Boldly going where everyone has gone before

BY BRIAN DAU | MAY 11, 2009 7:26 AM

Film Review: Star Trek
**** 1/2 out of *****

Entertaining and self-referential in all the right ways, the latest Star Trek has something for everyone, including Vulcans.

J.J. Abrams did it. Somehow, the director of the 11th movie in the Star Trek universe managed to craft a film that tirelessly attempts to please both superficial moviegoers looking for a summer blockbuster and dress-up-in-Spock-ears Trekkies alike, and it actually succeeds.

Star Trek’s success hinges on two key areas. First, the film is the most visually impressive work in recent memory, certainly in all of 2009. Abrams’ imagining of the various races and worlds populating the galaxy are a far cry from the campy TV show of the ’60s. In fact, from a visual standpoint this Star Trek has more in common with Star Wars than any previous Trek film. The aliens look appropriately alien (though the “human with a different skin color” species popularized by the TV show still makes an appearance), and the planets and spaceships have a sleek, technological look that practically soars off the screen with cool. Although Star Wars has always been the prettier of the two space operas, it’s nice to see the ugly stepsister catch up to its more popular sibling in the looks department.

Second, Star Trek’s casting job was utterly perfect. Whether it’s the comic relief of Simon Pegg’s Scotty or the cool demeanor of Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, every actor fits her or his role flawlessly. And frankly, Zachary Quinto (of “Heroes” fame) out-Spocks Leonard Nimoy as the pointy-eared Vulcan, even during the brief moment when the two share the screen. In a move to appease legions of nerds everywhere, each actor also gets the opportunity to spout famous catch phrases from the original series. Sometimes it works for everybody, and sometimes the most ardent fans will giggle and clap at a line while the rest of the audience members look around and shrug their shoulders at each other.

Although the many tongue-in-cheek moments throughout Star Trek aren’t necessary to enjoy the movie as a whole, the sheer number of them reveals how dedicated the filmmakers are to the Trek universe. Inevitably, particularly zealous fans will criticize the crew for certain choice made in order to make the film fun for everybody, but those who don’t take their science fiction too seriously will find their level of devotion (or dorkiness) vindicated.

In one of Star Trek’s early scenes, a pre-teen James T. Kirk drives a stolen car over dirt back roads in Iowa (still flat, even in the future). The vintage convertible’s speakers blare “Sabotage” as a robotic-looking police officer on a hoverbike pulls alongside the future Enterprise captain, who yells in unison with the Beastie Boys as he jams down on the gas pedal.

Although the scene is totally awesome, why Kirk would listen to mid-90s hip-hop during his youthful rebellion is anybody’s guess, and it seems to make less sense the more you think about it. In a way, it’s an appropriate metaphor for the movie as a whole. The more you try to deconstruct the quantum physics of time travel, the way Kirk skyrockets from near-dropout to captain of an entire ship, or how Leonard Nimoy is about as close to a deus ex machina as modern cinema gets, the more you are needlessly detracting from a sensorial delight.

Like that person on a roller coaster who complains about the ride being “too windy,” the appropriate response to any die-hard Trek fan’s minor quibbles with this film is simply to say “sit down, shut up, and enjoy yourself already.”

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