Front Row at the Movies
“Star Trek Beyond”
Takes You Back
To Its Beginnings
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
This year is the 50th Anniversary of “Star Trek.” The original television series launched in 1966. Since then there have been five spinoff TV series and 13 films in the “Star Trek” franchise.
Eugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry created “Star Trek.” As a tribute, the late producer’s ashes were sent into orbit above the earth on the Challenger. And a crater on the moon has been named after him.
Gene Roddenberry was a WWII fighter pilot (he flew 89 missions), a commercial pilot, and a police officer before he started writing television scripts. His idea for a sci-fi TV series -- pitched as a Western like “Wagon Train,” but set in space -- got turned down by several networks and production companies before NBC reluctantly picked it up. The show almost got canceled after the first season. The third and final season only got made following a letter-writing campaign by fans after the shaky second season.
I wrote a letter back then at the urging of my newspaper editor. He was a big aficionado. So were several journalists I knew. NBC received around 6,000 letters a week petitioning them to renew the series. The network relented.
Good thing for CBS and Paramount Pictures (the current owners). The “Star Trek” franchise (movies, merchandise, etc.) has grossed more than $6 billion thus far.
Designed to squeeze out a few more bucks is “Star Trek Beyond,” the latest film in the series, third in the movie reboot started by J.J. Abrams. He directed the first two, but was only able to produce this one since he’s directing the new “Star Wars” film.
“Star Trek Beyond” is currently pursuing the mission of the Starship Enterprise at the Tropic Cinema.
Directed this time around by Justin Lin (best known for his “Fast & Furious” actioners), and written by Simon Pegg (Scotty in the film) and Doug Jung, “Star Trek Beyond” is intended to hark back to the old television series. As such, it has less CGI awe as the USS Enterprise weaves through far-flung galaxies and lackluster nebulae to beam the crew down onto a planet where they must prove their mettle (i.e. human-ness).
Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto return as Captain James T. Kirk and his Vulcan sidekick Mr. Spock. Also we have Zoe Saldana back as Lt. Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, and Karl Urban as Bones. John Cho is the now-revealed-to-be gay Sulu (a tip of the hat to openly gay George Takei who used to play the character). And we get the last “Star Trek” appearance of Anton Yelchin as the Russian navigator Chekov (Yelchin died recently in a freak auto accident).
The crew negotiated higher pay for this third film in the rebooted series. And Pine and Quinto have signed on for a fourth film.
This time around, they take on a ruthless alien baddie known as Krall (played by Idris Elba, barely recognizable under his lizard-like make-up). He has a weapon of mass destruction that they must stop.
“Star Trek Beyond” is more character-driven than previous outings. We find Kirk ruminating about his future with the Federation, Spock waffling on his relationship with Uhura, a view of Sulu’s same-sex home life, and such. But what they all need is a new challenge: Like defeating Krall.
Stranded on Krall’s planet in pairs of two, we get to measure the one-on-one interaction of Kirk and his young protégé Chekov, Spock and the egotistic Bones, Uhura and Sulu. And since Simon Pegg wrote the script, Scotty gets a girlfriend in the form of an alien she-warrior named Jaylah (played by Algerian hip-hop dancer Sofia Boutella, exotic in white kabuki-like make-up).
Despite all the blustering and barking, and his myriad of tiny warships, Krall is no match for Kirk and his crew in the end. No spoiler alert needed, for you know the outcome going into the theater. Just like “Wagon Train,” this outer-space Western will continue its adventures with another episode. Abrams has confirmed there will be a fourth film in his “trilogy.”
J.J. Abrams may be today’s hero behind the bridge of the USS Enterprise, but let’s not forget Gene Roddenberry, the creator.
Thanks to “Star Trek,” Roddenberry became the first TV writer to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. So you might say he will forever remain among the stars.