Overall Grade: D
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Review By: Dan Deevy
Anyone who personally knows me or is a frequent reader of my cinematic pontifications here, knows that Star Trek is the only franchise I consider to be sacred ground. Sadly, I have to report that with Into Darkness everyone’s favorite “Bad Robot” has basically urinated all over that ground.
So fair warning, this is going to be the harshest review I’ve written since my critique of the homophobic retelling of Oliver Twist back in 2003.
As a true fan of the 1960’s space odyssey, Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry and the subsequent four additional television series and ten feature films that it later spawned, I find what Lost director J.J. Abrams has done to this once proud franchise to be downright disgusting.
Now, before you dismiss everything I’m about to say because of my “fan status,” please take a moment to realize that the entire history of this franchise is directly linked to those passionate people who embraced and supported this show long before it was consider ‘cool’ to do so.
It was a group of diehard fans whose letter writing campaigns (yes, actual hand written and snail mailed letters) were responsible for keeping the show on the air for that critical third season on NBC. Later, it would be those same determined folks who continued to support the show in syndicated re-runs; which is where it truly found its legs and eventually blossomed into the Multi-Billion Dollar franchise that it is today.
So without those of us who can explain to you why you should never feed a Tribble or why we somehow managed to take the Gorn seriously in spite of the ridiculous full body costume it took to bring him to life, you would not be sitting in a theater watching this admittedly exciting, action-adventure, special-effects-laden marvel of a film.
If you’re not a fan of Star Trek and are simply looking for a mindless, fun, action movie set in space then my review is very simple… sure, why not see Star Trek: Into Darkness?
It has some great effects sequences, it’s very colorful, the overbearing soundtrack will trick you into thinking that you’re feeling things at the appropriate times and the cast is lovely to look at with the super sexy likes of Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve and the quintessential studly hero, Chris Pine.
So if all you care about is having an ‘Armageddon or a Transformers-kinda good time,’ then go for it! Even I cannot deny the fluff factor appeal of any Abrams creation including his Trek films.
If, however, you are one of those people who appreciated the uniquely inspiring, positive, hopeful vision of the future that Roddenberry brought to life in this universe… if watching and learning from human characters who had evolved beyond the petty, infantile emotions that continue to be the downfall of our
society today meant anything at all to you, then prepare to be angrily disappointed in this sequel to a popcorn re-boot that unapologetically gutted the heart of its progenitor.
So many things make Star Trek unique in the science fiction cannon but nothing more so than its aforementioned hopeful view of the future. There were countless other TV shows, radio dramas, novels, comic books, etc. over the years that depicted the future in much the same way that artists today are envisioning it – an utterly unavoidable tragic dystopia.
Whether it’s the rise of the zombies, an invasion of hostile aliens or our own weapons of mass destruction that we use to decimate our own world, one way or another, humanity is screwed.
The voice of Roddenberry, heard through the many incarnations of Star Trek, has been the only one that has consistently preached the power of mankind’s ability to overcome and to prosper. He believed in our innate capacity for growth and advancement, ultimately leading to a society of human beings who didn’t suffer from things like greed, jealousy, bigotry or hatred; and more importantly, he made us believe it too!
At a time when the world was literally on the brink of destruction, this man sat down at his typewriter and told stories that proved we not only had a future ahead of us, but it was one to look forward to.
Most people have heard the story of a young Whoopi Goldberg who became the woman she is today thanks in large part to the inspiration she drew from Nichelle Nichols’ character Lieutenant Uhura. She was the only black woman on TV who wasn’t playing the part of a maid or a servant.
She watched this series and truly believed that a future without racism, sexism or classism was possible.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. actually forbad Nichols from leaving the show in the second season as she had intended because her presence on the bridge was essential to the advancement of civil liberties in our nation.
These are just some of the reasons why Star Trek still exists almost 50 years later and why people continue to re-watch these episodes again and again. People don’t care about the dated special effects (which were cutting edge at the time mind you) because the futuristic environment was simply a means to an end. The story, the philosophy of Star Trek was what was important – not the special effects.
Sadly, in 2013, this has been reversed.
