By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
While the old calendar on the wall proclaims June 21 the first day of summer this year, fans of that cultural phenomenon known as the Summer Blockbuster will contend “Star Trek’s” recent arrival in movie theaters more aptly heralds the season. Either way, this prequel’s chronological hocus pocus will have you scratching your time continuum.
Indeed some techies, who doubtless include beaucoup Trekkies, will be able to explain just why the time travel plot at the heart of director J. J. Abrams’s interpolative freefall makes complete sense. Good for them. They probably also passed organic chemistry. I figure no great harm in taking their word for it and just looking at the pretty pictures.
There’s certainly an eyeful. Enhanced more than ever by the newest special effects, the noble idealism that creator Gene Roddenberry originally breathed into his TV series lives and prospers. Centuries from now, but only a flash of an eye before we first knew them, this tells how Kirk and Co. joined their stars in the resolve for a better and safer world.
The good part is that for all the razzamatazz and kaleidoscopic hoopla, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci’s script unblushingly fills the remaining spaces with some good old allegory. It’s not sci-fi metaphor at its best, but savvy enough to render respectable this illustrious member of the genre. Yet the single greatest achievement must be the casting.
Coming aboard as the young James T. Kirk is handsome Chris Pine. Through his astute interpretation we learn that, having lost his dad early in life, the Iowa farm boy does an imitation of James Dean on a bender until Starfleet Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) takes him in hand. Career path to salvation or not, he retains his audacity.
Matching him in the parent attrition dept., determination and smarts is Zachary Quinto’s Spock. Not one to solely rely on a set of pointed ears to etch his character, Mr. Quinto displays an award-worthy sensitivity. It is the Vulcan-human hybrid’s charm that, like DeTocqueville’s ability to understand early Americans, he has an inside track on humans.
None of the remaining crew of the Starship Enterprise is delivered in nearly as much detail. Yet most of the sketches are nicely envisioned. Simon Pegg is whimsical as Scotty; John Cho is a competent Mr. Sulu; and while the original Uhura wasn’t particularly sexy, Zoe Saldana’s prequel image says she was quite a gal back in the day.
Plugged into this nascence of the famed adventure is a suitable starter villain. Nero (Eric Bana), the Romulan captain of a mining ship who blames the Federation, and Spock in particular, for the demise of his planet, changes history with an act of reprisal that will impact James Kirk’s formative years. The epithet spewing rat stops just short of cackling.
Alternate timelines and a parallel world play major roles in the mind-boggling comings and goings. For instance, bad guy Nero travels from the future to exact his revenge. This somehow makes it vital to be able to transport onto another vessel at warp speed. Scotty develops the portal; Spock hones it to perfection. Think they could program my VCR?
There’s more, with the coup de grace coming when young Spock meets and is counseled by older Spock, now (or is it then?) a Federation ambassador. All of which suggests the fellow can be in two places at the same time. “Hey,” some will say, “They’re just making this stuff up.” Others will luxuriate in the constant cascade of perplexity.
Now, we all know that time travel as it is classically depicted in literature and film is impossible. Otherwise, we’d all be going back to cash in our fortunes before the economy imploded in late 2008. The opinion here is that such fantasy must be judged by how consistent it is within its own stated rules and if it entertains without overly confounding.
On this point “Star Trek” earns an only fair grade. But it’s bound to win approval in the retro reunion department. Ah, youth. It’s nice to see the young, well-scrubbed explorers just starting out and trying to make a place for themselves in the universe. Wordsmiths Kurtzman and Orci by and large do a good job of creatively imagining the new old gang.
Naturally, one’s ultimate judgment will depend on what he or she brings to the picnic. Trekkies with strict constructionist views are apt to poke black holes in several of the screenplay’s add-ons and flourishes. Whereas more casual viewers won’t mind that this “Star Trek” goes where no other Star Trek has gone before, and rather engagingly at that.
“Star Trek,” rated PG-13, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by J.J. Abrams and stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Eric Bana. Running time: 126 minutes
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