Friday, July 15, 2016

Abrams' 'Star Trek' boldy forges new, old paths (retro-review)

In exactly seven days, we Trekkies will see the third installment in the new "Star Trek" franchise, "Star Trek Beyond." 


Not only will we be able to see if "Trek" can avoid the standard third-movie slump, but also what it's like for the so-called "Abramverse" — now officially known as the much harder-to-remember "Kelvin Timline" — without director J.J. Abrams. (Read this Treknews.net article for more about how the Kelvin Timeline name came to be.) What will these "Star Trek" films look like without Abrams and how will director Justin Lin's "Beyond" stack up against the first two superb films by Abrams?

All that being said, this is the perfect time for Cary's Comics Craze to get fellow Trekkies pumped by sharing previous "Trek"-related op-eds in a multi-part series. We start with my review of the 2009 "Star Trek" film …

Nov. 24, 2009 — After having seen J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” this weekend on DVD, I now am a believer.

When I first heard the rumor about the “Trek” franchise being restarted with a story about Kirk and Spock at Starfleet Academy before they became a friends, I wasn’t sure what the point was. (By the way, that same rumor had circulated since after the December 1991 release of the last film starring the entire original “Trek” cast, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”) 


For me, the warp drive engine in the "Star Trek" franchise had been worn out since the late 1990s; there was nothing that even a miracle worker like engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott could do to instill life in the tired franchise. 

Chris Hemsworth plays George Kirk in an extended cameo in the opening sequence of "Star Trek."
So what is it about this newly reimagined take that has transformed me, albeit slowly and reluctantly, from a skeptic to a reserved optimist (after seeing the teaser trailer that convinced me Abrams’ film could attract Trekkies and new fans) into a believer?

First of all, there’s the geeky goodness of seeing the intense Faran Tahir (the terrorist in “Iron Man,” who may become Mandarin in a sequel) playing Captain Robau and Chris Hemsworth (who will play Thor in the 2011 Marvel Studios film by Kenneth Branagh) as his second-in-command, Lt. George Kirk, in the do-or-die opening sequence.

Why is that so cool?

Not only does it show off the best special effects of any “Trek” movie to date, the sequence has all the good-guy heroics, pulse-pounding action and an intensely driven evil villain any sci-fi fan could want.

Then there’s Chris Pine as the young Jim Kirk, known as “the only genius-level repeat offender in the Midwest.”

A bar fight ensues between Kirk and several Starfleet cadets after Kirk attempts to pick up communications cadet Uhura. Captain Christopher Pike interrupts the melee and in a heart-to-heart conversation, challenges Kirk to join the academy and prove he could last longer and do better being a starship captain than his martyred father did by saving 800 lives in 12 minutes.

I’ll be honest: I certainly wasn’t ready to accept Pine’s Kirk.

But by the end of the film, I was pleased to see Kirk earn the right to wear the yellow tunic William Shatner made famous in the TV series and command the U.S.S. Enterprise.

As “Star Trek” progressed — and I only realized this after it concluded — I was pulling for this outspoken, brash young man to succeed beyond all the characters’ expectations.

Surprisingly, from the first scene, Pine melds the right balance of being a rebel, tough guy, smart aleck and ladies’ man.

In short he nails Kirk, the same iconic character with whom Shatner has been synonymous since 1966. Zachary Quinto is “Leonard Nimoy perfect” as Spock. (For my "Live long and prosper" tribute to the late Nimoy, follow this link.)

What else is perfect are the oh-so-important nods to the original cast and their chemistry —acknowledgments of what was established earlier, but with a new spin.

I always assumed Kirk nicknamed Dr. Leonard McCoy “Bones” because he was the Enterprise’s chief medical officer. I didn’t realize McCoy, when first meeting Kirk, said he was left only with his bones after his “ex-wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce.”

I had been concerned about how Abrams was going pull off Spock’s friendship with Kirk (one that later would “define” both men) when I learned both characters would be at odds with each other.

Quinto’s tightly wound, by-the-book Spock somehow learns how to work with Pine’s charismatic Kirk, who doesn’t believe in the no-win situation and doesn’t follow regulations.

Naturally, the pair saves the galaxy, but to tell you how it happens would be, in Kirk’s words, cheating. Or as the older Spock (Nimoy) tells Kirk: “A trick I learned from an old friend.”

Any doubting, diehard Trekkies should trust me — it’s fun seeing the Enterprise crew meet one other and develop into the cohesive, interdependent command staff we’ve known for years. It’s a dynamic I hope to see boldly going into more films.

Grade: A

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