Professor Schaff’s review can be seen below. I finally went to see Star Trek: The Future Begins this weekend. I give it three and a half stars out of four, which I think is at least a half a star higher than my colleague did. I expected to like it because even the bad reviews were good, which is a pretty good sign that one will not regret the ticket price. I was not disappointed.
I note first the basis of my half a star reservation: like almost all the Star Trek movies, the overall story was ad hoc and pedestrian. I enjoyed almost all of the Star Trek movies, including the Next Generation films, but I can only think of one that stands on its own (apart from love of the characters and context), and that would be Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Pretty much all the others had throw away stories about on the level of the average original Trek episode.
In this case the sin was a bit worse, as several bits of the story, established in the original series, were changed in significant ways for no apparent reason. One might speculate that the people in charge (J. J. Abrams?) want to establish some freedom from the original story, for they must surely be planning sequels. They are, after all, about to run into the original series, but reconciling story lines can be a great source of creativity and I think ducking that is a big mistake.
That said, the chief task facing Abrams was to create new characters that had resonance with the old ones while keeping self-parody to a minimum, and in that he succeeded spectacularly. That is to say that I do not agree with my colleague or with Jonah Goldberg that the less you know about the Star Trek stories, the more problem you will have with the movie. This is character driven film making, and I will focus here on the characters.
Chris Pine did not remind me very much of William Shatner, but he did something even better: he reminded me of James T. Kirk. It is something of a shock to recall that the original show was produced when TV was still a relatively new thing. Nineteen-sixty TV characters tended to be one dimensional and, like the sets they stood on, made of cardboard. Pine's Kirk is not exactly deep, but he has a more flesh and blemish than Shatner ever did.
Zachary Quinto's Spock was superb. I was a big fan of Heroes in its first season, and if you watched the show you will scarcely believe that I never once thought of Quinto's character Sylar. He had one big advantage in recreating the Vulcan science officer: Leonard Nemoy's look was mostly in the Meet the Beatle's hairdo, dark eyebrows, and pointy ears. Still, it was eerie how much he reminded me of the original Spock. He is also a damn fine actor, and he presents a half-breed Vulcan with his human side ratcheted up a few notches.
But the star of the show, in terms of casting and acting, was Karl Urban's Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. Urban recreated DeForest Kelley's character and voice with such consummate skill that he seemed to be channeling more than acting. But he also carved out some space for his own interpretation, making his Bones a little more reflective and vulnerable than the original.
The remaining three basic characters, Uhura, Sulu, and Scotty, all had less resonance with the original. Uhura had to be updated a great deal for purposes of political correctness. Nichelle Nichols, the original Uhura, had the job of being the serious black character in 1966. Back then, that meant stressing poise and a cool maturity (see Bill Cosby on I Spy, 1965). These days it means combining competence with sex appeal. Is that progress?
Simon Pegg was great as Scotty, but he transformed the character more flamboyantly than any of the others did. James Doohan's Scotty was modeled on the Scottish guy you know because he works in the hot part of the factory and maybe you stood him a few shots down at the local watering hole. He's down to earth and union all the way. Pegg's Scotty is the crazy Scottish guy you know from work. And he is followed around by this three foot tall walking walnut critter. Where did that thing come from and what is he/she/it doing in the movie? Still, he will fill the role quite nicely.
This is movie making where scenes are organized around the characters and context, and the story as an excuse for the scenes. But the characters and context are obviously worth the investment. The Franchise has been in business for more than forty years. Star Trek: The Future Begins proves that the Franchise is still as vital as ever it was.