Star Trek: Into Darkness (which I will say is aptly titled) continues its skewed, militaristic view of the future where Starfleet Officers, who were once evolved, brilliant scientists joining an organization dedicated to peaceful exploration, are now army grunts looking for any excuse they can find to blow things up and murder people.
A pathetic attempt to address this fundamental shift
in tone is made at the beginning of Into Darkness
which fails miserably because of a basic lack of understanding of the Star Trek Universe
The Prime Directive is Starfleet’s General Order Number One and it states that under no circumstances are Starfleet Officers to interfere in the natural development of a society, particularly a less advanced civilization who is not yet aware of the existence of life on other planets. If necessary, they must sacrifice their own lives to prevent this from happening.
The movie opens with our brash young Captain James T. Kirk, now played by Chris Pine and his curmudgeon old pal, Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) fleeing a hoard of aliens using a sacred scroll that they had stolen from these people as the incentive needed to follow them. Meanwhile, science officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) prepares to set off a device in the heart of a volcano to keep it from erupting and killing the planets inhabitants.
Kirk and McCoy manage to escape and return to the Enterprise, which for some reason is parked beneath the ocean rather than in orbit, without being fully seen by the natives. Spock, on the other hand is trapped inside the volcano and the only way to save him is to fly the Enterprise out of the ocean, into the air, and into clear view of the natives to get close enough to beam him aboard.
Naturally, that’s exactly what Kirk does and afterwards a disapproving Spock lectures him about violating the Prime Directive.
Here’s the problem with this sad little attempt to embrace some genuine Star Trek philosophy – they had already violated the Prime Directive by stopping the volcano from erupting!
A species that was ‘supposed’ to be wiped out by a natural disaster on their own planet wasn’t because of their interference. But that’s never discussed. The moral argument to justify this interference is never made. Those insightful morality plays are the ones that make the entire concept of the Prime Directive and Starfleet’s purpose and policies in general, complex and interesting.
But all they cared about was having an excuse to raise the ship out of the ocean because visually it looked ‘cool.’ But even that didn’t make any sense in terms of the story.
Putting aside for a moment the fact that they entirely missed the point of the Prime Directive, they do say that they don’t want to be seen by the inhabitants on the surface so they can’t raise the ship out of the ocean to save Spock. OK. Well then how the hell did they get the ship there in the first place? Did they fly in late at night and submerge a 190,000 ton starship underwater while everyone was fast asleep and temporarily completely deaf?
And even if THAT were the case, what the hell is the point
of turning the Enterprise into a submarine in the first place? A primitive species with zero technological development wouldn’t exactly be able to see the ship in orbit, so why would they have to land the ship in the water a short distance away from the inhabitants village?
I’ll tell you why, they didn’t! They just needed an excuse to do their little visual trick so it could be used in the trailers to make it look like they were doing something new and different.
This is only one example of the J.J. Abrams Prime Directive which states, style and visually interesting shots which can be achieved thanks to FX technology will never be overlooked or not utilized because of the inconsistencies they will cause to the story, the characters or the overall Star Trek Universe. Style trumps substance every single time. So sayith J.J.
I could go on with a million more examples of this but there really isn’t any point. If you could care less about what I just said in the last couple of paragraphs then you’ll have fun. But, for my fellow Trekkies, be warned because this movie is lousy with stuff like this.
The fact is J.J. Abrams has admitted many times that he wasn’t a fan of Star Trek because he found it too philosophical and ‘over his head.’ So he dumbed it down to please a mass audience and in doing so he has robbed it of everything that made it special.
In a month or so, another ‘Blockbuster Special FX’ movie with bigger and better visuals will hit theaters and the casual viewers who stumbled into theaters for Into Darkness will have forgotten about the 2 hours they spent with the Abrams version of Star Trek and that will be that. The studio will have made its money and will no doubt hail it as an enormous success.
But no one will actually care. No lasting impact will have been made.
In decades to come people will not revisit these movies and point to them as much needed beacons of light and hope in a truly dark time. And if that fact alone doesn’t prove what a disgrace these films are… if it doesn’t clearly paint the picture of the injustice that has been done to the legacy of a man whose sole desire was to help us to recognize the best parts of ourselves, I can’t imagine what would.
After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.