REVIEW: Thrilling ride for Trekkies

STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS (M)

Paramount, 132 minutes

THEY'RE calling it "retro tech". It's the precisely engineered compound of nostalgia and high-end Hollywood futurology that has been powering the USS Enterprise's return to space since J. J. Abrams reanimated the Star Trek series four years ago.

The stories are set in the 23rd century and the fanciest hardware, software and inter-galactic workwear has gone into their making. Nonetheless, Abrams and his crew are meticulous in preserving the shining filament of affection that keeps Trekkies connected to the plywood sets and the deadpan air of solemnity that characterised the TV original 50 years ago.

The script's central threat is Benedict Cumberbatch. He's playing a rogue Starfleeter called John Harrison, an anodyne name that gives no clue to his character. He's very bad and vengeance is the only thing on his mind.

Nobody goes to Star Trek movies for the dialogue, although it does entertain, especially when Kirk (Christopher Pine) and Spock - played with lugubrious flair by Margin Call's Zachary Quinto - are battling it out over their conflicting moral philosophies. Simon Pegg, too, is a delight as the frequently exasperated Scotty, who gets so fed up with his fellow crew members at one point he jumps ship and heads for the nearest inter-galactic drinking hole. But these moments occupy small chinks in the action. The whopping box-office returns scored by Abrams' first Star Trek bought him even more luxuries this time.

All the regulars are back - Bones, the ship's doctor (New Zealand's Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), the helmsman, and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), the young mathematical whiz. Zoe Saldana's Uhura further pursues her unlikely romance with Spock, and Britain's Alice Eve is tentatively introduced as the physicist Dr Carol Marcus, who's destined to become Kirk's love interest.

Pine is the film's least interesting feature. Peppy and preppy, he's easily confused with several of his equally good-looking contemporaries among Hollywood's leading men, but it hardly matters. It's his energy that counts, for it's clear that he has a long haul ahead of him.

Although Abrams is soon to defect to the Star Wars camp to perform another act of rejuvenation, he will retain his role as Star Trek's producer. Momentum will take care of the rest.

Rating: ★★★★

- Sandra Hall

CHASING MAVERICKS (PG)

Hopscotch Entertainment, 117 minutes

CHEESY? Yes. Emotional? Kind of. Fun? Yes.

This coming-of-age surf movie purports to tell the true story of Jay Moriarty, a talented young California big-wave surfer who died at age 22 while free-diving in the Maldives.

The storyline concentrates on his childhood and tutelage at the hands of Santa Cruz big-wave legend Frosty Hesson, played by Gerard Butler.

The audience adopts this determined teenager as he realises the focus and commitment required to chase big waves like Mavericks, near Half Moon Bay in northern California.

With Moriarty's mum (Elisabeth Shue) struggling to run a household as a single working mother, Moriarty, played by Jonny Weston, finds more direction from his surf-smart neighbour, Hesson.

This isn't Into The Wild or Lords of Dogtown. Try as it might, it's hard to buy into a bigger message here. Directors Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson don't let us stray very far from the scene. They are busy keeping it grounded in the here and now with some simple subplots - bad boys, girlfriend, the death of Hesson's wife.

The surfing scenes are the highlights. Filmed at Mavericks and featuring top local surfers, they portray the danger and size without any enhancement.

You might get a bigger lump in the throat from the surfing than the acting.

Rating: ★★★

- Jim Kellar

THE WALKING DEAD: SEASON 3 (MA 15+)

Hopscotch, 672 minutes

SEASON three opens with silence - the survivors from seasons one and two are on the hunt for supplies and a new base, and they are killing every "walker" in sight with dispassionate ease.

The grim reality of their situation is immediately apparent. They are starving, filthy and determined to live, even if life doesn't appear to be worth living.

The group takes a prison from a horde of walkers and sets up camp, encountering a group of inmates who have been locked inside the prison canteen since the chaos began 10 months' prior. Of course, there is conflict - humans are as dangerous, if not more deadly, than walkers in this new world.

There is a lot more gore and imaginatively graphic (sometimes macabrely amusing) footage of walkers being killed in season three, but this is not the point of the show. It's still all about the characters. The human condition.

We are introduced to new characters and a new plot twist in this season, and lose some of our favourites from day one (one scene in particular is a tear-jerker).

Start watching, and you'll be glued to the couch. No wonder The Walking Dead is one of the most popular television series in the world today.

Rating: ★★★★

- Lisa Rockman

ADVENTURES IN ZAMBEZIA 3D

Sony Pictures, 82 minutes

THE action driving this animated feature revolves around a gigantic baobab tree perched on the edge of Victoria Falls.

South Africa's bird population clusters here, resonantly voiced by Hollywood stars, led by Samuel L. Jackson and Leonard Nimoy.

Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin speaks for the ingenue, a black-shouldered kite called Zoe, with television actor Jeremy Suarez as Kai, the young peregrine falcon who's in love with her. His superior wing skills have won him a place among the Hurricanes, an elite band of high-flyers who keep the skies above Zambezia free of predators.

The script is yet another coming-of-age story centred on Kai who has spent his childhood and adolescence penned up in a dull, lonely stretch of the country with his reclusive father Tendai (Jackson). Now he wants to venture beyond the boundaries that confine him but his stubborn old dad will have none of it.

If the film has any claim to freshness, it lies in the crafty way in which it mixes African art, textiles and music and sets it all against the scenic drama of the Falls and the Zambezi River Valley. Yet in the end, the cast proves to be too big, the storyline too muddled and I was dismayed by the thought that the Disney/Dreamworks style is so ubiquitous that a small production house in Cape Town is trying so slavishly to copy the Hollywood product.

Rating: ★★★

- Sandra Hall

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