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05.06.09

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Phaedra

Courtesy Paramount Pictures THE EARLY YEARS: Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk (Chris Pine) start what promises to be a long friendship.

O Captain

J.J. Abrams does right by the storied 'Star Trek' franchise in story of Spock and Kirk's early days

By Richard von Busack


THE FIRST TIME I saw the teaser posters at the Octoplex depicting Chris Pine's Capt. Kirk, head tilted downward with a rakish, wily look, I thought, "Speak to me, muse, of that man of twists and turns, driven time and again off-course." Then came the disappointing longer trailers, which seemed to be playing up the obnoxious-punk angle, complete with the tag "Not your father's Star Trek." This, like all uses of the phrase "Not Your Father's ———," is a registered trademark of Your Grandfather's Advertising Agency. Happily, J.J. Abrams' version of the 40-year-old story is a loving and careful refurbishing of an old structure, rather than a demolishing. The cocktail-waitress skirts on the female Academy cadets might have been a bit much, but it is a kind of tradition. Other traditions honored include the green babe (Rachel Nichols) and the red-shirted ensign. "Can't wait to kick some Romulan ass!"—last words to put on the tombstone of this typically plucky specimen of photon-cannon fodder. Pine himself is the ham that this sandwich needs. His James T. Kirk has the sensual face and velour-wrapped qualities of the immemorial Shat. As well, the older you get, the more you admire the stoical calm of Spock, and this movie is taken over by the very poised Zachary Quinto as the tragic mulatto of space. Abrams' tendency to undervillain the picture is redeemed by his making the villain fast, raging and large. Eric Bana, made up so that his face looks like a spider's abdomen, plays Nero, a Romulan renegade escaped from the future; he pilots a ship that looks like a mutant, multilegged flea. Nero's orphaning of Kirk leads, in a roundabout way, to the Iowa juvenile delinquent getting into Starfleet Academy. Under academic suspension for taking the Gordian knot approach to the Kobayashi Maru problem, Kirk stows away aboard the Enterprise. The film's only conventional love interest involves Zoe Saldana's Uhuru, drawn to Spock, as who wouldn't be. The film's real tension arises in the partnership between Kirk and Spock—two halves of one great leader, calm calculation meeting insane daring.

The effects have of course improved in the last few years. The transporter is done prettily, with scribbles of prismed light. Even happier is the time-tested dialect-comedy characters. It's 2009, and Anton Yelchin's Chekov is still buggering his V's (he sets a course for the planet Wulcan); Simon Pegg gets to be the sputtering Scottish engineer, describing a tricky piece of transporting as "trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet while riding a horse blindfolded." As McCoy, Karl Urban salutes the gruff spirit of DeForest Kelley: damming it, Jim; pulling from a flask; and complaining about his divorce—"ex-wife got the whole damn planet." And Old Nimoy reprises a particularly heart-rending line from Wrath of Khan. While Nero is no Khan (alas), he does go out shrieking "Spock! Spock!" as his quarry escapes. There is still life and romance in these movies. Unlikely as it is that humanity will make it to deep space, the saga is essentially right; if we do make it, we will be sending out our stories, our history and our literature, the best of us.


Movie Times STAR TREK (PG-13; 126 min.), directed by J.J. Abrams, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, photographed by Daniel Mindel and starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, opens May 8.


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