Star Trek franchise descends into Darkness with new Blu-rays
By Jim Bray
One of 2013's most anticipated movies was Star Trek Into Darkness, the follow up to the 2009 reboot that breathed fresh new life into the nearly 50 year old series of TV shows and movies.
The reboot was great. As a Trekkie since practically Day One (yep, I'm that old!), I thought J. J. Abrams take on the "universe" - in which he changed the timeline to allow him to do pretty well anything he wanted with the new Trek - was the best of all the Star Trek movies. I wasn't alone. Many folks agreed that Abrams brought Trek into the new millennium fresh and alive again.
Expectations were obviously high for this "sequel" and, clearly, Abrams had big shoes to fill: his own.
You'd think his feet would fit his shoes just fine. But somewhere between the success of Star Trek (2009) and the debut of Into Darkness something went very, very wrong.
Not that Star Trek Into Darkness is no good. In fact, the first hour is very good, indeed - lapses in logic and plot holes (both of which have been a Star Trek staple nearly as long as there's been a Star Trek) aside. But then we end up with a rehashed Star Trek that points back toward the original series, erasing in many ways the reboot's bold steps where no one had gone before. The second half's lack of comparative quality doesn't ruin the movie, but it makes one wonder what could have been.
Maybe it was studio interference, maybe it was a sop to old time Trekkies, maybe Abrams just got cold feet - or maybe this is exactly how he wanted to do it. Whatever the reason, Star Trek Into Darkness is a real disappointment - and yet it still belongs in every Trekkie's library 'cause it's still better than some of the movies that have come before.
To avoid unnecessary spoilers, I won't dwell on the plot in detail, but the overall story would be pretty good - a good follow up to Abrams' first Trek outing - if not for the really bad decisions made along the way. It start great: Kirk (Chris Pine), in his brashness, violates the Prime Directive (non-interference in aliens' cultures) to save a friend, but when that friend's report on the incident to Star Fleet implicates Kirk as, at least, a liar, he's stripped of his command and put under the wing of the good Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood).
Then all heck breaks loose. A terrorist attack in London leads to an assault on senior Star Fleet personnel and, through circumstances, Kirk gets his ship back and takes it on an "unofficial" mission to kill the perpetrator of the attacks (Benedict Cumberbatch), but is talked into arresting him and bringing him back to face justice instead.
Up to this point, it's a terrific movie (above points about logic and plot holes notwithstanding). But then, the villain reveals his true persona to Kirk and things go downhill quickly from there. In the end, we have half a great Star Trek, and half a recycled and dumbed down rehash of an original series episode and an original series movie (Trekkies won't need any hint more than that to figure it out, though they've undoubtedly seen the movie by now anyway).
The reason it goes downhill relate specifically to the rehashing aspect. And it wasn't necessary at all! Here we have as a villain a being of superior power and strength, which could just as easily have been some new alien being as a sop to where everyone has gone before already. But no, we end up with a new timeline rehash that's inferior to the original versions, no matter how many roles you reverse and "new" twists and homages you put in. Heck, it isn't as if the Federation doesn't have any aliens around that they could use - and since seeking out new life and new civilizations is a big part of Star Fleet's mandate, it would be right up their alley.
And what's with the gratuitous undies shot of another character we've seen before? As enjoyable as it was, it had nothing to do with anything and so was completely superfluous. I say this as a red blooded human male. I'd love to see the character wear even less, but for goodness sake make it at least fit into the storyline logically.
There are more problems, too, including the fact that the movie is too long. The climax should have been when they saved the Enterprise, preventing it from slamming into the ground; they should have skipped the sudden return of the bad guy and the physical battle that ensues and which makes no sense whatsoever. Instead, they bring a ship that had apparently been blown to smithereens (the next planet over from "Bits") but which, apparently and out of the blue, was still surprisingly capable .
Heck, the original character didn't come back after his ship was blown up! He went out in a blaze of glory that would have done Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok proud! And having the character die here wouldn't have prevented Abrams from doing the subsequent death scene on the Enterprise, though even here I'd rather they had done something new - maybe a collaboration between the two great minds of Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), working together to save the ship. As the twist homage sits now, however, it wasn't necessary at all. And there was no pressing need to keep the bad guy alive so he could save the dead officer's life (there were 72 more people just like him aboard the Enterprise already, any one of whom should have been able to do the job!).
