A Non-Vulcan Beams Up to ‘Star Trek’

I’ve never donned a pair of Vulcan ears in my life, and when I hear the word “Klingon,” my first thought is something horrible stuck to the bottom of my shoe. To me, “Star Trek” pretty much began and ended with Sunday afternoons as a kid spent watching William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy take on […]

Last Updated: May 5, 2009 @ 3:36 PM

I’ve never donned a pair of Vulcan ears in my life, and when I hear the word “Klingon,” my first thought is something horrible stuck to the bottom of my shoe.

To me, “Star Trek” pretty much began and ended with Sunday afternoons as a kid spent watching William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy take on tribbles, duplicate Earths and, er, Joan Collins.

I mean, sure, I saw a few of the movies. “The Wrath of Khan” certainly rocked it in ’82. But I always got the plots of the others mixed up in my mental mindpod (which one had the whales again?) and I never saw enough of the later shows to separate my “Next Generations” from my “Voyagers.”

As far as J.J. Abrams goes, I’ve got to confess I’m similarly not an acolyte (although I did love his “M-I:III”). I was out of country when “Alias” began and coming in late and getting my head around all those high-kickin’ betrayals was way too much of a stretch.

I tried with “Lost,” I really did, but it lost me when it started being three beats of backstory for every plot development involving … a polar bear?

All of this is a roundabout way of saying I didn’t have the highest-ever hopes for the new “Star Trek” movie — and my way of saying that if you find yourself with similar reservations, you should put them aside and beam yourself into theaters this weekend.

Simply put, it’s one of the most rollicking sci-fi adventures in a long time – smart, funny and emotionally satisfying, which, for a tentpole summer pic meant to kickstart a franchise, is a rare and beautiful thing.

Abrams has done the seemingly impossible — he’s made a movie for people like me that also satisfies the fans. (I know because I asked a bunch of hard-core Trekkies immediately after the almost-world premiere in Sydney.) (See www.thewrap.com/ind-column/2276)

The reason Abrams could achieve such a spectacular success is … because he’s not a hard-core Trekkie, either. Instead, he approached the material with a genuine curiosity balanced with (a) an awareness for the reverence with which it’s held and (b) a healthy sense of humor about that same sacredness.

What emerges in his “Star Trek” is a shiny new take on a sci-fi tale that’s been doing the rounds for over 40 years now.

We find out how Kirk and Spock came to be — and better, WHY they came to be. But here backstory doesn’t stop the action dead in its tracks. Instead, it IS the action.

Even the back-backstory is explosive — witness the first sequence, surely one of the highest-stakes birth scenes in cinema history. And from that moment on, “Star Trek” keeps us glued to the screen as surely as those pointy latex ears were affixed to Nimoy’s head for 79 episodes.

What also shines is Abrams’ warm sense of humor about the  characters and their quotable quotes and mythology. I won’t give anything away, but you’ll nod and laugh in recognition as these new incarnations of characters say the words they’ve always said. And Kirk rocking out to the Beastie Boys is as funny as it is fitting. It’s not parody, Jim, but knowing celebration.

As this grand adventure unfolds (not, it must be said, without some headscratching “WTF?” plot developments, but what would a “Star Trek” story — or an Abrams piece — be without such developments?) it’s also easy to find Abrams’ major cited influence: “Star Wars.” You’ll feel it in the tone, literally hear it in at least one line of dialogue and see it especially in Chris Pine’s performance as Han … I mean, James T. Kirk.

If only George Lucas had taken Abrams on to make “The Phantom Menace.” Of course, back then he was writing “Armageddon” and, even if had been in the picture for such a job, as a hard-core “Star Wars” nerd he might’ve been too close to the material to make it work any better — although he surely would’ve spared us Jar Jar Binks.

As a non-Trekkie, though, Abrams was the perfect choice to make “Star Trek” relevant again — and, in a twist worthy of an episode of the original series or “Lost,” turn himself and all of us non-Trekkies into Trekkies in the process.

Now where’s my skivvie?

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