It’s life Jim, but not as we know it

J.J Abrams’ Star Trek reboot/remake will likely demonstrate tremendous success in attracting mainstream viewers. Not only because of the action packed TV spots that have littered prime time television, but because Abrams followed through on his promise to make a Trek movie that would be near-universally accessible.

J.J Abrams’ Star Trek reboot/remake will likely demonstrate tremendous success in attracting mainstream viewers. Not only because of the action packed TV spots that have littered prime time television, but because Abrams followed through on his promise to make a Trek movie that would be near-universally accessible.

Obviously, you can’t please everyone and no doubt there will be those who find this Star Trek distasteful. They might be the die-hard Trek faithful for whom the cadence of William Shatner’s voice is like a sweet lullaby, or they might just be uninterested parties. Bottom line, you can never make everyone happy.

But Star Trek is exactly what one might hope for in a summer franchise film. It’s fast-paced, entertaining and exciting with plenty of laughs. Star Trek, Abrams’ Star Trek anyway, plays out how the Star Wars prequels should have, as a summer blockbuster, with the occasional moment of gravitas and a coy smile and a wink every time a reference is made to the original.

Certainly Star Trek is not without its flaws. The film is rushed, characters are introduced quickly and with little expansion, resulting in a cast of relatively one-dimensional players.

It is particularly the characterization, or lack thereof, of the antagonist Nero (Eric Bana) that is troublesome. Other characters have become so much a part of our collective cultural consciousness, parodied in film and television, referenced in both sci-fi and mainstream entertainment alike, we can fill in some of the holes until the inevitable sequel.

But it is not made entirely clear why Nero, a Romulan miner from a future where he has suffered a devastating loss, has cast blame for his pain on the Federation (for those unfamiliar with Star Trek, the Federation is sort of like an inter-planetary U.N.). Nero has made his intended retribution clear, but the problem is that his chosen victims seem arbitrary when considering the circumstances under which Nero and Spock, or as he is referred to in the credits, Spock Prime, are sent hurtling backwards through space and time from the 24th century.

As for the stylistic and visual design of Trek, I can say that I was impressed, if not occasionally annoyed. On one hand, the design crew on the film managed to put together a collection of sets, ships and locations that, while certainly not as archaic and cheesy as the car radio glued to a piece of painted cardboard design was back in the late ’60s, maintain a classic, genuine feel true enough to the series as to not be distracting or dare I say, totally alien.

On the other hand, you’ve no doubt seen the previews where the crew of the Enterprise conducts their business from a bridge made to look like the interior of an Apple store. One half expects to see an Apple “genius” wandering through a shot troubleshooting a dying Macbook.

But the truly surprising aspect of the film is that it was funny. Not Seth Rogen talking about his balls funny, but a delightful, light-hearted amusement that can only come about by not taking itself too seriously.

Star Trek is a summer film, and doesn’t try to be anything else. There’s no pontificating by Kirk, and Spock’s referral to what is and is not logical is kept to a minimum except when used as a device for humor.

Of particular note are the characters of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, played by a whimsical Simon Pegg, Leonard “Bones” McCoy portrayed as a neurotic and techno-phobic space-faring medical officer who hates space, and finally Pavel Chekov, the Russian ensign who’s accent is one of the funniest parts of the film thanks to Leningrad-born American actor Anton Yelchin.

Of course when it comes to the non-comedic relief crewmembers, they’re still necessary and fit well into the film. Enterprise communications officer Uhura, played by Zoë Saldana in standard-issue Starfleet mini-skirt, is a tad prudish, but is ultimately warm, John Cho as Hikaru Sulu was a surprising pick but not unwelcome (although you just can’t beat the legendary voice of George Takei) and Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood holds a commanding presence as the Enterprise’s Captain at the outset of Kirk’s Starfleet service.

As for characters such as Jim Kirk, depicted by bobble-headed Chris Pine (seriously, he has a gigantic head) and Spock, played by Zachary “Sylar from Heroes” Quinto, they are not the same Kirk and Spock that were made famous in the ’60s program.

Nero’s trip back through time and his resulting actions, fundamentally alter space/time, spurring the creation of an alternate reality to that which is depicted in the ’60s television series (this fact is all but spelled out by Quinto’s Spock upon the Enterprise’s first run-in with Nero).

This parallel timeline features events that directly affect both Kirk and Spock’s lives. Given this fact, it is difficult to judge these characters against their preceding depictions, since they are, for all intents and purposes, different characters.

As for the basics, Pine has no problem embodying the pomposity and arrogance that is characteristic of Kirk, and Quinto easily manages the chilled logic of Spock, while struggling, as Spock would, with outward displays of emotion.

But honestly, it’s the little things that are most fun about Trek, especially the references to the film’s predecessors: Kirk trying desperately to ascertain the first name of Uhura, a surprisingly sexy green-skinned Orion woman (originally referred to as Orion slave girl, but that doesn’t seem accurate as she is a Starfleet cadet in the film), and an interchange that references The Wrath of Khan where someone informs Kirk “you are my friend. I have been, and always shall be yours.”

Finally, I was delighted to see that the few aliens that were featured in Star Trek (not counting the Vulcans and Romulans) were a good deal more creative in their appearance than has been depicted in Trek‘s past. Gone are the bumpy foreheads and ridged noses that indicated an alien race, replaced by oblong craniums, spiky diminutive mutes and a Ron Perlman caricature.

Of course, Star Trek has its fair share of blemishes, but it makes for a damn good summer blockbuster, and sets the bar high for the coming months, making it clear that a remake/reboot doesn’t have to be as brooding and gritty as The Dark Knight to be successful and, more importantly, entertaining.