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Star Trek Into Darkness To boldly do what exactly?

#1 User is offline   Just your average movie goer Icon

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Posted 10 October 2013 - 11:16 PM

When I saw the last J.J. Abrams Star Trek (let's call it Star Trek 2009 to avoid potential confusion), I thought it was an incoherent mess. It raced along at breakneck speed from inane plot point to inane plot point, allowing no time for anything to register and blinding the viewer with all the lens flares. When it finished, I was unaware of how much time had just passed and left wondering what on earth I'd just watched.

A fresh start by needlessly connecting it to the previous series? Destroying Vulcan? But hang on... doesn't that planet play a large role in all things Star Trek? Kirk being chased through the snow by a monster clearly designed for a hot climate? Some interminably long scene with Scotty going through water pipes in a beer factory... or was that the engine room of the Enterprise?

It was a mess. So when I went to see Star Trek into Darkness, I wasn't expected much. Especially since Damon Lindelof was involved and I have no fond memories of his work on Prometheus, which was an even worse mess than Star Trek 2009.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed it when I saw it in the cinema. It was apparent that it was something of a switch-your-brain-off movie but it was much more coherent, from a story telling perspective, than Star Trek 2009.

However...

Here, I need to make two points. When I saw it in the cinema, I knew next to nothing about Star Trek and I was a Star Wars fan (maybe one with little interest in it these days but a fan nonetheless). In hindsight, I'd say that would make me fairly close to J.J. Abrams' target audience (although I'd imagine he'd prefer a less critical viewer).

The second point is that seeing the movie the first time, I was unaware of what the ground rules were so I couldn't recognise when they were being broken. This is important, as you'll see.

...

Now, between my first and second viewing, I checked out a lot of Star Trek. I've seen all the good movies: Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek VII: First Contact. And I've seen one of the bad movies, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It's necessary to watch this once as a bridge between The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home and it's not that bad. I've also seen some of the better regarded episodes from the original series (Balance of Terror, Space Seed, City on the Edge of Forever and The Trouble with Tribbles to name a few). I checked out the Borg episodes of The Next Generation and Voyager, along with some of the Worf focused stories of The Next Generation. And finally, I've seen most of Deep Space Nine, which - despite its attempts to continually shoot itself in the foot* - is awesome.

*With that Bajoran religious/Emissary nonsense (I was willing to forget the writers put it in there if they were), Ferengi episodes (with the exception of Little Green Men), the Orion syndicate (yawn) and DS9's sorry attempts at getting in on the fun of the mirror universe (the original series' Mirror Mirror does this best and Enterprise's In a Mirror Darkly does a much better job too)

...

What does this all mean, apart from the fact that my newly found Trekkie credentials are off the charts? It means that my second viewing of Star Trek into Darkness was going to be a very different experience from my first. Now, does this mean that I was now sure I was going to hate it? Of course not. I'd already seen it once so I knew what kind of movie it was and I knew it was very much a different beast from what had come before. To judge it negatively because it's different would be like saying you hated Aliens because it wasn't a carefully paced suspense film like the original Alien. So when I saw it again, I was still judging it on its own merits but seeing Star Trek done better (yes, even in Voyager and Enterprise) certainly changed my perspective.

The other thing that changed my perspective was seeing it on the small screen rather than in a cinema - and I'll explain why that is as well.

This post has been edited by Just your average movie goer: 10 October 2013 - 11:19 PM

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#2 User is offline   Just your average movie goer Icon

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Posted 10 October 2013 - 11:49 PM

Now, the second viewing... Shall we begin?

1. The opening act. Kirk and Spock save a primitive culture from an erupting volcano. Spock goes into the volcano to set off a cold fusion bomb or something like that. Kirk leads the members of the culture on a merry chase to get them away from the volcano. The Enterprise is hiding under the sea. It gets seen by the locals because Kirk takes it flying in to rescue Spock when something goes wrong. And so on an so forth.

The first time I saw the movie, I'd clean forgotten about Star Trek transporters - beaming people and things up and down to planets. Sure, Spock is beamed to safety at the end of the sequence but the movie largely got away with it because of my ignorance of that technology until that point.

This time around, there was no such luck. So throughout the entire sequence, I knew that the Enterprise could have remained in orbit and a cold fusion bomb could have been beamed down into the volcano, sparing us all the shenanigans. The only reason for any of the opening act to exist was to set up the plot point about Spock not understanding human emotions.

