IMDB #169 Star Trek

I would've sworn I'd covered last year's Star Trek reboot pretty thoroughly, but then I remembered it wasn't one of the Best Picture nominees for some unfathomable reason.

So strap in, hold on, for a thrill ride that takes the framework of a beloved cultural icon and makes it even better.

That's right, I boldly went there.

The Key Players:

J.J. Abrams is the superproducer and director who masterminded or co-masterminded awesome things like "LOST," "Alias," "Fringe," Cloverfield, Mission Impossible III and also "Felicity." Breaking his teeth as a screenwriter (Forever Young? Really?) and maturing as a tv producer, he's been on a course as a blockbuster visionary ever since writing and directing the "LOST" pilot (the most expensive pilot ever at the time) in 2004.

Leading men Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are probably most-associated with Star Trek this early in their careers- which is a relief for Pine (The Princess Diaries 2, Just My Luck), but a slap in the face to fans of Quinto's work on "Heroes."

So many, many other roles support these two: surely we could get to them all, but my favorites are Karl Urban's about-face into scene-stealing comedy from Lord Of The Rings seriousness and our old friend Simon Pegg from the third countdown entry.

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The Story:

A massive Romulan ship, captained by a crazy Romulan named Nero (Bana), comes seemingly out of nowhere and attacks the USS Kelvin- in the fracas, the Kelvin's captain is killed, and George Kirk briefly takes command before evacuating the ship, setting a collision course to buy the escape shuttles time, and tearfully saying goodbye over the ship's comm to his wife and newborn son.

Some years later, we see that son, young James Tiberius Kirk, steal his stepfather's car and drive it off a cliff as he jumps out- we also see a young Spock on planet Vulcan, struggling with his half-human, half Vulcan heritage. Some years even later than that they both join Starfleet as young adults, Kirk (Pine) because he was tired of back-country bar brawling and Spock (Quinto) out of a seemingly knee-jerk response to the prejudice of the Vulcan Science Academy.

Eventually, Spock graduates with honors and serves as an instructor or TA or something and accuses Cadet Kirk of cheating on a test simulation. The hearing is interrupted by news of an attack on Vulcan, and everyone rushes off to man the new fleet of ships (the rest of the Federation is busy in the Laurentian system, which must be super far away because it only takes three minutes to get to Vulcan at warp).

Adventures and peril follow, during which each of the characters we semi-recognize rise (Uhura, McCoy, Sulu, Checkov, Scott) take over their destined posts and save the day in various ways. Also there's another Spock floating around (Nimoy, of course) for some reason, and a giant ball of something called "red matter."

The Artistry:

A disclaimer: I would describe my appreciation for "Star Trek" the original series as 'casually enthusiastic' at best- I mean, I love the premise, the characters, and so forth, but I can't say I have the whole thing memorized, and I wouldn't defend the stodgy pacing and Shatner's scenery-chewing to someone without the patience for them.

To me, it's always been a relic of another time- I was more into the "Star Trek"s that were on tv during my youth, the later years of "The Next Generation" and the heyday of "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager." But for all that the loss of a sense of philosophical trappings and parlimentary debate to the film reboot doesn't pain me in the slightest.

I wrote here about how great I thought the film was (and here and there about its technical merits during the 2010 Oscarthon), but to sum up: great script, great performances, excellently made (lens flares aside), shoddy science but all-around fun.

Here's the paradox: I would have like it probably less if I cared a whole bunch about the original series, but I also would have liked it less if I knew nothing about it at all.

Why? Because nostalgia is a tricky thing- an ideal of the past, not the thing itself- and considering it went off the air before I was born, "nostalgia" might even be too strong a word. All Star Trek had to do for me then, was remind of the parts I enjoyed of TOS without replicating it exactly. That would be the camraderie between Kirk, McCoy and Spock (check), the basic concept and design of the Federation (check), spaceships that fire space torpedoes at one another (check), and Leonard Nimoy (super-check!).

In a way I think it's partly an issue of ownership, of primacy. There are these big, pop-culture institutions that exist before we all come along and participate in the culture, and even now that we can watch them all on DVD it's hard to feel included- "Star Trek" is great, but it was never meant for me to see in the first place.

And then these remakes come along, and as disheartening as the paucity of originality in Hollywood can be, it helps these institutions belong to entire new generations. This could be why I'll argue for Batman Begins over Batman every time, or the new "Battlestar Galactica" over the old one.

You still have to make a good film- the Transformers and G. I. Joes of the world can testify to that. But J.J. Abrams, with his madcap camera shaking, lens flaring, witty sensibility fully intact, has managed to create something new and old all at once, and I can't wait for the sequel.


Does it matter how we get there? Kirk and Spock end up as Captain and First Officer of the Enterprise after saving Earth (but not Vulcan, which implodes on itself), Nero explodes, the stage is set for the vague, open-ended mission "To explore strange new worlds" and so on.

Hopefully Abrams and co. will take this as a cue to make new stuff up for the sequels instead of rehashing old villains like Khan and so forth.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Well, I did see it three times in the theater. Let's nudge it up a bit. I just realized that when I'm finally done I should re-rank the 250 films I cover, a project that will be nearly as impossible as watching them all (except that Crash will be last).

The Legacy:

It was the first Star Trek film to win an Oscar (for makeup), the highest grossing ever, and the launch of a new franchise. Not too shabby so far.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

This clip (where Kirk goads Spock into attacking him) wins solely because the poster titled in "Erotic Asphyxiation IN SPACE."

Leftover Thoughts:

-Michael Giacchino's score here is so great I'm thinking about tagging his name in all of the countdown entries in which he appears.

-Can you do the "live long and prosper" hand thing? If not I feel for you, because it's awesome.

-I'm working on a screenplay for a kids' movie called Ouroboros about a snake that comically always mistakes its own tail for food.

Coming Up...

168. The Wages Of Fear

167. Ratatouilee

166. Dog Day Afternoon

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