Seven things I love about the new ‘Star Trek’

April 30, 2009 | 8:45 p.m.
Star Trek Crew

The “Star Trek” film franchise, after 10 films, is about to hit maximum warp for the first time.

Yes, the new one is the best of them all, which (in my opinion) is actually faint praise. The movies have each been flawed, really, and while I do adore “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” this new film, pound for pound, is far superior. That’s all the more impressive when you consider the fact that this all-new crew ensemble can’t take emotional shortcuts with the audience.     

I saw the new film last Friday and it’s fun, smart, sexy, sleek and action-packed. J.J. Abrams took plenty of lessons from the most recent trilogy of “Star Wars” films and their portrayal of alien cultures, space travel and frenetic battle scenes. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, meanwhile, have written a script that is infused with Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of unity, exploration and technological possibility. It seems to me this movie is this year’s “Iron Man,” the fully satisfying summer movie that feels fresh and buoyant despite all the heavy machinery taking flight on screen.

So here are seven things I loved (although there were plenty more) about “Star Trek,” which opens on May 8. NOTE: There are no MAJOR spoilers in here but I do talk about the setup and flavor of some scenes, some vague (but important) plot points and some of the fun, small moments, so if you prefer to walk into the theater cold, stop reading now! Otherwise, keep reading and prepare for warp-speed because, of course, this ship has no seat belts:

1. THE FREEDOM TO FAIL: The film has a time-travel plot (hence the presence of Leonard Nimoy as an aged Spock) which is no secret at this point, but until I saw the film I didn’t realize how pivotal that fact is in regard to the long-term health of this revival. As several of the trailers reveal, in this “Star Trek,” Kirk’s father dies just moments after his son is born; Nimoy’s Spock notes in the film that the Kirk he knew didn’t lose his father until he was already a Starfleet captain. There is also a character death in this version that does not match up with the mythology of the original series, but I won’t say more than that. This is all important because it frees up the franchise to go its own path in the upcoming films and face uncertainty, failure and peril. The filmmakers are not paralyzed by the canon and they are making that clear from the get-go.

2. KARL URBAN IS THE REAL McCOY: There are plenty of great performances in this movie. Chris Pine is charismatic and cocky and just right as a young Kirk (and thank goodness he didn’t slip into a William Shatner imitation, that would have been death for the film) and Zachary Quinto is pitch-perfect as the smoldering Spock, who is just barely keeping a clamp on those emotions. But I have to say the great revelation was New Zealand native Karl Urban who, more than the two main stars, does a full-on vocal imitation of his predecessor, DeForest Kelley, who was such an eccentric Southern sourpuss. I sat down with Pine for a pleasant lunch a few weeks and he gushed about Urban’s hilarious turn. “When people see what Karl Urban did with Dr. McCoy, they are going to freak out. It is DeForest Kelley, but it’s not. With my performance I had to go at it with a scalpel because Shatner’s work was unique and locked into memory. But, man, what Karl pulled off … ” I’m guessing that in the next film we see a lot more of Urban and his laughter-is-the-best-medicine approach to “Trek.”

3. THE KOBIYASHI MARU: Screenwriters Orci and Kurtzman have done the best work of their career with this film and it’s almost unfair how much fun they had in doing it. Orci in particular is a devout Trekkie and it’s clear from all the references both large and small to “Trek” lore. The over-eager Red Shirt, the mention of a Cardassian cocktail, the catch-phrases for individual crew members and, best of all, a re-visitation of the Kobiyashi Maru training exercise and Kirk’s, uh, creative way of passing the test. They also add a clever bit of plot-wiring that uses the exercise to create tension between Kirk and another character.     

