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FILM REVIEW: STAR TREK
By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
After "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," which exists primarily for its 7-Eleven Slurpee tie-in, the world needed a better franchise product, one that works with an audience rather than simply working it over.
Here it is. The new "Star Trek" motion picture, not to be confused with "Star Trek - the Motion Picture" (1979), seeks to extend a lucrative brand with a young demographic. But it's a real movie - breathlessly paced bordering on manic, but propulsively entertaining.
The cerebral philosophical dilemmas from the original Gene Roddenberry-created series? Those belong to the mists of time. Director J.J. Abrams' merrily assaultive reboot, heavy on the iPod- and iPhone-friendly close-ups even in the action scenes, is more "Star Wars" than "Star Trek," with lots of mano a mano and serious threats to the Vulcan race. The blood boils hot in everyone's temperament; even young Spock, the half-Vulcan played by Zachary Quinto, must struggle to keep his temper in line. He's half-human, after all, though that seems generous, given that his Earth mother is played by the unearthly Winona Ryder.
James T. Kirk, played by Chris Pine, was born under unusual circumstances. In the prologue, his mother gives birth aboard a podcraft blasted to safety from the USS Kelvin commanded by his father, while under Romulan attack. Kirk Senior's martyrdom marks young James T. for life. Goaded into signing up for Starfleet Academy by Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood), he becomes pals with "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban, doing DeForest Kelley, but wittily). The script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman ping-pongs in the early going between Iowa and Vulcan, as Kirk's and Spock's destinies entwine. Eric Bana plays the vengeful Nero, and the plot issues - of moderate interest at best - have to do with the space-time continuum and alternate reality.
Spock hooks up, however obliquely, with the perpetually miniskirted Uhura (Zoe Saldana), leaving Kirk to deal with his frustrations elsewhere ... in battle! They're young, this crew. At times you think you're watching trick-or-treaters dressed as Sulu (played here by John Cho), or Chekov (Anton Yelchin, making hay with the Slavic accent). But only at times.
One always looks for the first "Wow! Cool!" moment in any "Star Trek" film. Here it arrives when Kirk and comrades dive into a space-jump to an enemy mining platform, from which extends a fearsome rod of fire. Industrial Light & Magic is responsible for the excellent effects, from the warp-speed whooshes ("Let's punch it!" says Greenwood's Pike) to the teleportation swirls. Even with all the green-screen digital creations, when the youthful actors dash around the deck of the Enterprise or fend off aliens aboard the clawlike Romulan ship, you can tell the metal and plastic and steam and noise is real. Well, fake. But not digital-fake.
Abrams and the writers have acknowledged, rightly so, that "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (the best by a mile) served as an inspiration for this latest voyage. Abrams is a canny populist, if not yet a first-rate director. He shoots much of his film in monstrous close-ups, amped up by a nervous editing rhythm. (What worked for Abrams' "Alias" and "Lost" on the small screen doesn't necessarily translate to the big one.) When Simon Pegg shows up as engineer Scotty, Abrams' camerawork calms down, as if by instinct. Pegg is a very lively presence; he doesn't need hand-held shaky-cam treatment to make him more "real," or "funnier."
The film may not be memorable science fiction, but it's an engaging pop diversion. If Abrams can learn to appreciate the value of an occasional medium shot, all the better. And considering those vicious brain-slugs administered aurally in "Khan" are administered orally in this latest "Star Trek," I'm not sure I want to know where they're heading in the sequel.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and violence and brief sexual content).
Running time: 2:06.
Starring: Chris Pine (James T. Kirk); Zachary Quinto (Spock); Bruce Greenwood (Pike); Karl Urban ("Bones" McCoy); Simon Pegg (Scotty); Zoe Saldana (Uhura); John Cho (Sulu); Anton Yelchin (Chekov); Ben Cross (Sarek); Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson); Eric Bana (Nero); Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime).
Directed by J.J. Abrams; written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, based on the TV series created by Gene Roddenberry; produced by Abrams and Damon Lindelof. A Paramount Pictures release.
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