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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Flashback: Almost 20 years of Star Trek reviews!

I grew up with the Star Trek series. When I was six years old and living with my family in Poland, three of my favorite and most-read books were the David C. Cook Picture Bible, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and Stephen E. Whitfield’s The Making of Star Trek, which covered the first two seasons of the original TV show. (I wondered sometimes what Mister Spock, with his emphasis on logic, would make of Lewis’s logic-based arguments for the Resurrection, etc.)

I watched the show in re-runs and saw the first film in the theatre, with my dad, when I was nine years old. On the way home, my dad got me a Star Trek-themed Happy Meal at McDonald’s, and I believe I still have the box and the comic-strip communicator that came with it, somewhere in storage. I was in grade six when Spock died, grade nine when he came back to life, and grade twelve when Kirk & co. went back in time to save the whales. I was in my first (and only) year of Bible school when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987 — there were lots of Star Trek fans there — and I was half-way through getting my bachelor’s degree at UBC when the cast of the original series filmed their last movie together in 1991.

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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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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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“We’ve tried to get away from the Trekkiness of it all.”

I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating: For most of their history, the Star Trek movies have tended to be formulaic action-oriented good-guy-vs.-bad-guy flicks, and have not reflected the wide range of stories that characterized the original TV series.

The TV show had its villains and action-oriented episodes too, of course, and sometimes the movies made in that vein have been very good, as was the case with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).

But at other times the action has seemed forced and rote, as it did in Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), where it was fairly clear that at least some of the creative personnel wanted to do something different from the last few movies — something lighter, funnier, more romantic, etc. — but, as producer Rick Berman said at the time, “of course” the movie still had a fair bit of running and shooting and so on.

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Three movies you won’t see on an airplane (or starship) this year

Have you started noticing any trends in the movies coming out this spring and summer?

Consider the terrorist attacks (or worse) that hit London in the trailers for G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Star Trek into Darkness. Consider the quasi-military attacks on Washington D.C. in Olympus Has Fallen and the upcoming White House Down.

And now, thanks to a couple of recently released trailers, we have another recurring motif: holes being ripped in the sides of airplanes (or starships), and passengers flying out those holes to their (presumed) deaths.

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