REVIEW: Star Trek
The main quandary in creating any sort of franchise re-launch or established series origin story is to somehow simultaneously lure in new followers while not offending the sensibilities of longtime fans. Casting needs to nod firmly to the original. Plots need to serve the demands of the knowledgeable while still being intelligible to newbies. And, in the case of something like STAR TREK, where fervent fans build their very own USS Enterprise models in their own homes and wear Vulcan ears unironically, production and costume design has to be meticulous and pointed.
Essentially, projects like this should be stamped with a giant “GOOD LUCK, SUCKER!” to warn off any and all who would dare to take them on. That’s probably why there’s an obvious aim in J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK to acclimate its fan-filled audience. But it’s an aim that somehow manages to be not cloying or self-important. The tried-and-true fans are the ones who can make or break a film in this delicate situation, so it’s almost too easy to throw them a couple of (iconic) bones and pray they like it. Making sure the most famous catchphrases receive screen time can end up cheesy and trite at best, disastrous and embarrassing at worst. Abrams seems totally cognizant of this fact and handles it with aplomb; even these baited bits are given cleverly: Leonard “Bones” McCoy has one, perfectly-timed, “Dammit, man, I’m a doctor…!” and Spock’s traditional Vulcan salute and “live long and prosper” gets flipped on its head when delivered by original Spock, Leonard Nimoy (who shows up in a number of key scenes and serves a true purpose; a silly cameo this is not).
Every important and classic member of the Enterprise crew that I could personally name (which is, admittedly, not more than six), shows up in STAR TREK. Yet, instead of throwing all these characters at the audience all at once, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman pace appearances, making every new introduction an event. The giddy cheers from the audience that accompanied the first screen appearances of such characters as McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty only prove that this tactic worked, and worked wonderfully. Even a STAR TREK newbie like me felt a buzz when Scotty completed his first transport on the Enterprise; that’s how fun all this is.
There’s an emotional resonance to STAR TREK that even the previously uninitiated will notice and appreciate. Even movie-goers who don’t care to understand the sci-fi storytelling and would rather not spend time pondering the implications of black holes and time traveling will still identify with some pretty damn classic themes -– the discovery of self, the loss of home, living up to parents’ expectations. And for those who care even less about emotional resonance than they do about parallel dimensions, there’s plenty of eye-popping action, jittery laughs, a tattooed nemesis, and a half-naked Starfleet member or two.
STAR TREK succeeds because it walks the tightrope between giving the devotees what they want and entertaining the popcorn-munching masses. It’s funny, it’s chockfull of inventive action sequences, it’s populated by memorable and interesting characters. This thing’s got legs, and I can’t wait to see what part of the final frontier it runs to next.