Monday, May 11, 2009

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise...

PhotobucketIt's funny: I don't think a lot of people would call you a nerd for talking about being a fan of "Star Wars," but bring up "Star Trek" and the geek sensors immediately go off. The new "Star Trek" movie, slick, shiny and genetically engineered to entertain, is trying to wipe off some of that stigma, break the inwardly spiraling loop of fan obsession that turned "Trek" into too much of a niche industry.

Like any mild geek, I've always been interested in "Star Trek." I have to admit, though, I've never been an enormous fan of the "original" series -- I've seen a lot of them, and they were good, cowboys in space fun, but the Trek I first really became a fan of was "Next Generation," which after a shaky couple of early seasons developed into really engaging science-fiction, with the superb Patrick Stewart leading the way in a way hammy William Shatner never managed. I also dug "Deep Space Nine," which tried to do something quite different with the concept, but both the routine "Voyager" and "Enterprise" left me cold, and I gave up on them after a season or two.

However, in what I suspect is a rare sentiment among "Trek" fans, I actually did like most of the "Next Generation" movies – "Generations" with its creaky plot maneuvers probably the worst, but "First Contact" was top-notch and while they're a bit small-in-scale and rough about the edges, "Insurrection" and "Nemesis" were still decent entertainment for me. Yet, I'll admit, both in movies and TV there was a growing conservatism in "Star Trek's" approach that was hurting it. Few chances were taken, too many space-time conundrums and aliens with forehead disfigurements. By "Nemesis," which took a significant moment like Data's death and immediately rendered it moot with a long-lost "twin brother," it became rather unimportant. Irrelevant, as Spock might say.

PhotobucketAll this is a preamble to "Star Trek" version 2009, which is terrific entertainment and a nice re-imagining of the franchise which doesn't completely negate what came before. Chris Pine makes a fine young Kirk, Zachary Quinto is miles better than his cheesy "Heroes" role as Spock, and it's a fast-paced, well-directed thrill ride that's light and passionate summer entertainment, kind of this year's "Iron Man." It isn't terrifically deep, but Quinto and Pine put enough fire in their bellies to make us believe in Kirk and Spock again, to make the possibility of bold new journeys welcome.

Although the time-tangling bits of the plot aren't really necessary, except to make old fans happy and to give us a much-enjoyed appearance by Leonard Nimoy, it's respectful to the legacy. It doesn't utterly reinvent the wheel, but it at least puts a nice new coat of paint on the cart. For the first time in a while, "Star Trek" seems fresh again. Maybe even kind of cool.

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