The first time I saw Star Trek Nemesis I heralded it as the one to beat. Likewise with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I’m easily enchanted by the theater experience. I was dazzled last night, ambling out of the theater humming the old Star Trek TV tune (though it only played for about twenty seconds of film-time). For some reason I’ve been trying to look at movies more seriously. To get an accurate read on a film’s quality, I can’t let my love of going to the theater interfere. “But if you have a magic trick that lets you enjoy movies like Indy 4, why not use it? After all, the magic will fade and you’ll see the movie for what it is. Why not enjoy it while you can?”
That’s what I did last night. It may not be Trek. It may not be a good movie. It may be manipulative. But this may also be my only chance to enjoy it.
This is JJ’s best film to date. It’s not the best Trek movie, but it’s the best JJ movie. I’m guessing that his Star Wars will not be the best SW movie, but will probably surpass this as JJ’s greatest movie. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine the basic plot of Into Darkness as a Star Wars film… The New Republic has been going strong for thirty years. The brash adventurous son of Han and Leia wants to go explore the outer rim to offer entry into the New Republic. A mysterious bad guy shows up, recklessly attacking Coruscant. The bad guy escapes before the Jedi can get him, so Uncle Wedge sends young Solo out to bad guy planet to get him. But Ackbar isn’t around to warn anybody. Wedge sent Solo there so he would die and the Republic would have reason to start a war.
Coming down from my cinema high, several problems with the movie come to mind. Half a week after its release, you’ve probably read, chatted, and obsessed about most of the same qualms I have. If you’re into the original show and its cast, we probably delighted at the same bits of the movie too. To save everyone time, I’ll list what it got right, what it got wrong, and what piqued my curiosity like only Star Trek can.
What it got right:
The music. I am no fan of Giacchino’s incessant repetition of that 16-note theme from Trek 09. But the dude stretched out a little here. In fact, I liked this score a lot. He subtly recalled bits from previous Trek scores (especially here), invented a nice new sound for the Klingons, and I think he even sneaked in an audition for Star Wars. And I loved the music for Mickey at the beginning. And I swear JJ put Albert King music in there just for me, as if to say, “Hey, buddy, we’re gonna tick you off later but here’s some blues to calm you down.”
The settings. I loved seeing earth in the 23rd century. I can’t overstate how cool that was. Qo’noS looked fantastic as well.
Special effects. New warp speed = awesomeness
Cast. The new people were great and the returning people brought their A-game. Pegg really got a chance to geek it up, which was nice. And Spock’s return was a great surprise!
Social commentary. Finally! Kirk has some
Fan service. Marcus’s office is decorated with models of old Enterprises. The NX-01 is there, which is nice as Enterprise is technically the only bit of pre-JJ Star Trek continuity undisturbed. The mention of Gorns and Mudd were both fun.
The first two thirds.
What it got wrong:
Fan service, the final third.
Into Darkness failed in its final act. This is where the references to Wrath of Khan start falling pretty heavily. Some fans might be pleased with all the references to the best Trek. Some might be ticked at how the roles are switched. I was unsatisfied with being told to feel something after four years, when it took fifteen years the first time. That is, the perfect ending of Wrath of Khan is so powerful because these two guys had been growing their friendship for fifteen years. They spent nearly seventy hours together on the show and nearly ten more on the animated show. The books and comics helped cement Kirk and Spock as the friendship of sci-fi. So when Spock dies at the end, the audience feels it. The new movie borrows the imagery, plot, and dialogue from the end of Wrath of Khan. It also borrows the foundation on which all those things were based and because of which all those things worked so well the first time around.
It’s fan service to mention Harry Mudd or hint at Sulu’s goal of becoming captain. It’s plagiarism to insert the conclusion to another movie inside your own. As much as I like Kirk ‘kick-starting’ the Enterprise, it led to his dying, which was meaningless. The meaningless death of a main character signifies bad storytelling, by the way. Several lines of borrowed dialogue later, Kirk is dead. And then he’s not. So not only did they waste a reiteration of the BEST SCENE IN ALL OF STAR TREK (guh!), they also extracted all tension from the future adventures of James T Kirk by making him immortal.
The lack of Shatner. Kirk has always been a ladies man. It’s a bad thing to be. But Shatner played it with as much class as possible. Pine plays it sleazy.
Shatner’s absence was felt most strongly perhaps during Pine’s bland reading of “Space…the final frontier,” and Quinto’s pale imitation of his famous yell.
That’s all for now. I’ll be thinking about some Geeks of Christ observations later. I’m thinking Kirk doing the right thing even though it’s hard is what this blog might zero in on.