Thursday, May 28, 2009

Through Day: Where the Future Begins

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away ...

I have memories of watching Star Trek on TV in a little woodframe house in Century, Florida. Not specific episodes, although I seem to recall watching this one from behind a pillow or a couch cushion. Mom would sometimes pop Jiffy Pop, and we'd watch Trek and then Wild Wild West on Friday nights. Later (in those dark years when no local channel showed Trek in afternoon reruns), when we were on vacation trips I'd search the local channels for Trek and sometimes give up a chance to hit the hotel swimming pool just to catch another showing of whatever they were playing that day. I remember watching this episode in a motel in Georgia or possibly South Carolina in the early 1970s. (I think that one chick may have kick-started puberty for me. If you hit the link, then you know the one.)

So forgive me if the original crew is "mine." My friend S. Brady claims the Next Gen crew. Loves that show, he does, and rightfully so. Some very good TV therein. Says he's only seen one or two of the original crew episodes all the way through. I forgive him his lack of culture, and I offer up all this preamble just for context.

Because, I have to say, these new actors in the new Trek movie do a heckuva job bringing the old characters to life in a new way, and yet remain very true to the essence of the originals. Karl Urban is channeling DeForest Kelley, not doing an impersonation, just hitting all the right notes. And Chris Pine does not ever look or sound like William Shatner, but he has the swagger and the determination of Kirk down pat. All the others, too. Every one of them, with the possible exception of Simon Pegg, whose Scotty is just a little too Shawn of the Dead sometimes.

Yes, there are glaring logic, continuity and science problems with this new film, and no, there's not much of a deep philosophical core to it. It doesn't preach about race relations or protest war or explore the concept of God, which is what the original crew did on a regular basis. But it does reintroduce a whole new generation to these iconic heroes, gives them great character moments, allows them to grow. It thrills with action and adventure presented like no Trek before it (and this is coming from someone who liked ST2 the best). It creates a sense of peril, which has been missing from the movies (despite ST2, or perhaps because of it) as anything can happen to these people: Time has been altered, and no one (cough - Spock's mom - cough) is safe from the ravages of a compelling storyline.

I give Star Trek my highest recommendation. Uber fans like me will appreciate all the references to the past exploits and previous incarnations of the franchise. Casual viewers may find a new favorite summer popcorn flick. And even those who never thought they'd like a Trek movie will be surprised by this.

It is a reboot, and a prequel and a sequel all rolled together. It's a coming-of-age story and a revenge story and a hero's journey and a tale of friendship and sacrifice. It's funny, and exciting and touching -- sometimes all in the same scene. In other films, trying to accomplish so many things at once would be overwhelming to the director and leave audiences either confused or irritate. In this case, it works, and I think because no matter what else is happening, the focus remains on the characters. That's what made the original show survive so long: not just the optimistic view of the future and the imaginative plots, but the people we rode into space alongside. Particularly the lead trio of heart, mind and hand (that's a reference to this movie, in case you haven't seen it), exploring what it means to be a good person and to do remarkable things to make the universe a better place.

And 40 years from now, some new hotshot director will assemble a new cast to reboot Star Trek once again into whatever media people are enjoying in that era. Because the universe is infinite, and there are at least that many stories to be told about these characters, as they are reborn or reincarnated into new (if somehow strangely familiar) settings.

I'd love to be around to see it happen.

Peace and long life.
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