Niagara Gazette

May 21, 2013

CALLERI: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' shows a comedic side

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — If you’re not part of the “Star Trek” cheering section, you’re to be forgiven if you can’t keep track of all the incarnations of the outer space adventure. The best advice I can give for developing an understanding of the connectivity among all the motion pictures and television programs is to take them one at a time. You’ll slowly see how interwoven everything is. Of course, understanding doesn’t necessarily have to mean appreciating.

As for those of you who confuse “Star Trek” with “Star Wars,” be aware that people do take sides. Is there an empirical, or even a theoretical, difference between the two? The answer is yes. “Star Trek” is about philosophy and technology as it pertains to traveling through the galaxies. It’s more cerebral, more about discovery and exploration; encounters with aliens and a desire to know their worlds. “Star Wars is about aggression and mythology. Its vision is more grandiose; epic if you will. Political machinations and control of civilizations are part of the package. Large-scale battles ensue. If “Star Trek” is a dramatic reading. “Star Wars” is an opera.

As far as “Star Trek Into Darkness” is concerned, through most of the film there’s not much that’s genuinely surprising. Because this is the follow-up to the 2009 re-boot of the franchise, there’s still a lot of “Star Trek” history to mine. Director J. J. Abrams and his trio of screenwriters (Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof) delight in scooping up swaths of background material and tossing it into the mix.

The movie is not very original. Some of it is fun, even funnier than Ricardo Montalban’s pumped up pecs in “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.” Fortunately, the comic highlights in this new adventure are rooted in the successful use of its characters. The verbal byplay between Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), as well as among other members of the Enterprise crew, is wonderfully entertaining. It’s comedy drawn from depth. It also tells you how fine acting can enhance moderately interesting dialogue.

The story is uncomplicated, although it helps to know what the Prime Directive is. That’s the Federation mandate that forbids messing around with alien cultures. Leave them alone. Whatever will be will be. This is a very hippie-like attitude, but then Gene Rodenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” presented the first television series in 1966 quite near the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. He took pride in presenting his preferred social issues (civil rights, the woman’s movement, eradication of poverty, charity towards all and malice towards none) under the guise of science fiction.

The crew of the Enterprise, under the command of young Captain Kirk, violates the Prime Directive because that’s what the screenwriters need. It’s a weak beginning. So, the Enterprise is taken away from Kirk. Then it’s given back to him because there’s a nasty science fiction villain (Benedict Cumberbatch) threatening peace in outer space, that sort of thing. The Enterprise is always the only spaceship that can handle the ogres; stiff, waxy, and basically British though they may be. There you have it. That is your movie, in all its redundancy. When Kirk is leaping about endangered by red vines on a distant planet, can Tribbles really not be far behind?

I am always amused by the fact that a gang of pirates a gazillion miles from Earth can be so dangerous to that very same Earth. Isn’t space travel exhausting? Who can summon up the energy to fight after zooming through asteroids and planetoids and every other conceivable oid? Why don’t they ever just want to mellow out? Perhaps have a sandwich or a cup of soup?

There are long rounds of space fighting, but more violent than we’re used to from previous “Star Trek” adventures. Heightening the violence distracts audiences from the lack of a rich story. As the film wobbles to its lengthy conclusion, overstaying its welcome, there is a surprise for “Star Trek” fans, something that involves the central villain.

Visually, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is fantastic. If you fail at generating beautiful and exciting digital imagery in this day and age, you need to be drummed out of Hollywood. I saw the movie in 2D, but 3D is an option. However, it was not filmed in 3D, and those versions are always suspect. I had heard about lens flare with the 3D edition, so I watched about 30 minutes in a theater running it in 3D. Indeed, there is very bad lens flare during action sequences, especially when characters are moving quickly.

“Star Trek Into Darkness” sets up the five year mission into space on which the Starship Enterprise will embark. I wish the movie had boldly gone a little bit further. It’s mostly treading water.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.