Clint’s seen Star Trek!

For some kids, it’s cricket or footy. For others, it’s deciding whether to take up piano or guitar. For me, and many like me (those that grew up in the late 70s, early 80s), it was a choice between following the adventures of the blonde-guy-in-the-cream-skirt or familiarizing myself with the pointy-eared-brunette-in-the-skirt. I went with the former – if only because Han Solo just seemed that wee bit cooler than Kirk.
And though my beloved “Star Wars” would always come before its spacely challenger “Star Trek” (well, right up until George Lucas was replaced by a clone made my Mattel; a clone with the primary mission of selling toys and happy meals) has impressed me enough over the years to lead me to question my choice. And again today, after checking out the latest “Trek” film – leaps and bounds above the last “Star Wars” film – I question my allegiance to the Empire.

Before we get started, let me deface this review by starting that I’m not a big fan of the “Trek” world – in fact, I’m not even that familiar with the series (actually, any of the “Star Trek” series – be it TOS, “The Next Generation”, “Deep Space Nine”, “Voyager” et al). And if I needed to know something about the show for an impromptu pop quiz, I’d probably have to PM Wil Wheaton on MSN.

So no, I’ve never seen the original “Star Trek” series (or if I have, we’d only be talking a few minutes here and there), and haven’t really watched any of the subsequent series’ (bar “Enterprise” – largely known as the weakest moment in Trek history – if only for my love of Scott Bakula). But I have seen all the “Star Trek” films – some even in the theatre – and enjoyed them immensely… well, all but the one where Kirk finds God (what the fuck was that all about!?). And If I had to pick a favourite, and I know this’ll probably earn me a squishy tomato in the phizog, it might be the fourth instalment – “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”. I know, I know – “Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan” is generally considered to be the ultimate ‘Trek’ movie, and I’ll admit it’s a pretty damn good movie, but “Voyage Home” won my over easier and faster. Why? Well, I can only guess because it was a bit hipper (it encompassed a lot more laughs than the previous films too) than the previous films, and it was made with a much broader audience in mind than those that simply grew up on the short-lived series. It was the “Trek” movie for those that didn’t know their Romulan’s from their Vulcan’s (which, by the way, I do – I don’t know enough to get me a place on The Einstein Factor, answering questions about the series, but I’d probably know enough about the show and film series to win one of those radio competitions) – which, at the time, was me.

I can’t tell you what order I saw the “Star Trek” film series in – all I can remember is that it probably started with “Search for Spock” or “The Voyage Home”, and there was a lot of jumping around; I may even have seen “Star Trek VI : The Undiscovered Country” before I saw “The Motion Picture” – but I do know I’ve seen them all enough times to consider myself reasonably clued-up on the Star Trek universe, and – though some may argue the point considering my love for ‘The Voyage Home’ – feel I’ve a pretty good idea of what makes a successful film instalment. “Nemesis” is bad, right? “First Contact” is good, yeah?

But does that make me the perfect person to be reviewing this new “Star Trek” reboot? God no. In my opinion, there’s only one true judge of this one – and that’s the die-hard Trek fan. To be successful, I say this new film has to work for them first and foremost; and if it ends up entertaining those not familiar with ‘Trek’ as well, then that’s a bonus (especially for the studio, who haven’t a successful “Star Trek” film in eons). Nobody cares if the thirty-something journalist with a penchant for Tarantino movies and Tom Clancy books likes this film – they care if the middle-aged dyed-in-the-wool Trek fan approves.

If the audience at tonight’s media screening for the new film is anything to go by, then I think it safe to say Paramount has succeeded.
They laughed (boy, did they have laugh – Kirk hits his head on an overhead beam and they burst into hysterics!?), they applauded (not just at the end, but at intervals throughout the film!), and they sat perched in their chairs, grinning from ear to ear.
And all I could think to myself is ‘Why couldn’t George Lucas have given us a similar experience with the Star Wars prequels?’
So, in essence, that’s probably all you need to know. They loved it. It’s worth seeing. End of Review.

But I will go on… Though obviously fans will appreciate some of the jokes a little more, you need know nothing about the world of “Star Trek” in order to watch, and enjoy, this infectiously enjoyable movie. Mostly, it’s a restart – yes it’s very loyal to the films and series’ that came before it, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a page-one rewrite. The only thing missing? A ‘Once Upon a Time’ at the beginning…

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know what, or rather who, the film is about : the young Captain James T.Kirk (played here by sparkly-eyed newcomer Chris Pine, last seen in “Bottle Shock”). He’s a rebel-without-a-cause… or a job… and ends up joining Starfleet Academy so he can potentially follow in the footsteps of his late father (who went down with his ship after only being Captain for twelve minutes). Kirk’s adversary at the academy? The all-intelligent half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto) whose not convinced Kirk’s as smart as he seems to be.

It’s all fun-and-games for Kirk (he spends the first half of the movie chasing skirt and generally breaking the rules – think of him as Mahoney to Starfleet’s Police Academy) until someone gets hurt. In this case, that’d be Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), steerer of the Starship Enterprise, on which J.T has found himself stationed.

