You genuinely have to admire JJ Abrams these days. A man with his fingers in some of the most Zeitgeisty of pies he had his work cut out for him when he was asked to take on what has been known in Paramount Pictures for decades as, simply, “the franchise”. Not only did he take on the task asked of him, he did it in the hardest fashion possible.
Non-trekkies, bear with me for two paragraphs here.
Over four decades the Star Trek story has had such a lifespan it’s taken the original crew from small to big screen, been handed to a completely new Enterprise crew in Star Trek – The Next Generation, been shown on board space stations and entirely new ships (Deep Space 9 and the underrated Voyager) and even been taken back in time before for the short-lived series Enterprise.
The impossible task, and the one no-one in their right mind would have taken upon themselves, was to recast the original crew, some of the most iconic characters in science-fiction and start from scratch. Insanity. Nonsense. Impossible. If there’s one sense you get from Abrams it’s that he thinks nothing is impossible. And thus, it came to pass that he was going to recast the crew, reboot the franchise and start again. There are a thousand ways to get “young Star Trek” wrong, he’s gotten everything right.
I hate going into plot detail in reviews so I won’t, shy of telling you it tells the full story of the original Enterprise crew from Kirk’s birth and Spock’s childhood on Vulcan through the crew’s first flight as younguns on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise and their clash with Eric Bana’s Romulan bad guy Nero who wants to destroy yadda yadda yadda.
The script is fast, sharp and funny where it needs to be, the cast all young, sexy, dovetail nicely and have just the right amount of nod in their performances to the elder versions we all know so well without descending into parody. No surprise though that Zachary Quinto steals the show, as he does playing Sylar in Heroes. His Spock looks uncannily like Leonard Nimoy and he combines just the right amount of cold Vulcan and half-human passion witharched eyebrows in just the right places to make him stand pointy ears above everyone around him.
For fans, the references to the past are nice (the red suited member of the away team always dies, Bruce Greenwood plays Captain Christopher Pike – the original captain of the Enterprise in the pilot episode before Shatner was brought on board) but Abrams doesn’t allow that to tie his hands in any way; this is, after all, a new story we’venever seen on screen anywhere before even in the extensive history of the Star Trek universe. Damn right, too. He creates individual visuals (the starships being assembled in the Iowa flats, the surprisingly 20th century looking bars), creates new yet consistent backstories and uses Michael Giacchino’s incredibly catchy new score to great effect (it only incorporates the original Trek theme over the closing credits).
To be completely honest, as a fanboy of such things I’m always worried about going into screenings like this. The scenes I’d seen in London a few months ago were good, very good, but that was no guarantee the whole thing would stitch together and make any sense. Thankfully, as the party of four I was in came out of the screening the thought was all had in unison was “can we watch the sequel now?” You don’t need to have ever watched an episode of the show or seen a previous Trek movie to easily find this one of the most entertaining movies of 2009.
Reboots are an incredibly tough tightrope to walk. For every Batman Begins there are many Superman Returns littered along the roadside, Star Trek falls heavily into the former category. Not only that but it easily has the potential to break beyond the boundaries of “science fiction movie” into the upper stratosphere of genuine Summer popcorn blockbuster for the masses by the time the tills are totted up at the end of August.
Again, non-Trekkies, bear with me for the next 17 words.
JJ Abrams has taken the Kobayashi Maru test and come out with his commendation for original thinking.
For everyone else, he’s taken something sacred in pop culture and managed to create something entirely new and very cutting edge while keeping that which is important in the hearts of many since the mid-60s intact.
“The franchise” has genuinely been reborn.
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