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Review: Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek (2009)

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Premise: A reboot the sci-fi series. Taking things back to the beginning, James Kirk (Chris Pine) nears the end of his training in the Starfleet academy and makes acquaintances with Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) when a Romulan spaceship from the future appears and threatens to destroy the Federation.

What Works: Star Trek has long been a franchise with some apparently unshakable flaws. The films and television series tended to cater specifically towards the fan base as opposed to finding a balance between appealing to Trekkies and the uninitiated. Also, it was a series whose characters, although colorful and memorable, were too idealized and often lacked flaws or carnality. This new version of Star Trek addresses both of these issues, and the result is a film that will play as well for the fans as it does for those who are unfamiliar with the series. The new Star Trek manages to take the familiar, the recognizable, and in some cases the iconic, and make it new again by presenting the material in a way that suits contemporary filmmaking. Like Quentin Tarantino paying homage to 1970s kung-fu films in Kill Bill, Rob Zombie revisiting grindhouse cinema in The Devil’s Rejects, or Steven Spielberg evoking the adventure serials of the 1950s in Raiders of the Lost Ark, J.J. Abrams recognizes what elements of the past to keep, what to drop, and what to add. In this case, the basic premise and characters have been maintained and honored, the naiveté has been dropped, and an appropriate amount of humor and emotional realism has been added. The film moves at a brisk pace, so fast that it risks running off the rails and losing the audience at times, but it is told smartly enough that it manages to keep itself coherent. The tone is not afraid to lighten up although the film never slips into ridiculing itself, its franchise, or the fans and it balances comedy and drama very well. The character work with Kirk and Spock is very impressive, giving them interesting and interlocking story arcs that have a lot of humanity to them. For that matter, the entire Star Trek universe has been given a more imperfect but credible treatment, making it a place where goodness and virtue are not something that humans innately possess but rather something that is earned and chosen.

What Doesn’t: The one thing missing from this reboot of Star Trek is the politics of the earlier films and television shows. Nearly every incarnation of this franchise has engaged political or philosophical ideas at some level, sometimes transiently and other times very blatantly. This film is moving so fast and covering so much ground that these issues just aren’t integrated into the story. Also, the focus in the film is pretty clearly on Kirk and Spock and aside from Uhura (Zoe Saldana) the rest of the core cast is left aside.

Bottom Line: Star Trek is a great argument for why and how remakes and reboots can work. This is a very successful re-launch of the franchise that will be fun for hardcore fans as well as more passive consumers of science fiction.

Episode: #239 (May 17, 2009)