Boldly going into new territory
THERE’S a famous story told about the Lions rugby tour of South Africa in 1974. The Lions had just won back-to-back victories against the host nation and were running riot in their hotel. Team captain Willie John McBride was called downstairs to survey the devastation.
“Mr McBride, your players are wrecking the place,” the manager screamed. “Are there many dead?” enquired McBride, who was wearing only his underpants and puffing serenely on a pipe. “I’ve called the police,” said the manager. “And tell me, these police of yours, will there be many of them?” the great Ulsterman asked simply.
I didn’t quite expect to see the line echoed in the new ‘Star Trek’ movie, and certainly not in a bar-room brawl. But it’s indicative of the humour which JJ Abrams has brought to the franchise, and the sense that this motion picture is boldly going in a direction where none of its predecessors have gone before.
“Hey farm-boy, there are four of us and one of you,” some aggressive trainees tell the teenage Kirk (Chris Pine), ‘the only genius repeat offender’ in America’s mid-west. “Well, then get some more guys and maybe it’ll be an even fight,” he replies – before being beaten to a pulp.
The film opens in dramatic (and very loud) fashion with Kirk’s birth – and his father’s heroic death. The character made famous by William Shatner grows up wild until an admirer of his dad (Captain Pike, played by Bruce Greenwood) convinces him to enlist in the space peacekeeping programme. Spock (Zachary Quinto) has his own troubles, being bullied on the planet Vulcan because of his human mother (Winona Ryder) before heading for Earth.
Not being a Star Trek fan, I didn’t go to the cinema with very high expectations. Boy, was I wrong. This is a ripping good yarn, with a time-travelling plot that allows the film-makers to create an alternate universe without leaving fanatics enraged. There are plenty of laughs, and the characters are sufficiently flawed that we can identify with them and understand their motivations.
Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) signs up for a career in space because ‘the wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce’. Eric Bana turns up as a man on a revenge mission for something that happened long in the future, which actually works better than it sounds, even if it does leave questions unanswered. Leonard Nimoy (the original Spock) takes advantage of the same temporal anomaly to reprise his old role, albeit as a very, very, very old man.
Simon Pegg plays engineer Scottie, who unlike his predecessors actually has a proper Scottish accent, and beaming people up has never been this much fun. The look of the Starship Enterprise owes something to the iMac, and the special effects and alien lands are well realised without detracting from the story.
At the heart of the movie is the relationship between Kirk and Spock – which develops from loathing to mutual respect. There’s even a decent fight scene between the two which is sure to enter Trek lore, and both show flashes of playing against type. Amusingly, it’s Spock who gets the girl, the sexy Lt Uhura (Zoe Saldana).
Is ‘Star Trek’ more of a guy’s film? Possibly. But considering some of the crimes against cinema fellas have sat through in the name of love, far worse ways to spend an evening await. You mightn’t see a better blockbuster all year.