For those of us who grew up with the original Star Trek TV series (replete with its cardboard set and pour-water-in-a-glass transporter effect), a viewing of J.J. Abrams’ truly spectacular prequel reminds us all how story and acting trumps visual effects. For those who have never seen the svelte James T. Kirk (William Shatner), outwardly cantankerous Bones (DeForest Kelly), the mechanical inventiveness of Scotty (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei)—the first queer to “boldly go where no man has gone before”—and the always-wry, witty Spock (Leonard Nimoy who graciously takes on the role of Spock Prime), it may be difficult to understand that absolutely reverential devotion of millions of Trekkies worldwide.
Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have taken Gene Rodenberry’s characters and cobbled together an entertaining script that is long on action and short on unexpected twists or subtle characterization. No worries: the humour is frequently hysterical (the fine art of fencing will never be the same again) and the special effects (notably the implosion of Vulcan) are, literally, to die for. The narrative failures are few (the love interest subplot between Uhura—Zoe Saldana looks sultry, devoted and astute as required—and Zachary Quinto’s Spock is as limp as the “What’s her first name?” recurring gag), but soon forgotten as the dastardly Nero (Eric Bana is delightfully evil) fires “everything we’ve got” on his diabolical quest for the sweet taste of revenge.
Michael Giacchino’s original score suits the warp-speed images to a T; the Holst-like low brass succeed perfectly in dredging up the “Bringer of War,” now digitally unleashed. The talented army of special effect designers and technicians have done such a brilliant job that most of the film could be watched with great pleasure even if the sound was off.
As for the cast, aside from Nimoy whose lines are as deft as decades back, the rest do their best to recreate their predecessors from the ‘60s. Chris Pine’s Captain James T. Kirk has the perfect feel for the swashbuckling daredevil aspect but can’t quite find the range of Shatner’s droll delivery when not barking commands or despatching the enemy (famous last words: “I’ve got your gun.”). Quinto has Spock’s look and mannerisms under control (no matter which eyebrow is raised, the effect is the same) but is light years away from the icy, ironic tone and is saddled with a too-convenient-by-half display of emotion, too easily paving the way for Jim Kirk’s ascension to “the chair.” Also on the bridge, John Cho is a most amenable Sulu, while Anton Yelchin’s boyish Chekov will resonate with any video game master.
There’s a moment of magic at the end as Spock Prime recites the series’ opening lines over hints of the original soundtrack. Let’s hope that that is a respectfully offered benediction to the captivating series and the dreaded God of Sequels never crawls out of his (the women are too smart!) black hole of commerce. JWR