Thursday, December 06, 2012

Into Darkness?

By now, you’ve all probably already seen the Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) poster shown above.

It reveals a future-o-polis (really London?) in ruins, with a trench-coated villain looming over it. 

Bracketing this menacing figure -- ostensibly the film’s villain -- is the famous Star Trek badge configuration.

Setting aside the perceived (and abundant) similarities to The Dark Knight Rises poster, which many folks have commented on, across the net, I worry about the kind of story this poster portends, especially in connection with the film’s title, and the released “official” synopsis.

I generally refrain from commenting on a film before it is released, because ahead-of-time worries can’t accurately anticipate the true nature of any film.  Any concerns are based on guess work, or speculation and therefore may not reflect the eventual text of the work of art.

But as a whole-hearted supporter of the J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek, which I reviewed positively, here, I must admit that, based on the information we now possess, I do feel remarkably anxious about the direction of the film, and its dissonance with established Star Trek tradition.

We’re clearly not getting a story of space exploration, of new frontiers met. 

We’re clearly not getting a story about The Enterprise resolving a conflict between feuding races, or encountering a new or unknown life form.

No…we’re getting another solitary “madman” villain like Khan, Soran, Ru’afo, Shinzon and even Nero.

This madman is described in the synopsis as an unstoppable, one-man “weapon of mass destruction” and again, that description recalls Khan with the Genesis Device, Soran with his trilithium missiles, Ru’afo with his radiation collector, Shinzon with this Thalaron weapon, and Nero with his red matter.

The synopsis also indicates that this “madman” detonates the Starfleet.  But of course, Nero destroyed the Starfleet in the last movie, didn’t he?

And, if you read between the lines, the new villain in the film appears to be motivated, like Nero, by some desire for revenge.  This time, it is revenge carried out against his own people, in the Federation, on Earth.

Revenge.  Mass destruction.  War-zones.

And last but not least…“darkness.” 

These characteristics are not the main or even ancillary ingredients of the Star Trek franchise, or of Star Trek history, and it concerns me to see a franchise of optimism -- a franchise of “the human adventure is just beginning”-- choosing a voyage into darkness instead of a voyage into discovery, or understanding. 

I’m not saying that conflict is a bad thing, or that drama must be all happy talk. 

But Star Trek has often made it its business to resolve dramatic conflict in ways that are, ultimately, uplifting.

By choosing not to kill an enemy, Captain Kirk opened a doorway of peace with alien races such as the Gorn (“Arena”) and the Melkotians in “Spectre of the Gun.” 

Other episodes involved the Enterprise countenancing destructive creatures, but finding a way to deal constructively with them, as was the case in “The Devil in the Dark” and “Metamorphosis” to name two.

All those stories still had plenty of action, excitement and violence…but they were also inspiring.

A new Star Trek movie could be about interfacing with an alien culture or meeting a strange space phenomena (“Obsession,” “The Immunity Syndrome”) in the way I describe above, and so I find it extremely disappointing and discouraging that in 2013 we are going to get another madman story, another story about revenge, and another story about weapons of mass destruction.

The universe is such a big, mysterious place, and I fail to understand why the franchise must go back to the same story it just told in 2009, with destroyed starships, devastated planets, and terrorist madmen. 

I hope that the underwhelming poster, synopsis, and title are actually only a marketing gambit to sell Star Trek as a blockbuster to general audiences, and not an accurate representation of how the film will play.

I am holding out hope, and will gladly admit my fears were unfounded if they prove to be. 

But my bottom line is that darkness is the last place Star Trek needs to go, because other franchises have been there already…and quite memorably too.

Star Trek is supposed to be about going to new destinations -- where none have gone before -- not imitating all the latest blockbuster movies.  

Let James Bond and Batman own the darkness.  Star Trek is supposed to be about the search for the light.


  1. "Star Trek is supposed to be about going to new destinations -- where none have gone before -- not imitating all the latest blockbuster movies." much for that idea.

    The 2009 reboot was a waste. Nothing more than a generic 'space adventure action movie' with Star Trek uniforms. This one looks even worse. Lets see....

    The Dark Knight Rises
    Total Recall (remake)
    ...and even some Revenge of the Sith

    Oh, and blue lens flares. Lots of those. And the *DUUUUUUM* music heard from every other trailer. Thanks, but no thanks.

    1. Cannon,

      I agree that Into Darkness looks absolutely terrible, the most generic of generic blockbusters.

      Remember how the writers of Into Darkness kept saying they were taking their time to write the movie, to "get it right?" so three years later we find that means, another "vengeance" story with a terrorist madman? In essence, a re-hash of the 2009 film?

      This teaser deepens my fears considerably about the movie.

      I don't think the 2009 movie was a waste, however, and here's why. The last few Next Generation movies were dreadful. They were bloated, weird, self-indulgent, and often dull.

