'Star Trek'

Kirk was a jerk. Spock was mocked. Who knew?

By Steve Burgess 8 May 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about film every other Friday for The Tyee.

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Hey, haven't we been this way before?

Perhaps we've been spoiled. Battlestar Galactica raised expectations about just what you can accomplish by rebooting a creaky old science-fiction franchise. Now Lost creator J.J. Abrams tries his hand with the granddaddy of them all, Star Trek. The new version offers the back-story of Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), the half-human/half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the voyages of their trusty crew across the galaxies. But can the latest model Starship Enterprise perform the same miraculous mission to re-invent a tired and somewhat cheesy space opera?

Battlestar was a truly radical rethink of the campy original, adding grit, realism, sex and politics while retaining the Cylons and the bones of the plot. The new Star Trek retains Bones (Karl Urban). Also Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), Sulu (John Cho), Uhuru (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and the reliable tradition that some expendable recruit will turn into space debris shortly after being introduced. On the old series, these sacrificial lambs were identified by their unfamiliar faces and red uniforms. This time it's the guy who announces he's "ready to kick some Romulan ass." Don't get to like him too much.

With Star Trek 2009, Abrams surely intended to proclaim, "This is not your father's starship." But it is, right from the opening scene when we meet George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth), first officer on a Federation battlewagon, and subsequently discover that unlike some other famous leaders, James T. Kirk was definitely not born in a log cabin. He was born to raise Hell back on Earth, though. Pretty soon he's in an Iowa bar (one clearly located in science-fiction Iowa, where bars really hop), hitting on a hot young space cadet named Uhuru. Before he leaves the bar, young James Kirk will meet his destiny in the form of Starship Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). First though, he will meet a serious ass-whupping. Young James is a jerk.

Pointed dialogue

Meanwhile on Vulcan, young Spock is being teased for his half-human mudblood. "This is the 35th time you have attempted to get an emotional reaction from me," little Spocklette coolly replies to his teenage tormenters. Considering the fact that he then goes ballistic after only about two insults, it's hard to imagine what the bullies tried on the other 34 occasions -- critiques of his penmanship, perhaps? Anyway, the pointy-eared hobgoblin has a heart. And a temper. We will see both again, although one unexpected love scene will raise serious questions about how Vulcans ever manage to reproduce at all.

Uhuru and her smokin' hot legs get loads of screen time. But this is a bromance, and like so many love stories of the male-female variety, it has to start badly. By the time Kirk and Spock meet, the Vulcan is already a valued member of the Starfleet. Kirk is just a jerk. But crisis yokes them together, a crisis caused by a rogue Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana). Nero is intent on a mission of shoplifting and minor vandalism. Or perhaps destroying every Federation planet -- I won't reveal which.

When I say Kirk is a jerk, well, he really is. In fact, your reaction to this movie may well be determined by your feelings about actor Chris Pine and whether you think he's doing a fine job playing a brash young starship tyro, or whether you simply find him annoying. I vote, "Punch him again, and harder this time."

Familiar arc in the sky

With the possible exception of Uhuru, reinvented here as highly competent bridge candy, none of the young actors will make you forget their familiar predecessors. Simon Pegg is the best known of the bunch, already a comedy star thanks to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. His Scotty works hard to get laughs that James Doohan got without trying.

Abrams attempts to amp up the action sequences, with some success. Otherwise, he relies on the rascally behaviour of young Kirk to signal fans that this is a fresh new take on the whole boldly-going routine. Yet when all's been phased and stunned, the new Star Trek is surprisingly like the old. The script makes frequent nods to beloved franchise traditions, and the plot arc will be completely familiar to any fan of previous Trek incarnations. Whereas the revised Battlestar was a revelation to sci-fi fans, the new Star Trek merely serves as the latest voyage of everyone's favourite galactic cruise ship -- with the promise of many more to come. Abrams may have scraped off a bit of mold. But underneath it's the same old cheese.

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