Film » Screens

Back to the Future

J.J. Abrams gives Star Trek a much-needed reboot


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I admit I flashed a Vulcan "live long and prosper" sign to the assembly at my graduation. I've looked up Gene Roddenberry's lyrics to the Alexander Courage classic Star Trek TV theme song. And I've spent the decades since mostly jobless and dateless. Guess you could call me a hardcore fan.

So trust me when I say that J. J. Abrams' much-anticipated remake/reboot/prequel/sequel to Paramount's Star Trek series is not your father's Star Trek — not by light years. It's more like your snotty little iPod-plugged nephew's. That's not to say that the feature isn't great fun, tight as a drum in its action and no disgrace to the legacy of the phenomenal pop-culture franchise.

In the 23rd century, Starfleet up-and-comer George Kirk is killed with his ship when a time-space warp materializes a gang of nasty, vengeful Romulans from 127 years in the future, piloting their own enormous Death Star (more like a Death Squid, given the production design). George's wife gives birth to a nervy punk named James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), who grows up a motorcycle delinquent around the space-shipyards of Iowa. Meanwhile on Vulcan, planet of serene logic and repressed emotion, the persecuted half-human prodigy Spock (Zachary Quinto) grows up with a mild anger-management problem.

Most of the fun is in the first-time reunion of these iconic characters. Pine's cocky Brat-Pack Kirk is less like William Shatner and more like Jim Carrey's comical impression. Quinto nails Spock. It's a good thing this is so entertaining, because the eventual return to deep-space naval battle with the Romulan Death Squid (the villains just conveniently disappear from the narrative for a quarter-century) is hardly stuff Where No One Has Gone Before — the unenthralling baddies seem recycled from 2002's disappointing Nemesis. But then again, one suspects the target audience here is too young to remember that far back anyhow.

Abrams is a slick, smart filmmaker who writes into his Star Trek an ingenious escape mechanism for nitpickers to explain the movie's inconsistencies. It is perhaps a "spoiler warning" to say that parallel universes and messed-up timelines are key not only to the scenario, but to the shift in overall narrative tone. No stuffy Prime Directive; Abrams' trek warps from the formal duty-bound Federation invented by Gene Roddenberry to a wilder and more uninhibited version for the YouTube/Jackass generation. Don't be surprised if, in future sequels, Mr. Spock has a beard and a nasty 'tude, and Uhura is sporting a bare midriff.

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