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 in 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 be on friendly terms, so this film — the last one to feature the original series’ entire primary cast, and the first one to feature an actor (though not any of the characters) from the later series — 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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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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Star Trek: Generations: the two-disc DVD

I said something earlier about ST5:TFF being a wasted opportunity. Star Trek: Generations (hereafter known as ST:G) was an even bigger opportunity, and thus, as it turned out, may have been an even bigger waste. It has been ten years — an entire decade — since Captain James T. Kirk bit the dust, and until I watched the “collector’s edition” DVD today, I don’t believe I had seen the film at all since the three times I caught it in the theatre back then; indeed, you could say I still haven’t seen it again, since I watched it with both the audio and text commentaries turned on, and thus wasn’t really paying attention to the dialogue, etc. But even with those bonus-feature distractions — and indeed, partly because of them, since the voices on the commentary express many gripes with the finished product! — it is still evident to me that ST:G was a clumsily made film, and a rather pathetic note on which to really, really, really end the original series.

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Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: the two-disc DVD

Artistically and financially, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (hereafter known as ST5:TFF) has long been widely regarded as the least successful film in the Star Trek franchise, at least until Star Trek: Nemesis came out last year. So of course, I approached the “collector’s edition” two-disc DVD set — which came out yesterday, 14 years and a few months after the film came out in theatres — curious to see whether the film’s low reputation would be acknowledged in the extras. And it is, sorta.

In one featurette, sci-fi author David Brin calls the film an under-rated entry in the series. In another, executive producer Ralph Winter says he and the rest of the production team may have tackled the film with too much exuberance and confidence, without stopping to think about the film the way they should have, following the success of ST4:TVH (which remains, to this day and despite the rise in ticket prices since 1986, the only Star Trek film to break the $100 million barrier at the box office). In another, both Winter and one of the other creative types grumble that the special effects really failed to serve the film (I believe this may be the only Star Trek movie, apart from the very first one, that turned to some company other than George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic for its effects, and yeah, the effects here ARE tacky). And William Shatner himself, in the making-of featurette, concludes by saying that he has a tremendous capacity for “denial”, so as far as he’s concerned, he had a great experience directing the film, and that’s what matters to him.

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