4. A SURPRISE CREW ROMANCE: There’s a bed romp between Captain Kirk and a curvy green lady (although she’s no Yvonne Craig), which is hardly a surprise, but there is a crew romance that is introduced in this film that is startling at first because it is so counter to the traditional portrayals of the original crew. But I think it was a fantastic move that will pay off in the next film. The crew’s dynamic will be intensely tested by having two people who must deal with the tugs of duty and heart and keeping each other safe and warm amid the cold dangers of space. I asked Nimoy what he thought of this jolting change and he lit up. “I thought it was fantastic to see them together. A great idea.”

Winona Ryder, mother of Spock

5. “HEATHERS” IN SPACE: Winona Ryder portrays Spock’s mother, and although her screen time and her ambitions were a bit limited here (and she was doing her wavering, old-lady voice, the same one she did in the framing sequence of “Edward Scissorhands“), I’m just stoked because, when combined with Christian Slater’s cameo in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” there is now a “Heathers” reunion in Federation space. I also like the idea of Winona being a VILF. (It stands for “Vulcan Immigrant Looking Fine”…what were you thinking?)

6. J.J.’S JEDI MIND TRICK: J.J. Abrams told me months ago that he was dropping a “Star Wars” homage into the film but asked me not to write about it. I haven’t but now that it’s in the ads for the film, well, I guess it’s fair game. In one sequence, Kirk is marooned on a frosty planet that has quite a bit in common with Hoth from “The Empire Strikes Back. Kirk is also about to be offed by a local predator when he is saved by a mysterious elder — essentially it’s Spock in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi from the first “Star Wars” film. And you know longtime Jedi fan Abrams smirked a bit when he added some Lucas mojo to the “Trek” experience.

7. “THE RIGHT STUFF” SENSIBILITY: Some Trekkies have been apoplectic because of the scene where Kirk, not yet in Starfleet, rides his motorcycle up to an Iowa field where a starship is being built. Why would you build a starship on the ground when in the past films they have been assembled in orbiting space stations? I suppose you could argue some tech reason to defend the depiction (maybe they have an anti-gravity well on site? Maybe they transport it into space? I don’t know … ) but why bother? What’s great about the scene is its evocation of a sort of “Field of Dreams” earnestness. The original “Trek” was so optimistic at its heart and in the Space Age era that it really felt like an extension of both NASA and the Peace Corps. There’s a lot of that in this new movie and that’s more important than nitpicking the science. Pine summed it up: “This movie will fail for die-hard fans if they go in expecting a museum piece that has to faithfully re-create everything that has come before. It’s a fresh perspective. There are things that are different.”

— Geoff Boucher


Anton Yelchin

For “Trek” and “Terminator” star Anton Yelchin the future is now

Captain Kirk meets his father (sort of)

Simon Pegg and the engineering of “Trek” humor

One big challenge to “Trek”? “Galaxy Quest”

J.J. Abrams: “Trek” remains in the shadow of George Lucas

Coffee with the Captain: A Hero Complex conversation with Shatner

Credit: “Star Trek” photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures. Anton Yelchin photo by Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times.


20 Responses to Seven things I love about the new ‘Star Trek’

  1. Jenna says:

    Ah canny waih, kepten!

  2. OlliS says:

    As long as we're talking Star Wars homages, didn't the way the Enterprise flew in to save the day remind you of the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars?

  3. Henry Harris says:

    I'm not a Trekkie; I'm a scientist and I'll try to answer the question. Why bother to put science in a science fiction movie? I'll tell you why. It destroys the fundamental premise of the entire series. If you'd actually watched the series you'd know that. NASA built the Space Station by bringing up pieces and putting them together in orbit. This is not just a convention that the writers of Star Trek adopted; it's a fundamental building block of the entire Star Trek concept. Throw this away and the entire series makes no sense. This wasn't their only mistake. The Enterprise is shown being constructed with arc welding, the way battleships in World War II were built. This is just pure sloppiness in an era where other movies, for example "Watchmen", have a scientist consulting during the writing and on the set while filming. This is the 21st century for Christ sake! We have a permanent space station in orbit. We've been to the Moon. Why destroy the premise of a classic science fiction, long-lived series with ignorance and pure sloppiness. Obvious they didn't have a scientist as a consultant. The arrogance of these people and the total contempt they have for their audience and their subject defies description.

