Just over 40 years ago Gene Roddenberry created a whole futuristic universe for our newly minted color TV sets. The show was marketed as Cowboys in space but was really supposed to be a series of adventures with a parable embedded within each one. The setting was post-apocalyptic mid 21st-century and humans had technology that was way beyond what was reality at the time – space travel at speeds faster than light accomplished with a warp drive, and people beamed from place to place! There was extensive contact with other sentient civilizations in distant galaxies and a Federation of these policed the universe through Starfleet. The original series showed a Federation Starfleet ship, the US Starship Enterprise, on a 5-year mission to “boldly go where no man has gone before!!”
The current generation likely has no connection to the original series or the succession of series and films, even spoofs (like the witty Galaxy Quest), that it spawned. But the faithful followers of the original still dress up in Star Trek costumes and go to conventions and watch endless reruns of the six different series! I was weaned on Star Trek (the original series) when it showed up in India. We had no TV then so I recall watching it on a neighbors’ TV set and saw every series and film that followed. So what was the aim of this new film? Was it to generate a new generation of fans or to make the old trekkies (like myself) happy?
This film can best be labeled a prequel, as it starts with the encounter between the USS Kelvin carrying Captain Kirk (the father of James T) and a Romulan ship captained by Nero – who is seeking revenge on Spock for the destruction of Romulus! But wait – if James T is not yet born, then who is Spock? This establishes alternate time lines and makes for a delicious time travel tale that even includes an encounter between Spock the youth and Spock the ancient (called Spock Prime in the credits)! As Captain Kirk is vaporized by Nero, his son is born, and we finally know what the aim of this film is. It is to keep the trekkies happy by providing them with a prequel, and it is to boldly get new fans in the youth by creating unforgettable and cool characters in Kirk and Spock. We see the young Kirk as a hell-raiser kid, in his stepdad’s automobile, playing the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage really really loud, then we see him trying to pick up a woman (who will be Lt. Uhura) in a bar, and finally we see him reluctantly joining Starfleet and sitting next to a young Dr. McCoy! Kirk is still a philanderer and a loud-mouth, and he still has that famous intuition that allows him to spot trouble.
As an aside – this version of Sabotage filmed by Spike Jonze is as crazy as anything Kirk could dream up!
The journey of Spock from child to adult is even more interesting – half human half Vulcan, he is treated as an outcast right from childhood, and struggles to master his emotions, until someone pushes the right buttons. And we see that human side of Spock several times, not to mention the fact that he is romantically involved with the svelte and beauteous Lt. Uhura.
The usual gadgetry is there (Trekkies breathe a sigh of relief) but updated and slicked for modern times. The costumes are still in blues and oranges and greens, but somehow a patina of class is overlaid on them. And the science is still a mixture of plausible and implausible, but still a ton of fun, because it was never about the science was it?
I was skeptical about the film after viewing a trailer. How can a cast that seems chosen for physical/facial similarity to an old cast actually perform well?
Is it possible to have great acting and a good resemblance to the old cast? The makers succeeded somewhat. In Chris Pine they actually found an actor who could be Kirk while still putting in a decent performance. But in my opinion this very ability to act somewhat diluted the impact of Kirk. Esquire magazine once said “Every man (except James T Kirk) has some doubts about his masculinity!” Real men do not need to act, do they? Did Schwarzenegger have to act? William Shatner was man enough to kiss a woman and then smack her in the face (http://www.esquire.com/blogs/lists/punch-and-fight-videos-041309?click=main_sr – check out clip number 3!). I am afraid that now James T Kirk will be modernized and civilized up for the next-gen. But what I missed in Kirk was more than made up for in Zachary Quinto’s Spock. Actually it began with the child Spock (Jacob Kogan) trying to be in control of his emotions and not react, until his class-mates mock his Earth born mother (Winona Ryder is a brief cameo) and he erupts into violence.
And Quinto carries that persona forward in perfect pitch, being just as we would imagine a young Spock to be. These are the two best-etched characters, but others do a decent enough job. We have Zoe Saldana playing Uhura, and while she is a little on the thin side, she does get to romance Spock in a surprising twist in the tale. We see Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime, but every time he spoke I was afraid he was going to lose his dentures so it got a bit distracting, and the moment lost some of its gravity.
The special effects were excellent and the updated bridge and insides of the Enterprise similar enough to the original to generate a level of comfort. There were lots of battles in space – something that was certainly a next-gen grab effort. The original Star Trek was not really about battles, but about the people and their human and inhuman emotions, something that I missed in this prequel. There were enough references to the original to keep the most die-hard Trekkie happy and when Spock finally shows up as first officer on the bridge and we have the voice of Nimoy intone “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, its continuing mission……..” we have boldly, and blissfully, gone along with J. J. Abrams on a fun ride and enjoyed the whole. The easy part is done, and now an old and new generation of fans await new adventures of a new Enterprise and crew.
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