Friday, December 7, 2012

Star Trek: Why So Serious?

One could make a solid case that - after Iron Man 3 - J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness is the most widely-anticipated release of Summer 2013. And for good reason. The 2009 Star Trek reboot was a smash hit with audiences and critics, raking in over $250 million at the US Box Office. And this success is mostly due to the fact that, while the movie lacked the philosophical undertones and narrative complexity of classic Trek, the cast had great chemistry and the director brought a great sense of fun and energy to the proceedings.

The result was a big, fun, colorful blockbuster, the sort of rollicking sci-fi adventure that led some to nickname it the best Star Wars movie in decades. I personally enjoyed it a lot, especially after the dreary slog that was 2002's Star Trek Nemesis.

Which is why I'm somewhat perplexed and a little worried that the sequel seems to be chasing the dragon of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies. . .

What do I mean by that exactly? Well, there's this:

Incredibly reminiscent of the posters for The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, especially the color scheme. And apart from the conveniently-created symbol in the side of that destroyed building, that image has nothing in it that even tells me it's a Star Trek movie. Random dude in a trenchcoat, large-scale destruction in London (apparently of the future). No starships, no aliens, no space. But okay, it grabs the attention, and that's what this sort of initial marketing is supposed to do, right?

But here's the new trailer:

The Enterprise Rises? Again, huge overload of the "orange and teal" color-grading that's become so tiresomely prevalent in film-making (especially in big effects-driven tentpoles), lots of large-scale destruction set to monologuing from Benedict Cumberbatch's bad guy, and. . . no space. Kirk's ship seems to be making a water landing at one point, and that red foliage is on what I assume to be some alien world, but no strange creatures, no hint of the FINAL FRONTIER itself.

Don't get me wrong, it's an exciting trailer. The film looks like a quality big blockbuster with good special effects, but we've been getting no shortage of those in the past few years (and it's gonna be hard to top this one in terms of gleeful urban wrecking). Star Trek has near limitless potential for settings and ideas and characters, so why use it as a launch pad for more destroyed cities? And while I love me some Batman, this obsession that studios have of emulating Nolan's films has GOT to end. People didn't flock to The Dark Knight because of the "grim and gritty" surface elements, but because the film was compelling and layered and just so happened to have a "dark" aesthetic that was perfectly tailored to its source material, narrative, and themes as well as echoing the current public "mood" at the time. But this ain't 2008, Star Trek ain't Batman, and we already saw with Nemesis how poorly this approach can turn out.

Now, there's the obvious argument that, if this is the "Second Chapter of a Trilogy" (and let's not kid ourselves, it is because everything is a trilogy these days), that's typically the "darker" one. And that tracks. Hey, everybody remembers The Empire Strikes Back right? Actually, I do, and. . . it's still really damn fun. Yes, it's a bit more dour and ends on a note of introspective defeat, but along the way you have Han and Leia's playful banter, Luke and his training with funny zen master Yoda, plenty of lighthearted moments with the droids - heck, there's a (literally) running gag during the final act about C-3PO's difficulties with being put back together incorrectly. These moments of levity give a rare balance to the proceedings.

And one of the things I loved most about the new Trek movie? It was FUNNY. Like, several moments of genuine laugh-out-loud funny, whether it was well-done physical gags, character interactions, etc, and it really needed that considering that the film upped the stakes by destroying an entire planet.

I really hate to be the bummer guy about this, 'cause I've been pretty stoked for the film, but this barely looks anything like Star Trek at all. Cumberbatch is going to be awesome as whoever he's playing, which still hasn't been confirmed - the rumor mill says "Khan" though I think Gary Mitchell is also possible. And who knows, I wasn't wild about what I first saw of the 2009 film either, so maybe this will be an equally pleasant surprise. But I'd been hoping for more from the reboot than retreading old villains in the style of other films for no discernible reason other than "it's the thing to do now." It would have been nice to see the series boldly going where no one has gone before.

Let Star Trek be Star Trek I say.


  1. As Rob't pointed out on FB, it is a teaser and this franchise is aiming at a wide net. If you come out, guns a blaizin' - or phasers, rather - you will *kill* your chances of getting the non-Trek audience. It *can't* look like a Trek movie, or what the old school thinks a Trek movie should look like. It has to look like an action blockbuster so the norms with think, "Cool! Eplosions!" and not "Oh, jeez. Now all the parent-living basement dwellers are going to infest theaters with their greasy hair, B.O., and Mountain Dew breath." -Xena

    1. Perfectly valid reasoning, but one of the benefits to the last film being such a huge hit across the board would ideally be less time convincing people "No really, Trek is COOL now!" and more time just being an enjoyable Trek movie. And hey, if this is just a marketing thing that doesn't end up being very indicative of the film itself (which definitely happens) then that's all dandy. I'm certainly reserving final judgement until I see the film (I'm also eagerly awaiting the full trailer and 9-minute IMAX preview).

      Though I have to say, with the success of Avengers and Avatar, I think it's pretty well proven that moviegoers will flock to even the craziest "out there" sci-fi stuff given the right mix of savvy marketing and familiar footing.