Star Trek Into Darkness Continues J.J. Abrams’ Vision

trek 12 posterA valid criticism about the last Star Trek film was that it was too much like Star Wars with its emphasis on flashy special effects and high-octane action. This same critique is applicable to Star Trek Into Darkness, the latest entry in the long-running film series. But at least more of an attempt is made to make this film seem more like Star Trek.

How so? Concern is brought up on more than one occasion that Starfleet is becoming too militarized and that they should be explorers. By the end of the film, the main characters wholeheartedly embrace that concept based on their experiences throughout the film. In some ways, Star Trek Into Darkness is a battle for the soul of Star Trek and to try to go back to its roots. The film doesn’t always succeed in getting that point across, since it wants to revel in the big-action scenes that define the J.J. Abrams era of Star Trek. In fact, it’s best to think of this film as Abrams’ audition tape for directing the next Star Wars film.

spock kirk

Star Trek Into Darkness opens on an alien planet where angry, primitive natives are chasing Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) after Kirk insulted them.

As the two men flee to their hidden starship, the Enterprise, the ship’s Vulcan first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is trapped in an active volcano. He was trying to keep it from erupting using a cold fusion process. Once Kirk and McCoy make it back to their ship, Kirk orders a rescue of Spock. The ship is able to rescue the Vulcan but violates the Prime Directive when the natives see the advanced starship rise out of its hiding spot in the ocean.

kirk pike

When the Enterprise crew returns to Earth, Kirk is called to Starfleet’s headquarters by Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Expecting a lucrative assignment, instead, Kirk is berated for being too reckless and thinking rules don’t apply to him. Kirk is stunned to find out that his command is taken away for violating the Prime Directive and for not being ready to be a starship captain. This was based on Spock’s accurate report about the incident on the planet.

Kirk is justifiably incensed at his friend and starts berating Spock later before they attend a high-level meeting with Starfleet brass. This meeting is to discuss a recent terrorist bombing in London by a Starfleet operative named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has gone rogue.

The meeting is interrupted when Harrison shows up outside the building where the meeting is held in a fighter craft and fires weapons at the attendees. Kirk is able to stop the attack but Harrison beams away and one of the casualties is Pike. Investigations reveals Harrison’s current location: Kronos, the Klingon homeworld.

An enraged Kirk asks Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to be reinstated as captain of the Enterprise so he can pursue the terrorist. Marcus agrees and tells Kirk to go to the border of Klingon space and launch several long-range, prototype photon torpedoes at Harrison’s location to kill him.

photon torpedo

Later, the Enterprise has to drop out of warp space near their destination due to a malfunction. Kirk then takes a shuttle to Kronos with Spock and other crewmembers and are saved from Klingons by Harrison himself, who quickly surrenders to him.

Now a prisoner onboard the Enterprise, Harrison reveals to Kirk that his name is really Khan and that he is a genetic superman who was in cryo sleep for three hundred years in kahnsleeper ship along with 72 other superhumans. Starfleet discovered their sleeper ship and only Khan was revived. Marcus, anticipating an all-out war with the Klingons, wanted to utilize Khan’s superior intellect to develop advanced weapons and is holding hostage the other superhumans as leverage. Furthermore, Marcus wants to use the Enterprise and Harrison to instigate a war with the Klingons.

Kirk’s suspicions about Marcus are soon confirmed when a massive starship arrives armed to the teeth. It’s commanded by Marcus, who demands that Khan be turned over to him.

Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the most exciting films in the series thanks to J.J. Abrams’ directing. Like its main character, the film is brash, bold and in your face with wild and intense action scenes. Highlights include a thrilling chase of Khan in San Francisco by Spock that culminates in a heart-pounding fight, where Spock nearly loses his control. Another is when a crippled Enterprise falls towards Earth, the special effects of those scenes are just brilliant and dazzling. Expect an Oscar nomination for special effects.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek

“Punch it”

Captain Christopher Pike’s order to take the Enterprise into warp space

posterDon’t worry readers, the review for the new Star Trek Into Darkness is coming right up. But first, let’s look at its predecessor, the eleventh Star Trek film. After Star Trek: Nemesis became a box office failure in 2002 and the series Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled in 2005, the franchise seemed to have died. Paramount Studios realized they ran Star Trek into the ground and so it went on hiatus. The fortieth anniversary of the original TV show came and went without any fanfare and implied that no one cared about Star Trek anymore.

