DAVE DAVIES, host:
Live Long and Prosper, Beam me up, Scotty, The Final Frontier, Vulcan Mind Meld. Phrases and ideas from the 60s TV "Star Trek" populate our language and culture. Now there's a new big budget Hollywood film that goes back to the beginning, when the crew of the Starship Enterprise first meet, called simply "Star Trek." It's directed by J. J. Abrams, creator of TV's "Lost." Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: The first generation of "Star Trek" actors is old or gone to the most final of frontiers, the so-called next generation up in years, and people barely recall the generations after that. So Paramount, eager to re-launch their franchise, tapped director J. J. Abrams for a new incarnation. The ad said, forget what you know and trekkies were incensed. Forget what we know? What we know is the point. Has Abrams dared to take Gene Roddenberry's sacred universe, fount of five TV shows and 10 movies and thousands of geek conventions and change it? Yes and no.
They change it a little. Abrams' "Star Trek" features old characters: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekhov at a young age, students in Starfleet Academy. But there's a key difference, thanks to a black hole. You know what happens when you travel through a black hole in a sci-fi picture, right? You go back in time. You change history. "Trek" opens with a smashing prologue in which a ship from the future hurtles through a black hole with a vengeful Romulan called Nero, played by Eric Bana.
I won't tell you why he's angry, that's explained later in the film. But before you can say, lock on photon torpedoes, the "Trek" we know is changed. Kirk's father is killed moments after Kirk is born, so our hero, played by Chris Pine, grows up a fatherless ne'er-do-well. He doesn't even want to be on a starship, much less captain one, until he's shamed by his father's contemporary, Pike played by Bruce Greenwood.
(Soundbite of movie, "Star Trek")
Mr. BRUCE GREENWOOD (Actor): (As Pike) Enlist in Starfleet.
Mr. CHRIS PINE (Actor): (As Kirk) In what? You guys must be way down in your recruiting quota for the month.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GREENWOOD: (As Christopher Pike) If you're half the man your father was, Jim, Starfleet could use you. You can be an officer in four years. You can have your own ship in eight. You understand what the federation is, don't you. It's important. It's a peacekeeping and humanitarian armada.
Mr. PINE (Actor): (As Kirk) Are we done?
Mr. GREENWOOD: (As Pike) I'm done. Riverside shipyard, shuttle for new recruits leaves tomorrow 0800. Your father was captain of a starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives including your mother's and yours. I dare you to do better.
EDELSTEIN: A peacekeeping and humanitarian armada. Who could resist that? It's no surprise Kirk shows up for that shuttle where he meets disheveled hipster Dr. McCoy played by Karl Urban, who's funny even if he talks like Owen Wilson. But the biggest change is between Kirk and Spock. They loathe each other on sight, they're antagonists. We're on Kirk's side, though. Chris Pine mugs like mad, but he seizes the space with a likable impudence, as if both channeling and poking fun at William Shatner. On the other hand, Zachary Quinto is hard to like.
His Spock is a know-it-all even geeks would want to slam into a locker. There's an issue larger than Quinto's lack of charisma. Do we want Kirk and Spock at odds instead of with that symbiotic rapport of the TV series, where the point was to watch Kirk, the virile man of action, navigate between Spock's cool logic and Dr. McCoy's passionate humanism? If you care about this universe and I do, you'll argue with this "Trek" at every turn. But you can nitpick it to death and still adore it. I mean, it's "Star Trek".
The action is furious, the banter bright. The real suspense isn't whether the crew can take down the villain Nero, who turns out to be quite a dull fellow, it's whether Kirk and Spock will be friends as before and Kirk will captain the Enterprise. Yes, we want it different but also the same. A time travel conundrum worthy of "Star Trek" itself. The actors show tons of promise, even if they're sometimes like baby "Looney Toons" doing familiar shtick in high voices. Zoe Saldana is a knockout as Uhura, and it's great to see Simon Pegg, Shaun of "Shaun of the Dead," as Scotty, and John Cho, Harold of "Harold and Kumar" as Sulu. Best of all, Leonard Nimoy's Spock comes through that black hole too.
He looks very old but happier than he has in years. When he meets Quinto as his younger self and suggests being less of a prig, there's a wonderful subtext. I am entrusting you with Spock, he seems to say. Cherish him. And let the franchise live long and prosper.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can download Podcasts of our show at frshair.npr.org.