My earliest Star Trek memory dates back to 1970/1971. I have a vivid recollection of watching “Who Mourns For Adonais?” in our living room on our black and white TV on a weekend afternoon. I’ve been a Star Trek fan as long as I can remember. In those dark years of the 1970s, I collected the Mego figures (still have them), the Gold Key comics (still collecting), model kits (damn I wish I still had those), View master reels and just about anything else. I watched it on Saturday afternoons and geeked out when we got cable in 1978, discovering that channel 41 out of Kansas City offered it up five nights a week. I’ve been there opening weekend for every movie and I’ll be there on May 16 to see the newest entry, Star Trek: Into Darkness. However, before I look at the latest adventure of the Enterprise crew, let’s go back to 2009 and the bold revisioning that was Star Trek.
Don’t get me started on how Rick Berman over-merchandised the Star Trek franchise into a coma (coffee, really?). Star Trek: Nemesis was a horrible way to send off our Next Generation crew into the sunset and the Star Trek: Enterprise finale remains the worst 45 minutes of Trek ever made. The franchise needed a rest and by 2008, the well-deserved slumber was ended by the bold vision of J.J. Abrams. No, we’re not going to take about his notorious lense flare issues. What we are going to look at it is how he successfully took some of the most popular science fiction characters of all time and brought them to life with new actors and actresses.
There’s no denying that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are Kirk and Spock. They always will be. Abrams knew that he couldn’t simply reboot the Star Trek universe without the Trekkies (I still prefer that name) going into a full-blown warp core breach. Upset them, and your film is a flop of mammoth proportions. No, he opted instead to essentially create an alternate universe where some things are the same and others are clearly different. Throw in Leonard Nimoy as the original Spock (for the first time since 1991) and you establish that connection so needed if we’re going to buy into his concept. Having Nimoy worked for most, myself included, and set the franchise back on track (take that Rick Berman, under whatever rock you currently reside).
Chris Pine played James T. Kirk in his own way while channeling his inner Shatner at times. All the elements of the man are there: he never gives up, cheats death and romances any female, green or otherwise. Zachary Quinto also gave a great performance as Mr. Spock, if not a little different than what we were used to. His relationship with Nimoy is real and continues via commercials to this day. This Spock followed a path of embracing his emotional side a little more. Purists don’t like this and many had a coronary when Uhura (Zoe Saldana, giving life to that character in a way I’m sure Nichelle Nichols is proud of) entered the picture. However, it is what sold Nimoy to Abrams vision, itself a stamp of approval. Karl Urban nailed the role of Dr. McCoy. I’m still not convinced he isn’t somehow related to the late DeForest Kelley. Simon Pegg offered up a slightly more comedic Scotty, which I hope gets some more serious engineering screen time in his second film. Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) don’t have too much to do but never stray far from what George Takei and Walter Koenig have given us over the years. Bruce Greenwood gives us a different take on Captain Christopher Pike and I appreciated what he offered. We even see a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth finally bring Kirk’s father George to life. Not to mention our resident bad guy, Romulan Nero (Eric Bana, Hulk). The battle sequences were classic Trek and the music of Michael Giacchino took us into a bold new direction that I thoroughly enjoyed.
There are some flaws along the way. It does take a while to get used to the much brighter bridge. I’m still not sure what is going on with engineering. Taking characters I’ve loved for some 40 odd years and putting new actors in their place was a bit jarring at first. But Nimoy was there to help us understand that the old adventures did indeed take place. They haven’t been wiped clean. However, we get to see an altered universe where events are following on a different path (such as the explosion of Vulcan and the romance between Spock and Uhura). After all, some of our most favorite stories have always been the alternate universe adventures (“Mirror, Mirror” and the ongoing arc in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Abrams didn’t take away the stories I’ve revisited time and again. He is offering us bold new tales. And if Star Trek: Into Darkness continues on with what Star Trek established in 2009, then I’m on board for the duration.