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TO BOLDLY GO BACKWARDS

       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, requested 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 Koichi Wakata, 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 origin myths (don't call it SciFi!), even the backstory has not one, but two, backstories.
    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 backstory:  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 final 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 apparently has 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 uses  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 it is, 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 churning 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 Roddenberry, 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 them.     Satisfactory.