“Mr. Abrams, Did You Break My Star Trek?” a.k.a – My Review of Star Trek: Into Darkness (With many Spoilers)

Okay, so a hundred years and 25 or so revisions later, I’m finally getting this review out!  I know by now there’s been plenty of debate and stir over the latest JJ Abrams version, but if you don’t mind one more, here,  just in time for the blue-ray release, is my two cents. (Yes, there will be SPOILERS)   Thanks for your patience.

star trek into darkness 650 paramount

Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk (Christopher Pine) are snared again by lens flares in Star Trek Into Darkness.

On a scale of 1-5 stars I give it almost 4 (Like 3 and 7/8ths) ) 3.  Did I like it? Yes. Did I love it? Not as much as I hoped I really would.   Obviously the writers and Abrams are taking the original series where no franchise has gone before;  into it’s own damn idea of what Gene Roddenberry had in mind. Some of its impulses were good.   Others, not so good.   This review questions some of those impulses. (And yes, there was  a lot of good too).

The story got off to an exciting start, with a classic, if somewhat preposterous, Enterprise-saving the-day-venture. Kirk rescues Spock by avoiding The Prime Directive, which foreshadows the climax of the film.   This Trek is a lot edgier and action-based than the original series ever was, no doubt aiming for the all-powerful 18-24 demographic. Fortunately it isn’t too far into these extremes, and still retains the wit and familiarity of the original series.  First, the bad:

As an old Trekkie, I found the  extra-large action aspect mildly bothersome, but what mostly upset me was the blatant recycling  of a storyline that was best told in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  Come now, writers, surely you could have written the (spoiler) Kirk death scene in a new, dynamic way, not rehashing  Spock’s death in  ST:II nearly word for word!  I found that whole scene a slap in the face to ST:II.   I mean sure, Spock has to face that his friend Kirk is in mortal danger trying to save the ship, but I can’t help but wonder how much better that scene would have been if it approached the same situation with original dialogue! After all, THIS Spock has not known THIS Kirk as long as the originals.  Of course Spock would try to save his friend and captain, but the lifted dialogue from Wrath…just made the scene lazy and a retread instead of the heart-wrenching agony it SHOULD have been. (On a minor point, I’ve always wondered why there are never any haz-mat suits in that most dangerous reactor area, heck even Spock wore gloves in Wrath…!)

And then there’s Khan himself.  When the rumors flourished before the release that  the villain might be Khan, I didn’t want to believe it because I thought, no, why would they mess with a perfectly good story that’s been told so well once before?  When it turned out that the rumors were true, and when Harrison revealed his true self, all I could think was…

“KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!”

Really now, I enjoy and respect Benedict Cumberbach as an actor; (I just recently discovered Sherlock, which I love,) and I do agree that he made a deliciously sinister Khan.  But when one imagines Khan Noonian Singh, a  pasty, blue-eyed Englishman does not come to mind.  I also find myself wishing that my original speculation  of Cumberbach and Alice Eve possibly playing Gary Mitchell and Dr. Elizabeth Dehner had come to pass.  I think it could have been just as exciting with these two characters, (who suffered with a god complex)  and it would have been nice to see more into their characters than we did in the original pilot. Alas.

Now why this had to be another revenge movie and not the beginning of the 5 year mission was quite frustrating.  It’s plot was so similar to the first reboot  it begs the question that perhaps Hollywood has forgotten how to be original and just duplicates the same formulas over and over.  Star Trek deserves better than this. And I’m sure this is just me, because I’ve only seen it once, but I can’t even remember WHY Khan needs revenge in this one — and against Kirk? After reading this summary I recalled how somewhat convoluted the first part of the story was that led up to Khan needing revenge.  The original episode of Space Seed and it’s sequel STII gave a simpler, plausible explanation of Khan’s angst, but this telling was a can of worms that depended more on action than the philosophies of a superman.

