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May 8, 2009

Star Trek hits the big screen


Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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Industrial Light & Magic
The summer movie season has officially arrived. Forget Wolverine: Star Trek is the summer flick of your dreams. Directed by J.J. Abrams, co-creator of Lost and director of Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek is a sophisticated space opera that weaves in and out of the Star Trek canon, basking in a glorious redefinition of these boundaries and taking the canon...where no man has gone before. Come on, it had to be said.

Star Trek opens with a dazzling space battle that introduces the alien villain, Nero (Eric Bana), as his massive cephalopod ship emerges from a black hole vortex to attack the USS Kelvin with Captain James T. Kirk’s parents and the unborn Kirk aboard. Baby Kirk loses his father in the destruction of the Kelvin, but is born on a medical evacuation ship during the battle. Years go by, and we see a rebellious but brilliant Kirk (Chris Pine) drifting around in a quest for self-purpose—and the first name of a mysterious female Starfleet Academy officer (Nyota, played by Zoe Saldana).

We are also introduced to Spock (Zachary Quinto), born to a Vulcan father and a human mother, who is torn between the emotional restraint common to the Vulcans and the need to let his emotions run free as those brash humans do. When Kirk arrives as an officer-in-training at Starfleet Academy, a kind of space military training school, Spock is already a commander in Starfleet. When Kirk manages to beat a special space-training simulation designed by Spock by cheating, the two men become bitter rivals.

But Spock and Kirk are forced to work together after Nero announces plans to attack all the planets in the United Federation, beginning with Vulcan and moving next to Earth, as revenge for a cataclysmic event that won’t happen for 120 years. It’s here that an aged, time-traveling Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) appears on the scene to try to alter the course of events. Nimoy’s role is no mere cameo, but an integral player in the shaping of the events. One can see here, in the time travel plot, the input from Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, who is also a producer on Star Trek.

Each member of the crew of the USS Enterprise is given a chance to shine, and they all make good use of it. Karl Urban plays Leonard “Bones” McCoy, a medical officer with cowboy bravado who steals every scene he’s in. Zoe Saldana is Nyota Uhura, the communications officer and Kirk’s dream girl; however, he learns her first name at the same time he learns she’s in a relationship with Spock. (Perhaps a setup for a sequel?) Rounding out the cast is Eric Bana’s vengeful Romulan-from-the-future Nero, who has a bone to pick with Spock. The much-anticipated Simon Pegg comes in later as Scotty, but unfortunately vies for the camera a little too much, so his appearance is less thrilling than anticipated.

Not since Casino Royale have I felt such a rush of adrenaline from a movie. It’s the best of thrill rides, mixing awe-inspiring special effects (you have never seen a planet implode so beautifully) with old-fashioned choreographed stunt work. Filmed with sweeping, swerving tracking crane shots and askew framing, the movie proves well-suited to classic Abrams tricks. Rarely do all the right elements of a roaring action blockbuster come together so seamlessly as they have here. And a big nod to Michael Giacchino’s riveting score is in order as well.

J.J. Abrams, who admitted last week in a conference call that he was never a Star Trek fan and initially felt he was the wrong choice for the project, grew to love the film through the strength of the script and the fun he had working within the limits of the Star Trek canon. “The rules of Star Trek, [with] which I was not really familiar...were actually sort of a wonderful thing because it gave us this sort of playground,” Abrams said. “And then once we were in the playground we could do whatever we wanted and we could just, you know, go nuts.”

For Abrams, who felt a disconnect from the characters in the beginning, the real fun was in finding the emotional core of the story to accentuate the explosions and fighting. “The thing that makes any story resonate and work and worth anyone’s time is when you relate to the characters, when you care about them, when you feel for them. And all the spectacle in the world means nothing if there’s not a person or a character at the center of it that you care about.”

If there is anything J.J. Abrams wants audiences to know, it’s that this is an accessible Star Trek film that doesn’t require a wealth of knowledge of the canon to appreciate. “But I wanted Star Trek to be a movie that, you know, you and I and our friends and girlfriends and wives and kids and parents could all go see and not feel like, ‘What the hell?’” Full of thrilling action, beautiful camerawork, and excellent acting, this summer blockbuster is sure to please both fans and first-time Star Trek viewers alike.