Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek (2009): What It Is and Is Not

Saw the new Star Trek last weekend and was absolutely blown away. Once in awhile, you leave a theater feeling like a movie was pretty good--or even great--and you re-think that reaction a day or two later. "Huh... y'know, Wolverine really wasn't good..." stuff like that.

Not so with ST '09. J.J. Abrams and his team have successfully and happily blown up the continuity-waterlogged beast that ST had become, pushing the new series into its own self-declared alternate timeline. The Original Series (OS) shows still happened... but now there are episodes that cannot happen with this new crew. There are layers of tragedy that will shadow certain characters forever, and new possibilities because the original timeline was not salvaged.

So what does this mean? It means that Star Trek now has a blank slate. There is no "it has to be!" about their future adventures, no inevitability about meeting Khan, the planet destroyer, the Tribbles... any of it. Abrams can cherry pick whatever he likes for the next few movies, freed from the shackles of continuity. Long-time fans won't like it, I'm betting, but I am a long-time fan and this is infusing that whole universe with fresh blood.

As many publications and sites have noted, Chris Pine absolutely nails the essence of Kirk. He loves the ladies, he's reckless and a bit of a showoff but he gets the job done. He is the epic hero in ways that Spock is not and cannot be, larger than life and bolder than bold. Pine doesn't impersonate William Shatner-- that would be a thankless and self-defeating task--but he captures what Kirk is all about: he's a leader, a man of action, and the guy whose commands you follow no matter what because he inspires that kind of loyalty.

Zachary Quinto likewise nails Spock, but brings emotional depth to the character that Leonard Nimoy only revealed very gradually (probably because the writers were trying to figure him out back then, whereas Quinto benefits from 40+ years of Spockian analysis). This Spock is as much a rebel as Kirk, though he is quiet and coldly precise in how he defies authority. His emotions are always under tight control--with Quinto, the cost and effort of that control are always there, giving a strong urgency to his performance. It's really something to see.

Overall, I loved the new movie and hope fans will continue to embrace it. If serving the original fans were all that the movie aspired to do, it would be a disappointment and indeed a failure; the franchise needs to pull in new viewers, new fans, if it's going to survive. And frankly, the franchise needed a huge dose of risk-taking and adventurous spirit to overcome the last few mort-tastic entries in the theaters. If anything will take the sour taste of the recent ST:NG movies out of my mouth, ST '09 is the palate cleanser.

Grade: A+

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