There were other instances that irked me too…

  • Spock’s flagrant violence. Look, I know Spock is younger here, and still learning to control his emotions, but this is now two movies where his ‘passions’ are stirred enough to make him incredibly violent.  (that is, attempting to beat Khan to death) I just don’t find this true to the Spock character. Where was his logical reasoning?
  • Seeing Kirk in bed with two catwomen was (although comical) also frustrating  as this version of the franchise is turning Kirk into more of a horny frat boy than mature man. More of the frat boy mentality ensues with the gratuitous underwear shot of Dr. Marcus, carrying on the custom started in the first reboot with Uhura in her bra.
  • The suggestion that Christine Chapel had a (disastrous) fling with Jim Kirk, apparently the catalyst that sent her into Starfleet Nursing School (this is so bogus!) I guess there’s no Roger Korby in this universe, and Chapel has yet to set her eyes on Mr. Spock. (Although I could swear her name was mentioned in the first Trek movie in a sickbay scene)
  • Spock screaming “Khaaaaaaan!” was the nail in the coffin of the death scene. It was beyond laughable, and it was tragic.  Not because Spock is heartbroken over Kirk’s demise, but because it is more of Abrams’ writers saying  “Hey old Trekkies, (wink-wink), aren’t we clever?  See Spock is screaming just like Kirk!    It made me cringe.   Apparently the writers think they were paying homage to Wrath, but in fact they made it just a parody.   Please.
  • The Enterprise can function under water? Seriously?? It made for an exciting opening, but the semantics seemed totally wrong!
  • A Starfleet ship called the U.S.S. Vengeance — Seriously?
  • The convoluted plot leading Khan to be the an arch enemy.  He’s bad/ no he’s good/no, he’s bad and he can crush heads!
  • Damn lens flares!  One thing I loved about the old series was the soft and colorful lighting that created an inviting environment on the Enterprise. The production values here have kept the bright, happy, shininess of the Trek universe, and an occasional lens flare would have given it some kick, but to be continuously bombarded by flashing lights shows Abrams continued lack of respect for the quieter atmospheric lighting of the original.  Sure the bridge is an exciting place, but not a disco. (Besides, how could one work comfortably w/all those flares?)

Of course I realize that creating a movie requires a lot of hard work and commitment, and despite my problems with this venture, I do appreciate all the work that went into this.  I’m still thankful that we have this reboot, and that there will surely be a sequel.  There were a many things I liked too.  The Klingons helmets were cool.  And Karl Urban so  delightfully channels Dr. McCoy that I’m certain De Kelley is smiling d0wn on him from Heaven!  Also happy to see Spock Prime, if only for a minute.  And to be fair, there were some thought-provoking moments and good drama early on in the film.  But the best thing about STID was the humor.  Here’s some of the best one-liners:

  • McCoy: “You know, when I dreamed about being stuck on a deserted planet with a gorgeous woman, there was no torpedo.”
  • Sulu: “Attention: John Harrison. This is Captain Hikaru Sulu of the USS Enterprise… You have two minutes to confirm your compliance. Refusal to do so will result in your obliteration. And If you test me, you will fail.”   McCoy: “Mr Sulu, remind me never to piss you off.”
  • Kirk: “Wait, are you guys… are you guys fighting?   Uhura: I’d rather not talk about it, sir… ”  Kirk: “Oh my God, what is that even like?”  [Spock appears at the turbolift door and Uhura walks past him]  Kirk: [as he walks past Spock] “Ears burning?
  • Kirk: (regarding Spock) Sometimes, I just want to rip the [pauses] bangs off his head!
  • Scotty: “If it isn’t Captain James Tiberius Perfect-Hair!”
  • Bones: “Are you out of your corn-fed mind?”
  • Scotty: “One day I’ve been off this ship! One bloody day!”

Of course, Star Trek does not thrive on humor alone.  The one piece of dialogue that mirrors my view of this current incarnation is this:

Kirk:  “Mr. Chekov, did you break my ship?”

A funny line, to be sure, but perhaps that should be:

“Mr. Abrams, did you break my Star Trek?”

My main concern about this reboot is that new Trek fans will lose sight of what Star Trek was all about, and think that this wall-to-wall action is what it was always like.  There are already fans out there who will never see the original (if cheaper looking) special effects of the original because the new digital restorations have removed most of the beautiful original matte paintings of the original, and have even shortened  some scenes (think Spock’s beam out from Vulcan in Amok Time) to make room for more of the digital art.  Sure the sets were cheap and the effects crappy, but most of the original was less concerned with it’s special effects than its soul.

