May 7, 2009, - 1:28 am
By Debbie Schlussel
*** review bumped up from Midnight ***
Stardate 2009.05.07. (Okay, I promise, this is the last stardate . . . until the next “Star Trek” movie.)
Though I’m no Trekkie, I liked the “Star Trek” TV series re-runs and movies as much as the next person (and my mom taught Leonard Nimoy’s son in the New York Public Schools–see my Schlussel Star Trek Trivia post
). But it was getting a little old, like its stars, and tired and haggard. Heck, the original Scottie, James Doohan, is long dead. And the last couple of sequels and TV spin-offs were just not all that.
But “Star Trek,” the latest installment of this late ’60s TV series turned movie franchise, breathes new life into it. And it’s a fun, engaging update, which not only pays homage to its past, but even includes one of the past–Leonard Nimoy as original Spock–in a significant role. His presence is a nice handing off of the proverbial baton, and I’m sure William Shatner is regretting his decision to have himself killed off as the original Kirk, preventing any plausible return in this incarnation.
The movie begins tonight in limited release, with full national release Friday. I saw it amidst a Trekkie audience that consumed it like junkies on crack.
“Star Trek” isn’t so much a “sequel” as it is a reboot with a modern update. We learn how James Tiberias Kirk became Captain of the U.S.S. Starship, and how the half-Vulcan/half-human Spock got there, too. We see both of them as young kids, and that’s fun and interesting. It’s always fun to see a young Vulcan beat up other Vulcans who mock his half-humanness. And it’s fun to see the robot cops on flying motorcycles apprehending a wayward young daredevil, Kirk.
There’s somewhat of a confusing flashback/flash-forward to get us through this and bring back original Spock. But it all gets straightened out and tidied up eventually, amidst terrific special effects and battles with Romulan aliens.
Yes, there is the usual beaming up (and down) of the crew of the spaceship, which is in space amidst a threat from the surviving Romulans (led by actor Eric Bana), out to destroy some important planets. And there are the lines we’ve all come to remember from Montgomery Scott a/k/a “Scotty,” Nimoy’s Spock, and the like.
And the resemblance between the old and new cast members with some modern snarky updates is incredible. The new Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy character, played by Karl Urban, reminds us of the original, DeForest Kelley, getting his mannerisms and hyper-seriousness exactly on point. Ditto for Zachary Quinto’s Spock, who looks just like the younger Nimoy, after make-up, eyebrow transplant, and ear-plasty (or whatever you call an “ear job”). And, of course, main star Chris Pine (whom I liked in last year’s excellent “Bottle Shock”–read my review) is a good casting choice as the funny, restless and slackerish yet smart James Kirk. He’s got spunk, and he’s funny. And I like the new Scotty, as well as learning how he learns to transport members of the Enterprise while the ship is moving. You hardly notice he is the usually goofy comedic actor, Simon Pegg, even though he’s, well, goofy.
If there were any characters I thought were over the top or who added nothing, that would be Chekov and Sulu. Anton Yelchin overdoes Chekov’s Russian accent, extending a stupid joke from a previous Star Trek movie, about being unable to pronounce the “v” sound (which is actually a sound quite common in Russian and easily pronounced–Vasily, Vladimir, Vanya, etc.). The role of Hikaru Sulu is wasted on John Cho, whom we’ll forever see as the stoner in the Harold & Kumar movies. He seems to be there only because he shares George Takei’s Asian visage. Cho adds nothing and is barely noticed. Takei has nothing to worry about in terms of a Star Trek legacy because his “replacement” is like the invisible man.
The beautiful Zoe Saldana, too, adds nothing as Uhura and is more supermodel than Nichelle Nichols’ race-barrier-breaking original. But she is cute and adds the chick factor and mini-skirts to lighten things up.
The always handsome and charismatic Bruce Greenwood as the mature Captain Pike, teacher to both star pupils Kirk and Spock, is a better fit. On the other hand, it was weird and jarring to see the aging Winona Ryder as Spock’s human mother. Shoplifting at Saks makes you look old, apparently, in addition to a good make-up artist on the set.
In case you were wondering, there is “interspecies erotica”–sort of–in this movie. Not the vile, disgusting kind as in “Clerks 2″ (read my review of that depraved flick), but very tame romance between humans and aliens . . . and half-aliens (don’t worry, parents, it’s just some kisses and a scene in underwear).
Sad to say, there are no Klingons in this installment (though there is one passing reference). They need to save something for the next sequel.
There isn’t a lot of suspense or excitement to the story, but that’s typical of the “Star Trek” genre, both on TV and on screen. Some of the best scenes include one in which Kirk trying to escape giant beings chasing him on a wintry planet. It’s reminiscent of a young Luke Skywalker running from beings in “Star Wars.” And a cool bar scene toward the beginning is also reminiscent of Star Wars’ “Cantina,” with aliens drinking and partying side by side with human space crew members. Both scenes were fun, light, and escapist, the way you want your sci-fi adventure movies to be. I want one of those cool Starship Enterprise salt shakers.
Another bonus: The movie is fine for kids, other than some four-letter words and one frisky, relatively tame brief scene between Kirk and a green woman. It’s not very violent. There are a few fighting scenes between Enterprise crew and alien Romulans, but it’s not bloody or disturbing in the least. It’s basic Star Trek-esque stuff. Also great, the movie is devoid of political sentiment and statements. Very welcome.
If anything, this movie is brighter and more optimistic, plus more humorous than I remember the other “Star Trek” movies. The cast is mostly fresh and a welcome update.
With this new, young cast amply comprising the updated Enterprise crew we know and love, you can be sure the “Star Trek” series will live long and prosper.
Don’t beam me up just yet, Scotty. There’s actually some tiny modicum of intelligent life in Hollywood, after all.
BTW, there’s sort of an homage to this scene in the new “Star Trek” movie (and I’m not talking about that weird man-bra Kirk is wearing):