In a move that will surprise exactly no one who has ever spent any time with me ever, I saw the new Star Trek movie last night. And, I liked it. Quite a bit, actually. The action is great, the sfx were awesome, and the film stayed true to the characters while injecting the whole thing with some fresh energy. And let's face it. After the whole Insurrection/Nemesis/Star Trek: Enterprise triple crown of garbage, new energy was something the franchise really needed.
The thing that impressed me most about JJ Abrams' prequel was its rather elegant solution to the whole reboot thing. Abrams had the option to do something slavishly faithful to the established canon or junk the whole thing and do whatever he wanted. The first option is less than desirable. Trying to work under the creaking weight of the Star Trek universe is a creativity-stifling task, and a connect-the-dots narrative film risks coming off as a boring historical tome. A classic example of this danger are the Star Wars prequels, which sacrificed plot, character and compelling narrative to an endless series of stiffly acted, poorly scripted "See? That's how that happened" moments. The result was, as we know, just awful.
On the other hand, abandoning the canon would unleash a tsunami of nerd-rage that Abrams would likely not survive. So, he did something interesting. He allowed his cast to find their own interpretation of the classic characters while remaining faithful to the spirit of the originals. And, his screenwriters concocted an alternate timeline scenario that allows Abrams to do whatever he wants with the characters while still making sense within the established universe. This end-run around the hardcore Trekkers confuses the more rabid fans while allowing the rest of us to enjoy a smart, fast-paced film joyfully unencumbered by the weight of previous Trek outings. As a nice bonus, the alternate timeline allows Abrams to do a "even with history all messed up, these people still come together as a crew" thing, which pays homage to the strength of the original formulation.
Now I'm going to say something controversial: the original Trek cast is way more fun than the Next Generation crew. Don't get me wrong: I love TNG. But they're too highly moral and incredibly earnest to be truly zany. They always do the right thing. That's great, but it's not exactly thrilling. Kirk & Co. are a big dysfunctional family, and this makes them a touch more interesting to watch. A ship full of willful, oversexed egomaniacs, curmugeons and eccentrics may not be a NCC-1701D behavioural paragon, but they sure are sexy to watch. This was true of TOS, and Abrams has taken this principle to its furthest possible extreme in Star Trek.
So yeah. A fun film, and well worth the price of admission. I'm looking forward to the next one.