2. ... and that was daft, I now realise. Having seen the original Star Trek series and movies, I rather get the impression that Spock understands humans quite well. He just thinks they're a bit illogical sometimes. This allows the writers to use Spock to make interesting observations on humanity and it's pretty cool. However, the inability of this new J.J. Abrams TM Spock to understand human behaviour just makes him seem dumb.

3. Khan's magical transporter that whisks him all the way from Earth to the Klingon homeworld instantly makes space travel rather redundant, doesn't it? Also, if the technology to transport a person all the way there exists, then Section 31 (which has the technology under wraps as well) could presumably transport a whole lot of nuclear warheads there as well and end any potential Klingon threat. This technology is over the top.

4. When Kirk and friends go to the Klingon homeworld, Kirk takes great pains to make sure the Klingons don't know that a Starfleet vessel is behind their borders as this could provoke a war. It's a good idea but unfortunately, it's completely undermined when Sulu, on Kirk's orders incidentally, sends a hailing message to Khan, clearly identifying himself and his ship as Starfleet. Presumably, no Klingons intercepted this transmission but still... that didn't strike me as a clever way of keeping a low profile.

5. And Klingons... I thought Klingons looked stupid in the previous version of Star Trek but compared to what J.J. Abrams turned them into, they were the height of style. But then again, I suppose that's to be expect after Abrams turned the intelligent and highly cultured Romulans into tattooed thugs in Star Trek 2009.

...

My second viewing of Star Trek into Darkness was not off to a good start.

Watch this space for the next lot of points, coming sometime later today.

This post has been edited by Just your average movie goer: 10 October 2013 - 11:53 PM

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 08:01 AM

2.5. I missed this in the previous post but near the beginning of the movie, Khan coerces a Starfleet officer into committing a terrorist act by way of an exchange - he will save the life of the officer's daughter and the officer will blow up the headquarters of Section 31. The problem I have with it is that Khan did his part of the deal first, which meant that the officer could have easily reneged on his part. The man's daughter had been saved already so there was no need for him to blow up anything. He could just have easily walked into Section 31, explained what had happened and arranged protection for his family on the chance that Khan tried to pay him back for reneging on the deal. Instead, like an idiot, the guy walks into the place and blows it up. Plausibility be damned! On with the plot!


Okay, now where were we?

6. I really didn't like the way Kirk punched Khan repeatedly after the man had surrendered. This is not what respectable leaders do in any situation. It wasn't quite as bad as the extended edition of Return of the King when Aragorn killed Sauron's emissary perhaps but that's not saying much.

7. Khan's background. The second time I saw Star Trek into Darkness, I understood that the backstory of Admiral Marcus finding Khan and his people frozen in stasis and reviving him mirrored the original series episode Space Seed where Kirk found Khan. Now, in the original series, the fact that Kirk and Khan have that shared history makes their conflict in The Wrath of Khan more meaningful. But in this movie, Kirk and Khan have no history. And this is a problem. It seems that J.J. Abrams is taking a shortcut. He wants to have the feud between Khan and Kirk but he doesn't want to take the time to establish a reason for it. He wants the payoff without putting in the setup and it doesn't work that way.

8. Carol Marcus' underwear scene. A lot has been said about this already. By many people. Now, I could talk about the cringe-worthy treatment of female characters in this movie or how gratuitous this particular scene is. But I'll keep it short. This scene was presumably intended to be sexy but instead, it was just flat-out embarrassing.

9. Admiral Marcus. This character didn't work well for me in my first viewing. In my second, he was just unwatchable. Not only was he a completely cardboard character, he was also just generally loud and annoying, shouting basically every line of dialogue he had. And I don't know exactly how he thought his plan of blowing the Enterprise up was going to work without repercussions when he was attacking it in plain view of Earth, which brings me to my next point...

10. Distances. Do they mean anything in this movie? When the Enterprise flees Admiral Marcus and heads back to Earth from the Klingon homeworld, the trip takes fifteen seconds. And this isn't fifteen seconds of movie time. This is actual time within the movie we're talking about here. The ship goes to warp. Carol Marcus tells Kirk that her father's ship can still catch them and the moment the words are out of her mouth, Admiral Marcus' ship does catch up with them. Several shots are fired and then... viola! They're right next to the moon.

