“Like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.”

WARNING: This is my rant about Star Trek Into Darkness. Spoilers lie ahead, but there will be no spoiler-text. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and do not wish to have any clue or hint revealed unto you, don’t read this post.

I’ve caught two showings of Star Trek Into Darkness so far. Before I go further, please understand: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the most important and greatest movie, and arguably the most important and greatest piece of any form of art, of all time. So I’m too emotional about this whole situation to give a coherent review.

Instead, I’ve cobbled together an online chat from a few days before the movie came out, a transcription of the rambling voice memos I made on the way home from the first viewing, and some additional commentary after the second viewing.

Prologue

DR HMNAHMNA: I just started the Federalist Papers not too long ago. Haven’t had a chance to get very far yet.



VDV: You know they ratify the Constitution at the end, right?


DR HMNAHMNA: I’ve heard, yes.


VDV: Speaking of spoilers, I’m worried about the new Trek movie.


DR HMNAHMNA: You are?


VDV: I am. The few clips they’ve released suggest strong doses of re-tread. And not necessarily well-done retread.


DR HMNAHMNA: Are you worried that there are just enough hints to conclude that oh never mind IMDB even says the villain is Khan.


VDV: No, not just that. I can live with a Sikh emperor being played by a pasty-ass Brit. I think. But now that the very large cat is out of the flimsily-constructed, tiny and wet paper bag, the clip of two hands on opposite sides of transparent aluminum really worries me that they couldn’t come up with anything better than a rehash of the scene at the end of The Greatest Movie Ever Made.



DR HMNAHMNA: I just want to know how many of these people have actually seen “Space Seed.”


VDV: I’m sure it will be fine for everybody who hasn’t seen the original Trek shows/movies. But screw those people, they don’t have 30+ years invested in this franchise. I’m worried that the third or fourth time I see it in the theater, I’m going to be really disappointed.

Voice Memo 1

I’m torn. I’ll have to see it again. The franchise needs to be taken away from JJ Abrams before he… I don’t know. Taking two movies to set up what you’re really trying to get at is getting tiresome. Bond had a taste of that.

There’s the classic… there’s good old fashioned Shakespeare, and then there are the homages like the Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet, or The Lion King. Sometimes it’s really well done, like Lion King. Baz’s movie, there’s something to like about it, but ultimately… it was Wendy’s, it was Waffle House– which is fine sometimes, but other times you need… a real steak, and some asparagus, and some wine. A real meal that you plan your entire day around. Old Trek was literate. This was…

I’ll see it again. It was far more enjoyable than more than a few iterations of Trek. Abrams is so talented, so obviously talented and yet he still doesn’t quite get it. It could have been so damn good, involving ALL the same characters. It could have been so good. And yet it lost something that the original “Space Seed” and the original Khan had. Now, it wasn’t going for the same thing, but it just lost something.

Check that, I don’t know if it lost something. It changed something. Kind of like the theme of Wrath of Khan was so much different from the theme of “Space Seed”, yet the same character was there. This? Different theme… I’m not… I don’t know. I’m torn. It wasn’t awful. But it’s just… I couldn’t look past certain problems. Storywise, fine. The story holds up, I think, much better than the first movie’s story. Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. We’ll see.

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Whoever… I forget where I saw this comment: they need to give the franchise… let Abrams produce it, but somebody else needs to write these stories, somebody– somebody needs to go over this and help this Trek mature. Right now it’s Starfleet Babies. And you can make a slam-bang action thriller AND make it cerebral AND make it good. But just slow down. This was a Tumblr movie. This was a blog post. This was a Pinterest. And Wrath of Khan was High Art by comparison. It WAS Moby Dick. It WAS Lear.

There’s so much to like about this movie and so much to go, “Well, THAT was a blown opportunity.”

Harrison did not have to be Khan. Harrison could have been, like, Joachim [one of Khan’s henchmen], the guy who’s trying to free and liberate Khan and set him up for a big reveal later. It felt like they tried to cram way too much in there. And you look at Wrath of Khan, they put a lot in there, too, and yet it worked better. A love interest out of nowhere, a son out of nowhere, Moby Dick and King Lear, and it worked. And this movie… I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting old. But that’s what was so good about Wrath of Khan. It was about longstanding themes, it was meaningful. And– and– look, I respect what Abrams was trying to do with family, I thought it worked well. It just should have been better. And I’m just tired of seeing movies that should have been better.

Oh well.

Voice Memo 2

If you’re going to steal great moments– there’s nothing wrong with homage, there’s nothing wrong with stealing– but if you’re going to do it, do it deftly. The– [exasperated gasp] No need for– “KHAAAAAAAAN!” It didn’t work in this movie. I lost track of who all was crying in this movie. It got tiresome, and it loses its emotional impact after a while. Um, sending the flag officers into dangerous situations got tiresome after a while. Whatever.

