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Friday, May 29, 2009

'Star Trek'

Beamingly beautiful


The latest "Star Trek" is about sharing. And caring. And interspace harmony. It draws from a sincere, well-intended sentiment garnered from the voice over narrative of the original 1970s TV series by Gene Rodenberry: The Starship Enterprise wants to "explore new worlds" rather than conquer and occupy. This is great news for non-"Trekkies" like myself — every time a Star Trek film came out, it seemed the world split into the Trek Obsessed (the conquering forces) and The Unknowledgable (the humbly defeated) and those of us in the latter category had no choice but to bow deeply and stay that way until the armies forged past and left us alone. But this "Star Trek" hails from um, a new planet governed only by an open-minded friendliness — the story goes way back to a time when Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) was a secretly underconfident greenhorn, Spock (Zachary Quinto) was a hottie Vulcan worried about his "human nature" (inherited from an Earthling mother played by — get this — Winona Ryder!) and Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) was an earnest, newly inducted medic with incredibly sexy biceps.

Star Trek Rating: (4.5 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
Not as we know it: Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in "Star Trek." © 2009 BY PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Director: J.J. Abrams
Running time: 127 minutes
Language: English
Opens May 29, 2009
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Requiring little or no foreknowledge of Klingons and Romulans, this "Star Trek" is a grand equalizer, transporting everyone to a space where it's possible to just sit back and marvel at the starlit view seen from the Captain's chair. Personally, I was reminded of the time when, sitting with my 11-year old brother in front of a "Star Trek" rerun on TV, a love scene between Captain Kirk and a space babe in a vinyl jump suit caused such a stir his nose started bleeding.

Speaking of which, the original "Star Trek" was never afraid to combine sci-fi with sex; the Enterprise didn't balk at sailing into those seas where few have dared to venture since. Lucas and Spielberg pretty much obliterated sexuality from space and though the gadegts and fighting and subsequent splashy, colorful explosions were fun, it could hardly cause the kind of membrane-rupturing excitement that the TV "Star Trek" (courtesy of William Shatner) generated on a daily basis. Sadly however, the "Star Trek" franchise didn't quite come up to scratch in this sense — as the budget swelled out, so did the countenances and stomachs of the cast, it seemed. And even Captain Kirk — the naughtiest he-guy to ever be beamed down on strange planets — became wiser, sober, and more interested in space battles than green haired alienettes sporting deep cleavages. Boooooo!

But in this, he's gloriously fresh and endearingly bad. After driving an antique, 20th-century Corvette straight into the Grand Canyon on a hotrodding spree as a young teenager, we are whisked forward a few years and Kirk is drinking and fighting in a bar near Starfleet Academy, which he is convinced to join. He's sort of just hanging around in a snazzy jacket when Bones McCoy plucks him out of a state of ennui and deposits him in that wide, plush chair on his future Starship command ("this ship needs you, James"). Spock eyes him (he hasn't yet mastered the technique of lifting one eyebrow way above the other) with skepticism if not outright suspicion but then he has his hands full warding off taunts from crew members about showing emotion. (Later, Leonard Nimoy puts in an appearance as the delightfully aged Dr. Spock, uttering words of wisdom from decades into the future — naturally, time travel is perfectly possible in and around the Enterprise.) Chief engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) is cartoonishly Scottish and at one point wielding a retro monkey wrench. Mr. Sulu (John Cho) comes off as the straight-A's Asian who probably skipped a couple of grades and graduated from college at age 14. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is probably the most complicated in the cast, trying to balance her receptionist-type job (yes, she was hailing all ships within a 10,000 mile radius on her headphones at the very start of her career) with feminist ideals, wearing a snuggly zip-up dress and Barbie boots.

As for the science in the sci-fi, I'm happy to report there is very little. Director J. J. Abrams leans heavily on the fiction part, and what we have is a plot involving the evil Captain Nero (Eric Banna) — a Romulan with serious attention span issues, who chooses to blow up whole planets instead of asking first whether these were friends or foe. His plan is to shatter Earth altogether by drilling a hole in the center but this takes too long, and he kinda loses steam halfway. The seething space bully is no match for the rah-rah Enterprise frat team, so there. The only regret is that after this "Star Trek," the franchise is likely to get serious and self-important again, with possibly accurate discussions of black holes and such. Oh, the sadness. I guess that trite as it seems, even space cadets are only young once.



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