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May 13, 2009 - Rick Chatenever
Now that the Starship Enterprise has landed, it’s come down to the old guys vs. the new guys.
Trekkies of old have decried J.J. Abrams’ “reimagining” of the cult classic for replacing its iconic original stars, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, with fresh-faced newcomers Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto.
They have pored over every detail of Abrams’ gorgeous new version, bemoaning each discrepancy from the etched-in-stone cosmology.
Leonard Nimoy may have a pivotal role in this prequel, implying his endorsement of its bold mission, but longtime fans have no such luck. It’s especially hard on those who embraced the beloved TV and movie series most deeply, memorizing Trek lore with the dedication of monks copying sacred texts, or showing up at Trekkie conventions dressed as their favorite characters. For them, the new film is an act of betrayal.
Its new story risks erasing the old one. For those who climbed aboard the old Starship Enterprise in search of a new image, it’s like intergalactic identity theft. Now they’ll have to get a life elsewhere.
Having been there at the black and white creation of Gene Roddenberry’s original “Star Trek” on TV, and having later gone for a ride on the third “Star Trek” movie (thanks for all the feedback on last week’s column, by the way), I wasn’t expecting to be that fond of this new version.
So imagine my surprise, and delight, at having to eat my skeptical words. The new “Star Trek” is a bold departure, and a brilliant mission accomplished.
Granted, my Trekkie roots don’t run deep. I never really got all the science-fiction details, much less the mythology, of the old show or movies. The punch line to a raunchy joke about Uranus was as close as I got to knowing what a Klingon was.
But for a fabulously successful franchise fueled by Spock’s insistence on logic and rationality, the new gospel according to J.J. Abrams stresses emotions from beginning to end.
That’s what makes it so good. The screenplay may travel ingeniously back and forth through time, but as it turns out — like the old song says — the fundamental things still apply.
The problem with most new movie versions of old favorite TV shows is that they seem to be happening in parallel universes. The original reflected its times in ways that clicked with audiences at that moment. Also, it was TV, which implied a certain humility, if not an out-and-out inferiority complex.
By the time Hollywood studios decide to recycle it — in lieu of coming up with something actually creative — all they’ve got is a brand name associated with warm fuzzy memories, and millions of dollars to translate it into Happy Meals.
Director Abrams and company deftly sidestep this trap by making their “Star Trek” as relevant in our time as the first one was in its own. He and the writers do this by making the odd couple at its core — Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock — something they never were before: actual characters.
Instead of focusing on those Klingons and other alien life forms the Enterprise encounters (which provided convenient camouflage for Roddenberry to look at topical issues closer to home), the new movie is more interested in Kirk and Spock’s inner lives.
While the contrast between Spock’s cool logic and Kirk’s Saturday matinee melodrama were TV-sized caricatures destined for immortality, the movie fleshes them out into full-sized issues.
Pine mixes comedy and poignancy playing Kirk as a hot-headed daredevil trying to fill in the gap left by a father he never knew. Quinto is far more complicated, balancing his Vulcan detachment with the feelings he inherited from his very human mother. That cool logic doesn’t come naturally to him; he’d often rather bash someone’s head in. And he’s the one — not playboy Kirk — generating smoldering chemistry with the beguiling new Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana).
The rest of the supporting cast is uniformly fine. Watching the new cast playing the young Scotty, McCoy, Sulu and Chekov is like seeing yearbook photos of future rock stars. But knowing what they are destined to become isn’t necessary to enjoy this new “Star Trek.”
Actually, you don’t need any familiarity with the series to thoroughly enjoy it. While the script is intelligent enough to watch with your head, the movie is even more satisfying to watch with your heart.
Speaking of trips and treks among the stars, we’re going to get to do it again, for real, Maui-style, when the Maui Film Festival returns to Wailea in less than a month.
“It will be a more independent-minded festival than ever,” promises festival Director Barry Rivers.
We’ll beam you up for a sneak peek next week.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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