I must say, I do harbour a fondness for obsessives. You know what I mean: men and women who take their passion for a particular subject to extreme levels. As Cthulhu is my judge, how could I not relate to them, since I have my own grand obsessions?
But Star Trek enthusiasts? Man, we are onto a whole different pinnacle there! It must take a really dedicated fan (atic) perseverance beyond that of your run-of-the-mill nutcase to keep the continuity of five separate TV series and twelve feature films, over the course of near enough half a century, straight in their Data-like brains. So kudos in that regard.
But do you folks have to be so damned mean to each other? You see, I left off looking at anyone else’s reviews of Star Trek: Into Darkness until I had my own written, below. And now that I’m looking at them I would have to say that I’m…uh, surprised. Look, I’ve always enjoyed the Trek universe and most of the movies (although I’ll probably lose all credibility with the die-hards by saying that I’ve seen Insurrection several times AND want to go to that hippy planet when I die), but it has not been in a slavish way.
That’s why I was, well, taken aback at the vehemence on the web concerning director J.J. Abrams and his latest outing. You are all admirers of that fictional universe—I mean, you do know it’s all made up, don’t you? —so why do you have to curse at each other? Even using the C-word, for heaven’s sake, just because you disagree on a definition of what the Prime Directive is?
The Vietnam War was still limping towards its undignified close when I was a young fella; and the Cold War was at its height. So it was great for us to have a TV show that had– on the deck of a wonderful starship– a mixture of Russians, Americans, Brits, Chinese and Americans. They also had a mixture of black, white and yellow. Come to that, they had guys with pointy ears who looked like Satan; and they had green, blue, red individuals, you name it…and everybody was trying to get along for the common good. It was an episode of the sixties series that showed the first inter-racial kiss. It was between Kirk and Uhura and led to that episode being banned in some states for many years. So in its own way it was a great show for preaching tolerance. Yet fast-forward five decades and you have people who profess to be in love with all things Trekkey going at each other’s throats because they can’t agree on what the Prime Directive is. Dear oh dear, get a grip.
Anyway, since it will no doubt prove to be my Prime Directive to upset the more anally retentive and pedantic amongst you Trekkers, here is my take on what I thought was a very enjoyable voyage to where we’ve boldly gone before.
Believe it or not—and this is not to belittle the rest of the movie– my favourite part was the film’s prologue.
We open on a pre-warp drive planet which the crew of the Enterprise have been asked to do a survey of; and in keeping with that famous Prime Directive they have been warned not to show themselves or to interfere in the planet’s natural destiny. Unfortunately that means that they will have to sit back and watch whilst a bloody great chain-reaction tears the place apart. And since they are naturally not keen on doing this, Spock is sent on a perilous mission to try to avert catastrophe, whilst the starship hides itself at the bottom of the sea. And as if that wasn’t interfering with ‘destiny’ enough the natives see the Enterprise (in a spectacular piece of footage) as it emerges from beneath the waves and blasts off into the sky.
Now when I say that the inhabitants are primitive, think of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto; and actually the comparison is quite apt, because just as the lives of those people were changed, at the conclusion to that great movie, by the arrival of the Spanish ships of the Old World, so are the lives of this indigenous population bound to be altered by the awesome sight that they have just witnessed. In fact this sequence closes with them beginning to sketch an outline of the starship—and to begin to worship it.
I found this fascinating because I could imagine their descendents, in centuries to come, laughing at the beliefs of their ancestors; or perhaps even formulating a von Daniken-type ‘Chariots of the Gods’ scenario around them.
I’m not sure that I understand this Prime Directive stuff, anyway. What’s wrong with giving a planet of humanoids a bit of a hand-up on the evolutionary ladder? What would have happened if Stanley Kubrick’s mysterious monoliths hadn’t poked their flat celestial noses into our business in 2001: A Space Odyssey? We would never have discovered how important weapons were in order for us to kill each other and…Oh, wait a minute. Now I get it.
In any case, when they get back to Earth Starfleet is rightly pissed off at the PD being blithely ignored by the arrogant Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and he finds himself demoted.
However, Starfleet is about to receive a severe wake-up call in the form of a renegade member called John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has been let loose on a mission of mischief by the warlike Admiral Marcus, played by the great Peter Weller.
Just as an aside, I found the film’s take on terrorism, not to mention the dubious morality of pre-emptive attacks to be interesting. I wonder how Americans viewed this, all things considered. But here is not the place—or is it?—to be looking at American foreign policy.
I don’t wish to give too much of the film’s plot away. Suffice to say the script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof keeps things moving along at a pretty ferocious pace, yet still allows most of the characters to continue to grow into their roles. Kirk definitely ends this film a man more suitable to being a captain than previously and Zachary Quinto as Spock and Zoe Saldana as Uhura also impress. I confess that I groaned when I heard that Scotty (Simon Pegg) had been given a bigger role, but as he takes it seriously this time around and manages to keep the ‘humour’ to a minimum that’s not bad. And talking of really witty one-liners Karl Urban as the grumpy Dr. McCoy continues to be one of my favourite characters.
Alice Eve joins the cast as the soon-to-be (if it follows previous continuity) important character of Dr. Carol Marcus. And may I just say here that the shot of her in bra and panties is totally gratuitous, sexist, panders to the lowest common denominator, has no relevance to the plot whatsoever and that I completely approved of its inclusion. In fact I trust that the inevitable director’s cut will have a much longer shot.
Given that this isn’t really a reboot as such but is an alternative timeline to that of the original ten films I find the cameos of Leonard Nimoy to be important in keeping us reminded of the two realities. Although several people (seems that you weren’t the only one, Darren!) thought that his appearance here was just to give unnecessary exposition and basically let his other self save the day.
One thing that I absolutely did not get, however, was remaking one of the best scenes from one of the best films of the series. That’s as much as I’ll say, but it was the first time that I felt that there was a little disrespect shown. And they made a balls of the scene into the bargain.
Leaving that aside, the story is gripping and some of the set-pieces are jaw-dropping. I can’t resist mentioning (and there are clips in the trailers anyway) the fall to Earth of the giant military starship. It crashes down in San Francisco Bay where its momentum causes it to plough well into the city itself. It’s one of those scenes that you’re glad you saw on a big screen.
And as for the design of the city itself: one of the best things about getting this on DVD when it is released will be freeze-framing some sections just to admire the incredible detail. And of course, I shall also be freeze-framing Dr. Carol Marcus in her underwear. Just in the interests of research, of course.
Here is a classic interview with the original cast (and author Harlan Ellison) on Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow show from ‘way back in 1976. In other words before any of the movies. Watch how deForest Kelley can smoke! And him a doctor! (McCoy).