by RISHI AGRAWAL
Much of the publicity campaign around Star Trek centers on how the film is a departure from the original TV series and prior films. It seems that director J.J. Abrams wanted to emphasize that the film was a re-launch of the franchise. It was a fairly large gamble, one that threatened to alienate an obsessive fan base, but one that probably needed to be made in order to appeal to a wider audience. The hardcore fans would probably not be happy regardless of how the new film turned out, but the more casual fans, even the most devoted ones, could probably be won over. And let me tell you, the gamble paid off as Abrams has definitely put together an entertaining film.
I am unsure why Star Trek gets such a negative reputation. Perhaps it’s the dedication of the fan base, which is routinely mocked in popular culture as well as films such as the documentary Trekkies. But, I think that the appeal of the franchise to many people was the fact that, although it was set against a science-fiction backdrop, Star Trek essentially gave us cerebral morality tales that showed us how the universe (as a macrocosm for Earth) could be a better place. The new Star Trek film, however, does not give us any of that. The new film, though not devoid of character development and quiet moments, is essentially an action film. The film has no didactic agenda, but mainly exists to entertain. And if Abrams’ Prime Directive, so to speak, was to make a fun film, then he has done exactly that.
I won’t bore anyone with a plot summary, because I am sure that everyone is at least cursorily aware of the concept behind the film. The film uses the crew from the original Star Trek TV show in the 1960s and depicts their first mission, concentrating mostly on Kirk and Spock. Despite the fact that the film is a re-launch rather than a prequel, there are many nods to the original series such as how the extra in the red shirt always dies first and the Kobayashi Maru combat test at Starfleet Academy. And although there are many differences between this new film and the original series, the details are still familiar, and the discrepancies will only be noted by the most dedicated fans. Besides, the film’s plot offers a plausible explanation on why this film seems to be set in a different universe without disrupting the original continuity.
The reason to see the film is the plot and the special effects. The space combat scenes are especially entertaining, including a memorable scene which opens the film. I am sure that some people might grouse on how the effects look better in this film than the original series, even though the events take place beforehand, but I don’t mind that the visual look of the Enterprise as well as special effects like the transporter beam were given an update. Some of the action scenes seem a bit gratuitous – such as a sequence near the beginning of the film where Kirk as a boy is shown jumping out of a car moments before it plummets into a ravine.
The movie was well-cast, with Chris Pine displaying the right mix of arrogance, machismo and intelligence to pull off the role of James T. Kirk. Zachary Quinto, perhaps the best part of the sinking ship that is Heroes, is so convincing as Spock that I can hardly imagine anyone else inheriting Leonard Nimoy’s legacy. Zoe Saldana as Uhura is also notable, turning a character who wasn’t given much to do in the original series into a focal point. The rest of the cast is talented, and though they were a bit underdeveloped in this first film, I am sure that they will be given a chance to shine later in later films. Eric Bana is also very good as the main villain, who actually has a backstory and motivations assigned to his character.
If I had to levy criticism against the film, I would say that occasionally it drifts into slapstick. I’ll admit that Star Trek does have a reputation for being hokey at points, but it was rarely intentional. The characters, at the very least, took themselves seriously. Although some of the comedy in the film worked, much of it seemed incongruous with the rest of the film, even with great comic actors like John Cho and Simon Pegg. Still, Star Trek fulfills the most important goal of the first film of a franchise – to make the audience excited for the next one. In fact, a lot of people are comparing Star Trek to Iron Man. Not because the films are anything alike, but that while both films don’t necessarily transcend the summer blockbuster genre, they serve as exemplars of great popcorn filmmaking.
3 1/2 stars