Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why J.J. Abrams' new STAR TREK is the best of the bunch -- TV and movies included

Speed and energy do the trick. J.J.Abrams' prequel/re-imagining of the STAR TREK franchise is so lively and moves so fast -- without undue confusion but with enough of the required spectacle to pop your eyes -- that it forces you to keep up and then pays off that effort with enormous entertainment.

TrustMovies came late to theatrical viewing of this early summer blockbuster, which opened the first week of May. By the time friends and I managed to find a mutually agreeable date to get together, the movie was, two months into its run, playing continuously in only a couple of NYC venues. Yet on the evening we viewed it, by the time the trailers had commenced, the entire theater had nearly sold out. Eight weeks into the run, this must be an exhibitor's dream come true. All four in our group -- whose tastes range from foreign/independent to mainstream to "I only go to the films that critics have told me are good" -- found the movie a lot of fun and as good an example of what we hope for in a summer blockbuster as any we'd seen in some time.

In giving us a prequel to the original TV series (larded with dollops of later times), director Abrams and his writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman take into consideration this very durable francise's fan base without pandering to it. The result is a movie of which fans seem to approve and non-fans like me are happy to embrace. I loathed the original series, which I saw a few times as a young man during its initial TV run, because it seemed to me that these boring people in their boring show were always trying to save the universe (or some of its inhabitants) while teaching us viewers an IMPORTANT MORAL LESSON -- DO YOU HEAR ME? -- with not quite the subtlty I'm applying here. As for the later Star Trek movies (and yes, I'm including that second fiasco with Ricardo Montalban), one was worse than the next and also seemed to last longer.

Little wonder that I was so surprised and delighted by this newer model, in which the cast looks enough like younger versions of the original crew (but are -- praise Gene -- beter actors!) to add an extra filup of homage to the proceedings. Chris Pine (above, left) and Zachary Quinto (above, right) make a fine Kirk & Spock and Eric Bana (below) a very good villain, but if anybody steals the show it's Anton Yelchin's Pavel Chekhov (shown on poster, top, at extreme right, and in first photo above, extreme left). At the end of his Save-the-Vulcans scene, the audience broke out into its only moment of spontaneous applause. (Yelchin is, as always, superb. If this is your first experience seeing him, rent Alpha Dog and Charlie Bartlett, for starters, to catch up with his fine work.) Only Zoe Saldana, an actress I usually enjoy, disappoints. She's awfully slick -- which perhaps, not coincidentally, is the only gripe I have with the movie.

Slickness is often a virtue but too much of it begins to render this Star Trek a bit rote at times and maybe just a tad heartless. Still, I'll take a little less heart over the stultifying boredom of everything else I've seen in this apparently endless series.

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