'Star Trek' honors past, forges its own future

May 7, 2009 

Director J.J. Abrams accomplished what many thought was impossible with his movie “Star Trek”: He created a tribute to the past while bringing the franchise into the future.

“Star Trek” is such a well-written, superbly acted and amazingly staged film that it sets a new standard for summer action films.

The movie plays off the early days of the characters from the original television series against an evil plot that will rip the fabric of the universe apart. The film’s overwhelming success starts with the cast.

The easy way to play the iconic characters would have been to do impersonations. Instead, the actors have caught the essence of each character and magnified them with their own takes on the roles.

Chris Pine’s Kirk has all the swagger and charm of when William Shatner played the role. But, Pine never slips into the stilted acting that ended up making Shatner’s performances the stuff of parodies.

Zachary Quinto had the almost impossible task of taking on a role that — at its very heart — shows little emotion.

Just as Leonard Nimoy showed so many years ago, it is possible for a character to have his emotions in check but still reveal deep emotions such as friendship. Even smaller characters, such as Karl Urban’s turn as the ship’s doctor, are both original and loving tributes. Eric Bana, who tends to be a little bland on screen, turns in a first-rate effort as the movie’s main bad guy.

The only actor who goes just a little too far is Anton Yelchin in his portrayal of Chekov. The performance is cartoonish compared to all of the rest. Abrams also bridges the two generations with a storyline that brings the original Spock into the fold.

Time travel plots inherently have problems. Just put those concerns aside: It is worth the logic problems to see Nimoy in the role one more time. “Star Trek” is visually dazzling. Abrams gives even the smallest elements of “Star Trek” a blast of updated energy.

The crew still uses phasers, but the weapons flip, blip and turn like they have never done before. Everything from ships to shirts takes elements of the classic series and makes them better.

Abrams paces the action at warp speed. The film opens with a dramatic battle, and the tempo never slows until the familiar theme music at the very end. It is like playing a video game while riding a roller coaster after drinking a case of Red Bull.

As one last nod to the fans, the film is loaded with familiar bits and pieces from the original series.

At the same time, the story is so strong even those who don’t know the difference between a Romulan and Klingon will enjoy this hyperdrive of a ride.

Abrams has done the impossible. He has created a film that boldly goes where so many fans have gone before while still giving them a film that explores great performances and seeks out head-spinning special effects.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at rbentley@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6355. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com/author/rick_bentley/.

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