A time-travelling Romulan by the name of Nero (Eric Bana), on a revenge mission against Spock (Spock knows nothing about it), takes Pike hostage and forces Kirk to step up to the plate and prove himself to be the great hero of the history books.

J.J Abrams has really contemporised the franchise – offering up a fun, fast, hip and action-packed ride that’ll likely appeal as much to “Star Trek” fans as it will to say, “Indiana Jones” or “Rocky” fans. It’s just a good, solid movie. It mightn’t have the same tone as say, your-beloved “Wrath of Khan” – in fact, I’d go so far as to say this is part-comedy – but it has the same awe-inspiring, epic feel about it.

From the sounds of that, it sounds like director Abrams (“Mission : Impossible III”) and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Transformers”) are either lampooning the original show, or trying to colour-in what was previously black-and-white, but that’s not the case. Even Trek fans know that the times have changed since the first few “Star Trek” movies, and what worked then, likely wouldn’t work now. Audiences want to be dazzled by immense eye-popping special effects (which this has – just wait til you see those terrifically-animated fights, and the wonderful backdrops of Vulcan and futuristic San Francisco!) – something filmmakers didn’t really have back in the day of the original films, they’re also prepared for heavier themes – even if it means corrupting our heroes just a tad (you won’t believe who ‘get it on’ in this!), and admittedly, much of what’s happened in previous “Trek” movies and the TV series is unintentionally funny (I still remember people laughing at Kirk’s death at a screening of “Generations” in 1994; it just played hokey) so there’s no way you can’t build humour into the thing. Think of it is an old-car, with a new engine. It’s still the same old beast… it just runs a little better; it’s life has been extended.

Casting-wise, it’s actually those players that we were the most sceptical of initially that impress the most. Kiwi Karl Urban (usually the muscly gung-ho action hero, in films like “Doom” and “Pathfinfder”) may be merely impersonating the late DeForest Kelly, but his ‘Bones’ is priceless. He nails it. It’s not such a big deal that he didn’t put his own spin on it, he gave us ‘Bones’… god dammit! And Chris Pine, though he doesn’t look anything like William Shatner, gives a feverishly fun performance as Kirk. As opposed to Urban, he doesn’t imitate the actor before him, but tries to do his own thing. At first, he’s just funny to watch, but as the film progresses, he really starts to embody the Kirk we know. Pine’s a large part of the film’s appeal.

Another excellent addition to the cast is veteran actor Bruce Greenwood (“Thirteen Days”) adding not only credibility to the film, but also credibility to ‘lore’ legend Captain Pike. Though he’s only in a few scenes, Greenwood gives one of the most memorable performances of the movie. It seems as if the other actors even step up their game when he’s around.

Everyone else is good, but a couple of the performers didn’t blow me away like I expected. For one, Zachary Quinto, though a good match for Leonard Nimoy, gives a rather flat impersonation of his predecessor; there just seems to be something missing from his performance – maybe the quirky humour that Nimoy’s Spock always encompassed? But even when Spock lets rip with some emotion half-way through the film, we don’t feel it, and we should. Then, it’s probably more noticeable than Quinto’s not half the Spock Nimoy was because the legend himself appears in a cameo scene – and alongside the former. Not exactly fair on poor Quinto. I’m sure he’ll get better the more he plays the character.

The rest of the players making up the Enterprise crew – John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Zoe Saldana and so on – have been aptly cast (not sure about Simon Pegg as Scotty; he didn’t really work for me), but don’t get as much time to shine here as, expectedly, Kirk does. Maybe in future sequels they’ll have more to do. And though Eric Bana does a good job of playing the villain Nero, the character isn’t as memorable or well written as say, Khan was. He doesn’t seem as much a threat as some past Trek rogues have. I even heard one chap, as he was leaving the cinema, saying ‘the villain was just a knock-off of Khan’.

The real star of the film though is J.J Abrams. This guy knows how to entertain – and he seems intent on not sending anyone home unsatisfied here. He wants to give audiences a popcorn blockbuster the likes of which most of us grew up with but don’t much see anymore; the kind of films we’d rush to see at the cinema on a Saturday afternoon – films like “Gremlins”, “Ghostbusters”, “Back to the Future” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – and succeeds brilliantly. There’s not a dull moment in the film. But aside from that, it’s tightly paced, full of colour, jammed with some great beats, and imaginative.

Orci and Kurtzman’s script – though the third-act isn’t as strong as it possibly could’ve been; the final battle between good and evil seemed a bit rushed – is a proficient piece of work. Not only does it encompass everything an old-Trek fan wants to see (or hear – as in famous lines), but also it does a great job of introducing those to the world of Trek who have never been here before… but will undoubtedly be back.

Though not as successful a reboot as the recent James Bond (“Casino Royale”) and Batman (“Batman Begins”) series, “Star Trek” is still largely without blemish, mostly – well, its not so much a blemish as a cancer-spot near the new Kirk’s ear. Might we see that magically disappear come the sequel?

Fuckin’ jokes aside, this is a brilliant effort. Bring on the sequel!

J.J, Robert, Alex, Chris… well done all!