The new prequel/remake/alternate-reality version of the venerable (and multiple) Star Trek TV and film series didn’t remind me so much of former incarnations as much as it brought to mind another big screen adaptation of a sci-fi television show from the 1960’s: Lost in Space. Trekkers will likely want to jettison me out the shuttle hatch for saying so, but the current box-office bonanza looks and is plotted a lot like the widely-panned (although I admire it) 1998 movie of producer Irwin Allen’s so-silly-it’s-cool “Space Family Robinson” saga, right down to their shared time-tripping scenarios.
Also similarly, the new Star Trek movie is produced and directed by J.J. Abrams, who, like the late Allen, hops back and forth between feature films and TV series, including Lost and Alias. Readers familiar with his past work can have fun seeing how Abrams’ take on the early years of Kirk, Spock, Uhura, etc., confirms many of the producer-director’s fetishes: long-haired, exotic and/or ethnic women; giant, clawed monsters à la Cloverfield; bone-crunching, mano-a-mano fight scenes; and the reality-bending as well as redemptive possibilities of time travel (as anyone who watches Lost knows).
In the current film, the newly-acquainted and barely-trained crew members of the USS Enterprise are thrown into action against a renegade Romulan, Nero (played by Eric Bana, a fine actor here reduced to glowering menacingly and little more). Nero and his loyal crew possess futuristic technology that enables their squid-like ship to travel through time and turn planets into black holes in a matter of minutes. The villains have a vendetta against Spock, although not Zachary Quinto’s younger incarnation (which is fine) so much as the older Ambassador Spock, a.k.a. Leonard Nimoy.
Nero & Co.’s obsessive hunger for vengeance struck me as more than a bit borrowed from 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which Ricardo Montalban’s genetic superman is blinded by his desire for revenge against William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. Of course, there is no better source to borrow from than Wrath of Khan, generally regarded as the best of all the Trek films.
If it sounds like I’m carping, I’m merely trying to point out that it takes more than a younger cast and a hip producer-director to re-invent a long-lived and formerly-prosperous franchise, at least artistically. That being said, the new Star Trek is well-cast and well-acted (I especially liked hottie Chris Pine’s rambunctious Kirk and Karl Urban’s channeling of DeForest Kelly as McCoy). It boasts spectacular special effects and fast-moving direction, and, in the end, provides two hours of highly enjoyable entertainment. The re-boot’s script (written by Transformers duo Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman), however, falls short of engaging viewers as intellectually or emotionally as the best prior movies and TV episodes have done.
UPDATE: Star Trek is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.