A film review by Gary Chew
Never expect a bunch of network television statistic geeks to ever go anywhere boldly, especially for something completely different. Say, like a fresh, provocative sci-fi series that only lasted from '66 to '69 and was always threatened with cancellation those short-lived years way back in the dark reaches of the 20th century.
That would be your basic "Star Trek" on the NBC television machine with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Yes, I was a Trekkie in those days and all steamed that the NBC peacock wasn't crowing the show's praises due to numbers. The thinking was likely a prequel to thoughts such as: "Well, 'The X-Files' is kind of off-beat, so we really oughta program it on Friday night, right?"
Well, this new Gene Roddenberry TV show was really far out. Not just into the galaxy, but with who they put on board the space ship: a cold-acting geek guy with funny ears; a dude with a brogue who runs the rocket engines; a physician with diagnoses and vaccinations for the whole crew; a Russian kid who is surely a Commie; a nerdy Asian fellow. And, get this, a black person---but not only that---she's a woman! Thank you, Mr. Roddenberry.
Before the several "Star Trek" TV series and big features ensued, who'd've thought that on Stardate 2009 point zero-five slash zero-eight, the smash franchise would be rolled over for our kids and grandkids to take even further into the final frontier? The effect is for much more than a mere five-year mission. And such a prequel it is! Hell, it may last until the 23rd century when it will all begin, right there on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Zachary Quinto as Spock, Chris Pine as Kirk
The face of a character, not listed back a couple of paragraphs, called Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is now one that's a coarse amalgam of Brad Pitt and James Dean with Paul Newman eyes. And the geeky, funnily-eared guy (Zachary Quinto) is surely the anonymous love child of a very fine actor by the name of Leonard Nimoy, who also plays in this film, the same person---at the same time with Quinto---known as Spock. (Thank God for black holes and warp drives.) Paramount can't miss with "Star Trek," vintage 2009, directed by J. J. Abrams with script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.
The new "Star Trek" puts everyone, newcomer and Trekkie alike, on the ground floor as to how the future all came to be for the well-known characters of this Horatio Hornblower space tale. We see Jennifer Morrison, briefly. She's Winona, Kirk's mother who gives birth to Jim about 45 seconds before his father, George (Chris Hemsworth) is vaporized in the collision of his empty starship and a huge Romulan vessel. With measured stoicisim, the last thing George says to his wife on the telemetry is, "What shall we call him?
Young Spock is torn by his mixed heritage: Vulcan father and human mother. Winona Ryder is cast as Amanda, Spock's mother. And Ben Cross, well-remembered from the successful "Chariots of Fire" (Best Picture Oscar,1981), plays Sarek, Spock's Vulcan father.
Other new faces in the spacesuits of old characters are Karl Urban as Bones; Zoë Saldana as Uhura; Simon Pegg as Scotty; John Cho as Sulu; Anton Yelchin as Chekov and Eric Bana (seen at right), in the role of a new vicious Romulan skipper named Nero, sans fiddle.
How could the special effects not be spectacular? And the sets are what took up a lot of the 150 million dollar budget to make this buster of blocks. Met Opera fans should be enchanted with the contrasts in the new "Star Trek" sets. Especially between the white, Kubrick-esque, spanking-clean, high-tech Enterprise interiors to the ugly, dark, heavy-metal insides of Romulan space ships. I kept expecting Black Sabbath to be piped in on the Romulan craft's sound system. The Romulans also have cool tattoos. They only show the ones on their arms and faces, though. (PG-13)
Scenes on the planet Vulcan, shown briefly, seem to all come together as an impressionistic expression of the faces of Mr. Nimoy and Mr. Quinto: think of their profiles as you see the Vulcan architecture and distance rock formations of the Vulcan terrain.
Furthermore, what with all the machismo and sacrificial heroism of so many neat space dudes of the future, how could a movie list its end credits without the familiar Star Trek theme, written by a man called Courage. Alexander, that is. Courage rhymes with garage.
I'm thinking creator Gene Roddenberry had a penchant for certain kinds of voiced sounds to underscore his larger-than-life heroes. The 'k' sound is the most prominent: Kirk, Spock, Pike, McCoy, Scotty, Chekov, and places like Vulcan, not to mention a scientific measurement and another Starfleet ship, both called Kelvin.
And so, as J. J. Abrams said when he'd finished shooting "Star Trek," "That's a warp!"
Talk about liking your job.
(Special thanks to an old Trekkie and public radio friend of mine, Mike Lazar, for his informed and invaluable consultation on a very complex and revered subject of Americana.)
Gary Chew can be grokked at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.