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Star Trek

This prequel to the long-running outer-space franchise goes boldly nowhere

To the degree that Star Trek matters at all, the new movie in the depleted franchise negates the past 40-plus years of the concept and its contribution to popular culture in the interest of nothing but commerce.

This is a decision I've made, and not necessarily a fact. There are some, I'm sure, who will argue that the Star Trek we all know (and, if you're reading this, probably love) had nowhere left to go with its original template, and if it were to survive at all, then someone had to erase the disk and begin compiling new data.

But what's wrong with saying something is over? How about a little death with dignity? There may have been one movie left in this graying enterprise, but Star Trek, directed by J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost), isn't that movie. You can't grip an audience by destroying things that we all know still exist. The planet Vulcan -- obliterated? And Romulus -- just gone? Impossible! We've witnessed their futures in myriad detail.

And yet, they are gone, just like that. In fact, that's the concept with which I choose to quarrel. Why create a prequel about the lives of characters we've come to value by starting their lives over? Why not just concoct a snazzy action plot that shows us how they met and how they formed a peerless team?

The first hour of Abrams' movie is fine: One by one we meet Kirk (Chris Pine), Bones (Karl Urban), Chekov (an adorable Anton Yelchin), Spock (Zachary Quinto), his lover (brace yourself) Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and even Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, always superb), and we watch their relationships emerge.

The acting is generally fine, and each actor gives each performance a nuance of the older actors we associate with their roles. The opening sequence is an elegant weave of frenetic action and heartbreaking intimacy: It begins with stupefying events and climaxes with the birth of James Tiberius Kirk at the moment his father, a Starfleet captain, dies in battle.

This all happens, we soon learn, because a mentally unstable Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) has come from the future to destroy every planet in the Federation after the future's older Spock (Leonard Nimoy) couldn't rescue Romulus from a doomsday device. Time-travel plots, the cheapest of storytelling devices, require a special fidelity to succeed, but Abrams and his screenwriters don't want theirs to: Not until it's over do we fully comprehend their scorched-earth policy.

If they make another movie with this cast and its reiterated world, what character stories are there left to tell? The original Star Trek crew boldly went with a sense of wonder and adventure. Their clones are emotionally damaged in ways that make the galaxy a menacing place of perpetual war with no hope of even temporary peace. It's a completely different premise, masquerading as a brand name, and it promises no hope of originality.

Abrams' fast-paced travesty unravels so profoundly that we can only wonder why the principals (including Nimoy) made the movie, apart from the money motive. Any fan desperate enough to enjoy this is just that -- desperate. The movie's straightforward title, that of the original series, now makes sense. But once you strip away the idea of a reboot, you're left with a rip-off of a movie that has one element of note: Finally, after all these years, we learn Uhura's first name. They make a game of it, and it's fun -- the only worthwhile tidbit in Star Trek: Frankenstein.

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