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Why I loved Star Trek Into Darkness

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I’ll tell you right from the beginning that I’m very biased when it comes to Star Trek.

Full disclosure: I’m a fan since many years, holding Captain Picard and TNG as my favourite. I love everything about the franchise – even the inevitable bad episodes that appear once or twice every season when they’ve run out of money and spend the entire episode playing poker in the holodeck because it’s cheap. Star Trek can basically never go wrong.

On the other hand I’m not a fanatic. I don’t call myself a trekkie and I don’t go to Star Trek conventions dressed up as a Star Fleet member. I don’t consider the original series or anything else that has been done in the past a sacred territory and I don’t automatically think that older is better. I  love what they did with the 2009 reboot. The tempering with timelines was a smart thing to do to provide more freedom. I thought the changes were well judged and necessary to introduce Star Trek once again to a new, modern audience.

I tell you all of this so you know what kind of post this will be. If you’re not into Star Trek at all, you might find my enthusiasm inexplicable. And if you’re a die-hard trekkie of the more conservative sort, you might sneer at how willingly I buy into all the new stuff. The blasphemy!

But enough of background information and let’s go to the point, namely what I thought about Star Trek Into Darkness. Considering that the title of this post gives it away, it doesn’t come as a surprise that I loved it. In fact I loved it so much that I’m considering watching it a second time while it’s still running in the theatres. I don’t normally do this, but, this ride was so enjoyable that I’d happily do it again, using the family member who missed out seeing it with the rest of us as an excuse: “You want some company?”

There’s also a special reason why I’d like to make a revisit. Without saying too much, you could say that the movie is firmly rooted into Star Trek history, not exactly a remake, but closely connected to an episode in the original series and one of the movies. I would lie if I said that I remembered anything of this as I watched the movie. I had to go back afterwards and catch up with the origin and see how it fit together. And this in turn made me want to see the reboot a second time, this time with the full context clear to me, prepared to notice and enjoy every little reference (and there are plenty.)

Typical Star Trek themes
As so often is the case with science fiction movies, I’ll be very vague about the story. I realize that many of you, if not everyone, already know who the villain is. But maybe someone doesn’t, and I certainly don’t want to be the one to spoil it.

So let’s just say that we once again meet Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise family, not all that long after the last movie finished. They’re still young and inexperienced, still learning from trial and error, still trying to figure out how to handle the star fleet regulations as well as their inner morale compasses, as they’re pointing them in different directions.

This collision between rules and ethics has always been a present theme in Star Trek and is one of the elements that make the modern movies feel like they tie into the tradition, even if they have a different look and pacing. The elastic outfits of the crew vary in colour and shape, and the budget for make-up of alien species give different results over time. But beneath the surface, it’s the same question that keeps coming back: what does it mean to be human and what makes us different to machines and truly alien aliens? The way to approach this is to let someone – a man, a woman, a Vulcan or an android – face an ethical dilemma, where the key to success always is to think “outside of the box”, to free your mind from prejudices and be willing to see things from different perspectives, not necessarily in compliance with the rules.

Another typical Star Trek feature, also present here, is the humour, the funny one-liners, verbal jabbing between the crew members, delivered with a straight face or a raised eye-brow. Because of this, Star Trek never will get genuinely dark. It’s just not in its DNA to be that, and frankly I don’t know who they’re trying to kid with the title and marketing. “Into Darkness”? No way!

The darkest moment I can recall of Star Trek was when Captain Picard for a while was incorporated into the Borg. But not even then would I call Star Trek “dark”.  If nothing else, the optimistic signatures to all the TV series give it all away. We know that humanity will win over evil in the end, the question isn’t “if”, but “how”. It’s in the nature of Star Trek to remain hopeful, always looking for a solution, no matter what challenge they’re facing on their mission in space.

startrekintodarknessLack of exploration
And speaking of this, this is the one thing that I find lacking in the movie if you compare it to the TV series: the sense of exploration. For me Star Trek was always about being on a big adventure, boldly travelling a never-ending space to new worlds for scientific reasons, and apart from the opening scene, this is missing. Actually someone even drops a remark early in the movie about research being replaced by war and shouldn’t we head out for a 5-year mission? There’s no seeking out new life forms, no time travelling, no communicating with creatures beyond what a human can grasp and nothing of the fun messing around with time and space continuum that always made for the best episodes. This movie mostly about fighting, with any mean you can find – star ships, laser guns or – if you don’t have anything else at hands – fists.

On the other hand, this is not unique. It seems to me that the films often have been more focused on protecting Earth against various threats, while the mind-bending ideas and the expeditions to far distant galaxies have been left for the TV series to deal with. However this absence of exploration, both of space and of bigger, philosophical ideas, is what keeps me from giving it a 5/5.  I would have loved to have my brain tickled just a little bit more to be completely satisfied.

I could go on and on forever talking about everything I loved about this film, but I’ve already done that in a long conversation with one of my daughters, also a Star Trek fan. After the movie we talked at length about the beautiful lens flares, that looked even better in 3D (though I on the whole think you’re better off watching it in 2D), and how brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch is as a villain and how much we love the Kirk/Spock bromance and…

Star Trek Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams, US 2013) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

May 13, 2013 at 10:47 am