Pros: A worthy jumpstart, clever, and fair. Great action, special effects, and plot.
Cons: Some will scream about the changes. Cope.
Star Trek (2009) Directed by J.J. Abrams Created by Gene Roddenberry.
"Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence." Dr. Leonard ‘Bones' McCoy.
There are two ways to approach a remake of a classic. The first is what they are doing to Land of the Lost. Originally a long on creativity, short on budget Saturday Morning Kids show, now, it is a Will Farrell vehicle, with all that implies. The original took itself deadly seriously, so much so it was funny, about a family stuck in a closed universe where the rules of time and space were much more flexible. Now, Marshal, Will and Holly are all adults, and not related, or at least I hope not, and sexual innuendo bumbles along with slapstick comedy.
This sort of thing can work, or it can be a disaster. Mostly, it's a disaster. Look at the Brady Bunch Movies and Starsky and Hutch. Both are abominable insults to the original material.
The other way is a faithful pastiche, clinging to the spirit of the original material. The Spirit was one such recent movie that suffered at the box office because it was true to the source material.
Now, let's consider Star Trek. The landmark 1966 series is one of the great icons of television history. It was the first interracial kiss on television. It was the first to ever spawn fan clubs that tried, and damn near succeeded, in reviving it from the dead. Certainly it's fanatical, almost cult like following explains how it was turned into a successful series of big screen films, and spawned four successful spinoff series; Star Trek Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager, and Star Trek Enterprise, not to mention countless comics and novels.
Consider carefully how you toy with the beloved icon of rabid geeks, many of whom own working bet'leths. Trekkies can be dangerous in large groups. Or left alone with electronic equipment. Or with ordinary household chemicals....
How to "relaunch" a beloved icon with detailed history and literally thousands of rabid fans ready to shred any "inaccuracy" no matter how slight? How to express any creativity under that sort of scrutiny?
Well, let me tell you, they did it, fair and square. They took the classic, dusted it off, cut away some of the clutter, juiced up the good bits, and made it their own. And they did it fair and square, by the rules.
There are going to be inevitable comparisons between the old cast and the new, so let's quit beating around the bush and get started.
Pavel Chekov was added later in the series in an effort to balance some of the Monkey's sex appeal to teen girls. It worked out. Walter Koenig was the ‘kid' and in an early glasnost sort of move they made him Russian. In an odd sort of development, his accent got worse as he got older, culminating in Star Trek Four. Now he is seventeen, and played by Anton Yelchin. While incapable of pronouncing the letter V, Chekov is brilliant and talented.
Hikaru Sulu was always my favorite (I guess I knew even then.) George Takei refused to let him become an oriental stereotype, hence his rotating hobbies, and his interest in a very un-oriental martial art; fencing. John Cho wanted Sulu to come across as masculine, so he worked out vigorously, spending two weeks working on fighting. And yes, there is fencing.
Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott was always the heart of the ship. James Doohan played him older, crafty, and with a sense of humor. Simon Pegg is younger, and more enthusiastic. Still, the man focused totally on his own little world, (engineering) and its view (engines before people), that is intact. Scotty may be a little more exuberant, but this is supposed to be Scotty in the very first years.
Lt. Nyota Uhura. This is the first time her first name is used. Nichelle Nichols was always so lovely so decorative, and so underutilized. It wasn't really until Hoshi Sato that they explored the importance of the communications officer. Now Zoe Saldana gives her a chance to strut her stuff. Calm and collected, she is far more than decorative, but a master of her discipline, Xenolinguistics, and a woman who knows her own mind. One of the favorite hobbies of fan boys has always been speculating who Uhura ended up with. In this version, that question is most emphatically answered. It will blow your mind.
