Friday, November 20, 2009

DVD Patrol: 'Star Trek' lives long, prospers

Energize — or re-energize, rather.

J.J. Abrams’ revisioning of “Star Trek,” a younger, swaggier take on the Enterprise crew, when they were young and happening and tackling that dastardly Kobayishi Maru training exercise, is downright spiffy.

Abrams, a “Star Trek” fan from way back, certainly had his work cut out for him in trying to please old-school Trekkies and to make the franchise relevant again (those last few films were of the dud category — technical term). He succeeds in spades.

This latest go-round in the final frontier pays tribute in many ways to the old TV show and their iconic, much-beloved characters. Expect a “Dammit, Jim!” to be flung your way. But it also introduces us to younger versions of our well-worn Enterprise heroes. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock are brilliant, successfully touting the best-buddy chemistry and charisma on which much of this film hinges.

The film follows rebel-without-a-cause “townie” Jim Kirk (Pine) in 22nd-century Iowa doing what he does best, which is get into trouble. This time around he’s in a bar brawl with Star Fleet recruits when he meets Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood).

Pike’s Star Fleet dissertation was on Jim’s father, who was the captain of the Starship Kelvin for 12 minutes but managed to save 800 people, including Jim and his mother. Pike has a few words of wisdom for the cocky Kirk — join Star Fleet and give yourself a higher purpose.

It’s at Star Fleet Academy where he matches wits against Spock (Quinto), the designer of the unbeatable Kobayishi Maru test, which Jim manages to beat.

The two don’t like each other very much but are thrown together when Star Fleet receives a distress signal from Spock’s home planet of Vulcan. Vulcan is being attacked by Nero (Eric Bana), an angry Romulan who has drilled a hole into the planet and injected a drop of Red Matter into it. The Red Matter turns the planet into a black hole, killing most of its inhabitants, including Spock’s beloved mother (Winona Ryder).

Now Nero is on his way to Earth, and it’s up to Star Fleet to stop him before he repeats the same destruction.

“Star Trek” has been re-energized to the nth degree and touts all the things moviegoers love about action films — a bit of visual eye candy via CGI and high-octane action, action, action. The film opens with a big space opera battle scene and doesn’t stop there. It’s particularly fun to watch Kirk and Sulu (John Cho) in a free-falling sky dive toward Vulcan. The goal: land on an itty bitty mining platform. Sulu breaks out some mad fencing skills, by the way.

Pine is perfect as a young Kirk. He’s careful not to emulate William Shatner’s iconic version of the character but smartly maintains the same kind of renegade, sure-of-himself spirit. And Quinto’s Spock is less static and much more conflicted between his logical Vulcan and emotional human sides, which makes for just more space drama. And who couldn’t use more space drama?

The rest of the cast is stellar, too, from Anton Yelchin as 17-year-old whiz kid Chekhov and Simon Pegg as Scotty. Pegg’s just funny. He definitely needs more screen time in the next film.

The film does have its downside. The humor gets a bit cheesy, though not much, and the whole idea of an alternate reality (you’ll have to see the film) was pretty hard to swallow.

Abrams and crew definitely gave it all they’ve got, captain.