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My Take on Star Trek: Into Darkness

Spoiler Warning: Probably the most amazing thing about this movie is that I got to see it without any spoilers. This movie is so imminently spoilable… you really don’t want to read anything about it before seeing it. Seriously.

If you’re going to hash out a Star Trek movie, then the first thing to get out of the way is whether or not the file serves up the thing that made Star Trek so compelling in the first place. Regardless of how crazy the plot for the old episodes got, the thing that really and truly made them work was in how the crew had to face real dilemmas. Generally, there’d be this epic threat… and Bones would provide the emotional response in contrast to Spock’s logical reaction. Lots of time there was no right answer… or there was significant unknowns… and no matter what happened there’d be tough consequences. That is what I was paying my $12.50 to see this movie in 3D and that is pretty well what I got. A double dose, even.

(But just a quick side note: The Next Generation failed in comparison because it never could touch the depth of the older series. I mean there just isn’t anything in the way of gripping drama when the answer to every problem is to just tech the tech. “Reroute the matter/antimatter inducers through the sensor dish” and all that.)

Anyways, I laughed out loud for much of the film and enjoyed myself immensely. I don’t go to the movies very often, so the sheer scope of the event tends to dazzle me– I’m not usually the best critic immediately afterwards. But I do have my wits about me enough to pick a few nits this time:

  • I don’t think the 3D is all that. This is of course the real trick to get people into the theaters instead of watching movies on Netflicks or whatever. But really, the technology has not improved all that much compared to what I saw in the mid-eighties at Epcot Center. (Captain EO, anyone?) Some of the visuals were marred obvious cheapo 3D effects and were therefore distracting. That one scene with all the debris from the space battle actually took my breath away, though– but mucking up the rest of the film wasn’t worth even that.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch is introduced first as some sort of terrorist. I was really dreading that it might attempt to be a particularly relevant storyline. (Doesn’t Iron Man 3 have sort of an Osama Bin Laden type bad guy, too?) But on the whole, I was pleased with how this character was developed, how he fit in to the setting, and what all was actually going on. However… the way they had him singlehandedly taking out a small Klingon army was just over the top to me. It looked like a silly videogame type sequence or something.
  • The real bad guy turns out to be some general that had been dug up out of the old Doctor Strangelove movie. This was kind of ridiculous. I mean… you honestly think a McCarthy era paranoid militarist dude has a place anywhere in Gene Rodenberry’s future history? I was slamming my head on the seat in front of me at this. In the first place… the Federation navy is all war ships. Think about it. The ship they sent on a five year mission can stand toe-to-toe with D7 Battlecruisers and Romulan Warbirds for crying out loud. Even the ships that are chock full of civilian families have to go up against stuff like the Borg. I’m supposed to hate this starfleet officer just because he wants to reduce the crew units, remove the labs, take out the bowling alleys, and increase the weapon suites by fifty percent? Seriously?! That’s supposed to make that improved ship look downright evil? Good grief, people…. (Did anyone on the production staff ever spend time daydreaming and flipping through Star Fleet Battles SSD books? I mean… what would you want to fly in a dangerous universe? A dreadnought is the dead minimum…. But where was the third nacelle? Idiots.) I get that he’s a lying traitor bastard that’s trying to gin up a war. The filmmakers obviously have to give us reasons to hate him. But it’s just insane that probably the biggest indictment of all is that he is developing combat effective starships. How dare you…. This violates everything Starfleet stands for! Yeah, right. More like… “I’m shocked, shocked… our peaceful science vessel just blew up a fleet of Romulan starships that were attempting to break through the neutral zone for a sneak attack…? We’ll court-martial the captain immediately!”
  • I like the original theatrical release of Star Wars. It was kind of cool to see the blow-up-the-Death-Star sequence recapitulated in Return of the Jedi with two other battles going on concurrently. I was less thrilled when the Lucas tried doing that shtick a third time… and when the Matrix franchise did pretty much the same thing, I was irritated. How many more times am I supposed to watch pretty much the same freaking movie, anyway? Well… in the land of Star Trek… Star Trek II is that movie that we have to keep doing over and over again. The Next Generation crew had to take a stab at it with Nemesis. And now we had to waste an entire movie in the series with a loose reworking of Star Trek II. Honestly, there was a point where I could play along, but the point where we had to redo the exact, classic dialog from that movie with these actors…. Ugh! It almost worked…. I could see where they were going with Kirk… and I understood why they had done that first scene like that when it got to that point…. But to have Spock scream out, Shatner’s signature line… that was cheesy, stupid, lame, and anti-climatic. So basically the movie was really kind of good… except in the one point where it mattered most!

Oh my.

I won’t say anything about the useless scene of the hot blonde standing around in her underwear. (I guess they worked that in just so it can be in the previews?) I will not rant about the strange, maze-like Rube Goldberg nature of the Enterprise. And I won’t even mention the obvious device of Chekov’s Tribble. (As soon as Bones spoke the dialog, I knew the ending.) I know it sounds like I hated this thing. But I really was entertained. There were a lot of great moments and a lot of pitch perfect scenes. Still… if I’m going to bet getting my Trek fix, I expect I’ll continue to do so by reading more Star Fleet Universe stuff. Those games are pretty much the real thing as far as I’m concerned. I have no idea what these studio types think they’re doing.

I mean, how hard would it be to run the script past me before you start filming?!

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4 responses to “My Take on Star Trek: Into Darkness

  1. Brendan May 27, 2013 at 11:32 am

    I had pretty much the same reaction, though I enjoyed the one-man army scene against the Klingons (he is supposed to be a terrifying super-soldier after all). I was entertained, the action effects were nice, the acting was excellent (perhaps every few generations we will get a new Kirk and Spock, much like how Batman is continually reinvented). The ending was also obvious to me immediately during the sick bay scene (Chekhov’s Gun is actually a bad narrative principle, in my opinion).

    One thing that stuck out for me was how naval and military the Starfleet people looked (all the gray, and the hats). It wasn’t bad or anything, but it was a pretty big contrast to the original utopian aesthetic.

    I don’t mind Star Trek action movies, but I would really like to see some exploration, which is really where the soul of the franchise is for me (not time travel metaplots or cold war era neutral zone intrigue).

  2. Karl Gallagher May 30, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Agreed. Though the part that bothered me the most is “What’s the point of a character being *Spock* if he’s going to solve his problems with a fistfight?” Seriously . . . he had him in phaser range and didn’t take the shot. Heck, the Enterprise could’ve stunned the whole city block like it did in “A Piece of the Action.”

    • jeffro May 30, 2013 at 11:22 am

      I believe that scene was set up specifically to show off the 3D effects. This is why late seventies and early eighties movies are generally superior to current ones– the special effects budget was small enough and weak enough that they had to be carried off with story and character and acting.

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