It was two months ago today that Star Trek into Darkness opened to the general public in Australia and other countries overseas, and this past weekend marked the first time that the film slipped out of the weekly top ten at the North American box office. So now seems like as good a time as any to link to a few Star Trek-themed things that weren’t online yet when I last wrote about the film.
Warning: This post will reveal one of the key spoilers in Star Trek into Darkness. It’s not that big a spoiler, especially if you’ve been paying any attention to the buzz around that film for the past two years, but, if by any chance you have been avoiding the spoilers around that film, you may want to avoid this post, too.
Two films in theatres right now feature significant characters who happen to be (1) villainous, or at the very least somewhat shady, and (2) members of an ethnic group that has sometimes been subject to stereotyping. In both films, the characters in question are played by members of an entirely different ethnic group — and this has puzzled some observers, who have asked if the films could have found a more creative but authentic way to navigate the issues raised by their source material.
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!)
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 scored by Jerry Goldsmith — whose work I profiled in part one of this series — gave him an opportunity to write some music for the Klingons. 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 the religious cult led by Spock’s half-brother Sybok; 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).
First, let’s get what should be obvious out of the way: you don’t need a villain to make a good Star Trek story. Indeed, the top-grossing entry in the franchise ever, prior to J.J. Abrams’ reboot a few years ago, was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), and there were no villains in that film unless you count the human race, which had hunted humpback whales to extinction.
Likewise with the original TV series, in which some of the best-loved episodes, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, didn’t have any villains whatsoever, while others — such as ‘The Naked Time’, ‘The Enemy Within’ and ‘Amok Time’ — were primarily concerned with the conflicting passions within our heroes and not with any external antagonists that they might face. (You could even toss ‘Mirror, Mirror’ into that last list; the Mirror Universe counterparts to our heroes might be villains in some sense, but they also suggest something about our heroes’ darker sides, and the episode itself is primarily concerned with getting each set of characters back to the universe in which they belong, not unlike how Kirk’s better and darker halves are restored to their proper balanced relationship to one another in ‘The Enemy Within’.)
I recently made mp3s of a few James Horner tunes so people could compare and contrast his soundtracks to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Aliens (1986) — they’re very similar. As a result, I have had the ‘Genesis Countdown’ tune running through my head a fair bit lately, and today, during a moment of boredom, I found myself thinking about the climax to this film, and what makes it so interesting and distinctive.
There is a cliché that runs through many, many, many movies in which the hero defeats the villain, and then, just when you think everything’s safe, the villain rises up again and lunges at the hero, only to be destroyed immediately by the hero or one of the hero’s friends. The first examples of this sort of thing that come to my mind are in Scream, Red Dragon and Fatal Attraction. Even Aliens plugs into this cliché, sort of — instead of an alien lying on the floor, presumably dead, and then suddenly jumping up and lunging at our heroes, the film shows the aliens’ lair being destroyed in a nuclear explosion, and then settles into a lull as our heroes return to their spaceship, safe and sound … and then, suddenly, oh no! the tranquility is shattered when one of them is ripped in two by the Queen Alien, who snuck onto the ship as a stowaway on the heroes’ shuttle! This shocking discovery is then followed by a fairly extensive one-to-one battle between the Queen Alien and Sigourney Weaver. In this regard, Aliens is quite different from the typical film, where the villain is killed as soon as he or she jumps up. But the basic paradigm is still there — the villain is presumed dead, is then shockingly discovered to be alive, and is then really put to death.
ST2:TWOK is quite different. Yes, on one level, it presents a defeated villain who makes one last stab at killing our heroes. But he does this in a rather unique way, and the heroes survive in a rather unique way. Instead of the villain directing all his energy at the hero, and instead of the hero shooting back — that is, instead of a villain and a hero who both seek victory by trying to destroy the other — ST2:TWOK presents a hero and a villain who both seek victory by destroying themselves.