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What to See – Star Trek

There’s sure to be praise for the fresh faces of the new Star Trek, and for good reason. It’s a strong ensemble, and no one slouches into an impression of whichever pop-culture icon they’ve been chosen to embody. Chris Pine gets close to the Shatner-cadence of the old-school Kirk, but he’s got a swagger of his own; Zachary Quinto’s Spock is less arch and more warm than Nimoy’s original performances. And the time-shifting plot not only ups the stakes to a fever pitch, it also clears the boards for new tales of the Enterprise that could go anywhere the movie’s makers want to in future installments.

But Star Trek, in director J.J. Abrams’ new incarnation, isn’t just about people and plot: It’s about people caught up in a plot in a world we kinda-sorta already know, and one of the many great things about the new Star Trek is how it nods to and recreates the classic sounds and sights of the Star Trek universe without feeling like it was filmed in a museum exhibit. There are plenty of nods to the film’s past in the design and sound, but it never feels like a musty recreation.

Take, for example, the sideburns-and-miniskirts look of the makeup and costuming. They’re fleeting nods to the ’60s origins of the show, but they’re subtler than you might think, even as you come to appreciate the movie’s insistence that yes, the ponytail will apparently be in fashion several centuries from now. Or the sound design — which lovingly recreates the old-school pings of the consoles and the whirrrrr of the transporter beam in Dolby splendor. And when we actually see Spock resolve out of the beam’s haze, it’s the same visual effect as the old-school show — more refined, but not reinvented. Production design is like interior decorating; money makes it easier, but it can’t make up for the lack of good judgment and taste — and when it comes to the look and feel of the Enterprise, Abrams’ team demonstrates both.

Another nice thing about the new Star Trek is that the ship feels like a ship, hearkening back to the naval epics that inspired the show’s feel. We actually see the photon torpedoes loaded into their launching tubes, for example. As Kirk (Chris Pine) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) run about below decks, it’s in a huge space full of vats of cooling fluid that, while they may not be explained, clearly look like they’re there to do something.

At one point, we pull back from the bridge and see that the viewscreen Kirk and his crew have been looking at is also a window — in what I think may be a first for Star Trek, reminding us that there’s risks and dangers built in to the crew’s travels, that they’re not just watching their circumstances on some futuristic widescreen TV.

It’s easy to make a movie look like “the future,” but it’s also easy to do that wrong, which is why so many scifi films look so silly. With Star Trek, we get a fresh take on familiar memories, giving us a nice moment of perspective without a hint of soggy nostalgia to keep it at arm’s length. The story in Star Trek is superbly crafted, to be sure, but the look and feel and sound of it are a great reminder of how it’s the little things that can mean a lot, even — or maybe even, especially — on board the Enterprise.

To get an alternate movie review of Star Trek, go to AMC

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