Thursday, November 19, 2009

Latest 'Star Trek' flick is energetic and fun

'Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

Nate Rates It:
"Star Trek" – Buy It
"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn" – Buy It
"Star Trek VI: The Voyage Home" – Watch It

Well, that five-year mission turned into being 43 years and counting. From the launch of the original series in 1966, the "Star Trek" franchise has gone through several permutations and spawned four more TV series and a whopping 10 films. And now comes the new "Star Trek," which boldly attempts to create a movie that is part prequel, part sequel and part remake.

The results are bombastic, energetic and fun. Good enough to wash away the bad taste of all those awful "Star Trek: The Next Generation" movies.

"Star Trek" introduces us to two very different children on different worlds: human James Kirk and Spock, the Vulcan. Kirk is a headstrong hell-raiser and daredevil, while Spock is from a society ruled by logic and emotional detachment. Yet, in their own way both men are rebels. This movie, as with every other good installment of Trek, is made great by the interaction between these two classic characters.

Chris Pine plays Kirk. While he is no William Shatner, I would suggest that he evokes the essence of Shatner and makes Kirk a lovable rogue. Zachary Quinto plays Spock, which was the logical choice because the guy already looked just like Spock.

Kirk and Spock butt heads in Star Fleet Academy, and then are forced to rely on one another once they are sent into space on an emergency mission that eventually puts all of Earth at risk. Eric Bana plays Nero, captain of a moon-sized spaceship that is trashing the whole galaxy and mysteriously asking for Spock. Seriously, this space ship is huge, like the Death Star getting sent to "Pimp My Ride."

"Star Trek" is a big, goofy, special-effects blockbuster. But for that kind of movie, it is excellent. There have been a string of movies lately that all have huge action scenes and state of the art effects ("G.I. Joe" and "Transformers," for example) but this is a movie that also has interesting characters, a sense of humor and some genuine excitement. The cast is outstanding top to bottom (with the possible exception of Bana, who doesn't make the most of the villainous Cardassian) and they give the movie a personality that makes it a pleasure to watch.

For the first time in a long time, I'm ready for a sequel. Bring on the next "Star Trek."

In the meantime, I went back and watched a whole mess of the old "Star Trek" films, the ones where Kirk was played by Shatner and Spock by Leonard Nimoy. They made several Trek films together, and to be honest most of them<0x000a>were average at best. A couple of them were downright bad. But throughout it all, the two actors had tremendous chemistry.

The best of the original films is far and away "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Ricardo Montalban is Khan, a genetically engineered superman from the 20th century who had previously attacked Kirk and been stranded on a desert planet. After 15 years of stewing in his own juices, Khan escapes the planet and cuts a swath of destruction through deep space. People are killed, brain slugs are administered, star ships are commandeered and Kahn finally gets his chance at revenge. But is he man enough to take out Kirk? Don't hold your breath.

Combining sci-fi excitement with infectious humor, "The Wrath of Khan" is everything that makes Trek so much fun to watch. The reason the franchise has endured for so many decades is that it has a timeless quality that translates to new generations. The laser fights, the space battles and crazy plots that involve quasi-science are all made fresh and new by likable characters and character interplay.

"Wrath of Khan" has it all, and is must-see science fiction.

Unfortunately, none of the other Trek movies come close to that one. The closest would probably have to be "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" which is utterly ridiculous and plays more like a wacky sit-com than a major motion picture.

This is the actual plot, which I am not making up: Kirk and the crew go back in time to the 1980s to save some humpback whales, which are the only creatures that can communicate with an alien spaceship and save Earth from annihilation. Sounds goofy? Well it is goofy, in spades. And yet, once again the cast comes to the rescue, to give the movie a few laughs and make it a decent show if you've got nothing else to watch.