      The 2009 reboot essentially fulfilled the role that the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" did in 1966, showing that Star Trek can work as a thrilling action-oriented sci-fi adventure, playing on a grand scale.

      I think the film accomplished that goal...of putting some juice, youth and energy back in the franchise.

      But here's the thing: That equation doesn't work a second time.

      This time out the filmmakers need to give us a great Star Trek story, with some sense of morality or social commentary, and some sense of intellectual depth. Star Trek can't stay on the level of generic action adventure (and indeed, after "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the show deepened considerably....)

      I'm planning to see the film, of course, and hoping for the best, but it doesn't look like the filmmakers are giving us anything besides a big, empty retread of the 2009 film.

      Can't any villains be motivated by something other than vengeance these days?


  2. Your reflections offer geuine concern. I share them.

    Honestly, Star Trek rebooted is epic, but not bold in the way Nimoy directed efforts to communicate with those whales. That was really something special.

    I will see it, but I don't actually own a copy of JJ Abrams rebooted first film. I've come close to getting it. That says something.

    It played on television one night. I was caught up in it but ultimately watching it again I realized it wasn't something that embodied the heart of the series and the characters I truly loved. I opted not to buy the disc.

    It's escapist entertainment but not bold in vision. Even the characters lack any real depth.

    Anyway, your perspective on this is certainly fair John. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this development because, quite frankly, like Cannon, I felt the first one was a little hollow too.

    1. Hi SFF:

      I understand what you mean by "hollow," and I think that's a fair term to apply to the 2009 film.

      The 2009 Trek by-and-large worked for me, as I noted above, because I felt the casting was strong, the presence of Nimoy was affecting emotionally, and the film played on an epic, action scale that no previous Star Trek film really had.

      The Next Generation films -- with Picard and Worf singing Gilbert and Sullivan for example -- had become something of an embarrassment, and I felt that we needed a new, more vigorous, less insular (and weird) interpretation of Trek for the 21st century.

      I gave the movie some benefit of the doubt, because I felt it was starting to get Star Trek right.

      But that idea -- "starting to get Star Trek right" means, in some way, that there is more responsibility landed on the second film.

      It's time now to perfect this version of Star Trek, making it not just young, vigorous and action-packed, but smart and socially valuable too.

      It just doesn't look like that is going to happen. It looks like the breadth of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek vision is revenge and explosions. Darkness. War-Zones and revenge. Things we've seen a hundred times, alas.

      Star Trek Into Darkness may be the greatest vengeance story ever told...but it's still a vengeance story, which for me, caps the film's possibilities.

      And that makes me sad.


    2. Yeah. I hear ya.

      And John, your thoughts about that first film are entirely accurate. It's a solid kick start to a franchise for all of the reasons you mention, just a little empty for me, which may be why we expect something big in the vein of Star Trek here. We shall see. I hope Star Trek Rises but not quite the way that promo poster would have us believe.

      All the best to you too.

    3. SFF: We're in total agreement. I hope there's more going on with this movie than the advance materials suggest. I have little interest in another revenge-themed genre film.

      warmest regards,

  3. Solid points of concern, John. We have to hope it'll be less superhero villainy and more traditional Star Trek storytelling. We'll see. Thanks.

    1. Hi Le0pard13:

      You're right that we can still hope, and that we still don't have a lot of information.

      I hope to be pleasantly surprised by the film, but all the promotional materials suggest a very familiar villain motivation (revenge), and lots of mass destruction.

      But very little "the human adventure is just beginning" type feeling or atmosphere...

      As I noted above, Into Darkness may well be the greatest "revenge" movie ever made (though it will have to top Skyfall...), but in the end, it will still be based on that creaky premise of a madman seeking revenge.

      Thank you for the comment, my friend. Here's hoping we get some great Star Trek storytelling, and not just an empty blockbuster!


  4. Anonymous11:28 AM


    I absolutely agree with your thoughts on the J.J.Abrams STAR TREK 2009 film because it weorked for me too casting, story and production design[Enterprise, uniforms]. Whereas the Next Generation movies were getting worse and worse. As a Star Trek fan the later Next Generation films were painful to watch.


    1. Hi SGB,

      We see it the same way, I think.

      The 2009 Star Trek movie was the shot-in-the-arm that the franchise needed after becoming bloated and stale with the later Next Gen movies. It was necessary to make Star Trek vigorous, epic, and action-packed again. That was a step in the right direction.

      But the second time out, we need some meat on those bare bones. We know that the cast is up to the challenge, and now we need a good Star Trek style story to go with the fine cast.

      I hope all my worry is over nothing, and come May 17, 2013, my review of Star Trek: Into Darkness begins with the lines: "Well, I was wrong..."

      We'll see!


    2. Anonymous12:10 PM

      Well said John.


