Thursday, May 23, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness, Into the Past and Into the Future

The 2009 version of Star Trek amazingly recreated the classic characters without having them be direct copies of the actors who played them.  The film appealed to fans of the Original Series, as well as new viewers.  The time travel aspect accelerated both the assemblage of the crew and other aspects of the universe, allowing ideas and plots from the original crew series and even movies earlier in time.  

While getting everyone on the bridge of the Enterprise together acknowledged their destiny, it was extremely rushed.  Could one crisis mission have created the ties that bound them together with their ship as a true family and given them the knowledge and confidence to be the heroes they were due to become?

The answer is, “No.”
That bonding and growth is what Star Trek Into Darkness accomplished.

Warning: While no direct, specific plot review is given, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, and want no inklings of the highly nifty nuances of its twists and turns, it might be safer to stop now and come back once you’ve seen it.

With a wealth of potential interpersonal stories for the crew available, and a whole, realigned and uncharted universe to explore, the production team could have ignored any specific left-over effects from the changed time stream story in the first movie and gone in completely new directions.

It would have been easy to only toss in some throw away lines, names and references such as Harry Mudd, Tribbles, Section 31, various uniforms and outfits,  a series of familiar ship models on a desk, etc. to keep us old fans happy. 

(By the way, am I the only one disturbed at the possibility of a genetically enhanced super tribble left, unmentioned, on the ship?)

However, they went further than cameo ideas and directly referenced the changed timeline along with how it affected events seen in the classic series and films to make them integral to the plot.

I applaud this decision, because even those who weren’t fans of Star Trek before are aware that there is nearly fifty years of Trek history behind the current state of the franchise. To have that much background of characterization and storytelling available and completely ignore it would be a giant waste of resources.  (I’m looking at you DC Comics.)

Much like its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness used modern technology, styles, effects and sensibilities, yet still managed to produce a story that was classically Star Trek.  There were important social, psychological and philosophical issues raised and addressed, but they never got in the way of the entertainment provided by the story, action and characters in the picture.

There is an internal dynamic to this.  From an excitement on screen standpoint, Starfleet functions best as a military organization with its vessels as warships.  Running out the guns (as Nicholas Meyer demanded) and being buffeted by “storms” are great dramatic fuel.  However, the members of the Enterprise crew, due to their internalized values, must view Starfleet primarily as having an exploration role.  They also all must have impeccable military demeanor, but will always place personal and moral responsibilities above unquestioning duty to non-Enterprise officers and regulations.

Perfect examples of the Star Trekness of the new film were bookends at the beginning and end of the story.

The pre title, cold opening (which occurred in the forest of candy canes from Wreck it Ralph according to my daughter) showed that even with the remaining kinks that needed to be worked out by everyone’s growth through the story, this was the classic bridge crew in action.  Though the settings, action and situations were beyond anything that could have been done on the old series, the flavor was there.  The set piece featured each member of the crew displaying outstanding abilities in their area of expertise, nearly seamless interactions with and reliance upon the other members of their team, and complete prioritization of those team members above any and all regulations and orders.

In other words, the Prime Directive is for sissies.

By the time the crew had completed their personal journeys inflicted by the trials and hardships this story put them through; the characters had reached their proper end points-

Ensign Chekov is young, inexperienced and is sometimes on the edge of panic as his "Russian" accented voice cracks, but is clever and professional enough to back up nearly every other member of the bridge crew.

Lieutenant Sulu is a pilot without equal, always calm and in control at the helm, but also has the drive and qualities to follow Kirk’s footsteps into the command chair.

Lieutenant Uhura’s top notch linguistics and technical skills make her of prime importance to the ship and crew, but what makes her the best communications officer in the fleet is her ability to listen to and understand levels of meaning in what she hears and take action from them.

Lt. Commander Scott is temperamental, over protective and prone to exaggerated outbursts, but he not only knows starship technology better than anyone, he is also, for all intents and purposes, one with the Enterprise.

Lt. Commander McCoy is Chief Medical Officer with unparalleled training, personal skills and professional aptitude to heal and protect the crew, but his far more important role is acting as the southern fried cranky and cantankerous ship’s conscience.

Commander Spock provides intelligent, carefully thought out scientific and logical proposals for any problem or situation encountered, but allows his trust and connection to his shipmates and friends to allow him to use his carefully controlled feelings to improve his recommendations over and above what only logic could deliver.  

Captain James T. Kirk, ever the ladies man, listens to, takes in and values suggestions and advice from the officers that are more than family to him, but the command decisions that guide the Enterprise and keep them all alive and successful through various crises and disasters come from his command instincts, experience and judgment. 

The actors continue to focus on conveying these traits, without being a direct parody or imitation of their predecessors.

OK, I admit at first glance it appears that Karl Urban is directly channeling the spirit of DeForest Kelley for these films, but even his performance is less a direct impression of Kelley, and more the essence of Leonard McCoy.  He's getting good at finding those essences, isn't he?

With the exception of the visuals, the final scene of the fully formed and jelled crew working and joking together on the USS Enterprise as it headed out on its five year mission, could have been the ending of any original series episode.  The only differences being:

A)  It ended, rather than starting with Captain Kirk’s voice reciting “Space…the final frontier...” to demonstrate it was not an end point, but a beginning.

