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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Star Trek Film Review | Lost in Space


by Thomas Delapa

By virtue of bold title alone, Star Trek shoots for the moon, attempting to re-launch perhaps America’s most beloved sci-fi franchise. But in the less-than-stellar world of prequels, director J.J. Abrams’ retro rocket lands somewhere between Butch and Sundance: The Early Days and Star Wars I The Phantom Menace.

Since its modest beginnings as a mid-sixties TV series created by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek has beamed up into the pop-culture pantheon, living long and prospering into three additional series, a galaxy of mass-market spin-offs and a half-dozen feature films, including at least two generations of crews making the universe safe for democracy and humanoids aboard the USS Enterprise.

Traveling backward instead of forward, Abrams (creator of TV’s Lost and Fringe) and co-writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman transport us to the days before Captain Kirk and company boldly embarked on their original five-year mission that was cancelled by NBC after only two-plus seasons. In their place is a crew of fuzzy-faced young millennials, including the aptly named Chris Pine as the brash proto-captain, James T. Kirk. An Iowa daredevil with a chip on his shoulder, Kirk is cajoled into Starfleet Academy by Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood)--another salute to the program’s star-crossed past.

In Hollywood parlance, at least half of Abrams’ saga is back-story, rewarding fans with a check list of Star Trekian lingo and catch phrases, from deflector shields to Vulcan mind melds, and re-introducing familiar names from the new crew. Chief among them is Spock (Zachary Quinto), that ultra-logical, pointy-eared, half-human Vulcan, who immediately locks horns with Kirk at Starfleet Academy. In this PG-13 update, not only does the ever-randy Kirk bed down a buxom green alien, but he locks his phaser on fellow cadet Uhura (Zoe Saldana), the Enterprise’s future communications officer.

While Abrams is fairly dutiful to Star Trek lore and legend, he sloppily violates prime story directives on several counts, most pointedly with Spock. Heavens to Tribbles, only in warped parallel universe would Spock be caught making out with Uhura, that is, without suffering an astronomical breakdown. Abrams also kills off Spock’s human mother (Wynona Ryder)--a woman who curiously appears in one of the show’s original episodes.

A virtual black hole in terms of star power, Star Trek 2009 appears assembled willy-nilly from old episodes, spot-welded by furious and fairly illogical action sequences. As the villain, Abrams beams up Nero (Eric Bana), a vengeful rogue Romulan with Mike Tyson facial tattoos and an eerily monstrous spacecraft shaped like a ganglia of metallic seaweed. Equipped with plasma of “red matter” and the biggest drill bit in the universe, Nero is on a mission to blow up planets real good, starting with Vulcan. While cinematographer Daniel Mindel adds epic visuals (like the sight of tiny shuttlecrafts fleeing a doomed starship), Star Trek’s fascinating uniqueness rested on interpersonal dynamics rather than luminous special effects. Set for stun, Michael Giacchino’s score bombards the audience with blaring horns that you could hear all the way from the Earth to the moon.

Trekkies in search of familiar faces will not find the scenery-gobbling William Shatner anywhere in this cosmos, but Abrams does hail an aging Leonard Nimoy, the once and future Spock, who materializes long enough to give his blessing to Quinto, who could double for Spock’s young clone. While Nero fiddles with mass destruction, the crafty Kirk has to figure out just how to get into Spock’s brain and take command of the ship.

Nostalgic Trekkies (or Trekkers) may look past the glaring errors and weightless plotlines in Abrams’ finite universe. For other earthlings, Star Trek will be a two-hour improbable mission that should have been scrubbed before take-off.

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