J.J. Abrams is an alchemist. The director-producer renowned for co-creating the cult TV show "Lost" has done the impossible. It's a feat I never imagined I'd see. He has completed the entertainment world equivalent of transforming lead into gold.
Yes, he has taken the geekiest of geek franchises, Star Trek, and reinvented it, actually making it cool. This isn't your father's Star Trek, it's your little sister's. And as scary as that might sound for trekkies everywhere, it's nothing to fear. Abrams and company have made a film capable of uniting everyone from Trek true believers to casual movie-going fans, to teenyboppers who have never heard of the Kobayashi Maru or even Kirk and Spock.
The film leaps back a few hundred years from where the franchise left off in the so-so "Star Trek Nemesis," a picture which continued the adventures of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" crew. Abrams' "Star Trek" is a radical departure, truly going to the root of the franchise by giving us an exciting reinvention of the beginnings of the original crew, best known to audiences as that of the first "Star Trek" TV series and first six "Star Trek" films.
We witness the birth of future Enterprise captain James Kirk (Chris Pine.) We see him as a rebellious child growing up in rural Iowa. His upbringing is juxtaposed with a young Spock (Zachary Quinto,) a child trapped between two worlds with a human mother and a Vulcan father. We see how Kirk was persuaded to join Star Fleet, the humanitarian peacekeeping and exploratory force of the United Federation of Planets.
It's like a geek's dream come to life. The maiden voyage of the Enterprise. The initial rivalry and eventual friendship of Kirk and Spock. The meeting of Kirk and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban.) The initial mission that brought together an international crew: Asian helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho,) Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (Simon Pegg,) Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin,) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana.) Don't think I'll drop the spoiler of this last character's first name, revealed in this movie for the first time I can ever recall. Each of these classic characters is developed and defined in new, fresh ways. Pegg in particular brings a sense of humor to a franchise known for its often dry, overly-serious tone.
All this is juxtaposed against a compelling adventure narrative that draws on the best of the Star Trek tradition. Driven by vengeance, a time traveling Romulan captain named Nero (Eric Bana) begins an attack on the Federation that brings this young, inexperienced crew together. Thus begins a gripping story that will hold you until the credits roll.
Abrams' "Star Trek" often has a feel more like the original "Star Wars" trilogy rather than the last few "Star Trek" films. Its young cast brings a fresh liveliness, much like Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher brought to "Star Wars: A New Hope." We've never had a "Star Trek" movie with characters this young. As long as there have been "Trek" films the characters have always been at least in their ‘40s. Now we've got working characters, who already have touching friendships and relationships, who we get to see in their ‘20s. Who could have guessed that Isaac Asimov's famous essay Mr. Spock Is Dreamy would actually come true in this fashion?
The parallels to "Star Wars" don't end with the Generation X/Y factor. Aside from visual references - particularly from "The Empire Strikes Back" - there are archetypal characters as well. Kirk has shades of Han Solo. Uhura has Princess Leia's fierceness and rebellion in her. And there's even an Obi-Wan Kenobi foil that will delight and surprise Trek True Believers.
Special props need to go to screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Trekkies will be stunned by their brilliance in coming up with a way to avoid the seemingly unavoidable pitfalls of prequels' need to line up with the already established facts of previously-made films. With what they've done Trek fans new and old are truly back into unfamiliar space with new surprises around every corner.
If Abrams' "Star Trek" is to be understood as a lesser "Star Wars: A New Hope" for a new generation then we should all know what might be coming next: a sequel surpassing the original, a "Star Trek" equivalent of "The Empire Strikes Back." Too much to dream of? With Abrams the alchemist in charge it's clear that now anything is possible.