Star Trek into Darkness — first impressions (spoilers!)

This post has taken a lot longer to write than I expected. I saw Star Trek into Darkness on Wednesday night (the studio, in its wisdom, decided to hold this film back from most critics until the last possible second) and began writing this post on Thursday morning, but life got in the way and I couldn’t finish it all in one sitting — and then, whenever I came back to this post, I found that I had more things to say, or different ways of saying what I had already said, and so on, and so on. But here we are now, on Monday, and the film has finished its first weekend in North America (where it slightly underperformed at the box office), and I am finally going to force myself to finish this thing.

So. Here’s the thing about the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies: He throws so many things at you, so quickly, that you cannot help but miss some details that are actually fairly important, at least on first viewing.

For example, it wasn’t until the second time that I saw his 2009 “reboot” of Star Trek that I realized virtually all of Kirk’s fellow Starfleet cadets had been killed by Nero, except for the ones who were on Kirk’s ship. As you may recall, Starfleet gets a distress call from Vulcan while Kirk is in the middle of being reprimanded by Starfleet authorities — and the disciplinary hearing is put on hold so that all of the recent graduates can board their ships and fly to Vulcan. When all of the ships go to warp speed, the Enterprise accidentally stays behind, because of an error on Sulu’s part — and when the Enterprise finally gets to Vulcan, it finds nothing but a debris field orbiting the planet. Which, when you think about it, means that everyone on all those other ships — including the green alien roommate of Uhura’s that Kirk slept with — is dead, dead, dead. But by that point, the film has forgotten them and moved on to other things; and then, at the film’s conclusion, everyone at Starfleet Academy cheers when Kirk is promoted to captain. Do they make at least a token nod to the fact that they just lost dozens, if not hundreds, of their classmates? Nope.

So, take anything I say in this post with a grain of salt. I have only seen the new film once, and I may have missed all sorts of stuff that won’t register until a second viewing. (One e-pal has already informed me that the movie refers to an incident from the comic-book prequel Countdown to Darkness, but I completely missed that reference as I was watching the film. And I’ve actually read that comic!)

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Music for Klingons, part three: Eidelman + Giacchino

The Klingons have been featured one way or another in every Star Trek movie produced to date — whether as actual characters or as starships on a monitor — but there is only one film in which the Klingons truly took centre stage. And that film happens to be one of the few Star Trek movies that was not scored by Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner, the subjects of the first two parts of this series.

The film in question is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), which served as a bridge of sorts between the original Star Trek TV series (1966-1969) and its follow-up, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). The latter series had shown that the Federation and the Klingons would one day get along, more or less, so this film — the last one to feature the entire cast of the original series, and the first one to feature an actor from the later series (though not any of its characters) — aimed to show exactly how the Cold War between these two powers had ended.

And one of the striking features about the soundtrack for this film, composed by Cliff Eidelman, is how up-front it is about its Klingon elements — to the point where it is the only film in the entire series that does not begin with one of the standard Star Trek themes but, instead, begins with a theme that was written for the Klingons.

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Music for Klingons, part two: James Horner

Klingons have appeared in all but two of the Star Trek movies released to date. The only exceptions are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) — though even there, in both films, we do see simulated Klingon warships during the Kobayashi Maru training program. (And there actually was going to be a scene with Klingons in the Abrams film — parts of it were even shown in the movie’s trailers — but the scene itself was deleted in the end.)

So, not surprisingly, all five of the movies that were scored by Jerry Goldsmith — whose work I profiled in part one of this series — gave him an opportunity to write some music for those characters. However, as iconic as Goldsmith’s Klingon theme is, none of the films he scored featured Klingons in a particularly prominent role: in the first one, they get a single scene and are then pretty much forgotten; in his second film, they are secondary antagonists, and less important to the story than Spock’s half-brother Sybok and his band of followers; and in the remaining three films, the only Klingon on view is Worf, who is more or less just one of the heroes.

There are two films, however, that revolve rather significantly around Klingon characters, and the composers who worked on those films brought some interesting elements to the table. This post concerns the first of those composers, James Horner, and his score for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).

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Music for Klingons, part one: Jerry Goldsmith

It’s been a while — over 20 years, arguably — since the last time a big-screen movie composer had to write some new music to represent the Klingons, but the wait will soon be over, if the Star Trek into Darkness soundtrack samples that Michael Giacchino posted to his website last week are any indication.

The track titles on Giacchino’s scores tend to be a little punny, and the newest score is no exception, as one of the tracks from his latest Star Trek score is called ‘The Kronos Wartet’. This is an amusing reference to the four-piece string quartet known as The Kronos Quartet, but it is also a reference to the Klingon home planet Qo’noS, the name of which is apparently spelled “Kronos” in this film.

Before I comment on the sample itself, I’d like to take a step back to look at how the Klingons have been treated musically in previous films, going all the way back to the very first film in the franchise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 1979.

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James T. Kirk and the mind-body-spirit relationship

“Kirk is a man of passion and emotion and follows his gut.” So says Chris Pine in a new featurette for Star Trek into Darkness. And to a certain extent, Kirk does indeed have these characteristics. But I wonder if that summary is as accurate as it could be; and I wonder if it reflects one of the subtle but significant changes that the new Star Trek films have made to the franchise’s original characters.

The way Pine speaks of Kirk’s “passion” and his “gut” reminds me of a point that John Granger made in his book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, regarding how a number of successful franchises have revolved around three characters who represent the classic division of the human being into body, mind and spirit.

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Review: Star Trek (dir. J.J. Abrams, 2009)

The trailers say this isn’t your father’s Star Trek, but they could just as easily have said this isn’t your grandfather’s Star Trek. The series really is that old: it has been 45 years since Gene Roddenberry produced the first of two pilot episodes for the original TV show, and as James Bond could tell you, that’s a long time to let a franchise run without taking things back to square one and giving yourself a fresh start. So now, here comes the reboot: directed by J.J. Abrams (producer of Lost and Cloverfield) from a script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (the Transformers movies), the new Star Trek is a hotter, sexier, flashier, more youth-oriented version of the sci-fi series than we have ever seen before. But it doesn’t completely sever its ties with the original series — indeed, it puts those ties front-and-centre — and the result is a movie that may leave Trek fans feeling deeply ambivalent.

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