Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

STAR TREK INTO  DARKNESS            C           
USA  (132 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  J.J. Abrams              Paramount [us]

Lacking the humor and flair of the earlier STAR TREK (2009), this second J.J. Abrams stab at Star Trek (1966 – 1969), the legendary but now 37-year old Gene Roddenberry developed sci-fi TV show, more closely resembles STAR WARS (1977 – present), and its computer generated action adventures in outer space, where it’s no accident that Abrams has been chosen to direct the next STAR WARS movie.  Gone, however, is any trace of personality or clever character development that defined both the TV show and the earlier film, as this is pure stereotype throughout, expressed entirely through worn out cliché’s that have all been done better before.  So in effect, what feels like retread and rehashed TV is played out as purely conventional Hollywood material, a large-scaled exhibition that amounts to little more than a demolition derby, where with a boy-like wonder its creators get to blow stuff up.  How this became mainstream entertainment is Hollywood’s insistence upon repeating well-established formulas that have worked in the past.  The new Hollywood, in an era of financial instability, doesn’t trust new ideas or imagination, as there’s no built-in formula for success.  So everything looks and feels like a TV rerun, only larger, expanded to an immense scale, usually showcased on 3D screens, where the emphasis has shifted from acting and human drama to working almost exclusively with computers, where the human factor is nearly non-existent.  The video game look and sound of STAR WARS in the late 70’s has arrived, through the evolution of technology, to the point where computer generated battle sequences and explosions have become the standard bearer for Hollywood movies.  This is what America exports around the world, filling movie theaters with simulated war games, where the good guys routinely violate their prime directive for a supposedly larger moral objective, suggesting the rules of engagement exist only in theory, as the wily, battle hardened veterans always find ways to make an end run around commonly accepted practices. 

The original 60’s Star Trek TV series was actually conceived during the Vietnam War, where the Prime Directive, never explicitly spelled out, but suggests modern cultures with their more advanced technologies may not interfere in the evolution of another developing society, was actually a reflection of the writer’s sentiments that America had no business in Vietnam.  While the Prime Directive was routinely made light of, “I prefer to think of it as the Prime Suggestion,” by Captain James T. Kirk, the truth of the matter is that while this was the ideal objective in the abstract, it was, in reality, routinely ignored on any number of occasions, whenever Kirk felt the end justified the means.  In the post-Bush era of  Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and the Afghanistan incursions, there’s something ugly and cynical about the ease by which moral guidelines are routinely ignored in the movies, no doubt a mirror reflection of society’s apathetic compliance, but these transgressions are being made by the military branch’s flagship ambassador starship while supposedly carrying out the highest ideals of civilization, where the nonchalant hero (again Captain Kirk) seems to be saying oops, sorry about that, with little more seriousness than the wink of an eye.  It’s actually built into Kirk’s recalcitrant character from the beginning that he’s a reckless and cocky, hot shot, becoming the only student at Starfleet command to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test, earning a commendation for original thinking when he reprogrammed the computer, making a “no-win scenario” winnable.  It’s this kind of thinking that supposedly expresses Kirk’s stubborn individualism, where it’s a fine line between swaggering heroism and being sent to the brig for insubordination.  The film opens with exactly this kind of impossible situation, where against all odds the Captain must consider the unthinkable, where rescuing a single member from his crew could jeopardize the lives of all the others, and of course a brash and daring rescue mission, even though successful (was there ever any doubt?), gets him in trouble back home with Starfleet command, stripping him of his position as captain of the Enterprise.     

While improperly maligned, seemingly unjust, and downright unthinkable (as who wants to watch an episode with someone else in command?), this quickly becomes the least of our concerns, as in true GODFATHER III (1990) fashion, there is an intruder in the ranks, like Harry Potter’s Voldemort risen from the dead files of the Starfleet archives, someone with near supernatural powers who quickly threatens to destroy the balance of power and peaceful stabilization in the universe.  Escaping to an uninhabitable region of Klingon territory, this outlaw, played with British calm by Benedict Cumberbatch, turns out to be none other than the notorious villain Khan, played originally on TV by Ricardo Montalbán, reprising the role in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), though Cumberbatch bears no resemblance whatsoever to the evil ruthlessness of the character.  In fact, in a curious  twist, one of Starfleet’s own megalomaniacal commanders goes even more haywire, Alexander Marcus, played by Peter Weller, though it appears he’s channeling Richard Widmark’s demented film noir persona. It is Marcus that revives the military trained Khan from his cryogenic sleep, fearing war with the Klingons, where he works on developing top secret Starfleet weapons and battleships under a cover identity before he rebels, carrying out a series of attacks for the rest of the picture.  While there are plenty more references to the TV series, most are lame, poorly written, and pitifully undermined by the endless battle sequences that exclusively drive the action, with a single exception.  As the Enterprise, apparently sabotaged, comes under a blistering attack, engines stalled, losing warp power and attack mode, where the ship is in flames and people are dying by the second, Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg), who’s oblivious to what’s been happening as he’s been elsewhere, is beamed onboard the ship as it suddenly goes into a nosedive from engine failure, where he hilariously utters:  "One day I’ve been off this ship!  One bloody day!” STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS - Character Profile - Scotty - YouTube  (1:06).  It’s a refreshing return to character, where other than that, the best that we’re treated to is a lover’s quarrel between Spock and Uhura (Zachary Quinto and Zoë Saldana) during the middle of another ferocious assault.  Chris Pine plays Kirk with the same kind of bland disrespect for authority, as if it’s been programmed into him, while Leonard Nimoy makes a brief appearance, breathing more life into his few seconds, albeit a reminder of just what we’re missing.     

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