However, J.J. Abrams, the man behind the classic TV show Lost, was brought in to rejuvenate the franchise. It was decided to bring Star Trek back as a film series rather than a TV show and so Abrams and his team rebooted the franchise, resulting in the 2009 feature film Star Trek that went back to the beginning. The film was a rousing success but sparked controversy among stalwart fans.

Star Trek begins with a dizzying, close up shot of the starship Kelvin gliding past the camera as it investigates a lightning storm in space. This storm turns into a black hole and from it emerges a gigantic spaceship shaped somewhat like a squid with sharp mechanical kelvin2tendrils. This ship immediately opens fire on the Kelvin with advanced weaponry. The Kelvin isn’t a match but puts up a gallant fight. The attackers demand that the Kelvin’s captain, Robau (Farin Tahir), go to their ship to discuss a surrender. Right away these scenes signaled that Star Trek was reinvigorated with wild, kinetic battle scenes.

Robau leaves First Officer George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) in command and is killed in the enemy ship by its crew, a group of bald, tattooed Romulans. Kirk orders a shipwide evacuation and covers it by setting the Kelvin on a collision course with the attacking ship. One of the evacuees is his pregnant wife Winona (Jennifer Morrison), who goes into labor in an escaping shuttlecraft. Kirk is unable to join her because he has to manually fly the Kelvin into the enemy ship. He is able, however, to hear the first cries of his newborn son James Tiberius Kirk moments before the Kelvin smashes into the Romulan ship.

George Kirk’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain, the enemy ship is crippled, giving several shuttlecraft an opportunity to escape…

shipyard

Years later, Kirk’s son grows up to be a rebellious, angry young man (Chris Pine) without any direction in life and living in Iowa by a shipyard that is constructing the Enterprise. After a bar fight, he meets Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who sees some potential in James Kirk. Pike is able to convince the young man to join Starfleet.

During his training Kirk meets many people who will become important parts of his life, notably Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Ironically, Kirk and Spock do not get along at first. Spock is a by-the-book officer who cannot abide Kirk’s brash and reckless demeanor. Things come to a head after Kirk takes the Kobayashi Maru simulator test, which Spock developed to train cadets, and is caught cheating.

crew

Kirk is under inquiry for his actions when fate intervenes. Starfleet receives an emergency distress call from the planet Vulcan and all available ships on Earth are dispatched. Among them is the new U.S.S. Enterprise commanded by Pike with Spock as its first officer.

With McCoy’s help, Kirk is able to get onboard the Enterprise as it joins the armada. The ship is unable to jump into warp space with the other ships thanks to an error made by the helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho ). It turns out that this delay and Kirk learning of a lightning storm reported by Vulcan helps saves the ship. Kirk guesses that the Enterprise will be facing the same fate as the Kelvin and tells Pike. When the time the Enterprise drops out of warp space near Vulcan,  the crew finds a floating junkyard of destroyed ship parts.

shipwrecksThe other Starfleet ships were easily destroyed by the same Romulan ship that destroyed the Kelvin. The ship had launched a long, tethered drilling platform to Vulcan’s surface. When the Enterprise is discovered, the Romulan ship’s commander, Nero (Eric Bana), orders an attack on the Starfleet vessel but stops when he realizes it’s the Enterprise. The Romulan demands that Pike go to his ship just as was done with Robau. Pike agrees, but before leaving, he promotes Kirk to first officer and leaves command of the Enterprise to Spock. He has Kirk, Sulu and a redshirt accompany him in Pike’s shuttlecraft. Before Pike turns himself in, the trio are clandestinely launched via parachutes to the drilling platform to disable it. After fighting off  Romulans on the platform, Kirk and Sulu are able to disable it. But they’re too late, the drill already reached the planet’s core. The Romulans release a substance called red matter that creates a black hole in Vulcan’s core, dooming the world.

kirk sulu

In a desperate move, Spock beams down to Vulcan just in time to save his father Sarek (Ben Cross) and a few others but not his mother (Winona Ryder). Shortly after, he and the handful of survivors are beamed back to the Enterprise as Vulcan is destroyed from within.

