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Review: Star Trek

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I managed to see the new reboot of Star Trek.*

Some background: I am, for my sins, a long term fan of the series although I lean towards TNG over any of the other offerings, and best not to get me started on the TNG films. I do not consider Star Trek to be science fiction, it’s space fantasy – the science is bad, the speculative elements minimal and the amount of tech predicted has more to do with the number of fans going into science than any hard graft by futurists. I do not dress up.

The point being I was sceptical about a) the need for another film and b) the wisdom of rebooting some of the most iconic characters in television. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Shatner as Kirk and no one has ever really successfully out Vulcaned old Nimsy. Throw in the painful wounds inflicted by Enterprise‘s attempt to go retro and….well:  I was a hard sell.

Yet, despite not thinking of myself as a full on fan for some time, the thought of not going didn’t really enter my head.

For that I am infinitely grateful because JJ Abrahms somehow – in a trick worthy of Scotty – managed it.

The film takes us back to the moment of James T. Kirk’s birth but it soon becomes clear that something is wrong, things are not unfolding as the canon dictates: Kirk’s father sacrifices himself in order to save his crew and his family, James T. grows up fatherless, a perpetual troublemaker that has no intention of going into the fleet and people know what Romulans look like. Things change when Kirk meets Captain Pike in a bar room brawl and follows the pretty Uhura into the academy promising to beat his father’s record to the Captain’s chair.

Keeping up so far?

Yes, the plot is horribly complicated and convoluted as time travel based stories usually are but don’t let that put you off. You see the tricky plot is there to attempt to keep the likes of me amused and interested (granted many won’t be but I was). For the wider audience, that JJ is hoping to convert to new fans, the film is loaded with high action sequences peppered with light camp comedy (it is Star Trek after all) and some full on operatic villains. JJ was never going to please everyone but he’s done his best to create an accessible film and for the most part he’s succeeded.

There are plenty of nods to the original series including the pursuit of an abandoned storyline but it’s really the changes JJ brings that I think make the film enjoyable. The cast is more the ensemble piece the series was supposed to be, diverting some of the attention away from Kirk to Uhura, Sulu and Chekov. While Pegg is woefully under-utilised as Scotty, his performance is bang on the money without slipping into parody as does Karl Urban as McCoy with a wonderful homily to the late Deforest Kelly. Zachary Quinto, as the rebooted Spock, manages to riff off Leonard Nimoy, neatly sidestepping trying to match the elder Vulcan’s performance, and bringing his own strangeness to the part.

Chris Pine, stepping into Shatner’s boots as Kirk, is the man with the hardest job. Shatner is iconic not because he’s the world’s greatest actor – he isn’t – but because the Kirk was such a large part of sixties pop culture that he’s imprinted on western culture. He was the figurehead for Trek – so bad he was good. Pine doesn’t even bother to do a Shatner – it would be silly and risking parody – but lets the supporting cast provide the feeling of familiarity, while he injects Kirk with a character more recognisable from Star Trek’s apocrypha than its canon. It is only at the end of the film, when Kirk ascends to the command he will hold for the majority of his career that Pine allows an element of Shatner to enter his performance as he takes the chair, legs crossed in an improbably camp pose. It is, perhaps, the most well judged shot of the whole film.

A great romp and a successful if pointless reboot. See it – popcorn optional but recommended.

And yes: I don’t understand the lensflare either.

* Why they feel the need to reboot everything in sight I have no idea but that’s a subject for a different post.

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