  4. Rey says:

    Oh, Henry! That was an excellent Comic Book Man impression. Do another! Do another!

  5. Homo Trekker says:

    Surprise crew romance? Is the Kirk/Spock/McCoy love triangle finally going to be outed? (Hey, it explains the rivalry between Spock and McCoy, especially McCoy's extreme bitterness towards Spock.)

  6. As a dyed-inthe-wool, Old School Trekkie I am counting the days until the new film warps into theaters.
    I’m very curious to see who the on-ship romance involves. My guess is that it’s Kirk and Uhura (based on the promo clip of James Tiberius macking on Sista Nyota at the Shipyard Bar). This certanly would redefine their relationship which, on the original series, was entirely on professional. (That’s why both Uhura and Kirk are so uncomfortable when telekinetic beings force them to kiss in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.”)
    Based on the original series, one could easily conclude that if Lt. Uhura were to strike up a romance with a member of the Enterprise crew it would be not Capt. Kirk but Mr. Spock. Her attraction to him is obvious. Uhura openly flirts with Spock in the series debut episode, “The Man Trap.” Leaning against Spock’s chair with her heart-melting smile set on stun, Uhura purrs, “Wy dont’ you tell me that I’m an attractive young lady? Or tell me what your planet Vulcan is like on a summer night when the moon is full?”
    But, like a lot of guys who never dream that a hot babe would hit on them, Spock misses the point. “Vulcan has no moon,” he replies cluelessly. “I’m not surprised!” Uhura retorts without even trying to hide her frustration.
    But Spock isn’t quite so clueless the next time Uhura gets playful. In “Charlie X” she teases him with a sassy song in the crew lounge. The fact that Spock accompanies Uhura’s flirty freestyle on his Vulcan lyre and even cracks a knowing quarter-smile when she finishes suggests that something more emotional than logical could be stirring inside the stoic science officer.
    Actually, an Uhura-Spock romance is perfectly logical. They’re both brainy, no-nonsense and dutiful professionals. Uhura also has the kind of strength and abilty that Spock admires (unlike the girly Nurse Chapel, whose advances he consistently rejects).
    We see this most clearly in the episode “Who Mourns For Adonais?” When the fate of the Enterprise depends on Uhura repairing the fragile electronics inside the bridge communications console, Spock pressures her to work more quickly. Without losing her cool, Uhura snaps back, ” I haven’t done anything like this in years!…It’s very delicate work!” Spock responds by telling Uhura that he can think of no one better qualified than she to do the job. She’s stunned. And flattered. And we realize that Spock wasn’t being overbearing before, he was telling her that he trusted her and was depending on her to do what he knew she could do.
    So, Uhura and Spock could’ve worked. Who knows? Were it not for the resrictions of rank and the Vulcan code of total logic and emotional suppression (not to mention 1960s TV taboos on inter-racial romance) Mr. Spock might very well have invited Lt. Uhura out for a glass of Tranya and a private game multi-level chess. I’ll bet she would’ve accepted, too.
    Cameron Turner
    writer of “Turner’s Two Cents” column on

  7. If the producers of this movie think they can just re-write forty years of continuity by having personal relationships change and take liberties such as building a starship on the ground rather than in space, well then, they…just might take a tired franchise and breath fresh air into it. With any kind of luck this movie will present an optimistic view of the future and inspire an entire generation of kids to forget about being Wall Street money grubbers and use their brains to become engineers, doctors and teachers. The concept of Star Trek is too good to die under the weight of decades of continuity. I can't wait for opening day.