Then, when torpedoes blow up on that big dreadnought later in the movie, the Enterprise is knocked all the way from the moon into the Earth's gravity well and it plummets into the atmosphere. Now, I'm no astrophysicist or what-have-you but I've always been under the impression that the moon is far away from the Earth. Further apart than New York and Boston even. So how in the hell does a blast knock the Enterprise from the moon to the Earth?

...

And at this point, I gave up on the movie. The thing was just turning into a massive frenetic action sequence without pause. Ships falling. Ships crashing. Spock pummelling the hell out of Khan. It was tiring. And it was then that I realised that J.J. Abrams is really no better than Michael Bay. He peppers his movies with a bit of characterisation out of some sense of obligation to doing the right thing but really, deep down, he'd rather just have two hours of fighting and explosions.

...

Now, that wasn't all I found wrong with the movie but I think that's enough. The bottom line was that I really didn't like this movie much the second time round. At all.

There's something I haven't addressed yet though and that's about the transition from watching it on a big screen to watching it on a small screen. Basically, the point I wanted to make was that a lot of the things that worked on the big screen didn't work after the transition. I remember really enjoying the scene where Kirk and Khan are soaring through space to land in the hangar of the dreadnought for instance but it did nothing for me the second time around. For a little while, I wondered why. And then I figured out the answer. J.J. Abrams clutters the screen. There's just too much in the frame and it's an eyesore. This isn't as bad on the big screen because there's more room for everything but on the small screen, it's fatal. The battle debris that Kirk and Khan fly through wasn't that distracting in the cinema but on the small screen, there was no space for... well, space. The scope of all that emptiness between the Enterprise and the dreadnought was completely lost on my TV screen. But it doesn't have to be that way. For a comparison, check out the asteroid chase in The Empire Strikes Back. I've seen that on the big screen and the small one and both work well.

Another problem is that individual scenes are too short. This isn't a problem specific to Star Trek into Darkness - it's a problematic trend in a lot of movies - but J.J. Abrams is certainly guilty of it here. The problem with short scenes is that you can never really get invested in them. They never have time to get interesting. Right before they do, the movie skips ahead to another scene and the feeling I personally get from this is one I liken to channel surfing.

...

Final thoughts:

One might ask then whether Star Trek into Darkness still works on the level of a brainless action movie. However, because the screen's frequently too cluttered and the action scenes drag on too long, wearing the viewer down instead of entertaining them, I'd argue that it doesn't.

One might also ask whether it's at least interesting seeing an attempt to bring something new to Star Trek but honestly, I can't see anything interesting being brought to the table. Sexing the franchise up? Well, that's nothing new. The original series was full of gorgeous women and that was continued through all the later shows. Making Star Trek more action packed? That's nothing new either. The cartoonish Voyager had Captain Janeway and her crew blowing up practically everything in the Delta quadrant, along with the increasingly neutered Borg. Enterprise is pretty action packed - and it also seems to be designed to cater to the same demographic that J.J. Abrams is aiming for, which makes his new movies even more redundant. And as I've mentioned earlier, Deep Space Nine has a lot of action... and it's a great show too, which is an added bonus.

So it's hard to see what the point of the Star Trek reboot is. It's not modernising the old series with updated production values. It's not charting new territory. So what's the point? Why don't the filmmakers follow the established precedents of the TV series and just make new stories about a new group of people. If they want action movies, maybe they could have a squadron of ships sent to the Delta quadrant, with the crew in hibernation. Then when they get there, they can wake up and embark on a mission to completely eliminate the Borg. Far-fetched, sure, and very possibly stupid but at least it'd be something new. What J.J. Abrams was up to with his reboots however is anyone's guess, possibly including his.

However, giving credit where credit is due, Star Trek into Darkness got me interested in Star Trek in general and led me to discovering the old movies and the awesomeness of Deep Space Nine. So I am grateful for that.

And also, it gave us these great videos:

How 'Star Trek into Darkness' should have ended

Honest Trailers: Star Trek into Darkness (featuring 'How it should have ended')

This post has been edited by Just your average movie goer: 11 October 2013 - 08:09 AM

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 04:19 AM

Well don't say no one warned you:

http://www.chefelf.c...topic=9938&st=0
"I had a lot of different ideas. At one point, Luke, Leia and Ben were all going to be little people, and we did screen tests to see if we could do that." -George Lucas, in STAR WARS: the Annotated Screenplays (p197).
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