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‘Star Trek’ sets summer movie bar high

POSTED: May 6, 2009 10:00 p.m.
/Paramount Pictures

Zachary Quinto as Spock, left, and Chis Pine as James T. Kirk star in J.J. Abram's adaptation of "Star Trek." The movie's young cast makes it a candidate for lots of good sequels

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It’s difficult to overhaul any successful TV or movie series, but when that series is “Star Trek,” it seems downright impossible. Gene Roddenberry’s original series has spawned many spinoffs, but fans tend to get a little touchy when someone tampers with Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew.

Perhaps only someone with the audacity of J.J. Abrams, executive producer of “Lost,” would even attempt it.

It may sound highly illogical, but Abrams and his writers have pulled off a complete reboot of the most enduring and fiercely loved science fiction franchise of all time.

Abrams’ “Star Trek” doesn’t continue the original series, it starts back at square one by showing us the origins of all the beloved Enterprise crew members.

James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is born (yes, they go back that far), during a Romulan attack that kills his courageous father. He grows up an angry young man in Iowa. Spock (Zachary Quinto) has a Vulcan father (Ben Cross) and human mother (Winona Ryder), and he is frequently insulted and outcast because of his mixed heritage.

The crisis of the movie begins when Nero (Eric Bana), the same rogue Romulan who killed Kirk’s father, begins attacking Starfleet ships and destroys the planet Vulcan. For some reason, Nero holds Spock responsible for the genocide of his Romulan people.

As that story unfolds, “Star Trek” also tells the tale of the Enterprise crew coming together. We meet the swearing, lovably abrasive Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban); the lovely and brilliant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who is also Spock’s girlfriend; the hilarious and reckless Scotty (Simon Pegg); and Sulu (John Cho) and Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), who are both inexperienced but earnest pilots and technicians.

One by one, each character comes into his or her own, demonstrating abilities and bravery beyond their years. Like all entries in the “Star Trek” canon, this multicultural crew goes beyond tolerance and accepts each other as equals.

There is a refreshing positivity and lack of irony to the entire production.

The crew are all rebels of one sort or another, even Spock. This gives them an edge designed to appeal to younger audiences. All the principal actors are also young, meaning this ensemble has the potential to produce more movies than any other Star Trek cast.

They could be cranking out these movies for 20 years or more.

The writers do one thing that is undeniably brilliant — they use a time travel story device that doesn’t force us to forget everything we know about the Star Trek universe. Instead, this movie exists in an alternate reality that runs parallel to all the previous adventures experienced by Kirk and company.

This is exactly the sort of outlandish yet smart storytelling that characterizes the best of “Star Trek.”

The movie should satisfy longtime fans with its enormous respect for the original series (all of the characters use their trademark lines), yet it’s accessible to everyone. Any science fiction or summer blockbuster fan should enjoy the film.

In every way, “Star Trek” successfully walks the line between staying true to the original series and creating its own identity.

It also sets the bar very high for all the summer movies to come. Most will suffer by comparison.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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