I am hoping and praying that the next Trek movie will PLEASE bring us closer to the spirit of the original — it’s about missions and exploring new worlds, (in an allegorical fashion) and tapping into the souls of the original characters. Indeed, the more I see how this movie series is aiming toward more and more ACTION, I am more convinced that this reboot would be served far, far better as a  new TV SERIES.  After all, the main point of Star Trek was NOT all-action-all-the-time, it was morality tales wrapped as science fiction.  Star Trek also had key drama and soul in it’s best tales (Think The City On the Edge of Forever and Journey To Babel) and consider how so many of the best Dramas today are NOT multi-plex slugfests, but thoughtful, mature, and riveting TV series (mostly on cable, like Mad Men and Breaking Bad).

I seriously wish that Paramount would consider turning this Star Trek reboot back into the the format it worked in best: Television, preferable cable or even Netflix  where it could thrive without the restrictions of broadcast television. Could you imagine how great it could be if we saw this cast and this Enterprise on a weekly basis — it would be worth every cent to have this rebooted cast grow and emerge as a great drama ensemble, not just a shoot-em-up summer blockbuster every few years.  (Besides, Leonard Nimoy isn’t getting any younger, and I want to see how Spock Prime brings back New Vulcan!) That would make Trek shine again as the cornerstone of sci-fi entertainment that it was destined to be. Please Paramount, Bring this version to TV where it belongs.  Keep the whole cast (except maybe for Scotty’s little pal) and please lets pick up where The Original Series left off.

By the way,   I did pre-order this movie on Amazon (1/2 price), I hope if maybe I watch it a few more times, I’ll like it better, and maybe I will. But in the meantime, I implore all unborn Trekkies to please just watch the original 79. Enough said.

9 responses to ““Mr. Abrams, Did You Break My Star Trek?” a.k.a – My Review of Star Trek: Into Darkness (With many Spoilers)

  1. The Sound of One Man Laughing

    I am glad that you hate the movie as much as I do, but I don’t feel (as you seem to) an obligation to like/excuse something because it is called “Star Trek.” I did not like the first movie and I don’t like the second, and I won’t be seeing the third. These are more “crap we own the copyright to already so let’s make more of it and get some money.” Give me “Star Trek Continues” over this bilge any day.

    Star Trek TOS has been made, it’s (it is) done, and we can watch it anytime. I have my original DVDs, without any add-ons made by little kids trying to impress by doing better effects than the mid-1960s could do. What made Star Trek Star Trek was the vision of the not-pleasant Gene Roddenberry, the writers, the actors, the mood and interests and direction of the time it was made, and the way TV shows were made at the time. Star Trek Continues does a great job with its (possesive) single effort, I think, but these movies are not trying that — they’re “a modern take” on Star Trek, so we get no minorities beyond what’s necessary, the women are ridiculous, and so are the men. Lots of boom boom and CGI and stupid dialog, which is not Star Trek at all. One star would be generous.

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    • I can’t go as far as saying I hate it, but I didn’t love it as much as the first. There was (and is) plenty of room for improvement in a sequel – for starters, get a decent science fiction writer who knows and loves Star Trek, and respects its origins. I think the first movie was better in this aspect. But this one was all rehash and, in thinking it was honoring the original in making numerous (often cloying) references to it, was actually making it worse. I still have a bit of hope here, for I do like the cast, but I sincerely hope the next one will not be written for the fast and furious action crowd who have no inkling of what Trek is all about. I want an intelligent, grown up Trek movie that can stand alone without resorting to blasting and frat boy fetishes. I want good drama, and less attitude. And I still think it would work better back on TV, where it could be more introspective and better drama (with good humor too). But I’m not holding my breath.

