I saw J.J. Abrams' new Star Trek Friday night, sitting in the front row at the Paramount Studio Theatre. The movie grabbed me from the get-go. Because the Star Trek universe is already established, the filmmakers get away with throwing the audience into a classic stand-off between a Starfleet ship and a frightening Romulan vessel commanded by deadly Nero (Eric Bana). Suddenly lives are at stake and key figures are dead. One survivor of the melee: James T. Kirk. By the time the Star Trek title appeared at the end of this sequence, I was in tears.
Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers 1 and 2, Mission: Impossible III, TV's Fringe) understand how to pull in an audience and take them on a ride. They are helped by the familiarity of the Star Trek universe. For the most part, they understand the rules of engagement (SPOILER ALERT), with one notable exception: they shock us by giving young Spock (Heroes' Zachary Quinto) a romantic interest. But it works.
With this origin myth, the writers and director J.J. Abrams manage to redefine characters we already know quite well‚Äîwithout betraying them. For now, Paramount chief Brad Grey, who has had a tumultuous tenure since he took over the studio in 2005, is off the hook. Studios rely on key franchises to carry them across all the other pictures that don't generate huge profits. Grey made the right call on this one: Star Trek will be huge, across all four audience quadrants.
The sequel Orci and Kurtzman are committed to writing will get made, for release in 2011. Chris Pine is launched as a new young star. So, by the way, is Zoe Saldana (Uhura), who also has James Cameron's Avatar opening on December 18. And Paramount and Orci & Kurtzman can count on a second surefire summer hit: Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Here's the NYT's Star Trek feature. A confirmed old Trekkie from Time looks back. While original Spock Leonad Nimoy brings gravitas and grounding to the new Trek, the first Kirk, William Shatner, makes hay of being left out of the picture. And Pine talks about meeting Shatner.
Here's a clip of Kirk meeting Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban):
UPDATE: And Kirk challenging "Acting Captain" Spock: