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Movie Review: Star Trek

Star TrekStarring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana.Directed by: J J Abrams

Star Trek
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana.
Directed by: J J Abrams

For a TV and film franchise which rejoices in the science of its fiction, this is a pretty shonky effort.

Unless you have served time as a Trekkie, it may come as a shock to find that starships are built in Iowa cornfields, their hulls propped up by what looks suspiciously like steel-pipe scaffolding.
Or that when they set off across the cosmos it is with a subdued humming noise. (The more observant among you will have noticed that this is the same noise, varying slightly in pitch, made by most vehicles in sci-fi films.) In space, your screams may not be audible, but the exhaust note of the Starship Enterprise apparently is.

Even more incongruously, the inside of the Enterprise is filled with miles of leaky piping (some of it bafflingly marked 'inert reactant'). And hundreds of people. Following the camera around a starship is like visiting a government department: one is left wondering 'What do all these people DO?' You half expect to see a (sliding) door marked 'Accounts'.

But given Star Trek's monumental back story (or perhaps forward story: this is technically a prequel) quibbling about the scene-setting is perhaps unfair.

As any Star Trek aficionado will tell you, it's not about the technology but the characters.
And the good news here is that they are fairly appealing. The young Kirk (played by Chris Pine) is more of a rogue than his slightly constipated TV predecessor. Spock (Zachary Quinto) manages to pull off his pointy-eared performance with an aplomb which approaches gravitas.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag. The universe is looking pretty good. So are the female characters, who Star Fleet have decided should all wear high boots and short skirts. (Apart from one – pea green, but otherwise human – who appears solely in her underwear.)

The lead female character, Uhura (Zoe Saldana), is a serious-minded individual. This is signalled by the fact that she is the only woman on the bridge of the Enterprise not sporting a silly haircut. Elsewhere, Chekov may be the most unconvincing on-screen Russian since the Roger Moore-era Bond films.

Simon Pegg (previously Shaun of the Dead, a character which he partly reprises here) plays the Scotty character for laughs and earns full marks for slipping in the word 'banjaxed' - one term which I never expected to hear beyond BBC Radio 2, let alone in a Hollywood film.

The bad guys, who all look the same - or perhaps that was the point - are pretty unconvincing.
The storyline is much the same, mainly because of a time-travel sub-plot which seems to confuse the characters as much as the audience. The top line is pretty lazy: bad guys try to destroy Earth; good guys try to stop them. No prizes for guessing who comes out on top.

These shortcomings are more serious than the Enterprise's dodgy plumbing because Star Trek's main selling point was always its parable-style storytelling. But the baddies are so one-dimensional that there is no real likelihood of redemption or discovery. The chief villain (a typically wet Eric Bana) at one point resorts to explaining his genocidal motivations to a captured goodie: never a good sign.

Instead, the script focuses on developing the engaging but entirely predictable relationship between Kirk and Spock.

To wit a blizzard of nods and winks to all the characters and plotlines which you are supposed to recognise from the innumerable previous Star Trek films and TV series. If you didn't mis-spend your youth watching at least some of these, prepare to be banjaxed.

Incredibly, this is the 11th Star Trek feature film. I have to confess I had lost track. The only strong memory I have from any of its predecessors was a scene in which someone was threatened with a particularly vicious-looking bug. Remarkably, the bug gets another run out in this film. So does one other original character, though I felt the bug's performance had the edge.

If you have a soft spot for Star Trek you will enjoy this film. Even if you don't it is an amiable enough romp. Just don't go expecting much of a tale. The main story here seems to be that a 12th Star Trek film will hum past very soon.

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