B) The music was a perfect blend of the themes of the original and new Star Trek… just like the film was.

A side request to some fans wandering the Internet: please stop asking when Q, or the Borg, or other Next Generation elements will “inevitably” be introduced to the new franchise.

Star Trek: The Next Generation created a group of characters and stories in a well-made and highly popular television series that lasted for seven years.

Star Trek the Original Series created a group of characters and stories that have been part of the country’s popular culture and collective unconscious for almost half a century.

They should definitely stick exclusively to elements from the originals; remember what a mess the third Raimi Spidey film turned out to be when they veered away from the original Lee/Ditko material.

Finally, a few random and slightly more spoileryish thoughts about elements of the film that impressed me-

1)  Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed John Harrison, an entirely different character than the one he was rumored to, and expected to play.


Bennedict Cumberbatch portrayed John Harrison, exactly and expertly as the character that he was rumored to, and expected to play.

2) The decision to reference events and scenes from classic crew appearances was a nice continuity nod for the fans.

The decision to completely reproduce some of the most iconic scenes from classic crew appearances but switching the individual’s roles, and then tracing the different ways the other characters would react to those events (to make those scenes work on mulitple levels) was downright brilliant.

3)  As much as it is critical that the Enterprise crew value exploration and morals above military might, it is also critical that they (specifically Captain Kirk) know when an adversary has crossed the line and it is time to open up the can of Starfleet weapons grade whoop ass.

The film did showcase that quite effectively.

However, from the days I was an elementary school warmonger pouring over the Starfleet Technical Manual up through Junior High readings of Dianne Carey novels, and spending far too much time in High School playing Star Fleet Battles, the concept of a Dreadnought class Starship and the damage it could dish out was something I found fascinating.
Star Trek Into Darkness finally gave us one, the USS Vengeance, fully armed and ready for battle on the big screen.  It’s almost unfortunate that due to their own heroic nature, the Enterprise crew could not embrace the mighty ship, or allow the evil plot it was inexorably linked to.

This prevented plunging the Dreadnought armed Federation into a long and bloody war with the newly introduced and decidedly vicious, power hungry and honorably ultra-violent Klingons.

In the immortal words of the late, great Commander Kor…

“A shame, Captain…
It would have been GLORIOUS!”

Ginormous spoilers in the comments:  You've been warned.

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Kim Luer said...

"(By the way, am I the only one disturbed at the possibility of a genetically enhanced super tribble left, unmentioned, on the ship?)"

...and this is how you prove we're related. I was totally wondering about that.... although I'm not sure if want to see what happens with it or not, I keep having images from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes 2. (Which while a movie I love, doesn't belong in a Star Trek film.)

However, TOTALLY AWESOME!!!!! the movie, your write up. Everything. just AWESOME!

But aside from my own

Jeff McGinley said...

Ignore the last line glitch folks,

Thanx for the compliments, glad you liked the movie too.

Star Trek III the search for FT???

It could happen!

longbow said...

Unimaginative. Not worthy of the movie it rewrote. I mean, the same damn lines??? It's like they were in the writers room and someone said "Wouldn't it be cool if we switched the roles?" and no one said, "Yeah, that'd be cool... okay back to work making a NEW movie and not FanFic"

Why was cumberbun hiding on the planet he was hiding? if he wasn't there the whole devious plot device thing doesn't work.

Terrible movie. I lost emotional investment when Uhura gave her little "you put me on this mission because X, let me do X" speech.

I agree the actors did a Yeoman's job (see what I did there?) in putting more flesh on their characters but the whole thing was one unmotivated action sequence after another.

Even worse than IronMan3 (Ducks to avoid chair sized pile of dogfood thrown across the continent)

Anabelle said...

How can you say that about Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness? Those movies were AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!! You made me so upset, that I threw my hairbands on the floor. The switched roles in the radiation room was super duper cool. They put in part of the older Khan movie, but since it wasn't that exact film, they switched the roles. It was not worse than Iron Man because it wasn't bad! Star Trek was magnificent. I liked them both.

longbow said...

I hope you took them out of your hair first

Grandma said...

At a girl, Anabelle. You defended the movie perfectly. This was as exciting as Dad wrote and to make a unanimous McGinley observation - It was AWESOME !!!
I enjoyed every part of it and felt like I could watch it over and over. I also know that Grandpa would have loved this movie. I could hear his comments in my head as the movie went on. Daddy was right on all counts

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx to all of you for posting. Not much I can add to three generations my my Trekkie family vouching for the awesomeness of the film, so I'll don my Captain Continuity hat and answer specific questions.

1) John Harrison was intimately involved with the design and creation of the Vengeance, and likely the plan to implement it. Therefore he was probably supposed to end up on that planet anyway, though possibly via different circumstances. He was playing the plan close as possible to the original one to get his hands on the ship.

2) I have no problem with Uhura blatantly stating the value of her qualifications on an away team, as a direct "take that" at the underuse of those skills in the original series and films.

Enjoy the show folks!