Spock struggles not displaying emotions over the death of his mother and world and Pike’s capture. He decides to regroup with the fleet but Kirk tries to convince him otherwise. The Romulans are heading to Earth and Kirk demands that they try to stop them. After they argue for several minutes, Spock has Kirk removed from the bridge and ejected from an escape capsule to a nearby planet, Delta Vega, and orders the Enterprise to resume its course to rendezvous with the fleet.

old spockAfter the capsule lands,  Kirk breaks out and finds himself in a frozen world filled with predatory animals out to snack on him. He is saved from one huge animal by a mysterious Vulcan who turns out to be a very old Spock (Leonard Nimoy). This Spock mind melds with Kirk and he learns that Spock is from the future as are the bald Romulans. In the late 24th century, the Romulans’ homeworld was destroyed by a supernova that threatened other worlds. From his own ship, Spock launched a sample of the red matter to destroy the supernova by creating a black hole. As he tried to escape the black hole, he encountered Nero and his ship. The Romulan was enraged at Spock because the Vulcan promised the Romulans he would save their world, now his wife and family are dead. Before anything could happen, Nero and Spock’s ships fell into the black hole, which was a doorway to the past. Nero had Spock abandoned on Delta Vega so that he could witness the destruction of Vulcan and experience the pain that Nero felt in the future.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

“‘Second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning'”

Captain James T. Kirk’s final course heading for the U.S.S. Enterprise-A

trek 6 poster 2The final Star Trek film to feature the entire original cast from the Star Trek TV show has many distinguished qualities such as a thrilling story, craftsman-like direction, solid acting and yes great special effects. But Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country will always be known for its parallels to the end of the Cold War and more importantly as the last hurrah for the original Enterprise crew.

When the film was released, the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had ended bringing on a new uncertain era with ramifications still affecting us today. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the long-running feud between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire comes to a peaceful end with adversaries on cast VIboth sides struggling to accept the new normal. This was done bravely with the main character Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) who expressed an unpleasant side with his unhidden bigotry towards the Klingons.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country literally begins with a bang. A giant shockwave from an exploding moon reaches across space and slams into the Federation starship Excelsior. Commanded by Captain Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), the Excelsior rides out the shockwave’s destructive path. Sulu and his crew learn that the explosion came from the Klingon moon Praxis, which was overused as mining facility in an analogue to Chernobyl.

Months later, Captain Kirk and his senior Enterprise-A crew are summoned to a meeting at Starfleet Headquarters. To their surprise, their colleague Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) presents at the meeting not only the finding that the Klingons are dying out but that peace negotiations have begun between the two powers. Kirk is ordered by the Chief in Command (Leon Rossum) to have the Enterprise-A escort the Klingon leader Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to Earth for continued negotiations.

Kirk is angered that his friend Spock vouched for him to carry out this mission but Spock did so because Kirk’s reputation and antagonistic history with the Klingons will serve as an effective olive branch if he peacefully escorts Gorkon to Earth.

The Enterprise-A crew leaves Spacedock for its mission, but not before Kirk meets Spock’s protégé Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall), the ship’s helmsman. We later learn that Spock thinks highly of her and intends for her to succeed him as first officer of the ship.

enterprise and klingon

The Federation starship makes its rendezvous with Gorkon’s Klingon battle cruiser Kronos One and Kirk invites the chancellor over for dinner. Gorkon beams over with his entourage, which includes his daughter Azetbur (Rosana DeSoto) and General Chang (Christopher Plummer), a bald, crusty Klingon with an eye patch and an obvious dislike towards Kirk. He is practically chomping at the bit for the chance to engage the famous starship captain in combat and is clearly disheartened that he won’t get the chance.

chang and troop

The dinner held in the officer’s mess goes poorly. There is an uncomfortable tension as both Kirk and his senior officers and Gorkon and his entourage trade charged barbs at each other. The Starfleet officers, except Spock, can barely hide their contempt toward the Klingons. It was a bit jarring to see our heroes in a negative light, but it was very bold and dimensional because we see some flaws with our heroes. final dinnerThe only other person who tried to be polite and engaging was Gorkon. He is a clear reference for the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and exhibited a mature, open and statesman-like demeanor. David Warner was very memorable in this too brief but important role and made the leader seem sympathetic and noble.

After the uneasy dinner, the Klingons return to their ship while Kirk retires for the night nursing a hangover from drinking illegal Romulan ale during dinner. He has no time to rest when he is called to the bridge. These scenes were quite revealing; Kirk seems weary and ready to retire. But he is still the captain and acts as one when he instantly stops slouching after the turbo lift doors open to the bridge.

As he enters the bridge, the Klingons are attacked by an unknown source. The attack damages Kronos One’s gravity field, leaving the Klingons afloat and defenseless. Two men garbed in white Starfleet suits, garbed helmets and gravity boots beam aboard the Klingon ship and fatally shoot Gorkon.

Their work done, the assassins beam back out moments before the Klingons restore power. After answering the Enterprise-A’s hail, a furious Chang accuses Kirk of an unprovoked attack and begins a counterattack. Kirk, horrified and realizing the severity of what is unfolding, orders the Enterprise-A to surrender before an intergalactic war can begin.

