Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness
In addition to innumerable television episodes, Paramount has produced no fewer than 12 Star Trek feature films. The canon is vast, and the core characters and their relationships are familiar to many moviegoers. The dilemma is this: How to make a film that satisfies both hardcore Trekkies as well as more casually invested international movie audiences. Does this latest installment boldly reinvigorate the franchise, or merely recycle it?
Leslie: Before you review a Star Trek film, you need to define your official status. I am not a Trekkie but I have always really enjoyed the films.
Ken: I am not a Trekkie either. But, and you have to promise not to tell anyone, sometimes I keep a Tribble in my pants.
Leslie: Thanks for ruining my childhood dream to adopt one. Maybe we should focus on the movie, which I enjoyed. The 2009 outing was epic, and this one was even more epic. I might also add: heroic, exciting, endearing, emotional, humorous, and just plain fun. I also liked how each of the iconic characters is given some quality screen time.
Ken: I appreciated the plot twists. Also, Roddenberry would have loved all the moral predicaments.
Leslie: Am I detecting a thumbs up?
Ken: Well, much like the movie itself, I am conflicted. To make it a Star Trek film, the filmmakers have to put in all the signature elements. But after seeing that stuff countless times, it’s tiring to see it again. Pointed ears jokes. McCoy saying “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor!” How Spock is half-Vulcan and half-human. How Kirk is a womanizer and a wild and crazy guy.....
Leslie: I feel your pain. But that’s what makes a Star Trek film a Star Trek film. Without them, it’s some other sci-fi franchise. Diehard fans would go ballistic.
Ken: Absolutely. But it’s as if J.J. Abrams is afraid of the Trekkies, afraid to boldly seek new film frontiers. The result is a little too slavish to the canon, especially to the 1960’s concept. Even the uniforms looked recycled from previous outings. I wanted something more original.
Leslie: I think the film successfully splits the difference. Don’t forget there’s an entirely new generation seeing all this for the first time. This film is a terrific intro to all future installments. Oddly, my biggest beef was something technical: I got really tired of the CGI lens flares. Holy smokes, those were so distracting! Counting all these is guaranteed to be the next great drinking game.
Ken: I’ll drink to that. Speaking of techno stuff, I was expecting to see and hear tremendous things, and I wasn’t disappointed. The production team is populated with some true artists.
Leslie: I’ll say. The sound mixing was superb. Where do I begin? The sound effects during the warp chase, inside the warp core, the weapon sounds, the Foley - all top notch.
Ken: Lots of good stuff. I loved the effect on Harrison’s voice when he was in the brig - a touch of evil, for sure. And, the raw ambient sounds during the firefight sequence on Kronos echoed the brutal nature of the Klingon regime. Even the music took on a raw, metallic tone.
Leslie: Some of the best moments in the soundtrack come when they pull down the faders and have no sound. [SPOILER ALERT] I loved the scene when after massive chaos and destruction, we’re left with just the music as someone dies, and the only other sounds are the sobs of an emotional James T. Kirk.
Ken: Very effective. This soundtrack also has a seriously good LFE track: a bass-heavy volcano, the torpedo blasts, the moment when the Enterprise suddenly drops out of warp, and the Enterprise’s death spiral sounds - when this comes out on Blu-ray, that bass will stun your subwoofer.
Leslie: There are also a lot of subtle effects. Listen carefully when they are in Pike’s office. In the background you’ll hear the murmur of a computer’s soft tech sounds - all part of creating the perfect room tone.
Ken: Yep. On the ship’s bridge, those background computer sounds could have been copied straight from the original TV series - it felt very familiar.
Leslie: Since they kept the original characters, I was glad that they kept many of the original sounds.
Ken: They brought in sound veteran/guru Ben Burtt to help refine the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, and they wisely kept him at the helm for this installment.
Leslie: He borrowed some elements of the sounds used in the 60’s series. To create the transporter sounds, he manipulated Hammond organ sounds similar to the way he created the originals, enhancing them with more swirling effects to match the new visuals. He also used chimes that are similar in pitch to the originals. The old sounds were flat, almost monotonal, while the new ones have real depth to them.
Ken: That sound design is part of the fabric of the franchise. And unlike the pointed-ears jokes, it’s subtle, and it works. I also heard that he created the sound of arcing sparks from recordings he made from props from the 1930’s Frankenstein films.
Leslie: Talk about “everything old is new again!”
Ken: The music was something new. I was struck by the fact that the iconic Star Trek theme wasn’t heard until the closing credits. At least they were brave enough to write original music!
Leslie: The musical score by Michael Giacchino was perfect. The piano music (a la Philip Glass) during the early London scenes was absolutely beautiful. I would buy the soundtrack just as standalone music - it was that good - a rarity for movie soundtracks.
Ken: Agreed. And you know what, after all the sonic mayhem - the effects, the Foley, the score - at the emotional climax, they bring up the faders on traditional “movie” music with violins and choir, and that’s what ultimately sells the scene, tugs at your heartstrings, and brings a tear to your eye.
Leslie: They got me. I choked up a bit then.
Ken: Did the underwear shot make you emotional too?
Leslie: Seriously??? A woman standing there in her 23rd century underwear while Kirk oogles her. You’ve got to be kidding me! That says it all. These filmmakers aren’t interested in making great films - did we see Mary Todd’s skivvies in Lincoln? - they are only interested in making money and a girl in her underwear helps sell tickets. Thumbs down!
Ken: Should we let our readers see her and decide?
Ken: Too late. I just posted it.
Leslie: That’s just gratuitous.
Ken: And I’m guessing you have similar feelings about the 3D?
Leslie: Yep. The 3D was almost as gratuitous. I keep trying to like 3D, but I still find it annoying. Why do they need to put Klingon subtitles in 3D? Having them pop off the screen was extremely distracting during an otherwise great scene. It completely removed me from the action.
Ken: There was some really cheesy 3D shots. The foreground row of rocket ship models was ill-conceived. And all those out-of-focus over-the-shoulder shots! In the bar, there is a row of liquor bottles along the front that instantly reminded me of the silhouettes in Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Leslie: Did you notice the background music in the bar? Good to know they’re still singing the blues in 2259. Back to your point, sometimes 3D works. The rocketmen flying through 3D space through a field of debris was cool. But I sincerely wonder if Star Trek whatever the 13th installment is will be in 3D. In my opinion, 3D might be a fad. At least, I hope it is.
Ken: Speaking of opinions, it’s time to place our bets.
Leslie: We both liked Iron Man 3, but this Star Trek might be better. As a fan of the series, I found it satisfying.
Ken: It wasn’t bad, not at all, but next time they have to surprise me with something new.
Leslie: You realize, of course, that J.J. Abrams is also helming the next Star Wars installment, due in 2015.
Ken: Beam me up, Scotty.