One Trek Mind #40: Happy 32nd Birthday, Chris Pine
Happy 32nd birthday Chris Pine. Here's what he doesn't know about our relationship. It was when he bit into the apple. That's when it happened. That's when I let my guard down and accepted, yes, Chris Pine is not William Shatner. No one other than William Shatner can be William Shatner. But Chris Pine is James T. Kirk – a YOUNG James T. Kirk – his own James T. Kirk. And he was doing it in a way that I had to admit was pretty great.
Let's back it up. As soon as the rumors about a new Star Trek film began to emerge I, like many reading perhaps, had many sleepless nights. Was William Shatner – the Priceline Negotiator – still up for the Enterprise's center seat? Then the second wave of information: it was to be a reboot with a new, young cast. There were rumors about Matt Damon as Kirk and Adrien Brody as Spock. (Am I the only one who remembers that?)
Finally, some official word. Zachary Quinto as Spock, Simon Pegg as Scotty and Karl Urban as Bones all seemed perfect. But some random name that felt like it was pulled out of a hat – Chris Pine – would be playing Kirk.
I had to take action. Like in The Voyage Home when our crew worked diligently to try and answer the probe that was ripping up Earth's oceans. In a way, I too went back in time. I dug up Pine's previous work.
There wasn't all that much. The first thing I watched was a CSI: Miami episode from the second season called “Extreme.” A very young Pine plays a scruffy surfer type who basically says “woah” a lot, then turns out to have a bizarre sex fetish that leads him to kill. He confesses all in a tearful breakdown. It isn't exactly his finest hour, but we can perhaps blame this on the general awfulness of the show. Still, it's always good to hear The Who.
Next up Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Yep, that was Pine a-courtin' Anne Hathaway (there's your Trek/DC Comics crossover!) and, while Mr. Pine sure is dreamy, I don't think I was in any way the target demographic for this film. There was still no way to see any nascent Kirk in this young man.
Pine's first leading role was in a 2005 low-budget independent film called Confession. In it he plays a corrupt priest who has to cover his tracks after accidentally killing someone. He's a bad guy, but an extremely charming bad guy. OK, I began to think, maybe J.J. Abrams and his producers were, indeed, on to something. How they sat through this whole movie (with Tom Bosley as the good guy elder!) still remained a mystery.
Next up, another rom-com aimed at teens, this one co-starring Lindsay Lohan. Listen, part of being Captain Kirk is doing well with the ladies, right? So I went into Just My Luck with an open mind. Turns out I preferred Princess Diaries 2. Just My Luck had Pine playing broad, oafish comedy and, sorry to say, it didn't really fit.
I skipped another indie rom com called Blind Dating (in which he plays a blind guy) and went straight to Joe Carnahan's very stylish crime flick Smokin' Aces. Pine is only in the film for a few minutes but, aha!, he kind of steals the show. He plays a psychotic Aryan assassin, and he even turns Ben Affleck's corpse into a marionette. A very striking performance. Not very Kirk-like, however, unless this new movie was going to be a remake of “The Enemy Within.”
The final film I watched was a very sweet, very odd independent film called Bottle Shock. In it, Pine and a ridiculous blonde wig join forces to play a 1970s California wine grower. The hippie underdog vintners go to France and wind up winning some big award. (True story!) It's a charming flick and Pine is great in it. Still, I saw no great interstellar leadership in the role.
Luckily, Abrams and company did. Maybe it was the diversity of the roles (and the good looks I'm sure didn't hurt) but they had the wisdom to cast him in the role of a lifetime.
The first time I saw Star Trek (2009) I was pretty much on board with everything, but still felt that Pine had the most to prove. In the opening scene in the bar, all I could do was compare him to Shatner's Kirk – OUR Kirk. “Pssh! He would never hit on a woman in a bar that way!” I grumbled, folding my arms.
By the time we got to the Kobayashi Maru scene (and my brain was turning to tapioca at the thought of actually SEEING Kirk's Kobayashi Maru) I came to realize that this was never going to be the Kirk from TOS. Before he could become that man, he had to be someone else, and Pine and Abrams were wise enough to keep this evolving Kirk in Shatner's spirit, but make it their own.
So when Pine bit into that apple and started making pew! pew! pew! noises I heard lots of laughter in the theater – and realized some of it was mine. That's when I was able to fully get on board with this adventure and, ever so slowly, salute Pine as my true captain.
He didn't have the wisdom of a Starfleet captain, but he had the potential, he had the swagger, and, if he got put on the right path with a proper first adventure, he would be worthy of the Enterprise.
Of course, at the end, there's a moment in there just for you and me. More than Spock meeting Spock Prime or Scotty yelling “I'm givin' her all she's got!” there's a little gift to hardcore Trekkies just before the credits.
As the camera is panning across the bridge and the music is about to burst into an updated version of Alexander Courage's original score, Kirk enters the bridge (in Command Gold!) and sees his Chief Medical Officer. “Bones!” he calls to him, and that one syllable is EXACTLY like how Kirk addresses Dr. McCoy. And I don't mean how Shatner did it way back when – I mean how Kirk does it, always. For all the spectacle of Star Trek 2009, it's my favorite moment in the entire movie.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at UGO.com for more than four years. He has produced two independent films (look 'em up!) and is a member of the New York Film Critics Online. In 2005, he was named the Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast by IFC. Jordan fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy.