Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Into Darkness We Boldly Go

Hello, everyone!

This is Dave-El and welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the blog that makes other blogs cry.

And by cry, I mean the tears that come from laughing hysterically.

This weekend the El family left their fortress suburban home in the hovercraft Toyota to see Star Trek Into Darkness.

As regular readers of this blog know, this is Doctor Who country. Yep, we're Whovians in these here parts but I reckon we're quite alright breakin' bread with our Trekker brethren. (Star Wars? Pffft! They can come in to water their tauntauns but they best be movin' on.)

Before Doctor Who was revived in 2005, my wife and I were devoted followers of the Star Trek franchise. We followed Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and (God help us) Voyager. By the time Enterprise rolled around, I guess the two of us were all Trekked out.  She never watched an episode while I caught a few here and there. I would say that mostly, I liked what I saw of the show but not enough to follow on a consistent basis. 

We also followed the movies. There's a communal joy* of being in a group of people who all laugh when, say, Spock disses McCoy.

*I remember going to see the first X-Files movie and when it looked like Mulder & Scully were going to kiss, the whole theater went nuts. At home, it would've been my wife and I yelling at the TV, "Go on! Kiss her! Kiss him! Just...what? A bee? What the hell?"

When Generations came out and....yeah, we knew at the time it wasn't as good a movie as it could've been but who cares? There's Data on the big screen! And he just said "shit"?

First Contact was an instant classic but Insurrection was not; oh there were some very enjoyable bits and pieces (I, for one, found it hilarious when Deanna asked Dr. Crusher if she noticed her boobs were getting firmer from the alien planet's rejuvenating properties). But the whole of the movie was a bit of a let down. (Had it been an episode or two of the TV series, it would've played a lot better.) Then there was Nemesis. Oh God, what a mess! As the final credits rolled and the lights went up, one movie goer summed it up for all of us:

"Well, that sucked."

So the Next Generation crew did not get to go out with the bang they deserved (as the original cast got with The Undiscovered Country) but with a muddled and badly written whimper.

I wasn't sure, then, when JJ Abrams was on board to revamp the moribund Star Trek franchise. On one hand, Abrams is remarkable and gifted talent for high octane action but also strong character development. On the other hand was...the plan. Starting all over with Kirk, Spock and the gang at the beginning of their space faring careers. And I know my reaction was a big old eye roll when I saw the costumes: the color coded tunics and the short dresses on the female Starfleet personnel (not that I'm complaining, mind you). When the first ever movie to just be called Star Trek came out in 2009, it was a deftly handled mix of classic Trek and modern storytelling. I quite enjoyed it and looked forward to the next one.

Four years later and we finally get the next movie. I'm sure Paramount was anxiously chomping at the bit, frustrated over seeing their revived cash cow franchise in dry dock for so long but careful to not bother the auteur who brought it back to life, lest he bolt for, I don't know, Star Wars or something. (Surely Abrams wouldn't do THAT!)

Star Trek Into Darkness is a solid movie experience with humor, drama and action. But still, there are some recurring tropes, maybe full on clichés now, that are becoming a bit obvious, especially if one looks at the entire previous film series and the two films of the revival.

The evil Starfleet admiral. Or if not evil, at least extremely bureaucratic to be completely of no help whatsoever. Admirals in Undiscovered Country and Insurrection and once again in Into Darkness have been the source of more problems than solutions. I'm beginning to think the biggest threats to Starfleet and the Federation are its own Admirals.

The Enterprise is the only ship in the fleet. Now this has always been a conceit of any ongoing fiction where everything happens to the same group of people in the same place because...well, that's who and what the show is about.** But still, in the last act of Into Darkness, the Enterprise is....hold on...


is falling from outer space towards planet Earth. Now we've got lots and lots of drama as everybody pushes every button they can to make a hoozywhatsit turn on and save the ship until a valiant sacrifice is made and the ship and its crew are saved. Hooray!

Except...we are to understand there are no stations or ships in orbit around Earth that could, say, beam the crew off the Enterprise and then blow it up before it lands on and blows up a big chunk of Terran real estate. And then there's the matter of that SECOND ship that comes screaming down from the heavens. (Seriously, I think the only place the word "scramble" is used at Starfleet is for ordering eggs from the cafeteria replicators.)

**This was turned on its head a bit in Undiscovered Country when the Excelsior swoops in to save the Enterprise. Wow! Another ship coming to the aid of the Enterprise? And there was an episode of The Simpsons when Bart and Lisa finally figure out how to get Krusty the Clown out of trouble (again) only to be beaten to the punch by a pair of heretofore unseen and random counterparts.

Smashing the hell of the Enterprise

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn - The ship is beaten and battered so badly, it's literally limping home at the end of the movie.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - The ship is freakin' blown up and it's flaming hulk of metal plummets thru the atmosphere.
Star Trek: Generations - Oh, THIS time Geordi can't fix the umpteenth problem with the warp core and the saucer section crashes into a planet. (That's the last time we let Deanna drive!)
Star Trek: Nemesis - The whole damn front of the ship is torn off!

And we come to Star Trek Into Darkness which has the Enterprise impersonating a piñata at a birthday party for wrestlers with anger issues.

Into Darkness has some good character work. Kirk and Spock progress from where we find them at the beginning to the end where they've discovered and confront things about themselves and each other. Once again, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have pulled of the unenviable task of making these two iconic characters recognizable yet distinct from the past. Simon Pegg*** as Scotty is funny as hell and very vital to the plot. Uhuru, portrayed by the always alluring Zoe Saldana, has some strong moments (example: confronting the Klingons...alone!) and John Cho balances Sulu's inexperience with command with his natural talents for leadership. (On the other hand and I don't feel like looking this up, but whoever is playing Chekov, this falls over the ledge of parody.)

***By the way, two Doctor Who guys in Star Trek: Simon Pegg who was in the 1st series episode The Long Game; and Noel Clarke, our own Mickey Smith.

The big BIG story about this movie is Benedict Cumberbatch appearing as "John Harrison" and yes I put quotes around that because in the worst kept secret in all of movies (despite JJ Abrams' misconception that they had successfully kept it under wraps), "John Harrison" is really---and if you've made it this far, do I really need to call SPOILERS....so where was I? Oh yes, "Harrison" is...


There's a train of thought that making a big deal of keeping this a secret may have backfired. Khan is as close as you can get to a super villain in the Star Trek universe. Even non-Trekkers know who Khan is and may have been more of enticement for some more people to go see the movie and Paramount might've gotten that $100 million opening they were hoping for.

But back to Cumberbatch: he OWNS every scene he is in with his steely gaze and that low threatening rumble of a voice.

So good job guys! I'll leave it to others to drive their metaphorical trucks through your plot holes and lapses in logic but hell, that's showbiz. Me, I was entertained and that's what counts. Can't wait for the next one; just try not to make it four years, huh?

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