If any film franchise was due for an update, probably none was more deserving than the hoary Star Trek, which has trudged along almost 13 years since its last viable product (the movie Star Trek: First Contact) but has a titanic, four-decades-old foundation upon which to build.
So, franchise with a history, meet hot filmmaker and TV-show übermensch J.J. Abrams (Lost, Fringe, Alias, Felicity). If your first offspring, the new movie simply titled Star Trek, is any indication, may your coupling be fruitful. Seriously, please have lots and lots of babies.
The trend these days is to take established series that have grown long in the tooth, break them down to their recognizable components, and juice them up with fresh actors and immediate plots to make them viable to younger audiences. James Bond, Batman, Superman, and, kinda, the Hulk have all gotten the treatment. But whereas each of those have had to explain to some extent — or ignore at their own peril — why viewers should have to forget parts of the franchise continuity in order to swallow the update, Star Trek invents a clever plot conceit to make it a sequel, a prequel, and a retcon, all at once. It involves time travel, of course, but it’s beautifully done. Of the recent film reinvigorations, Star Trek is my favorite.
Abrams is going to wind up with the lion's share of credit for helming a cast and crew that all hit home runs. I’ll cite the cast and casting, which are as good as I’ve seen in an ensemble action film — to an actor, they are uniformly excellent — and I’ll mention the script, which is interesting and intelligent always and fun and suspenseful in matters of great import and no import. I’ll mention the classic, Homeric score by Michael Giacchino who, for my money, is the best film composer today. I’ll mention the set design and costume folks, who update and enliven familiar archetypes. And I’ll mention the special-effects people, who seamlessly blend CGI and live action to produce a credible world.
But, to me, the lasting achievement may be the new film language of outer space that Abrams creates. Talk about a subject due for an update — space had gotten downright boring of late. Different from Stanley Kubrick’s impartial, slo-mo vacuum and George Lucas’ sweeping operatic void, Abrams finds space both an infinite extension of planetary atmosphere (with a lived-in, substantive feel to it) and a primordial, protean zone that can stretch as far as the imagination that thinks on it. Abrams’ camera follows suit as ships dip and twist through three dimensions, reminding us that, after all, there’s no upside down in outer space.