Wanting to help, he and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam aboard Kronos One. They find Gorkon and McCoy desperately tries to save the chancellor’s life, but he is unsuccessful. Gorkon’s last words are to Kirk, a plea “Don’t let it end like this.”

gorkon

The two Starfleet officers are arrested on the spot by the Klingons. Spock assumes command of the Enterprise-A and begins investigating what happened. According to their computer,  their ship did fire on Kronos One, but Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scottie” Scott’s (James Doohan) inventory reveals that all of the ship’s photon torpedoes are accounted for. Spock orders Valeris to continue investigating, convinced that the assassins are still onboard the starship.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

“What does God need with a starship?”

Captain James T. Kirk questioning “God” on the planet Sha Ka Ree

trek V posterAfter the triumph of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, anticipation and demand was high for another Star Trek film. What audiences received was William Shatner’s directorial effort Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

The fifth Star Trek film is an undeniable disappointment and it has many things going against it. Ranked by many as the worst Star Trek film, it’s hands down the weakest one to feature the original cast from the TV show. Let’s face it, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a difficult act to follow. It would’ve taken a master director and writer to deliver a worthwhile followup. But Paramount Studios wanted to placate William Shatner, who wanted his shot at the directing chair because his buddy Leonard Nimoy got to direct two Star Trek films. So in addition to paying him and Nimoy a high salary, they allowed him to direct the fifth Star Trek film.

trek 5 cast 2

Now it’s easy to lay all the blame on Shatner but there are others to blame for this film. Notably Paramount Studios itself, who should shoulder the majority of the blame. In a foolish move, the studio severely slashed the budget, which resulted in the amateurish looking special effects that were horrendously bad and added to the film’s drawbacks. They also wanted a lighthearted romp similar to Star Trek IV because the studio felt that the comedy in that film made it such a success and wanted to repeat the formula. Instead of gentle comedy, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier came off as goofy and too heavy handed in the laugh-o-meter with our heroes behaving at times out of character. There were laughs alright, just unintentional ones. Who can forget the immortal line, “Spock, it’s me. It’s Sybok!” The Writer’s Strike in 1988 curtailed the film’s pre-production and didn’t allow time for a polished script. When you boil it down what the film needed most was a decent script doctor.

The film starts in a desert planet, Nimbus III, which has the so-called Paradise City colony set up by Klingons, Romulans and the Federation as a means of promoting peaceful coexistence. But the place is run down and practically forgotten. Out of the horizon, a mysterious stranger riding on a blue horse-like animal appears and promises to heal people of their painful memories through his empathic powers and in return asks for followers on a religious crusade. This person is a bearded Vulcan called Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) and he needs a starship.

el capitan 2The film then switches over to Earth, where James T. Kirk (William Shatner), recently demoted from admiral to a captain, is spending shore leave mountain climbing on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. After being saved from falling by his best friend Spock (Leonard Nimoy), he and Spock settle down for the night at a campfire with their other close friend Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and shoot the breeze. The genial banter between the three was the best thing about the film. It was genuine and funny without going overboard. Shatner conveyed a sense that the trio were close friends with a deep bond.

At this time on Nimbus III, Paradise City welcomes the newest Romulan ambassador (Cynthia Gouw), who is all full of energy and optimism. She is greeted instead by two surly and cynical ambassadors (David Warner and Charles Cooper), a human and Klingon respectively. Oddly enough, she and the Klingon are the only members of their race seen in the city, everyone else is either human or some kind of alien. These scenes with the ambassadors were interesting since the actors were good in their roles. The film presented a seedier side to life in the 23rd century, which was an interesting contrast to earlier films’ depictions of near-nirvana.  sybok and gangWe see drunkards (principally with Cooper playing the bitter and washed up Klingon general), cheap salesmen (watch the video monitors in Paradise City’s bar) wearing ugly plaid jackets and alien strippers. The latter being a feline-based alien with three breasts that predated the famous hooker seen in the original Total Recall. It was a refreshing change from the ethereal utopias from earlier films. Soon after, the colony is invaded and conquered by a literal rag-tag army from the desert led by Sybok, who promises to heal everyone of their spiritual pain.