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  2. I actually did like the 2009 film, very much. I thought they’d understood. Then came Into Darkness. I actually have bought the DVD, as I am a Star Trek fan, but I haven’t been able to bear to take the wrapping off yet. Therese, I agree with your comments, but wouldn’t have put it as high as 3 7/8ths! It was deeply insulting to the franchise and to us.
    – Why was Spock literally sobbing over a man who he’s known for 4 hours of screen time, three and a half of which he didn’t like him?
    – Why did he spend what felt like half the film beating up Khan, when we know that Nimoy invented the Pinch so as to avoid that kind of rubbish?
    – As I sat in the cinema, I said to myself that if I heard anyone say, “You’d better get down here”, they’d lost me. The next line was, “You’d better get down here.” I so WISH I understood why anyone thought it could be a good idea to reproduce one of the most moving films in cinema history, and certainly the most moving scene in Trek, backwards and with the wrong people.
    – The Khaaaaaaan! was, as you say, the nail in the coffin. Did they not know that we, the fans, have been taking the **** out of that since TWOK came out? They turned the whole thing into a parody of something precious.
    – Chapel, Marcus and Uhura were, as you Americans say, thrown under the bus!
    – McCoy was demoted to the status of comic turn.
    – Dropping a starship on a city, so soon after 9/11, is unspeakable. Where is the “not-pleasant Gene Roddenberry’s” respect for life?
    There’s so much I could say but I really think you’ve covered it accurately. I feel that they had a check list for the little Trekkies, so that when Spock rattled off the line “the needs of the many….” whilst sitting improbably on top of a volcano, they could tick that one off and the fans would be happy. The characters were wrong. The plot was too complicated to follow. It not only duplicated TWOK, it duplicated 2009. It was, in short, insulting.

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    • Jackie, Yes indeed. By the time the ship fell on Frisco, I was thinking ‘Enough!’
      I admit, I have never been a fan of super action movies (Stallone, Schwarzenegger and company have never been my cup of tea)*. Earlier this year I went to see the latest Iron Man movie with my husband and boys,** and because it was an action picture, it had about 6 trailers for other action movies. Knowing what to expect, I just closed my eyes through the previews. As the colors flashed under my eyelids, the dialogue and plot for all the previews were practically the same: Manly hero has obstacles to face, usually involving a lot of danger, action, guns, blasting, profanities,killing, someone usually screaming “Noooooooooo!” and always defending a helpless (but ridiculously sexy) female. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
      Another problem with modern action movies (or just movies made for the masses anyway) is that they are so jam-packed with crap, and go by so fast that my middle-aged brain often cannot remember much of the movie I just watched when I leave the theater!
      Is it any wonder I watch Turner Classic Movies and love old historical dramas (like A Man For All Seasons) I miss intelligence at the movies. I want movies for grown ups. I want Hollywood to quit catering to the lowest common denominator. Honestly, at times I think we’re turning more into ‘Idiocracy’ than any brighter future that Gene Roddenberry imagined. Oh well, there’s still independent films and the Oscar-bait dramas that will start trickling in now.

      * The exception being ‘The Fifth Element’
      **I liked the movie because it didn’t forget that Tony Stark is only human.

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  3. I have to say, I have no interest in CGI and dislike a film which is driven by it. ST was never action-driven. Perhaps I can be accused of not moving on with the times, but the thing is, this was meant to be ST. Character and philosophy driven. I was aware of the political message within the plot about assassination without trial, but it wasn’t enough to make it Trek. I felt I as a fan was being treated with disdain, a summer blockbuster with a few titbits for the Trekkies. Shatner too has suggested that it would work best with a return to TV.

    One person reviewing it made the point that Spock had more trouble controlling his emotions than any other character! And that’s true. We need someone capable of writing an original screenplay, with respect for the original, with a new direction, which can bring in the money without insulting the original. Too much to ask?

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    • The Sound of One Man Laughing

      Yes, it is. We’re here to make money, not get philosophical about life or optimistic about humanity. I say again: read “Save the Movie!” on Slate – great destruction of modern (summer) movies, including Star Trek Whatever. Check out Star Trek Continues. And expect nothing from a team that turns Vulcan into ash because it looks cool when it happens. Bah humbug.

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      • I haven’t had a chance to check out Star Trek Continues, but I will!
        And Winston, I agree with you about CGI — it just gets too predictable after a while. It makes old movies like Spartacus (1960) all the grander.

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  4. Pingback: My Weekly Spock – Mr. and Mrs. | TrekkerScrapbook

  5. I’ll have to come back and read this after I’ve seen the second film (if I ever do). I’m not so forgiving of what Mr. Abrams has done to my Trek…

    http://logosconcarne.com/2013/12/07/its-dead-jim/

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