Dr. Leonard ‘Bones' McCoy. He was just an ole country doctor. He was not an escalator, nor a bricklayer, nor an engineer. His irascible "Damn it Jim, I'm a Doctor, not a...." were a signature of the series. The emotional counterbalance to the logical Spock, McCoy is intuitive and sensitive. DeForest Kelley was the emotional core of the ship. He was quick to anger, and quick to forgive, and mend fences. Always the healer, and as brave as any of the phaser wielding military boys, he was one of my childhood heroes. Karl Urban plays him with the same mix of cynicism and charm. He is Kirk's first friend. Older, wiser, or at least divorced once, he is solidly the captain's cohort.
Spock. Child of two worlds, torn between two radically differing philosophies. Trained to suppress and control his emotions through logic, Spock is still an emotional being. It is just subtler. The tilt of an eyebrow may be all the sign you get, but they convey much, these eyebrows. Spock is played by three actors in this movie. Spock the child was played by Jacob Kogan, Spock the man by Zachary Quinto, and the elderly Ambassador Spock by the one and only Leonard Nimoy. Quinto, so menacing as Sylar on Heroes, now tones it down several notches. And of all the performances, his is the closest to a true pastiche of the original. And he makes us believe he is really torn between his two worlds.
Captain James Tiberius Kirk. The only man to ever beat the Kobiyashi Maru Test. Charming, cocky, decisive. The Captain roamed the universe, fighting the good fight and seducing green women. Some things should never change. William Shatner was a mix of arrogance and sensitivity, who led from the gut and was led from slightly lower. So is Chris Pine. One of the things I have missed about the later incarnations of Star Trek is that Horn dogs in Space attitude. Picard was far too reserved. Cisco, too busy and bad@$$, Janeway, far too cerebral. Only Archer came close. And even he played second fiddle to Trip. But now we are back to the womanizer with a heart of gold and absolute certainty that he is right. Younger, rougher, brasher even that Shatner, Pine breathes a fresh breath into the captaincy.
A few other notes; Bruce Greenwood plays Christopher Pike, originally played by Jeffery Hunter in the first pilot. He is older and steadier than our Kirk beta test. Sarek was originally played by Mark Lenard. Now, Ben Cross gives a worthy performance. His wife Amanda Greyson was played by the lovely Jane Wyatt. Winona Rider captures more of a human performance. In the 60's a wife would have adapted to her husband's culture. Now, she is more herself. And finally, the voice of the computer. Majel Barrett, who played Nurse Chapel in the original series (after being busted from first officer in the pilot; too progressive.) was the Queen of Star Trek. She was Number One, Nurse Chapel, Lt. M'riss in the animated series, Lwaxana Troi in Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and the computer voice in every single incarnation. She was also the wife of Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry. Happily she completed the voice of the computer for this movie two weeks before her death on December 18, 2008. Good night, fair lady.
I was very worried when I heard they were "jumpstarting" the franchise. It would be very easy to ruin it. But they were true to the spirit, and careful to play by the rules, and they did Gene Roddenberry proud.
Science Fiction serves a purpose; while it may be set in the future, it addresses the questions and concerns of the times it is made in. The first Star Trek dealt with women's roles, racial issues, and the growing power of technology in our society. In later incarnations, the issues changed. Women were as capable as men. What defines humanity? Data and the Doctor explored those issues, along with the rights of artificial life forms. And the Borg explored the integration of man and machine. The Ferengi were an outgrowth of the Greed is Good mentality of the 80s. The Bajorians explored displaced people and themes of terrorism.
Sci Fi has to evolve to address our modern concerns. And that is why the classic had to be updated. Women's and racial issues are more or less solved. Now we are dealing with things like endangered species.
The action is there. The special effects are like nothing you have ever seen in any Star Trek before. It is all cutting edge, and getting back to basics, all at the same time. Rest easy, my fellow Trekkies, the Great Bird of the Galaxy would be pleased.
Boldly Go Where No One Had Gone Before!
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek: The Search for Spock
Star Trek: The Voyage Home
Star Trek: The Final Frontier
Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek: Generations
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: Nemesis