(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: The new film STAR TREK (the title is just the two words) is J. J. Abrams's restart of the "Star Trek" series. While nobody is going to give it any awards for great new ideas, it does tell a good action-filled adventure story and makes a prequel and origin to the original TV series that is almost consistent. The viewer does see and hear the 1966 characters in their younger incarnations--no small feat for the filmmakers. One almost wants to go back and watch the original series to see what happens next. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Film series generally work by formulae that please the public. But eventually a formula becomes too predictable and the series audience slowly slips away. Sometimes the storytellers decide to just make the series more extreme. This strategy reeks of desperation and is called "jumping the shark." But by rethinking the characters and situations and perhaps putting in a little more intelligent writing, a series can be revived. Batman and James Bond films have each gone through relatively recent rethinking. Now that the "Star Trek" TV and movies have died out, the producers have decided that the series needs a re-fit for the new generation just as the Starship Enterprise itself periodically did. To captain the new "Star Trek" we have J. J. Abrams, the creator of TV's "Lost" and "Alias", who was chosen for the director's seat. He has given us the best of the "Star Trek" films and brought the old series to a new generation.

The idea of Abrams's film is to do an origin story. That gives new details about the characters to old fans and old details to new fans. The series started in 1966 with some characters on the bridge and running what was to be the most famous spaceship in future history, the Starship Enterprise. Now Abrams with the help of writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman tells the story of how those characters got to be on that starship. Nearly everybody seems to have come from the same class at Starfleet Academy. That class was entertained the friction between two of its members, both misfit rebels (how original!), both bright, but otherwise very different. One was the undisciplined James T. Kirk (played by Chris Pine) and the other was a priggish half-human-half-alien named Spock (Zachary Quinto). For the film they have brought on board the newly-launched Enterprise pretty much the whole gang including Chekov (Anton Yelchin) who did not appear in the first season.

The film also has its own nasty, a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana). Those Romulans not only took the name of their planet from Ancient Rome (on Earth), they seem to have taken their personal names from Roman history.

The story has two main requirements. It has to tell a good story, at which it is fairly successful. It also has to be consistent with the existing "Star Trek" mythology. (George Lucas had similar constraints with STAR WARS: EPISODE III--REVENGE OF THE SITH.) I would guess that at some point in the writing the script was doing both successfully. But for various reasons the jigsaw puzzle piece that was crafted did not quite fit. So the script copped out and said that this is not the world we knew from TV. This is an alternate history created by circumstances of the story and things may not work out the same way. That does add a little dramatic tension, suggesting that characters who lived in the TV universe might die in this one. There are some revisions to Kirk's background. In this world he did not get to meet his father. Nor, mercifully, did he get a commendation for cheating in the Kobayashi Maru academy test as STAR TREK II suggested. There are other differences in the two worlds.

The characters seem a little better fleshed out in this film than in previous "Star Trek" films. And the acting is good both to the characters and to provide continuity. One can almost hear the original characters' voices in the new mouths. Kirk even looks and sounds a little like the original, and so does Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban). One the other hand Uhura (Zoe Saldana) did not sound a lot like Nichelle Nichols. The one bad apple is Simon Pegg as Scotty. He really overdoes the Scottish accent as if he is playing less to "Star Trek" fans and more to Simon Pegg fans.

The film has the usual dubious pseudo-science invented for the story. In this universe there is some as yet undiscovered type of matter dubbed "red matter." Red matter must have something to do with trans-dimensional physics. It is light and portable, but if released it gets mass from somewhere unexplained and generates a black hole. This is used as the villains' weapon. They drill deeply into planets and create black holes inside with rather nasty consequences. It was unclear to me why a black hole simply dropped on the surface of a planet would be any less dangerous than one in the planet's interior. And dropping on the surface of the planet would have made for a lot less work. Another problem is that while the series was never very consistent on the shape of Spock's pointed ears, at least they never made that obvious. In this film we see Spock at two different ages and the ears look entirely different. Quinto's nose seemed built up a little also to match Leonard Nimoy's nose better. (Quinto should be grateful that Karl Malden wasn't the original Spock.)

A new fan of the series--and there are more that I would have expected--can enjoy STAR TREK, but a veteran "Trek" devotee will get a lot more out of it. Now that I have seen Abram's STAR TREK, I almost feel like I want to go back and watch "Star Trek" the original series. I rate the new movie a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper