This is a special edition of this column.
At some point, the team behind the new “Star Trek,” the eleventh feature film of the franchise, must have considered the predicament Spock often finds himself in: should logic or emotion be the preeminent guiding principle?
Like its deceptively mild-mannered Vulcan muse, J. J. Abrams’ creation defies this dilemma. For Spock, as well as for anyone interested in making a cool sci fi epic, success does not depend on the correct choice between logic and emotion; success depends on this choice being irrelevant in the first place.
Abrams has talked about doing something different with this new film – which is not so much a revisiting of the Star Trek franchise as it is a re-imagining, or, in other words, a reboot – and he pays homage to the original Star Trek series with in-jokes and references (red shirts, green-skinned babes, etc.), but he doesn’t turn back the clock as much as hurl it against a wall.
The new Star Trek is more visceral and terrifying than its inspiration. The sound effects alone can make your skin crawl; there is something particularly eerie and vulnerable about the signaling of the Federation ships – an echoing machine noise that brings to mind the other threshold of exploration: the ocean deep. The film often looks as gorgeous and unnerving as it sounds: a human body is suspended in space, graceful and horrible, seconds after being ripped from the safety of its ship, an enemy spaceship resembles an enormous predator insect in flight, and modern technology clouds up Iowa’s serene country landscape like a ghost.
This is a stylish, sprawling movie that will not be bleak enough for the various gatekeepers of high culture, and may also be a little too brash for more conservative Star Trek fans. It sure as hell deserves an audience appreciative of its flair, though. In line with J. J. Abrams’ time travel experiments on ABC’s “Lost,” the plot is all over the place, but, like a dark dream that follows you around as you go about your business in the daylight, its particulars might still haunt you.
Although Chris Pine’s Kirk is showier, Zachary Quinto slays you as Spock. With his mod haircut and cool, inquiring gaze, the new Spock might even edge out Legolas as the pointy-eared sexgod of cinema. This is all beside the fact that Quinto is a brilliant actor who handles the baggage that comes with playing one of the most beloved characters in science fiction with seemingly effortless grace. It’s no accident that it is the deliberate, methodical Spock who comes to occupy the heart of this picture, while the instinct-driven Kirk is probably the gut (and a few other organs besides).
It may be particularly hard to relate to Star Trek’s gleaming version of the future today. Yet the Federation crews and vessels in this film still groan under stress and suffer bruises, and even Spock can lose it if you really push your luck. For all its outstanding action sequences, this is what makes the reboot work beyond expectations and break the franchise’s much talked-about odd-number curse (as any fan knows, odd-numbered Star Trek movies have disappointed consistently throughout decades): the idea that imagination has consequences, but that this doesn’t make it any less beautiful in the grand scheme of things.