Stories often get better in their retelling. The minor mishap you had with a hook and a sunfish turns into a life-and-death battle with Moby Dick when the story is told to friends over a summer barbecue.
So it is with the Star Trek science fiction series. Trekkies may disagree with me and shut down The Banner website with a barrage of disgruntled posts, but director J.J. Abrams (Lost, Super 8) has successfully rejuvenated the rather clunky 60s TV series (and the uneven TV/film sequels of the past forty years) with his 2009 feature film Star Trek and this summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
Far, far in the future, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) attempt to save a planet from a volcanic eruption. According to Starfleet’s “Prime Directive,” they must not reveal themselves or interfere with the planet’s developing civilization. When the volcano threatens to blow up with Spock inside, Kirk throws aside the rulebook to save his friend, but in doing so he loses command of his shiny new spaceship, the U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk is soon reinstated when a mysterious man of intergalactic mayhem, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), wreaks havoc on Earth. Will Kirk follow the rules this time, or will his thirst for vengeance get the better of justice?
Abrams cleverly references the original series and films with catchphrases (“phasers on stun”), stock situations (loss of warp drive), and characters (a Tribble!), while sprucing up the pacing and special effects. Pine easily fills and stretches William Shatner’s shoes as Kirk. And I will dare to say that Quinto continues to improve upon Leonard Nimoy as Spock, the half-Vulcan caught between reason and emotion. Cumberbatch, who has played a marvelous Sherlock Holmes, shows his skills in this film as another ambivalent character.
As a kid, I was a fan of the original TV series and did not mind the wooden acting, low-budget sets, and simple special effects. What mattered was the engaging cast from all countries and races, and especially the ethical questions the show raised through the science-fiction format.
Star Trek Into Darkness continues that tradition with a diverse international cast and a debate over duty and even preemptive war, all set within the dark framework of terrorism. With many comic quips and lengthy action scenes, some may find that this substance gets slightly lost in space and spectacle. Overall, the film boldly goes where Star Trek has gone before, and does so even better. (Paramount)