Star Trek: Into Darkness
A movie franchise is the Holy Grail for a filmmaker, guaranteeing his story will be continued over a number of interconnected projects. It can ensure the creative people on both sides of the camera. While any genre is susceptible to attaining this lofty goal it seems that traditionally movies in the science fiction and horror do appear to have a greater propensity to string the story and characters alone. Within the realm of Sci-Fi there are two franchises that reign supreme and both are still going strong after a respectable number of decades; ‘ Star Wars’ and ‘ Star Trek’ . They have helped to redefine the genre, how fans interact and provided the motivation for major cinematic innovation. More to the point for this consideration the latest re-imagination of the Star Ship Enterprise as offered with ‘Star Trek into Darkness’. Normally I’m not a big fan of reinventing previous films no matter if they are referred to as re-imagining, reboot or re-interpretation. In too many instances it is a politically correct way of saying a cheap knock off of something much better. The one exception may be a semantically fine line but it is valid. If the original work is a classic, something that made a significant impact on our culture, then it is the right of each generation to remold it to better fit their sensibilities and world view. The traditional example is ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but the Bard doesn’t have a monopoly of this phenomenon, most would concede that Gene Roddenberry’s ‘ Star Trek’ universe has effected a profound influence on our society for over half a century.
Unlike the inferior reboots that have proliferated in the Cineplex ‘Star Trek into Darkness’ was expertly crafted by a true visionary whose talents have been manifested in both television and film, J.J. Abrams. With a resume of popular and influential television as ‘Lost’ , ‘Alias’ and ‘Fringe’ accompanied by movies such as ‘ Cloverfield’ and ‘ Super 8’ there is one thing that stands out through his extensive body of work; he is a brilliant innovator especially when it comes to the use of visual techniques that consistently raise the industrial bar of excellence. Recently he reaffirmed his place at the apex of Sci-Fi filmmakers by directing new offerings of both ‘ Star Trek’ and ‘ Star Wars’ ; an unparalleled coup that has driven intense discussion in the convention circuit. For something as visually intense, particularly the first film in the franchise to be released in True 3D, the very devoted fans demand nothing short of something spectacular. While Abrahams demonstrated with the first of his ‘ Star Trek’ films, that he was intent on taking the established canon and rearranging it to best suit his own vision of the universe. Such rearrangements usually incites cries of heresy but under Abrahams direction the results are so incredibly executed than even diehard fans have to admit he propelled the franchise successfully into the new millennium.
The Federation has dispatched the Enterprise to the primitive planet of planet Nibiru to perform a sociological examination of their culture. A massive volcanic event threatens to destroy the indigenous population compelling Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his Science Officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto) to surreptitiously intervene. Their actions had to be covert in accordance with the prime directive, but when Spock’s life is placed in dire peril Kirk acts saving his friend but revealing the presence of a far superior technology. Recalled to Earth Kirk is reduced to first officer while the original captain of the Enterprise, Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), is given the command. This doesn’t last long though since Kirk regains the big chair when Pike is killed and the Federation needs the Enterprise to leave immediately on a crucial mission. A facility of the Federation’s secret intelligence division, Section 31, is bombed by rouge Starfleet agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Kirk is charged with terminating Harrison. A disagreement over a new prototype of a photon torpedo results in a personnel shakeup that is certain to ripple through the fan base like a super nova. Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) resigns when denied permission to inspect the weapon resulting in Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is promoted to chief engineer and Dr. Carol Wallace (Alice Eve), a science officer due to her familiarity with weapons. Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are in their familiar roles and in this case are both advocates of capturing Harrison instead of assassinating him as directed.
The story deployed here may seem to the jaded as derivative taking elements from several factions of the franchise and blending them together. While there might be an element of validity to that viewpoint it doesn’t properly acknowledge the right expressed by Mr. Abrahams to retrofit the elements of the franchise to suit his vision. Considering the proven success of how his imagination manifests even the most reticent fan is sure to be won over. One point that does push the envelope is the particulars of the enduing that is a complete reversal of a scene beloved in the ST: TOS film series. Kirk’s most infamous adversary, Khan Noonien Singh was a challenge for the actor selected to assume this iconic role, Benedict Cumberbatch, perhaps best known as the titular character in yet another modernization of a classic, Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series. This was a brilliant stroke of casting brining in an actor who could bring the proper gravitas to this pivotal role. In every instance Abrahams had the ideal person in the proper place.
As expected the visuals are stunning. Abrams fills the screen with images and effects that are mind blowing. The genius that is J.J. Abrams is shown in how the imagery supports the story never overwhelming it. It is so easy for a movie of this type to fall into the pitfall of sizzle of steak but with Abrams at the helm the story is always of paramount importance. In keeping with his style he engages your ears and ears with the effects, lighting and staging while the mind is kept busy, fully immersed in a story that exhibits many layers and more complexity than usual fir a big budget Sci-Fi action blockbuster. Abrams tells a fully formed story in such a way that will have your senses reeling.
The current technology used to create the illusion of depth is still relatively new. Most of the filmmakers attempting to infuse it into their movies are still at the stage of gimmickry. Abrams understands how to create a world fully formed in his imagination and craft it into something he can share with his audience. Just recall the 3D block letters that helped define the look and feel of ‘Fringe’ and extrapolate the innovation to an entire movie. Abrams has an innate understanding of imagery and, more importantly, hoe to bring it realistically across to the audience. This venerable franchise is in the best possible hands.