Thursday, June 13, 2013

No-spoilers review of Star Trek--Into Darkness
It may seem paradoxical to review a summer popcorn blockbuster movie for fans of serious cinema, but even we need our big budget action movie fix now & then. I'm not writing this for diehard Trekkies because they've already seen it and will buy the DVD--just look at all the glowing five-star reviews here.

And for them I'm sure it is a 5-star movie. But I bet most of them haven't seen Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection), the mother of all action movies, or Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels, or possibly the scariest of all action movies, Das Boot, or the sublime Spirited Away, or...thousands of other great movies.

That said, my spouse and I have seen all the Star Trek TV series and movies--along with Galaxy Quest, the very funny sendup of both Star Trek and its cast and its most avid fans. We've also seen all the Star Wars movies. And TV series like FarScape, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Continuum, Lexx (the most un-Star Trekish of all TV scifi series), Game of Thrones, Vikings, everything Joss Whedon has ever we are big fans of scifi/fantasy stuff.

My spouse & I saw Star Trek/Into Darkness last night at the local cineplex in 2D from ideal seats. And both as Star Trek fans (though not superfans) and as movie buffs, we were underwhelmed. Wasn't bad, wasn't great, wasn't memorable.

A fair comparison would be with Joss Whedon's Marvel's The Avengers. Avengers delivered all the popcorn thrills & chills that STID does, but with much more memorable characters, screenwriting, mise en scene, AND without stealing most of its ideas from other movies.

In a way you'd be best off seeing STID if you hadn't seen any Star Trek movies or TV episodes, because this is big budget fan fiction, full of references, characters, and even plotlines from other movies--mostly Star Trek, but at least one action sequence from Star Wars. I'm not griping about Kirk/Spock/Uhuru/Scotty/Doc being there. I'm griping about the movie rehashing old Star Trek shows instead of giving us something new and worthy of a series reboot.

On the plus side, we get Benedict Cumberbatch, the imposing Brit who stars in BBC's modern day retelling of Sherlock Holmes. When he's onscreen the other characters become kind of transparent (metaphorically speaking). And STID's casting is OK. Chris Pine's Cap'n Kirk certainly inhabits the uniform with the same bravado (and less hamminess) than his predecessor. Good Spock. Zoe Saldana's Lt. Uhuru is an improvement on the original. Less successful were Doc and Scotty.

But the real problem is that experienced Trek viewers have seen this movie before, one way or another. In a country with 310 million people, surely one can cook up an original Star Trek screenplay. Whedon took just as heavy a load of backstory and made an original movie out of it. Abrams has not.

I don't understand why this doesn't bother the Trekkies writing reviews here more than it did. The last straw was weaving the original Star Trek TV show thems music into the thunderous but unmemorable orchestral score for this one, during the closing credits. It was jarringly mismatched to the contemporization of this movie.

Unlike others here, I preferred the first Star Trek series reboot movie with the same main characters. It seemed less derivative and more fresh start-y.

But regardless of whether my spouse and I liked it, should YOU get the DVD and see it?

As I said, if you're a Trekkie completest that's a no-brainer.

If you're a Trekkie-light kinda person like my spouse and me (saw all the previous Trek stuff but don't go to conventions and don't live & breathe it), prrrrobably yes. Just don't get your expectations up too high.

And surprisingly, I think it'll work better on a TV screen than in the theater. I realize this is counterintuitive when it comes to big budget action movies. But JJ Abrams shot it for the TV screen: seems like half the film is count-the-pores extreme close-ups of people's faces. This is fine on a TV screen, which supports close and medium-distance shots best. In the theater--even from our ideal seats--it was sort of invasive. If you're planning on seeing it in a theater, I'd recommend sitting towards the back, contrary to where I'd sit for a movie really designed for the theater.

My favorite scene in Avengers was where Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is talking to Loki when they have him imprisoned. He doesn't realize she's actually interrogating him to find out what he knows that they need to know. The scene is subtle and rests on Johansson's low-keyed but considerable acting talent. I mention this because there's nothing like this in STID. STID puts everything in bright primary colors. Apparently they didn't have a big enough budget for subtlety.

Another recent big-budget sci-fi blockbuster, Avatar, was not a film my spouse and I carry around in our hearts like we do truly great movies, but overall it was considerably better than Star Trek Into Darkness. More original screenplay, more interesting visuals, more engaging storyline. Except for Benedict Cumberbatch and his character. He was more memorable than his counterpart in Avatar, I admit. He was also more memorable than his counterpart in Avengers. He really has a compelling presence.

Note that I'm not comparing Star Trek Into Darkness with, say, Let Me In, the wonderful American remake of the similarly named Swedish vampire movie, starring an amazing 12 year old Chloe Grace Moretz. Or with the True Grit remake. You could say both those films have different audiences.

But this film's audience--outside diehard Trekkies--is the same as for Avengers and Avatar and other blockbusters that aren't scifi even. Against them, and outside any commitment you might have to the Star Trek franchise, this is just an OK movie. I don't think the cast is to blame for this. It's the director, who just isn't as good a movie director as Cameron or Whedon.

I have more specific complaints but I promised a no-spoilers review, so those must wait. One hint though: Benedict Cumberbatch's character's name doesn't fit him at all. Seems like a minor point, but get enough of them and they start to add up to breaking the fourth wall. At least all the characters play it straight--no nudge nudge wink wink moments in the film. That would have been the kiss of death.

Lastly, though, the movie ends on a SEQUEL COMING SEQUEL COMING note, so if you're planning on seeing the next in the series you'll need to see this so you know what's going on. Just see it on DVD instead of in the theater, with a computer or smart phone handy to tide you over the slow parts...

(you can also see this in's STID reader review section)

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

It's honestly one of the best sci-fi films I've seen in a while, ever since, well….the ’09 Star Trek. Good review Ehkzu.