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Zachary Quinto (left) and Chris Pine in a scene from Star Trek.

Star Trek

  • Directed by J.J. Abrams
  • Written by Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci
  • Starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto
  • Classification: PG

There's something about the swinging new Star Trek movie that suggests that director J.J. Abrams time-warped back to 1966, the year of his birth and the launch of the first Star Trek television series, to find the mojo to make the venerable space-adventure franchise fresh again.

Unlike the current wave of grim "reboots" of film franchises from Batman to Bond, Abrams has shrugged off gravity to have some fun. Smart and youthful, with a well-balanced package of humour, romance, crisp action and character-based drama, Star Trek gives popcorn movies a good name.

Though Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbery's original space-adventure series was cancelled in its third season, it has since proved an extraordinarily renewable resource. There have been five more television series (including an animated version) and 10 movies before the current release.

Shrugging off the franchise's overwrought history, Abrams and his writing team have time-jumped back to a simpler era with a new baby-faced cast. The plot is about a Romulan warship that has come from the future, seeking revenge against the federation and especially Spock, for crimes they have not yet committed.

This premise allows Abrams, and writers Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci, to focus on the relationship between Star Trek 's original duo, the cocky Earthling Captain Kirk and the prudent, logical half-human, half-Vulcan Spock. Though there are plenty of references to past television episodes and movies, this film never feels burdened by insider-knowledge. Finally - a Star Trek movie that can be followed by humans without a working knowledge of Klingon.

As followers of the TV series Lost already know, director Abrams understands how to spin (and spin) a story. The action begins here with a precredit spaceship battle which runs more than 10 minutes, and establishes the breathless pace and cliffhanger suspense of the new movie.

Separate stories establish the childhoods of James Tiberius Kirk, who grows up as a fatherless, small-town Iowa hell-raiser, and Spock, a misfit half-human in the emotion-denying Vulcan civilization.

When he reaches adulthood, the young Kirk (Chris Pine) is persuaded by an old friend of his father's, Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), to join Starfleet Academy. Soon, he clashes with Spock (Zachary Quinto, of television's Heroes ), the academy's insufferably by-the-book resident genius.

The cadets are called into early duty when Spock's home planet is under siege from vengeful Captain Nero (Eric Bana, bald with a tattooed, sneering face) in his spooky Romulan attack ship, which looks like a gigantic black anemone.

Deftly, the movie manages to evoke the physical appearance and attitudes of familiar characters without suggesting impersonation. Pine, chest out and swaggering, emphasizes Kirk's outsized vanity; Quinto, round-shouldered and poker-faced, plays young Spock as wearing the touchy superiority of an oft-bullied geek.

The cranky Dr. Leonard (Bones) McCoy (Karl Urban) is an anxiety-prone grumbler. Other returning characters are the cool and sexy communications officer, Uhura (Zoe Saldana); the good-humoured helm officer, Sulu (John Cho, of Harold and Kumar ) and Russian whiz kid, Chekov (Anton Yelchin). The crew wears a hipper version of the TV series' form-fitting outfits, with the female crew members in improbable miniskirts and boots.

The only overtly comic performance is from Simon Pegg ( Shaun of the Dead ), who joins the story about 80-minutes into the action as the engineer, Scotty. If memory serves, the original Montgomery Scott did not sound so much like Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons .

Credits for the movie, you may notice, also include Leonard Nimoy, whose appearance in the film is not a cameo but central to the story. Now in his late 70s, Nimoy's face looks as old as a moonscape compared to the youngsters in the cast, and though his voice is husky, it still sounds thrillingly melodious in the final voiceover. It's also a pleasure to report that, not only have Gene Roddenberry's ideas stood up pretty well over the decades, so have Spock's ears.