Sunday, May 19, 2013

To Boldly Go . . .

Star Trek Into Darkness has hit theaters and, boy - will this be one people talk about.  Please note that this post is NOT spoiler-free!  I'll post another reminder before I get all spoilery, but remember that you can't "unread" something, so proceed with caution.  Into Darkness is the film that made me realize how much of a Trek purist I apparently am.  I'd seen occasional episodes of the original series here and there, but didn't become a fan until college, at which time I watched late-night episodes the way some friends devoured afternoon soap operas.  I even read a slew of the novels (and let me tell you, those vary in quality!) and have been known to quote the opening line to show why splitting an infinitive isn't necessarily a bad thing.  But overall, I considered myself a rather casual fan.

Turns out I'm not.

This is J.J. Abrams' second film in the rebooted Star Trek universe which makes it a good place to talk about reboots.  Two British franchises have consistently shown how this can be successfully done - Doctor Who and the James Bond spy flicks have both gone through multiple actors in the main role and have had great success.  In a similar fashion, Star Trek has spawned multiple spin-off series (The "Picard or Kirk?" game is a perennial favorite amongst fans), but Abrams was given a different five-year mission, involving one of the trickiest problems to solve outside of the "Kobayashi Maru" simulation.  I think the comparison is apt - Abrams' task is to take these iconic characters and base them in their past incarnations while simultaneously freeing them from those interpretations.  It can be done, but there's a cost.  While parts of Into Darkness work well (I loved seeing a tribble again and Peter Weller is always worth the ticket price), the film could easily have had 15 minutes or so of actionacationaction trimmed from its heft.  (Further, the costume designer has an over-fondness for tweed that needs to be addressed.  I know - when I'm going on about costumes, it's usually to praise their creativity.  Take that as a sign of what's to come.)

And if you REALLY want to have fun with Kirk, click here.


I enjoy Chris Pine in the role of Kirk and I think he's found his footing, although this Kirk still bugs me with his "damn the torpedoes" (an apt phrase in this one, by the way) attitude that his mentor is right about - eventually, that fickle tart Lady Luck casts her eye elsewhere and people start dying.  Follow the rules, Jim, which include obeying the Prime Directive.  Nah, Kirk sneers.  There was a perfectly good ocean to hide the Enterprise beneath (yeah, makes for a cool shot as the starship rises from the waves but that giant fish that swims by the submerged porthole?  That's the shark Abrams jumps with this movie) and hey, Spock was saved from certain fiery volcanic death - which he never would have been in danger from if Kirk had followed the Prime Directive in the first place.

The casting of up-and-coming Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch was both brilliant (really - he's fabulous in the role) and troubling (an English guy playing the Indian Khan?  Isn't that more than a little Brit-centric?).  That reveal is one of the best things about the movie and the filmmakers have done a good job of keeping it under wraps.  Cumberbatch has perfected the low-volume snarl and he makes a wonderful villain and foil for Kirk in this film as his Khan provides the darkness into which the characters will walk and face themselves.

That said - good grief, how I hate alternate storyline movies.  If you're going down that rabbit hole, go watch the Buffy episode "The Wish."  Now go watch it again.  See, the only way to make alternate storylines work is to alter the characters in dramatic, life-changing ways.  No fair keeping them about half the same, then telling viewers (like me) who howl at the inconsistencies, "Well, this is a different universe.  I told you that!"  So here goes . . . 

If you 're going to steal, I've often heard that the best plan is to steal from the best.  (Hey, it worked for Shakespeare who never had an original plot in his career.)  So Abrams & Co. pilfered from the Holy Grail of Trek scripts, lifting the villain Khan Noonien Singh and plot elements from "Space Seed" and Star Trek 2:  The Wrath of Khan.  An understandable choice - Kahn is a fantastic villain - but ultimately, an unsatisfactory one for me.  Too much is borrowed and, for me, there was a boomerang effect.  I howled - literally slid down my seat laughing uncontrollably and I apologize to the people behind me - at Qinto-Spock's animal cry of, "KHANNNNNN!"  I mean - really?  Really?  You're ripping off one of the most recognizable torn-from-the-heart anguished cries?

But then again, I'd been set up for it before the opening credits with "The needs of the many . . . " bit.  The radiation chamber flip-flop was telegraphed, telephoned, and text-messaged by this stroll down Memory Trek Lane.  I was not emotionally engaged, although I liked catching names here and there (Christine Chapel is referenced and Carol Marcus, who plays such a major role in Star Trek 2 shows up here, albeit once in her underwear for reasons that seem divorced from the plot.)  And I'm annoyed at the critics who are telling me to take it easy, that this is different and I need to keep an open mind.  No, I really don't.  If I want to see the Kirk/Khan dynamic, I have the DVD on my shelf already.   (And this doesn't even get into the Uhura/Spock romance).  Just create something new - set it on the starship Sturgeon and get on with it already, but quit slapping a fresh coat of paint on what worked and telling me it's like new.  (That's it - someone needs to run the Carfax on this movie!)

All of which brings me to my second point, which has nothing to do with the movie itself.  Trust your own taste.  Many critics love this movie and good on them.  I certainly don't think they're morons or idiots or any other form of mental incompetent.  We just don't share the same opinion.  Art's like that.  Take painting as an example.  I happen to love, adore, and crave Van Gogh's landscapes (not so much his portraits, though).  The Starry Night alone is proof that the human race is worth saving.  At the same time, I really don't care for the work of his contemporary Paul Gauguin, whose work I find slightly condescending.  That doesn't make me wrong, and it doesn't make me right.  

Movies are the same way.  When I was in college, I tried hard to like the "right films."  I'd seek out critics I respected and see what they thought.  When my opinion was in line with theirs, aha! I thought.  I was "right." Not so much.  Criticism is about being able to put into words what worked, what didn't, and why. Yes, your answers and feelings may change (sometimes dramatically) as you grow and learn, but that really is what it's all about. And look - independent films aren't inherently "better" than Hollywood blockbusters (less money doesn't automatically make your work more "true") and an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes doesn't automatically make your film a good one in my book.

Taste.  Develop it.  Then trust it.

1 comment:

amnbsmdad said...

I always love your blogs, even when we don't completely agree; thanks for the reassurance that it's okay to disagree with critics you trust.(Spoilers alert, I suppose, would be good at this point.) Yes there were parts I didn't like, mainly that first scene but the rest I thought worked great. At first I thought the Spock to Spock scene was just a fun cameo for fans but the more I think about it the more I believe it was put in to remind viewers that this is a different time line. I know you covered this in your post but I think it's a great way to give fans the characters they love but have them free from conflicting story lines (like Pike dying instead of having Spock taking him back to that planet from the original pilot). Yes, they could have done this and did something original with the story and maybe they will if they go forward. Had it been up to me I would have left Kirk dead when he died, I know people would have been outraged but it was a great emotional moment.