Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Star Trek Into Darkness [2013] (directed by J.J. Abrams, screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof inspired by the legendary television series [IMDb] by Gene Roddenberry [IMDb]) is a second prequel to the current reboot of that original series.  Hence I have to hand it to the film-makers: They have really found a way to bring back all the characters of the original series (though played by a new set of actors) and yet offer story-lines that are both updated (to contemporary concerns) and fresh/new.

The film-makers do so precisely by making "prequels" to the original series.  Hence we see the characters of the original series when they were younger than in the original.   This offers the current film makers all kinds of possibilities, including, most obviously, the possibility of changing the new series' style.  All the characters are younger, hence their personalities are still somewhat "in flux" (as opposed to who the characters become in the original series that we know and love, that was filmed "way back" in the 1960s).  And since the characters are younger, the pace of the story-telling can also be much, much faster, indeed more frenetic, than it was ("became" ;-) in the original.  If the characters in the original series were all already in their late-20s or even 30s-early 40s (hence "established"/"settled"), in these new films, they are "still young" in their early / mid-20s when their personalities were still "being established."  And understanding this IMHO makes these new films then a lot of fun ;-).

I mean, Spock (played in the new films by Zachary Quinto) being in a relationship (!!) with Uhura (played in the new films by Zoe Saldana, honestly an inspired choice of casting) could ONLY work (and then work surprisingly well ;-) when the two characters were "young" ;-) ;-).  Then Kirk (played in the new films by Chris Pine) is, yes, brash and one can imagine how he would become the Kirk played by William Shatner of the original series, but Pine's Kirk is still, well, young ;-).  Bones McCoy (played in the new films by Karl Urban) is also younger than in the original series but already beginning to take on the mannerisms of the Bones McCoy of the original series: "Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a ...." ;-).  The other new casts Anton Yelchin as Chekov, John Cho as Sulu, Simon Pegg as Scotty are also fun (Yelchin's Chekov is just adorable ;-).  And with this film ENDING with this crew JUST BEGINNING their "five year mission to explore new worlds ..." they could still go 2-3 more movies before they start running into the timeline of the original series, all this boding quite well for the new franchise ... if some of the technical issues (see below) can be resolved.

But let's then get to the film at hand.  Set sometime in the 23rd/24th century (some 200-300 years in our future), the key to this film (the second in the reboot) is actually the second Star Trek movie with the original cast, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [1982].  The current film riffs repeatedly on the story / themes in the 1982 film.  To give one (and only one) example: Early in the film, Kirk disobeys Star Fleet regulations to save Spock's life a decision which Spock does not understand.  After all the regulations were clear and well thought out and he was more than willing to die for the sake of the good, well thought-out intent of those regulations.  Kirk, on the other hand, just wanted to save the life of a friend even if doing so broke regulations and even if it cost him with Star Fleet (it does ... if temporarily).

That incident partly sets the tone of the film.  The other event helping to set the tone is an apparent terrorist attack in London and followed by another one on Star Fleet HQ in San Francisco itself with the perpetrator escaping to an uninhabited/desert part of the Klingon home planet (that is to a 23th/24th century interstellar Afghanistan or the "tribal region" of Pakistan).  Kirk, who had been demoted following his "violating regulations" in the incident that saved Spock's life, now finds himself in command of the Starship Enterprise anyway, and is tasked by Starfleet to fly to the "neutral zone" between "the Federation" (comprising primarily of Vulcan and Earth and various other allied civiliations) and the Klingon empire and after locating (romotely) the perpetrator of these two terrorist attacks, to fire a single presumably cloaked/stealth photon torpedo (a 23rd/24th century cruise missile) at the perpetrator to simply kill him (a la the U.S.'s drone strikes in Afghanistan/Pakistan in recent years ...).

Well, Kirk and the Enterprise set out on the mission and ... much ensues ... Among what ensues revolves around resolving the question of who exactly is the villain who the Kirk / the Enterprise are being tasked to kill and what would have been the villain's motives for those two "out of the blue" terrorist attacks that he perpetrated against Earth / Star Fleet, all making fodder for a rather good film ...

Now regarding technical matters (which are not necessarily all that good) ... Much has been written about the frenetic pace of the new Star Trek films.  Yet, once one understands that the characters in the reboot are all "young," I do believe that the faster pacing becomes appropriate.  I have bigger questions with the 3D which frankly I found to be quite lousy and then honestly with aspects of the ending.

At the end of the film, Kirk is heard waxing eloquently at a 9/11 style commemoration "of all the events that took place in the previous year," happily proclaiming at the end that the Starship Enterprise, which had been almost destroyed during the course of the film (it's almost always destroyed in the course of any given Star Trek film...) was about to be recommissioned.  Given all that we see happen in those events being "commemorated,"  I do believe many inhabitants of 23rd/24th century Earth would find Kirk to be something of an idiot: "Yippie, your ship's about to be recommissioned, BUT ..." (On the other hand between the Present and the 23rd/24th century in which the Star Trek series is to take place, Star Trek's original story assumes that the Earth would have been rocked by at least one or two nuclear wars.  So perhaps the inhabitants of Earth of the 23rd/24th century would be more accustomed to "mega-disasters" than perhaps we would be today... Still, I found Kirk's speech at that commemoration to be uncharacteristically tone deaf).

All in all when the film focuses on the characters, it is quite good.  However, next time, I do wish that either the film-makers really go "all in" on the 3D and make it good (the current film was one of those that was "converted to 3D" after the fact) or just keep it 2D.   The clunkiness of the film's 3D was disappointing and then when one realizes that one's PAYING EXTRA for this effect really quite maddening.  I only saw the 3D version because of time constraints.  Even going into the film, I would have preferred seeing the 2D version. And after seeing the rather clunky 3D version, I was really quite irritated for having been forced into seeing it in 3D.  As as result, while I'd give the film 3 stars for the sake of the characters / story, from a technical point of view the film really deserves only 2 or 2 1/2.

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