Last week the
New York Times reported that the three crew members on board the
International Space Station were planning to watch the new Star Trek
movie in space.
Michael Barratt, the American astronaut,
the film before boarding a space-bound shuttle in March. The movie was
reformatted by NASA technicians in a five-hour procedure Thursday night
a week ago, and beamed up to the space station that Friday morning.
Michael Barratt, Gennady Padalka, and
all Star Trek fans, planned to strap themselves in so they wouldn't
float away, and watch the movie on a laptop. The name of the station's
node where they're watching it is “Unity.”
Somewhere, Gene Roddenberry is chuckling.
Since Georges Méliès filmed Jules
Verne's “From the
Earth to the Moon” in 1902, film has been where the human race has
explored space. Now that we've entered a new millennium, the space race
has pretty much settled down into the “Star Trek” school and the “Star
Wars” school, and seems likely to stay there until somebody really does
invent a way to get to the stars. Until then, it's still pretty
astounding that astronauts can watch the latest space opera out at the
edge of gravity's tug without choosing DVD or Blu-Ray.
The new Star Trek movie is not so much a
movie as a
stunt, but it's a stunt that succeeds pretty darned well. The stunt, of
course, was to find a bunch of actors who look, and behave, enough like
young versions of the original cast that we'll believe we're actually
watching the backstory of the TV series.
This being the NE PLUS ULTRA of SF
(don't call it SciFi!), even the backstory has not one, but two,
In the year 2387, the Federation
starship Kelvin is
attacked and destroyed by a Romulan ship. Before the final catastrophe,
acting captain George (George?) Kirk manages to evacuate the entire
crew, including his wife, who's in labor with young James T, before
going down with the ship. This takes about twelve minutes, and happens
BEFORE the opening title.
After the title we hit the second
the pre-pubescent adventures of the young Kirk in Iowa, stealing
antique cars and wrecking them; and of the young Spock on Vulcan,
smashing some Vulcan bullies who badmouth his human mother (I thought
Vulcans were too logical for racial bigotry) and doing everything else
with highest honors.
So by the time we get to the third and
backstory, we're ready for a drunken, rowdy, womanizing Kirk who ends
up at Starfleet Academy on a dare, and a brilliant young Spock who has
really good posture. After that we can just sit back and enjoy watching
the other crew members show up, looking a lot sleeker, and sometimes a
lot sexier, than when we first met them in 1966.
For instance (with no prejudice to the
always-breathtaking Nichelle Nichols), Zoe Saldaña plays a lissome
Uhura who's crushing big time on Spock, whose response is a bit more
human than Vulcan. John Cho of “Harry and Kumar Go to White Castle”
plays Sulu, and as soon as he says his combat training is in fencing,
we know he's going to get a chance to prove it, with a collapsible
katana, no less. Anton Yelchin is just as adorable as Walter Koenig,
the original Chekov who helped thaw our Cold War attitude towards
Russians, but his hair is all wrong.
Hands down most fun of all is Karl
Urban. As Eomer
of Rohan he had to be as grim as death through two-thirds of “The Lord
of the Rings,” but here he plays Leonard McCoy in a manic comic turn
worthy of an edge-of-control Gene Wilder. Think of Bones screaming “My
grandfather's work was DOODOO!” and you've about got the feel of it.
As to the plot, why should I help you
make sense of
nonsense? Like “Alice in Wonderland,” enjoy it at your own pace. We
needn't go into it here except for two aspects:
First, black holes – this universe
two kinds. There's the kind you can aim your ship through so you can
Time Travel. (Were they thinking of worm holes?) Then there's the kind
that you can create at a planet's core to destroy the planet. This is a
very precise kind of black hole, because as soon as it eats the planet
it sort of goes to sleep and doesn't suck in any more matter from that
corner of the universe. Nice black hole!
Second, Time Travel – I can't
tell you how
much I hate Time Travel. It'll ruin any story, because it
Paradox as a band-aid to repair holes that would sink any plot, such as
allowing Harry to rescue Sirius and himself as well, or Romulans to
show up in Federation space some umpty-ump years before we meet them in
the original series in “Balance of Terror.”.
But that's all part of the fun, and fun
especially the conflict between the proto-Kirk and the proto-Spock.
These characters' development, in spite of some puzzling mis-steps,
such as a marooning on the ice-planet Hoth (joke), gives us a plausible
idea of why they ended up complementing each other and turning into the
perfect team, rather than committing double homicide. It's easy to see
how Chris Pine's Kirk becomes Shatner's amiable doofus, led around the
galaxy by his intuition and his libido; while Zachary Quinto's Spock is
so disturbing in his coldly logical resolve that it's good to see him
make some human mistakes before he has to become Leonard Nimoy. Oh, and
the thing with Uhura, which is frankly rather bland. Take the kids.
Michael Giacchino's score keeps things
along at light speed without ever coming up with a memorable musical
motif, but he knows EXACTLY where to quote the original theme from the
TV series, and it'll make you cheer, at least subvocally.
One more backstory: Majel Barrett
Gene's widow, finished recording the voice of the computer two weeks
before she died last December. The film is dedicated to the two of