  8. Ric, Portland says:

    Who are we, mere mortals in 2009, to criticize construction techniques used in the twenty-second century? Or perhaps we should fault the director for not coming up with an equally dramatic moment when the young James Kirk discovers an orbiting construction site while peeking through an earth-bound telescope?
    The art of the film is to lead the viewer to suspend disbelief. I have faith that we will be in a better position to experience that when seated in a theater watching J.J. Abrahms' production rather than simply reading Geoff Boucher's wonderfully witty and well-informed commentary. If science fiction was restricted exclusively to the bounds of known science, the genre would probably have never come into existence. Fortunately, we give talented writers and directors a degree of artistic license in exchange for providing us with a thrilling story.
    I'm looking forward to the movie and would like to thank Mr. Boucher for the fun preview.

  9. monash says:

    Of course the Enterprise can be built on the ground – its the future and they have anti-gravity! And of course the 'arc welding' looks like it does – but its really quantum manipulation of substances unknown to us! Its sci-fi or heaven's sake (or is that for space's sake?). Get a scientist on board and all we will learn is why none of it can be done – duoh!

  10. Rob Fohl says:

    When the TV show premired, I couldnt decide which show to watch- Star Trek or Batman- they were both on at the same time. Had to use 2 tvs side by side becouse VCRs hadnt been invented yet.

  11. Craig says:

    As a Trekkie for 30+ years, I love the idea of a relaunch, and would be disappointed if they didn't shake things up a bit. Hopefully it won't sell out entirely to the Transformers-style action move genre, and will keep some of the philosophical and moral questioning that set it apart originally.
    As for building the Enterprise on Earth rather than in orbit, I can think of a lot of reasons why it might make sense. Security from interstellar spying could be one, or the economic advantage of not transporting thousands of workers and tons of material into orbit to work on it. If the ship has its own highly efficient engines, lift-off for it will be no big deal anyway — it's not like the present day where the rocket has to be hundreds of times bigger than the actual craft. I read somewhere else that they had to build it in Earth gravity, because it would operate in an artificial gravity well during its service anyway.

  12. Landru says:

    The Federation hadn't come into contact with the Cardassians in the 23rd century so the drink reference is not LOGICAL.

  13. Feoman says:

    I may not be a full Trekkie, but this piece of crap made in 2009 is just another example of what is typical of this phreaking Generation-Y Z or whatever you call the guys of the late '90s and the 2000's.
    Corruption of the Cannons, not following the rules, divertion of everything to include the abmornal into the normality.
    That was not creativity, creativity is not batting the ball with an iron bat… creativity is to hit the ball with the given set of rules, use the bloody wooden bat to do it!
    Spock/Uhura's love… what a pieco of nonsense, the coolest thing about spock and the whole series was that cold-blooded way of thinking of him, being always logical and not being able to understand the human reactions despite the fact that he was half-human.
    I they wanted to add the Sex-romance-gigolo or what-ever-2k-new-way-of-sex-thinking-shit, they should use James T. Kirk, as he was the James Bond Character of the series.

  14. Angie says:

    Although I have seen a few Star Trek episodes and know the characters, I would not consider myself a "trekkie." I simply went to view the film on Friday because a group of friends were going (and yes, admittedly I didn't even know the show was coming out on Friday until then) What happened shocked me. I loved it! No kidding, I LOVED it! It was truly remarkable what they did with the script. They somehow made it more modern and appealing to a new audience without losing key canon aspects! The special effects where amazing, but not over bearing as the film still held true to a strong storyline. I can't reaffirm how much I much I enjoyed this film! I enjoyed it so much that I went back the next day to see it! And I would see it again in the theater! It is worth the money!
    They did wonders with both Spock's character and Kirk's. The film totally revived the Star Trek franchise and made Star Wars look pathetic and cheesy. I can't imagine why anyone would not enjoy this film, save old Star Trek fans who are insulted at its more modern zeal.. To those individuals, I am sorry but your negative views are quite aggravating. I feel you are going against the current simply to make a statement. But to each its own.
    The Star Trek fans I have spoken to have enjoyed this film just and much as I have myself, if not more. It is NOT a disappointment to Star Trek fans.! It is exactly what the franchise needed! Both old Star Trek fans and new ones will love this film!
    As of now, it is my favorite film. GO SEE IT!!!!

