Movie Review: Star Trek

Star Trek2009. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto. Directed by J.J. Abrams.

There’s a particularly good episode of Northern Exposure — one of television’s funniest and most-thoughtful series — in which the Native American character played by Graham Greene is studying white American culture for examples of healing and instructive myths. He notes that various tribes have stories that help put the universe in perspective and help explain the often-unexplainable burden of being human. After questioning everyone in town, he finds that no one can name myths in white culture similar to those you find in Native American culture. He then stumbles into a theater and realizes that we Zhaagnaash just call them movies.

I’m encouraged by the recent reset of a few of the action movie franchises — Batman Begins wiped away all the cartoonishness of the earlier attempts, and the Dark Knight was a great, moody followup. I have to admit that I never saw any of the previous big-screen Star Trek movies and I was never a fan of the television show. It was the positive reviews of others and the opportunity to see a blockbuster on a giant screen that drew me to this J.J. Abrams production.

Because he’s working with a cast of relative unknowns (not at the time of this writing, of course; they are all stars now), the burden of success for this important franchise was propped on his youthful shoulders, and it was a wise choice. The mind behind Alias, Cloverfield and Lost succeeds in telling a story that not only honors past storylines and characters, but adds energy and some exciting plot twists.

Replacing the iconic leads of Shatner and Nimoy must have been the greatest gamble, and I think Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock are a suitable update. Nimoy plays a crucial role, as well, cleverly and logically appearing as an older Spock. The story — a genesis story for the crew and the Enterprise’s mission — allows for the introduction of all the familiar characters: Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and sets up the ascendance of Kirk, Spock and the crew to command of the Enterprise.

Their nemesis in this first chapter are some ticked-off Romulans (led by the villainous Nero, played by Eric Bana) intent on avenging what they see as Spock’s failure to save their home planet. There are many spectacular scenes, amazing special effects, brain-clenching jumps in time and all the science-fiction and action movie twists that make a few hours in a darkened theater so much fun. So I’m going to shut up about the story here.

Except to add this: The metamorphosis of James Tiberius Kirk from fatherless and rudderless rebel to spaceship-commanding savior of the universe is the story we keep telling ourselves, over and over again, despite its unlikelihood. That there is greatness inside each of us, however raw and unrecognized, that can be channeled and that can define our lives. That we are destined to be something better than we are. Star Trek is an explosion-filled summer blockbuster, but this story is told again and again, in more conventional settings, in simpler stories, in the movies we love. Those are our healing myths, and I think we need every one of them.

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