IMAX may actually be the final frontier for the "Star Trek" series, brought masterfully back to life by director J.J. Abrams and a young cast bringing us the formulative years of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew.
From the film's opening moments, a breathtaking display of CGI and humanity intertwined in which we experience the birth of the future Captain Kirk, it becomes abundantly, overwhelmingly and awesomely clear that, despite our misgivings, J.J. Abrams has nailed this sucker.
Against almost insurmountable odds, Abrams has managed this non-trekkie film critic into a "Star Trek" fan. To say that I enjoyed "Star Trek" would be an understatement...Enthralled? Mesmerized? Captivated? Oh my, yes.
I can't completely turn off my "film critic" analytical side, but when it comes down to it "Star Trek" is, quite simply, one magnificent joyride through the universe.
Unlike last weekend's "Wolverine" prequel that drowned in its own self-importance, Abrams does everything right with "Star Trek," a prequel that perfectly blends the iconic series' mixture of ultra-hip campiness, life-affirming optimism and plain and simple humor.
"Star Trek" somehow accomplishes the seemingly impossible by treating the original with an appropriate reverential respect while forging ahead into a new galactic frontier for contemporary audiences and the newer technologies available.
Abrams and screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci tip their hats to the original, undoubtedly offering a collective sigh of relief to Trekkies everywhere, by including just enough of the original's keynotes to elicit a sufficient number of gasps, chuckles, giggles and cheers. Each character is given a moment in which we sit at the screen and reminisce upon their cinematic past while celebrating this unexpectedly delightful prequel.
While "Star Trek" treats its previous cinematic adventures with all due respect, Abrams and his screenwriters do indeed search out new frontiers in creating an original story, perhaps most a reflection of "Wrath of Khan," and completely opening up the story and its characters to an all new audience.
"Star Trek" is pure and simple cinematic pleasure
What about the cast?
Did you gasp when you heard some of the choices? Think to yourself how they couldn't possibly fill the shoes of such "Star Trek" greats as William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and others?
Stepping into Shatner's shoes, Chris Pine ("Bottle Shock") is part cocky frat boy and part intuitive genius. In other words, he's the perfect young Captain Kirk, son of a former Starfleet Commander with a blend of bravado unmatched courage. Again, Pine offers just the right touch of reverence to Shatner's original while making Captain Kirk all his own.
Be honest. The actor you are really worried about is Zachary Quinto, whom you most likely only know as the dastardly killer on television's "Heroes."
Can't picture it, can you?
Quinto absolutely NAILS it as young Spock, a character far more complex than what we've seen in the years of television and feature films. Orci and Kurtzman haven't re-imagined Spock...they've simply opened the door a touch into his being.
An explanation? Perhaps.
More, a revelation.
It's no secret that Leonard Nimoy himself shows up, and while it's a nice touch it also builds into one of the few slightly unnecessary scenes in "Star Trek" that may leave you scratching your head going "What was that about?"
With only a couple of exceptions, the supporting cast is equally as strong and, again, Abrams gives them the perfect blend of past and future focus.
Bones (Karl Urban, "The Bourne Supremacy") is arguably the heart and soul of "Star Trek," offering a substantial portion of the film's funniest and most heartfelt scenes. As he was in the original series, Urban's Bones is driven by such a painstaking logic that his interactions with Kirk are inherently funny.
The film's other scene-stealer is Simon Pegg ("Shaun of the Dead"), as Scotty, who roars into virtually every scene he's in and provides the perfect counterpoint to Kirk's smooth cockiness. As Uhura, Zoe Saldana ("Vantage Point") adds tremendous personality and an unexpected twist to one of the crew's lesser known members.
Chekhov (Anton Yelchin, "Charlie Barlett") and Sulu (John Cho, "Harold & Kumar" films) are a tad underdeveloped to leave a lasting impression, though neither actor hurts the film and even in their underdeveloped state are given clear moments to allow audiences to reflect back.
Eric Bana ("Munich"), as the film's villain, certainly does an adequate job as the Romulan badass that he is but is fairly irrelevant given the familiarity of the rest of the cast and the reminiscing that's going on. It was sort of like "Oh, that's the bad guy. Cool. Hey, there's Spock again!"
There are likely to be a few devotees and film critics who argue that Abrams has, indeed, overwhelmed "Star Trek" with special effects over storyline. It's a minor quibble, yet an ever so slightly legitimate one. While we are introduced to each character enough to reflect on the past and contemplate the future, it is not their stories that are important in "Star Trek" but their mere presence. Abrams does fill "Star Trek" with the full sensory experience of special effects, and there can be little denying that they may very well to be jarring initially.
Yet, Abrams is sowing seeds here for the return of the "Star Trek" series. With absolute authority, Abrams has stormed the starfleet back into our lives and one can sense that future films, and I assure you there will be future films, will undoubtedly be a finer blend of techno-humanity.
The only special effect, and it wasn't that special, that felt overwhelming was the original score of Michael Giacchino, a mind-numbing, plodding score as monotonous as it was intrusive. On more than one occasion, I found myself saying slightly aloud "Man, that music is awful."
So, J.J., accept our apologies?
We're sorry for doubting you.
You were right.
We were wrong.
The prequel was a good idea.
The casting is darn near spot-on perfect.
You nailed it.
"Star Trek" is the first must see film of Summer 2009!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic