To Boldly Go...

The journey commenced some 40 odd years ago. Rarely a franchise, let alone a concept, lasts this long but Star Trek has gone on to defeat the odds and even the competition.

It began as early as 1960, when creator Gene Roddenberry put together a proposal for a sci-fi series. Although he publicly marketed it as Wagon Train to the Stars, he actually modelled it on Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, intending each episode to act on two levels — first as a suspense, adventure story and secondly as one with a moral.

In Star Trek universe, humans have achieved interstellar space travel in the mid-21st century. Since their first space journey, they have made first contact with many species and form the United Federation of Planets (sort of like a UN in space).

Star Trek went on to have many incarnations, most notably six television (including the original) series and 11 feature films. Now comes its most recent incarnation with Star Trek: The Future Begins directed by J. J. Abrams and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

Development of the film began in 2005 (three years since the last Star Trek film) when Paramount Pictures contacted Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman for ideas to revive the franchise. Filming took place from November 2007 to March 2008 under intense secrecy. Midway through the shoot, Paramount chose to delay the release date from Dec 25, 2008 to May 2009.

The story itself delves more into the pasts of the characters rather than their future, and since this is technically a remake the cast of characters with a loyal fan-following had to be recast. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto lead the cast as James T. Kirk and Spock, respectively. Pine and Quinto have astounding shoes to fill, that of characters that have lasted for generations and have become cultural icons. The dynamics of Kirk and Spock rely heavily on the actors that had previously portrayed them, notably William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. That is because over time as Shatner and Nimoy became their characters the characters became the actors.

Quinto (Sylar of Heroes fame) establishes Spock with relative ease by cleverly mimicking Nimoy’s stance and gestures. Pine takes a different approach entirely. Instead of basing his acting on Shatner’s portrayal, he takes a fresh approach to Kirk. Karl Urban portrays Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy.

Zoe SaldaƱa’s portrayal of Nyota Uhura has echoes of Nichelle Nichols because the younger actress met the older Nichols and understood a great deal about her character. Although the character of Uhura was the most controversial in the classic series, in the film she takes a less important role. The villain this time around is the alien Romulan, Nero, portrayed by Eric Bana. Bana is the weakest link in Star Trek. His acting comes off as brutish, goofy and often lost.

The arrival of Nero barely five minutes into the film sets the story into motion. There are many lost opportunities with Nero that Abrams and the screenwriters Orci and Kurtzman just simply did not take, and with Eric Bana, that is just a waste.

Despite pointy ears, flashing lasers and latex aliens, Star Trek is fundamentally about the birth of a friendship between two men. Hot and cold, impulsive and tightly controlled, Kirk and Spock need each other to work together and defeat Nero at all costs or the future might perish.

Staying away from outright imitation, the two instead bring the characters in to capture their essence. That’s where the film succeeds. Where it fails is a storyline that seems to be made up as it goes along. Roles like Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson (Winona Ryder) are aloof and sparse. There are scenes which go on for much longer than intended, particularly the comedic treatment of Kirk by McCoy.

Even with all of its faults, Star Trek: The Future Begins is exciting, fascinating and at times funny. The film opened at local theatres on May 15 where it continues to enjoy a healthy viewing, particularly in its opening week.