Back on Earth, our heroes’ shore leave is interrupted by an urgent call from Starfleet. They rush back to their ship the Enterprise-A, a replacement of the ship lost in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, to learn about their next mission. They are ordered to go to Nimbus III and save the hostages in Paradise City. But there’s a problem with the Enterprise-A. The new ship is a go climb a rocklemon. Why would Starfleet reward Kirk and company with a broken down ship after they saved the Earth is beyond me. Except maybe to provide a moronic venue for cheap laughs, such as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott’s (James Doohan) tirades about needed repairs and sight gags such as malfunctioning turbo lifts. The plot point of a broken ship that in the end pulls through would’ve been an interesting story. But that gets lost in this film. As for the film’s desperate earning of laughs at this point, the funniest gag on the ship is Kirk’s reaction when he’s told by an admiral (producer Harve Bennett in a cameo) via viewscreen that Starfleet needs him. He turns away from his superior and makes an exasperated face. It’s a good way of acknowledging this common plot thread of the Enterprise crew being the only capable personnel in Starfleet. Seriously, why send the Enterprise-A? It’s undergoing repairs on Earth so why have it travel all the way to this distant planet? There aren’t any ships closer to the planet? Doesn’t Starfleet have its own version of SEAL Team Six for these kind of situations?

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Dr. Gillian Taylor: “Don’t tell me. You’re from outer space.”

Admiral James T. Kirk: “No I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space.”

Dinner conversation during a date at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco, circa 1980s

“Well, a double dumbass on you!”

Admiral James T. Kirk to a taxi driver on the streets of San Francisco, same time period

trek 4 poster 2Usually when the fourth film in a franchise comes around the franchise itself starts to show signs of fatigue. Thankfully that wasn’t the case with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Unbelievably, the fourth Star Trek film reaffirmed the Star Trek franchise after its moribund predecessor. A lot of the credit goes to writers Nicholas Meyer, Harve Bennett (who was also the producer), Peter Krikes and Steve Meerson, and primarily, director Leonard Nimoy, who co-stars in the film as Spock. Nimoy found his footing with his second directorial gig and it shows in a big way.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home begins with a dedication to the lost crew of the space shuttle Challenger, which was appropriate and sincere being that the tragedy happened earlier in the year that the film premiered. After the credits, the  story begins with a Reliant-class starship encountering a humongous, shiny, black cylindrical alien probe that drains the starship of its power. Before anyone can say V’Ger, the story jumps back to Earth at the council chambers of the United Federation of Planets where audiences are brought up to date with what happened in the previous film. A Klingon ambassador (John Schuck) wants Admiral James T. Kirk’s (William Shatner) head for killing a Klingon crew and stealing their bird-of-prey ship and accuses the Federation of wanting to wage war on the Klingons with the failed Genesis terraforming process.

trek 4 cast

Kirk has violated nine Starfleet regulations, such as disobeying orders and stealing the starship Enterprise . He is on exile with his former crewmembers on the planet Vulcan. They include Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scottie” Scott (James Doohan), and Commanders Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). After being on Vulcan for three months, they choose to return to Earth and face trial. Spock, who they risked their lives and careers for in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, is recuperating from his resurrection and regaining his mental acuity. He is still confused about the nature of feelings, but elects to accompany his friends back to Earth.

probeMeanwhile, the alien probe approaches Earth and creates havoc as it drains away the energy of anything that it approaches. Starfleet is effectively crippled and Earth defenseless. The probe also emits a series of ear-piercing inhuman screeches and wails that no one can decipher. The probe arrives in Earth orbit and begins transmitting into the oceans. This creates a severe superstorm that covers the planet and the endangers all life.

Kirk and his crew leave Vulcan with the stolen Klingon ship (rechristened the Bounty) and on their way to Earth pick up a distress call from the Federation President (Robert Ellenstein), who is on Earth, warning away visitors because of the probe. Spock is able to decipher the probe’s transmissions and we learn that it is trying to contact humpback whales. Unfortunately, the species is extinct in the 23rd century, which forces Kirk to take the Bounty and time travel to Earth’s past and find whales to bring back to their time period.

After Kirk informs Starfleet Command of his intentions, the Bounty makes a time travel sceneslingshot maneuver around Earth’s sun. It’s a time travel procedure first done in the classic original episode “The Naked Time” but more ethereal with dream-like sequences showing morphing busts of the crew and whales. After that sequence the ship winds up in the latter half of the 20th century. After picking up whale songs transmitting from the San Francisco area, the ship lands cloaked in Golden Gate Park in the middle of the night. Scotty informs Kirk that in addition to refitting the ship’s interior to accommodate a whale tank, the ship’s dilithium crystals that power the warp core drive are drained and need recharging or else they’re stranded. With that, the now-Bounty crew disembark their ship and head off into the wild frontier of the 20th century.

trek iv cast

Then the fun begins.

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