Star Trek

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 June, 2009, 12:00am

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Simon Pegg

Director: J.J. Abrams

Category: IIA

The relaunch of the 43-year-old Star Trek franchise is a loud, engaging and vibrant affair.

J.J. Abrams' prequel is much more than a spin-off milking this pop-culture institution's past glories as it boasts a plot that accommodates both Trekkies and newcomers alike, and imagery which allows the film to shake off the shackles of its small-screen roots.

Rather than providing new adventures for the crew of the Enterprise, Star Trek returns to the franchise's origins by telling the story of how the crew - Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu and Chekov - came together. Abrams' action approach is plain from the start: the film's vociferous pre-title sequence sees the Earth's Starfleet in an all-out battle with a warship from Romulus; amid deafening explosions and people being sucked into space is George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) saving his crew by crashing his evacuated vessel into the Romulan spacecraft just as his wife gives birth to a son.

That baby would eventually grow up to become James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), the character William Shatner played in the original Star Trek series.

By making him a fatherless child, Abrams reshapes James into a young, rebellious tearaway, giving him a back story crucial to the future of Star Trek in the years ahead. And there's a lot of character histories being rewritten here - for example, the mentality of the brainy and logical Spock (Zachary Quinto) is explained away by his human ancestry (in the form of his human mother, played by Winona Ryder).

Time travel and alternate realities are fundamental to this film, with the main plot revolving around how the Romulan warrior Nero (Eric Bana) journeys back to the past (and the story's present) to save his planet from destruction - and how Nero unleashes a revenge plot on Spock, who he believes was the person behind the attack on his planet.

It's through this canny ploy that Abrams pulls off the film's ultimate coup, with Leonard Nimoy reprising his role in the original Star Trek series, playing an aged Spock who follows Nero through time and eventually meets up with the young Kirk and finally the younger version of himself.

But there's more to Star Trek than Abrams' clever narrative. The director is very much aware that the whole franchise is mainly about the personal conflict between the story's two leading protagonists, so the filmmaker conjures scenarios which allow sparks to fly between the unruly Kirk and the lucid Spock.

Pine and Quinto (above) acquit themselves well, delivering performances which heighten the traits of their characters, thus providing a fresh and more human take on the two men. The same can also be said of other cast members in the film, from John Cho's reinterpretation of the masterly helmsman Sulu as a young crewman prone to error, to Simon Pegg's hilarious comic reinvention of the oddball engineer Scotty.

Not that Star Trek doesn't have its flaws - the film could have done with more real emotions exhibited by its characters in a time when action films are all about troubled superheroes.

However, unlike the glib Superman Returns or the increasingly insipid Star Wars spin-offs, Star Trek stands a good chance of living long and prospering in the future.

Star Trek opens today