Sunday, June 23, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

The other day I was taking a glance at the nominations from years past for the Saturn Awards. The 90s were full of nominations for sci-fi/fantasy camp like Lost in Space and Event Horizon and the horror categories always had whatever the most recent Freddy/Michael/Jason movie that was out. Compare that to recent nominees- Nolan's Inception, Allen's Midnight in Paris, Scorsese's Hugo, Lee's Life of Pi, and most noticeably the likes of The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, or The Dark Knight Rises. These "pop-culture" movies (especially those that are adaptations/remakes/reboots) are being treated seriously. Whether it's with all-star casts or talented writers and directors, the likes of Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, Christopher Nolan et. al. have ushered in an era where a new respect (critically and comercially) can be found for these high-concept sci-fi/fantasy blockbuster pictures.

With his fourth feature, director J.J. Abrams and his team's work on Star Trek is no exception. The script has an emotional wallop to it; questions about modern morality and ethical boundaries (more deftly mastered by Nolan with the Batman films) are faced by many of these diverse characters. Unfortunately, a problem I find with the film and one that I even picked up traces of in the likes of The Avengers, Iron Man 3, and Man of Steel is the ultimate and timely descent of the material into what has been described with negative connation as "blockbuster fare." Make way for the fight or visual effects spectacle as suddenly a character has just the right amount of power or strength to continue through the story (Khan), plot devices that have been discussed suddenly begin to work in our characters' favor (warp drives), and the ending is convenient and provides closure. It's about how well the filmmakers are able to balance the crowd-pleasing with some gravitas.

In this case, Abrams does a pretty good job (thinking back, I'm a bit more partial to his first Trek effort in how it acknowledged its franchise's popular culture with modernity), but at a certain point the movie just feels fun and carefree. It's an enjoyable experience and the cast led by Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Benedict Cumberbatch are incredible in their given roles with the material. The first great blockbuster of the year and it certainly achieves its goal of heightening and preparing Gene Roddenberry's world for the 21st century.

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