Vulcan. Kirk and what will become the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are in training at Star Fleet Academy. With the fleet in another part of the galaxy, the trainees are drafted into battle.

Two things make this movie a blast. The first is a cast that will have you pointing at the screen, laughing and whispering to the person in the next seat. Abrams and the producers did their homework and found actors with facial features close enough to the original cast to be believable. It’s not pitch-perfect, but you can see enough of the characters in these young actors to buy the possibility.

Chris Pine is James T. Kirk. He has more fun than anyone as a nod-and-a-wink, larger-than-life caricature. The film’s funniest scenes are between Pine and Karl Urban, who does an equally entertaining Dr. Leonard McCoy.

The best look alike is Zachary Quinto’s Spock. Though not as gaunt as Nimoy, Quinto’s facial features, dark eyes and the combed-forward hairdo make him look so much like a young Nimoy that it’s spooky. Dialogue delivery, facial expressions and vocal tone complete the transformation.

The actors looking least like the original cast are Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and Simon Pegg’s Montgomery Scott. Both make up for facial feature failure with dead-on imitations of Walter Koenig and James Doohan’s voices.

Plus No. 2 is the story. Star Trek is as much satire as it is straight-ahead storytelling. Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have a blast with the plot. The retrofit of the series’ legendary characters is cemented with the recycling of one hilarious cliché Star Trek line after another.

And like Star Wars George Lucas who was able to convince you that a galaxy long ago, and far, far away was a real place, Abrams and his writing team add dimensions to Star Trek that make it seem as though you are really there.

Abrams is a superb director whose mixture of light and shadow and effects that redefine state-of-the-art with a near-perfect script will put Star Trek at the top of many “best-of” lists for 2009.

A sequel is a no-brainer.

Until then, to Abrams, cast and crew: live long and prosper.

Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, some violence. It opens Friday, May 8 at Regal’s Columbia Mall 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.