Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): First Thoughts

Crikey. Even the title doesn’t make sense.  What hope then for the movie?

trekdarkFirst thoughts.  I’ll attempt to keep this spoiler-free but proceed with caution if you intend to see the film. I’ll return to this film later on in detail, but for this post I’ll try to keep things general with a few observations about the film that initially bugged me. For the most part, the same things that bothered me about the 2009 reboot concern me with this movie too. Maybe even more so.

I’m beginning to think that all the concerns about over-the-top, excessive set-pieces and excessive cgi in modern films are just a smoke-screen distracting us from the real culprit regards bad movies, and that’s the scripts. Because scripts are pretty bad these days, full of howling plot-holes. But most of us just moan about the OTT visuals and cgi, while others just love all that stuff anyway and are so distracted by it they don’t seem to care/notice about the plot-holes.  I’m quite alarmed at so many fawning reviews of this movie, raving about how wonderful it is. I cannot believe these reviewers saw the same film I did. It reminds me of Oblivion– not a terrible movie by any means, but most reviews champion it as the best sci-fi movie in years, completely ignoring all the massive plot-holes in it. Yes it looked very good but the script took huge liberties with the audience’s goodwill and common-sense, and I think that’s very true of this film too.

I guess it depends on what you want from a movie. If you just want dumb, popcorn entertainment with bang-for-your-buck eye-candy, then yeah, Star Trek Into Darkness, dumb title aside, serves it up on a platter. But too often that whole ‘popcorn entertainment’ argument is used as an excuse for bad storytelling and I think we deserve more.  How about thoughtful characterisation, character arcs, profound ideas, emotional involvement. Realistic effects of violence even rather than cartoon, superhuman displays? I walked out of this screening thinking back to Blade Runner, and Harrison Ford’s Deckard being bruised, aching and battered after his fights with Zhora and Leon- his cuts and bruises, his bloody nose. This is a hero who hurt, felt pain, got post-traumatic shakes that sent him to the nearest drink. Nowadays our heroes are like Supermen from Krypton. Think about what some of the characters in this Star Trek film go through with nary a scratch or a bruise.

Fully accepting that Star Trek is your typical sci-fi/space fantasy nonsense, I do find these reboots somewhat disconcerting. Disclosure here- I’m a fan of the original 1960s Star Trek. I couldn’t really care less for The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine or Voyager etc. so I don’t consider myself a die-hard Trekkie or Trekker or whatever else they call themselves these days. But I do love the old show, hammy acting and creaky sets, dodgy costumes and the rest. For all the many faults of that old show, it always seemed to make sense somehow.  But even taking into account the inherent silliness of Star Trek‘s premise, these new films do seem to have gone too far.  I also believe they are being very cynical in how they are using established characters and settings and then not have to be faithful or honest with it, simply because they can use the lame excuse of the  ‘alternate timeline’ nonsense and pretty much get away with everything. The writers say they are being honest and careful of the shows mythology but on the evidence of these two films I don’t believe it. There are awkward moments in the new film that replay certain moments from the second original Trek movie in particular for no reason at all other than to manipulate the audiences expectations. It doesn’t earn any emotional pay-off; indeed it comes across as ill-judged and embarrassing.  It makes me nervous regards how new film-makers are going to treat the future Star Wars movies. I’ll go into the scene in particular in  a later blog once everyone has seen the film, but if you have seen it, you will know what I’m alluding to.

Even set in a far-future setting, a story or mythology needs to have an internal logic, a self-consistency if you will.  A set of parameters in order for anything to, well, mean anything.  In a time-travel story it might be not being able to interfere with your own timeline, such as killing your grandfather, or meeting yourself in the past and changing time,  and all that paradox involves. In Star Trek, it might be the use of a Universal Translator to explain why everyone speaks English,  or the vast distances between stars, and the time it takes to travel to them. It might take days at Warp One, or hours at Warp Nine, but all that makes the distances mean something. Stuff like that. The vast canvas of the galaxy means nothing at all if you just rip all that up just to suit a lazy plot mechanic (and don’t get me started on the Magic Blood. Yes. Magic Blood! But I digress….)

Here’s what is wrong with the rebooted Star Trek: like Prometheus and so many other recent films, it doesn’t really make any sense, the writers have dismantled all internal logic, let rip with all the plot holes they can muster, and then tried to hide it with madcap pacing and loud explosions and huge effects, and yes, in the case of this Trek reboot, endless lens flare. Everything serves the ‘wow’ factor, like in so many modern blockbusters.  Just like in the 2009 movie, they always seem to go too far with everything. Are we really to believe that a character can transport himself from on board a shuttle on Earth, all the way to the Klingon Homeworld? Even if you allow for something as silly as that to pass, then why not follow it through- why can’t the other characters immediately give chase by doing the same, even though the guy who invented the tech is a part of the crew? Why risk triggering interstellar war and a Starship’s crew of 500 when you can just teleport a crack team after the fugitive?  For that matter, as soon as trouble (Kirk and his cronies) eventually turns up via old-fashioned ultra-slow starship, why not just transport himself someplace else? Its all part of the internal logic. Once it starts to break down it all caves in. If they had just stated that the guy had teleported up to a ship in orbit which then warped over to Klingon then that would be fine, job sorted.

I asked the question regards the 2009 film when it pulled a similar transporter trick; why bother with starships at all? The scriptwriters just seem to take the piss just for the hell of it, as they pull all sorts of similar tricks.  Stuck in Klingon space, Kirk picks up his communicator and has a chat with Scotty back on Earth. Doesn’t that bother anybody? It might take warp-speeds and hours/days to travel places in starships but you can use a teleporter to instantly travel across the stars and a handset communicator can give you instant one-one-one chat with anybody anywhere. They even repeat the injury later on. Hmm, I need some advice, lets ring my alternate Spock over on New Vulcan and have a quick chat.

The pace of the film is distracting too. Have modern audiences the attention span of a meat-fly? Seriously. How else to explain that modern blockbusters seem pre-occupied with loud explosions and massive effects and people running around and loud explosions and people shouting and more massive effects and more explosions and  nary a moment to pause for, maybe, a character beat or something old-fashioned like that? Do producers edit scripts by just chucking all that character motivation stuff out and instead leave all the loud fast stunt-filled stuff in? Do they keep the mad crazy pace up to the max in these movies so the audience won’t have time to pause, take stock and notice all the gaping plot-holes? I’d really like to know.


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