Voice Memo 3

It’s one thing to want to introduce the franchise to a new generation and all that stuff, but if you’re going to do these obvious homages… at least do them well. “MY NAME. IS. KHANNNNNNNN.” There’s no reason to do that. There’s no reason to do that unless you’re trying to shock the people who already know the story. And if that’s what you’re trying to do, you did a %^&%*# job of it, JJ. If you’re trying to introduce it to a new generation, there’s no reason to beef up that line the way you did. How bout “My name is Khan.” “Khan?” “Just Khan.” Like Montalban did in Space Seed. Nice and simple. Oh well.

[By the way… meeting some guy whose name is “Napoleon” may not elicit much of a reaction. But imagine finding out that his last name was “Bonaparte”– yeah, he’s THAT Napoleon. THAT’S how the bridge crew should have reacted to learning that the “Khan” in the Sick Bay was Khan Noonien Singh. You know, the major (fictional) historical figure who conquered a quarter of the planet and then disappeared into space.]

Voice Memo 4

The kicker is that there were a lot of really well-handled and smart moments in there. Kirk just calmly waking up after two weeks in a coma… that’s the one time they avoided the cliche, that was really nice. Instead of “OH MY GOD, HE’S ALIVE, OH MY GOD!” That was a nice touch. The dressing down that Pike gave Kirk was awesome. Very good. Kirk’s deduction [about Khan’s plan to lure the flag officers into the conference room in San Francisco] was good, but then we go into bang-bang, one thing right after another mode. And that was kind of irritating. Instead of solving the problems with the script, they throw so much at you that they hope you don’t notice.

Collected Post-Second-Viewing Thoughts

They didn’t forget about the impact of the first movie: the transwarp-beaming tech is still around, and is put to clever use. The destruction of Vulcan has an obvious lingering emotional impact on Spock. That’s appropriate, but he was still a little too unstable for my taste. And Starfleet has became very paranoid, which is appropriate considering Vulcan’s destruction and Earth’s near-destruction. So kudos to Abrams for that.

But it wouldn’t be Trek without plot holes, inconsistencies, and other glaring flaws, so…

Why is it that they can scramble and reassemble you on a sub-atomic level, but they can’t fix Pike’s limp?

And why did JJ mess around with the warp effect? I loved it in the first movie because of its simplicity. So what does he do? He adds a blue sparkly twinkly vapor trail. He Twilighted it.

And Admiral Marcus’s ship is the USS Vengeance? Really? You don’t think you’re laying it on too heavy there?

And they fly to Q’onoS, the Klingon home world, and not a single ship intercepts them on the way? It’d make more sense if it were, say, a distant Klingon outpost.

And how did Spock somehow miss that he himself was violating the Prime Directive by freezing the volcanic eruption? Was there any good reason that they put the ship underwater and sent five bridge officers down to tinker with the volcano instead of, say, launching the device or beaming it into the volcano?

And the fact that Spock screams “KHAAAAAAAAAN!” tells me that you don’t understand why Kirk screamed “KHAAAAAAAAAN!” It wasn’t out of anger or hatred or frustration. It was to fool Khan into thinking he’d won.

And how many times do you have to show those shots of the Enterprise with that music playing before you realize you’re overplaying and cheapening those moments?

And worst of all– JJ– you couldn’t come up with anything better than reenacting the end of Wrath of Khan? Or recycling large chunks of the dialogue? Was flipping the Kirk and Spock roles your version of being clever? And have you considered blaspheming other great art? Would your Scarlett walk out on Rhett in the end? Would your Tom Robinson defend Atticus Finch in court? Would your Don Vito whack Solozzo after Michael is hospitalized?

Abrams’s attempt at rehashing the most profound and glorious and noble moment in all of Trekdom shook me to my very core. Like the shooting-up scene in Pulp Fiction, I have to ignore it to enjoy the rest of the movie.

Despite everything you just read, the more I think about this movie, the more I liked it. I hope you enjoy it and pay to see it so they’ll make more big-screen Trek, but I also hope they give the franchise to a better filmmaker.

3 comments

  1. I like the movie except for the following points:

    Spoiler Alert!

    1. Shaky Cameras – I am sick and tired of this. If JJ does this for the Star Wars movies, I may skip them.
    2. Excessive fast cuts – I expect this from an inexperienced Chris Nolan in Batman Begins, but not from Abrams in his second film. Talk to your editor!
    3. Loading too much into a movie – There is no need for more than three climaxes in a movie. The Abyss seemed to introduce this is a dramatic film. Turning Trek into Indiana Jones is annoying.
    4. Political speechifying – Drones are very controversial. Trek was always topical. I get it. But hammering me on the head for two hours about the government slipping into barbarism because of terrorism and using remote torpedoes to execute a rogue strategy…oh well, I was annoyed.
    5. Replication and reversal of death from Star Trek II – The august gentlemen of this publication has already discussed this.

    Besides these points, I was very entertained and loved Cumberbatch’s character. All of the actors did a decent job with what they were given or more.

    Like

  2. It is important to remember that this is the alternate universe timeline which means that the odd-numbered movies are allowed to be the good ones.

    Like

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