If you doubt that there is life after death, consider the perennial rebirth of Star Trek. Through five TV series and 10 feature films, the short-lived television show (1966-69) has enjoyed a robust afterlife.
In J.J. Abrams' rousing prequel, the franchise takes a refreshing chug from the fountain of youth. Simply titled Star Trek, the film shows how Kirk met Spock and how the Enterprise crew bonded on its maiden voyage.
The result is more exciting than the last four ST pictures put together, more fun than a barrel of Tribbles, and the most satisfying action-adventure since last year's Iron Man.
Back in the day, the message of Star Trek: Generations (1994), the one where Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) and his successor, Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) join forces, was that Enterprise captains may come and go, but Star Trek is forever.
Still, a Trekker can't be blamed if she prefers the original crew to the subsequent commands. By casting rakish Chris Pine as the young Jim Kirk and wry Zachary Quinto as the brainiac Spock, Abrams infuses familiar characters with fresh blood.
To go back to the future, the director tapped Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the Transformers screenwriting team.
Their story opens with Kirk's birth aboard a starcruiser that is under attack. It hits cruising speed with parallel stories of Kirk's and Spock's rebellious childhoods. And it jumps to warp 10 when the Enterprise battles the nefarious Romulan, Capt. Nero (Eric Bana), whose spaceship resembles a tangle of barbed-wire tentacles.
The happy result is action-friendly, nerd-friendly, and fundamentally optimistic. What Trekkers love about these stories is that they don't reduce everything to the Fight Between Good and Evil. "The Federation is a peacekeeping and humanitarian armada," Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood) explains to young Kirk.
Still, that peacekeeping mission does not preclude starfighting action. A double duel with Kirk and Sulu (John Cho) engaging two Romulans ranks up there with the light-saber face-offs of Star Wars.
Star Trek imagines its characters in a way that should delight fans while drawing in audiences unfamiliar with the Enterprise crew.
Battling for the captain's seat are Pine and Quinto, nicely underplaying the conflict between Kirk's daring and Spock's caution. Although he looks like a pretty boy on a daytime soap, Pine has the bluff humor that made Harrison Ford so appealing. Quinto plays the bi-planetary Spock, product of an unemotional Vulcan father and sensitive Earth mother, with some feeling.
As communications officer Uhura, Zoe Saldana is sleek and smart - you'll be monitoring her frequency. Cho is a muscular Sulu, Anton Yelchin an enthusiastic Chekhov, and Simon Pegg a wisecracking Scotty. The scene-stealer is Karl Urban, whose syringe-happy Dr. McCoy provides both relief and comic relief.
Is that Tyler Perry as the Federation president? Winona Ryder as Spock's human mother? Leonard Nimoy (who played Spock in the original series and the first six feature films) as . . . Spock? And, for that matter, how can the mature Spock and his younger self coexist in the same time frame?
As with so many ST episodes and features, Star Trek relies on a wrinkle in time, a temporal flux triggered by a black hole. This results in an alternate reality that accounts for the differences between the original TV series and this film. It's probably best not to think too hard about it. To paraphrase McCoy, I'm a movie critic, Jim, not a physicist.
But what I can report with absolute authority is that when Abrams has the Enterprise crew set phasers to stun in his imaginative prequel, Star Trek, the results are stunning.