  5. Remember that the original pilot failed because nobody wanted a drama set in space that was brooding and overly cerebral. It became a phenomenon because of the great characters and they way they played off each other. The 2009 film caught the spirit, the banter, the goodwill and even some of the silliness of the original series and reminded us how much we missed those archetypes. This trailer does make it look like the franchise is taking us from 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' and back into "The Cage'. I just want the sequel to be fun. Let's hope it is.

    1. Hi Mr. Jones,

      At least "The Cage" was smart. Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't look smart. Dark, yes.

      I totally agree with you about the 2009 film capturing the spirit of the TOS, by the way: "even some of the silliness." That is part of the reason I enjoyed the film.

      I hope the new film reminds us that Star Trek isn't about planets blowing up and spaceships crashing, but about the human spirit, and a camaraderie between diverse, charismatic characters.

      Great comment!


  6. I've read alot of your reviews John, and the running theme is that film reflects the time period that we live in. That current events in the cultural landscape often define film. And 'Star Trek', at least with Roddenberry, has assimilated the Cold War, racism, even political assassinations into his storylines. Isn't 'Darkness' living up to Trek tradition of incorporating current events into the story?

    Furthermore, I would think that Abrams and co. should get a pass on the very successful 2009 reboot. And, this may be blasphemous to non-casual Trek viewers like myself. But maybe, Abrams feels he has license to re-invent the wheel a little bit as far as Trek mythos is concerned. Trek fans should be excited!!!

    1. Hi Trent,

      I definitely do give the 2009 Star Trek a pass, as my comments above and review, linked to in this post, hopefully indicated.

      But what current event is Into Darkness referencing?

      The 9/11 attacks were 11 years ago at this point.

      BSG used it as a reference point in its remake form, and I get that. But in 2013? Is that really a "current" event?

      Good movies do reflect their time period, but that means they represent aspects/fears/values of the culture, not simply cookie-cutter blockbuster film values of the age.

      And why the revenge aspect AGAIN? For the umpteenth time.

      I'm up for a reinvention by J.J. Abrams, but not a rehash of the 2009 film. If you look at the 2009 trailer side by side with the 2012 trailer, it's amazing how many similarities there are.

      Not much to be excited about, Trek fan, or fan of good movies, in my opinion.


  7. To be a Trek fan, do you need be immersed in the mythology of Trek?? I now consider myself a Trek fan. The caveat being that the 2009 reboot was literally the first Trek anything that I ever voluntarily watched and I thought it was fantastically fun. I have since watched other Trek movies on cable channels whereas before I would avoid the channel like the plague, the one about the whale and the one where they were Kirk was trying to find God..... and they are GODAWFUL....sorry. I know that a comment like that is sacrilege, but they are to a complete newcomer to the franchise. I am from the view that Abrams could sleepwalk through the new Trek film and yet it would be far, far superior to the pre-Abrams reboot. Sorry, just the view from a spanking new fan.

    1. Hi Caitlan,

      I think the answer is "no."

      You can be a Star Trek fan because you enjoyed any aspect of the franchise, either the 2009 film, the 2001 series Enterprise, or the cartoon in the 1970s.

      I don't think there's any litmus test.

      Nor is there a knowledge (or trivia...) test.

      In fact, your experience proves just how well Star Trek 2009 accomplished its mission: introducing the concepts to a new (and receptive audience.) This is exactly what I hoped would happen. People who hadn't looked at Star Trek might be interested in giving it a chance.

      There are plenty of Star Trek movies that are awful, for a variety of reasons. That isn't sacrilege...that's fact.

      My concern about Into Darkness is that it is retreading such familiar territoryL the "revenge" plot-line of literally half the existing Star Trek movies, not to mention Skyfall, and any number of other films.

      My complaints arise from the mere fact that we are, once again, countenancing a REVENGE storyline.

      And it has been done a dozen times in and out of Star Trek. My point is only that Star Trek should try something different, and there are plenty examples from its history to choose from. The franchise is bigger than revenge.

      Great comment!


  8. Hi John,

    Don't you know?... Dark & Grim is better ;)

    ... Which means: It's easier to do; and, the filmmakers Have Absolutely Nothing To Say!

  9. This looks like such a disappointment. It has lowered my expectations, that's for sure. I had read somewhere (granted this was shortly after the 2009 movie was coming to DVD) that they were looking at a real space explorations - no villain - type of story for the next film. You know, seeking out new life, dealing with the perils of space travel, and exploring the unknown. That sounded great.

    Like you, I enjoyed the 2009 film, and felt it was a great jumping off point. It was a little off the path, but hell it was fun, and "Fun" was something missing from the Star Trek films for quite a while.

    But this... Oh well, I won't hold my breath. I know my wife will be all over this film. She adores Mr. Cumberbatch. :)