But no. They not only keep the bad guy alive but they also put Spock into the ridiculous and uncharacteristic position of trying to kick the living bejeebers out of him - and then needing to have his butt saved by his girl friend!
This movie is obviously meant by the studio to be the start (well, second) of a new "original" Star Trek because they even resort to Kirk's (and, later, Picard's) "Space, the final frontier" speech, as well as bringing back the original Star Trek music theme. Both are okay, but since Abrams did such a great job of separating his Star Trek from those who have gone before, why would they do that? It's unnecessary and it's even a slap at Abrams' first Trek, telling us that despite what happened there this is really the "real" Star Trek.
Well duh, we know that! That's why we're here!
Then there are the performances. Right after watching Star Trek Into Darkness, we went back and watched the old movie whose genesis, no pun intended, it shares. And there's no way these new guys are fit to shine Shatner's shoes, or Nimoy's, or Doohan's - or the guy who played the villain. Cumberbatch may be a good actor (I've never seen him before), but he makes a lousy **** (oops, nearly said the name here!). The character is larger than life but is played here much more reserved, restrained, cerebral. Smaller than life.
On the other hand, I can't think of any actor today who could pull it off. Liam Neeson, maybe?
Hey - they could have brought Shatner back! Not as Kirk, but as (mumble mumble). At least Shatner can project gravitas when necessary. It might have been tough suspending the disbelief from his years as Kirk, but if anyone today could pull it off, he could.
The production values are great, with excellent special effects, and you're advised to watch the movie on the biggest screen, with the biggest sound, you can access. But even here, there appear to be effects for effects sake. Maybe they should have put some of that money into the screenplay...
The Blu-ray (we received the 3D/2D Blu-ray with DVD and digital copy) is very good. We watched it in 2D (other reviews have said the 3D is okay but not spectacular) and the picture and sound are excellent. The picture, 1080p/24 at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, is sharp and bright and colorful (when allowed to be by the story). The lens flares get a bit overdone, but this isn't a fault of the medium.
Audio is loud and proud. It's a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track and is really in your face, er, ears. All channels get plenty of use and there's lots of dynamic audio zipping through the home theater. It isn't as satisfying as some soundtracks, but it's fine nonetheless and a good match to the picture and story.
Extras are pretty sparse, surprisingly, and not that great. This, however, may just be a way for Paramount (never one to miss a chance to dip into the well again) to release a special edition down the road.
Speaking of special editions, Paramount has taken yet another trip to the Original Series well with "Origins." It's a single disc Blu-ray that's a blatant attempt at wringing some extra cash out of collectors who undoubtedly have all of these TOS episodes on Blu-ray already.
The hook is that these are episodes where we first meet some famous Trek icons. So we get the original pilot "The Cage" (which introduces Pike and Spock), the second pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (Kirk), "Space Seed" (Khan), "Errand of Mercy" (Klingons) and "The Trouble with Tribbles" (the lovable but overwhelming little critters).
All of these episodes, save "Tribbles," are part of the TOS first season Blu-ray set, while "Tribbles" is part of the second season. So there's really no reason to spend $17 (Amazon.ca price) when you can spend an extra $11 (Amazon) and get the whole season, with plenty of neat extras. Well, double that for two seasons, thanks to "Tribbles."
"Origins" features no extras at all, other than brief introductions to each episode by Rod Roddenberry, son of "The Great Bird of the Galaxy" and "Nurse Christine Chapel/computer voice/Troi's mum." They don't add a lot to the proceedings.
That said, the picture quality is excellent, though here we don't get the choice offered by the boxed sets of viewing the episodes with either their original effects or with the great new CG ones. So there's one more reason to get the seasons together instead of this version.
One thing Paramount could have done here is offer the episodes in widescreen HD. The boxed sets are in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and they look great, but TOS has also been running on TV converted to widescreen and, while I'm not a fan of altering the original, they did a great job of it and the episodes I've seen don't look cropped at all.
So save the money you'd spend on "Origins" and put that toward the boxed sets - and Star Trek Into Darkness. Because as flawed as Star Trek Into Darkness is, it's still well worth a watch and a place in your library.
It's just that it could have been so much better, and it wouldn't have been hard to, er, make it so.
Copyright 2013 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.