I saw the new Star Trek movie last night, and it answers a question I wasn’t sure anyone would ever ask (or want to) – namely, could they find a young actor who could effectively clone William Shatner’s performance in TOS (The Original Series) as the alpha asshole of the future galaxy. The answer is yes.
The script and the new actors do a remarkably good job of replicating the chemistry of the TOS crew. The young Spock is as cerebral outside and volcanic inside as the original, and Bones overdramatizes everything in classic McCoy style and cheerfully slams injectors into people at every opportunity. Entertainingly, Scotty is not quite TOS Scotty but the more jester-like figure of the post-TOS movies; I had breakfast with Jimmy Doohan once, and I felt it was an echo of Doohan himself (and not so much his TOS character) that I was seeing on the screen. We do get thrown one wicked curveball in the person of Lieutenant Uhura, who spends much of her screen time vamping a character whose name I won’t spoil the fun by revealing.
Alas, the movie also inherits TOS’s blithe disregard for trivia like continuity and plot logic and its propensity for menacing villains constructed from flimsiest cardboard. Astronomical distances are treated as random variables pegged to zero when convenience requires it and then widened to AUs or lightyears seconds later. Absurd coincidences abound, as in when Bad Guy’s planetary-core drill just happens to be visible from the Starfleet Academy grounds. The script is, it must be said, deeply silly.
Still, the movie is worth seeing – if only so you can share the almost indecent amount of enjoyment Leonard Nimoy clearly derives from reprising his role as an older Spock from a different history. The actor playing Captain Christopher Pike also turns in a remarkably strong and authoritative performance. We get to see cadet Kirk’s often-alluded-to subversion of the Kobayashi Maru test, which is fun even if he does behave like an intolerable snot throughout. And, oh, yes, Cadet Sulu gets a swordfighting scene.
The set and effects designers also get props for pulling off a difficult trick. The 1960s visuals of TOS look very, very dated today; the actual technology of 2009 actually exceeds, in some relevant ways, anything Gene Roddenbery could have imagined. Nevertheless, they managed to update the look of the future in a way that remains pretty faithful to the original.
Structurally, this movie reboots the Trek universe. Bad Guy’s time jaunt changes Kirk’s back story and sends causal ripples through the lives of the other main characters, giving future scriptwriters a free hand with the next N movies. It remains to be seen what they will do with it.