  15. Ivana says:

    @Feoman: “Spock/Uhura’s love… what a pieco of nonsense, the coolest thing about spock and the whole series was that cold-blooded way of thinking of him, being always logical and not being able to understand the human reactions despite the fact that he was half-human.
    I they wanted to add the Sex-romance-gigolo or what-ever-2k-new-way-of-sex-thinking-shit, they should use James T. Kirk, as he was the James Bond Character of the series.”
    That is such a complete and utter rubbish! The coolest thing about Spock was always that he was logical, but always had more emotion than anyone, bubbling under the surface. The new movie only makes it more obvious for people like you who couldn’t pick up the clues in the series. And Spock’s romances, rare and brief that they were, were always a lot more compelling than Kirk’s. Unlike Kirk with his numerous boring flings, Spock, when he lost his emotional control, was always romantic, wildly passionate and trully in love. It may not have lasted long because he would be back to his usual self and it would end in heartbreak. But that is one of the reasons he has always been a lot more popular with female fans.
    Who the hell cares about Kirk’s bed romps? It was already stereotipical, predictable, old and boring by season 2 of TOS. Come to think of it, your comparison with Bond is appropriate. Bond movies were always incredibly boring to me, since they were so predictable. Bond is essentially a male fantasy of what they think is cool and what they want to be. Kirk also has many elements of a classic male fantasy, and his endless flings with all sorts of women are a part of that. Kudos to the new movie for shattering the general public stereotype of irresistible seducer Kirk. (In the show, there were plenty of women who weren’t interested in him at all, but never before has he been rejected by one that he actually pursued.) It is so much more true to life: I’ve noticed that men tend to believe that Kirk is everything women want,when in fact, an overwheling majority of female fans of Star Trek have always lusted after Spock, not Kirk. Then (when played by Nimoy) as well as now (played by Quinto). Things have not changed.
    Also, it is funny to read in so many places articles that call the Spock/Uhura pairing “surprising” and claim that it goes against the dynamic of TOS. Goes to show how many people comment on Trek and the new movie without ever having seen the old show(or maybe they have just forgotten). As has been pointed out already, Spock/Uhura pairing is actually one of the least surprising and most canonical plots in the movie. It may be surprising that it has been developed into a poroper romantic relationship, but really, you have two characters who flirted and showed obvious signs of attraction in TOS (and Uhura never showed that kind of interest for any other crew member in the 60s series itself – movies notwithstanding), and now their hookup in the movie is a huge surprise and controversy? Um, whatever. Even more ironic that so few people said that when the trailers were misleading people into thinking that there would be a Kirk/Uhura hookup. Now, that would really have gone against their dynamic in TOS, which has always been strictly professional and platonic. (Not to mention that it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as a plot.)
    Also, we do not know the date of the first contact with the Cardassians.

  16. Paul Paz says:

    You MUST be kidding. Gimme two hours and I will write you a story with 100 years why Abrams Trek by FAR the WORST ever! LAME LAME LAME and no understanding of real Trek. It was a total abomination (tho I agree McCoy was good).

  17. Wyzard Earthwind says:

    To say that Star Trek is an incredible movie is an understatement. There is so much to love about it. For the ST XI detractors out there, remember, the movie takes place in an alternate reality.
    I predict that Star Trek will be nominated for 6 Academy Awards
    Best Picture
    Best Actor (Zachery Quinto)
    Best Supporting Actor (Karl Urban)
    Best Director (J.J. Abrams)
    Best Script
    Best Special Effects
    The best movie that I have seen this year.
    Live Long (And Kick Ass)

  18. JJ-Sucks says:

    Only those with LOW IQ who are part of the brainless MTV generation could possibly enjoy this "Fray boyz in space" pile of crap movie

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  20. I and my wife we are also great fans.

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