Star-Trek-Into-DarknessAfter finally going to see Star Trek: Into Darkness last night, I cannot help but feel lost in its utter weirdness. I am no stranger to the idea of multiple worlds, or dimensions, alternate timelines and the like, but these Trek movies really don’t appear to be about that, yet are nonetheless.

Into Darkness appears to be an odd expression of cinematic art. Its not a remake, yet it isn’t a completely new and original movie.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and are worried about the plot, characters and what have you being ruined by spoilers, you should probably turn away now. There will be SPOILERS.

Let’s back things up a bit.

Okay, so I get that J.J. Abrams was hired to reinvent Star Trek, or at least reinvigorate it as a franchise, and I suppose that from box-office sales that he has to some degree, winning over old fans and introducing new ones to the franchise. But how has he done this? By giving us the same thing we had before, only in a different wrapper. Is that entirely true? No, not really, but it is annoyingly more true than not.

His first Star Trek movie took the original series, original movies and blended them into something that felt new and gave us twists on the things we had come to know, love and even swear by. It was fresh and exciting, yet ultimately a little disappointing in some areas (more of an action feel, more slapstick, etc) and ambitious in others – the time travel permutations, altered time lines and the destruction of Vulcan, etc.  It did satisfy the itch for something new, yet introduced us to this growing weirdness in this reinvented franchise.

Yeah, there I go again, the weirdness. My point is that it feels very strange to me to reinvent a franchise and have to haul out the old characters and events which we’ve become accustomed to in their old forms. Instead of reinventing and the creation of new stories and moments, we’ve gotten all the old ones turned on their sides. Oh ho, I never saw this coming because now its Kirk instead of Spock… Instead of being spellbound by new ideas, we get uhm, slightly different variations on old ones.

I think the big reason why it feels weird to me is that it reeks of revisionist history. The act of modifying old events ultimately changes the perception of those events by new and future audiences. The same was said about the revisions to the original Star Wars movies, supposedly done in the name of the true directorial vision that couldn’t be achieved at the time the films were made, but really were done to dovetail them into the new prequel movies. The modern day perception of the original movies are now irreversibly skewed in modern audiences, and have alienated the original fans. Is this the future of Star Trek as well?

Deep inside, I feel that Abrams is overstepping his bounds and sidestepping the real job he faces – creating a new, new Trek, rather than recycling an old one.  Into Darkness is a corruption of the Original Series’ Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan movies.  Its not an homage, nor a tip of the hat to the source material,  but a full toss into a food mixer and pressing frappé for little effect. The wry wink that comes out of suggesting that its come out of an alternate timeline adds a subtext as if to say “its okay – it doesn’t get rid of the old version.”  There’s even a scene with Leonard Nimoy suggesting it, which is an interesting idea, but really, should we even have to see that in our reinvigorated Trek? Shouldn’t they be out boldly going, rather than clinging nervously to thirty year old material?

Obviously the big moment in Into Darkness is its twist on the radiation saturated warp core scene that affected so many audiences in The Wrath of Khan, where Spock selflessly gives his own life to save the entire ship and shares his last moments with Kirk. In the original, it is an amazing scene, drawing upon the pathos and gravitas of not only previous movies but the moments of all of the original Star Trek series. The friendship with Spock and Kirk had reached a point where it could be, and would be, missed, if one of the two were to die.  Abram’s version is over in 5 minutes, and all the gravitas is dispersed by a blood transfusion. It is pointless and ineffective, with very little emotional impact. So why bother? Why take one of the most loved moments in science fiction cinematic history and repeat it with blatant changes, but little pay off?

It really felt like Abrams was just pissing on the original series. Making it his own, as it were. Abrams has often pointed out that he isn’t a Star Trek fan, so I presume his interest in making art with the franchise started and ended with a big paycheck. Its clear that he doesn’t have much reverence for it, so perhaps that’s why he can regurgitate so much beloved material without worrying making a mess on the floor.

Does it really matter, I hear you say? Yes, it does, but we have to face some facts: this sort of thing isn’t new. How we perceive King Arthur today is the result of several J.J. Abram’s style authors, the original being Geoffrey of Monmouth followed by Thomas Mallory, then Tennyson, etc, mish-mashing what had gone before and reinventing it into a new form that was ultimately better, and this last part is the key. The legend grew and for the better.  Abram’s take on the warp-core scene is nothing but a cheap cash in on a better, more endearing work. It falls flat and uninteresting, outside of the controversy it might bring.

It may very well be that even the diehard Trek fans don’t give a shit and are pleased just to see old material gracing the screen again, no matter how dilute, so long as Trek is back in the limelight, but this doesn’t seem like the Trek fans I have known. It may be exciting to see it on the screen today, but that fresh feeling will fade, leaving behind raw objectivity toward it.

As with all things, time will tell, and I have  feeling that the original Wrath of Khan will be the most fondly remembered. Mostly because we actually felt something watching it.

TL:DR review – its a fun few hours of a movie, just don’t think about any of it. There’s some good one liners, nice eye candy and slick effects. The script concerning the war on terror and its ethics is serviceable, and delivered with some good acting, but it doesn’t play nicely with the Trek theme, IMO.