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 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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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 VI: The Undiscovered Country: the two-disc DVD

Wow, these discs just keep getting cheaper and cheaper. Two years, two months and a few weeks ago, I picked up the then-new two-disc Star Trek: The Motion Picture set for about CDN$32, after tax. Since then, Paramount has been re-issuing the subsequent Star Trek films as two-disc sets packed with extras, at a pace of one every several months, and today, I picked up the two-disc Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country set for about CDN$16.

First, I must gripe about the packaging. All the other films were released in black plastic cases, and indeed, if you get the new six-movie original-cast boxed set, all the discs come in black plastic cases. But if you buy ST6:TUC on its own, it comes in a white plastic case. Huh? Second, there is no booklet, at least not in my copy. Third, they are less than forthright about the fact that this film has been tweaked since the last time it was released.

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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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