Star Trek Into Darkness
Directed by J.J. Abrams
My knowledge of Star Trek has large gaping black holes. When the original series came out late in 1966, the only two TV programmes I ever bothered to watch were Top of The Pops and Star Trek, and I was fond of re-runs in the 70s too. We laughed our heads off at Shatner and Nimoy’s portentously intoned pop records. I just missed The Next Generation altogether, the kids were young, and I wasn’t interested. Then in 1993, my sons were old enough to get into Deep Space Nine, and we faithfully bought the VHS videos every second Monday, eventually getting a complete set, which they were very proud of, and which ended up in the local Hospice charity shop. We also started into Voyager in 1995 and had enough residual interest to watch the first two or three of the prequel series Enterprise. And I admit it, we took the boys to a Star Trek Convention at the Royal Albert Hall (we did NOT dress up), and listened to the original Scotty, Chekhov and Sulu telling tales out of school about William Shatner, who did not come out well in them. Shatner in a survey across one hundred countries about twenty years ago, ranks as one of the best-known faces on the planet, up there with The Beatles and Chairman Mao.
I saw most of the big screen movies, including the 2009 one that leads into this, though I had to be reminded of the story afterwards, as well as the original Khan stories.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, with ‘Bones’
They haven’t gone for lookalikes exactly, but Chris Pine can channel Shatner effectively, right down to body stance, head position and lip curl. Zachary Quinto isn’t facially like Nimoy but succeeds too. After a few minutes you can accept that these are the alternate reality / parallel universe versions of Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Sulu, Chekhov and Scotty. Benedict Cumberbatch is why we went to see it, and is a first-rate villain as Khan. Alice Eve (daughter of Trevor Eve) is a useful addition for the next in the series as Admiral Marcus’s daughter, and looks exactly like a young Joanna Lumley. She also appears very briefly in her underwear, uncharacteristic of the franchise, and less appealing to many of the fan base than (say) an exploded diagram of the warp drive.
It’s an SFX feast, surprise, surprise. Characterization was always what made Star Trek interesting, and the original series employed some sci-fi classic authors: Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison, and the cardboard sets and planets filmed in gravel pits were always subsidiary to the sci-fi concept in each one. A great deal of storyline is important, and here Into Darkness has lots of plot, but too much of it is conventional backstabbing and treachery, which just happens to take place in space, and so is badly lacking in that ‘Wow! What if …?’ sci-fi factor.
I liked the future San Francisco and London, with glimpses of existing buildings in the absurdly high-rise future. You see St Paul’s nestling in London; and Alcatraz, and I’d swear you can see the Fairmont Hotel still there on Nob Hill in San Francisco. But seeing Earth a lot is the Enterprise series hallmark.
There are groan bits among the spectacle too. The Spock / Khan fight leaping from one flying vehicle to another is a cliché too far. Seen it. Seen it way too often.
They could never have done the SFX in the past, they can now … but starships the size of the Enterprise don’t make planet fall. Trust me. They’re not shaped to do it. Even under water. They lack undercarriages. The engines are at the bottom. They’re gigantic. My sons made the plastic kits. They have to be on a stand.
What is faithful to the original is that after phaser beams and so on zoom all over the place, and kill a few Klingons, good old fisticuffs wins the day, and there’s very little gore on view. There is something endearing about Kirk resolving the problem of the warp drive (it got a bit bent) by booting it back into shape by brute force. It’s like banging a faulty TV or computer screen hard with your fist. It’s even cruder than the days when a grease-spattered Scotty delved deep in the warp drive armed only with a spanner and a Philips screwdriver.