My biggest fear, when I heard that this new movie was to be a prequel starring the original series crew, was, of course, that it would trample all over established history and my memories. While I had been willing to accept the concept of the Enterprise prequel TV series, it was quite another matter to have new, young actors posing as Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest. I mean, Shatner and company played these characters for thirty years. No actors could more accurately be said to own their roles. A part of me felt that, like a legendary athlete's jersey number, those roles should have been retired out of respect for what the original cast achieved.
I had to concede, however, that the franchise was in bad condition after Enterprise, and perhaps it needed to take things back to characters that audiences knew and cared about. I was subsequently relieved to hear that the movie was to be regarded as more of a hard reboot than a prequel within the same timeline. But then I heard that Leonard Nimoy would be appearing as old Spock in a role that would tie the movie to the original continuity, and I grew worried again.
Now that it's here and I've seen it, I'm reasonably satisfied by the direction it took. Star Trek 2009 is a reboot, a sequel and an alternate timeline, but it's less so a prequel, and, for the most part, it can be enjoyed without any fear of it impacting, let alone ruining, what came before. Although these characters retain the same names and positions, they possess distinct personalities, in some cases reflecting significant alterations to their histories. It's still hard to avoid comparing them against the original cast, but, once I started to think of new Kirk as "Ultimate Kirk," as opposed to original series Kirk's younger self, the compare/contrast game became more intriguing than distracting.
Surprisingly, while none of the principals are "stars," so to speak, a good number of them are recognizable genre actors that would be familiar to a large portion of the audience. Zachary Quinto, in particular, has had a high-profile part playing probably the worst character on the dumbest show on television. Given much better material to work with here, his thoughtful young Spock ended up becoming my favorite character in the movie. For me, the other big revelation was Karl Urban as McCoy. I never saw Pathfinder, so Urban, to me, was just some random recurring intense face in such movies as The Chronicles of Riddick, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Lord of the Rings. As the wry McCoy, he leaves all that behind, and instead really channels DeForest Kelley's performance without simply mimicking it, the result being the only one of the characters that I can actually see developing into his original series counterpart.
Chris Pine has the toughest job playing Kirk, a character that was 90 percent William Shatner's performance. Shatner is a true original, and despite many attempts to parody his style, no other actor can do what he does. Pine wisely does not try, starting pretty much from scratch with his interpretation of the character. He's okay, but, whereas Shatner can dominate any room (even if he's the only one in it), Pine's more orthodox performance serves to remind us that this is an ensemble cast. He is definitely at his best when he and Quinto are playing each other's foils, and perhaps that is as it should be.
Fine performances as well from all the rest, and, overall, I have no worries about enduring this crew through several more installments. The only potential concern is that I can't see Paramount holding this young cast together for more than three pictures before some of them begin asking for too much money, or, worse yet, start wanting to move on.
Moving past my perhaps petty concerns about its relationship to the existing fiction, I enjoyed the movie very much. I wouldn't put it in the same class as The Wrath of Kahn or The Voyage Home, which I consider to be among the all-time great films, transcending franchise and genre. As the first installment in a series, it was definitely superior, however, to The Motion Picture or Generations. In fact, I think I liked it better than any of the Next Generation films.
Despite a plot involving time travel and alternate timelines, it's a fairly breezy and straightforward sci-fi action film that struck me as extremely inviting to Trek newcomers. Although it does not entirely betray fans' expectations for the characters, it also doesn't assume knowledge on the part of its audience. Every character gets a defining moment in the spotlight, and it feels appropriately like an effective introduction, rather than the eleventh film in a forty-year-old franchise. The special effects, new and spectacular, certify it as a blockbuster, and I don't anticipate there being a better movie this summer. I'm already looking forward to the sequel that I expect to be better and bolder.
Finally, while it's great to have Star Trek back in theaters, I do still feel that there needs to be a new TV show as well. TV was the original home for the franchise, after all, and much of its essence remains tied to the episodic format, which affords a broader range of stories and more time for character development. The lack of three seasons of television to reflect back on may, in fact, keep the new movies from reaching the heights of Wrath of Kahn, which, among other things, included the greatest death scene of all time. If, even three films down the line, they tried to run the new cast through the events of that movie, I don't think it would be nearly as effective, because I wouldn't feel that the characters had earned the moment the way the originals had.