Thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness

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I've now seen Star Trek Into Darkness, and I've had some time to collect my thoughts together. This collection of aneurysms is likely to contain mucho spoilers. If you haven't seen Star Trek Into Darkness yet, and you don't want to know what it's all about, stop reading. Click the jump for the spoily spoilers.

I'm just going to bullet-point my thoughts and observations. You wanted an essay? Write your own.

  • I find the new character of James Kirk to be a bit hard to take. Chris Pine does a spectacular job of the acting, and the character is certainly real and likeable as far as the films go, but I have some issues with the way the character has been written. Captain Kirk was always the captain. He was always large and in charge. He was the shit. Now, he seems to be the kid who's constantly in the right place at the wrong time to somehow accidentally assume command of the Enterprise. If the third Abrams Trek film -- and there'll inevitably be one -- pulls the same trick, I'll be of half a mind to write a cranky letter.
  • I liked the planet full of red plants and weird flaky white people with four nostrils and peculiar eyelids. I can see a potential sequel based on their worship of the bizarre thing that came out of the water, but that's probably unlikely.
  • Spock inside the volcano -- I understand it was symbolic shorthand, but I don't believe Spock's resignation to death would have him on his knees with his hands in the air.
  • Admiral Marcus's collection of starships seems to have codified the NX-01 from Star Trek: Enterprise as part of the Abramsverse. Joy.
  • While the idea of a starship functioning underwater seems ludicrous at first consideration, they're designed to take quite a beating. Whether the engines and what-have-you would benefit from being drenched in brine is another story, though. Scotty did start to say something about the salt water causing problems. It looked pretty cool, though.
  • I rather liked the Earth-based Starfleet uniforms, with their little cap. They're an unfortunate blend of the Star Wars Imperial Navy and Nazi SS uniforms, but you can't win them all.
  • Admiral Robocop.
  • Harrison's drop-ship thing apparently eats the firehose/rifle combination Kirk throws at it, then shits it out of its rear end. I do not know if this was intentionally slapstick, but it was both awesome and awkward simultaneously.
  • Absolutely gratuitous underwear shot for Alice Eve as Carol Marcus, with Kirk glancing at her, despite the fact he didn't even remain on the mission as McCoy took his place!
  • Why the heck was Carol Marcus in this film, anyway? She served no purpose apart from the very brief scene in which she pleads with her father not to destroy the Enterprise and its crew -- something that anyone could have done, considering he didn't listen to her anyway. Then she gets her leg broken and just hangs around for the rest of the film for no useful reason. The fellow in the blue shirt with an iPhone in the back of his head served more of a purpose to the story. I find this particularly curious and frustrating, as her character was established in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to be Kirk's former love intererest (and indeed, mother of his son), and there was zero chemistry between her and Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness, given that Kirk will hump anything that's not bolted down. She was also written to be a mysterious character of questionable intent from the moment she appeared, and nothing whatsoever came of this. I don't mind something being set up to seem predictable, then the writers turning it on its ear to startle the fans, but taking something so established in canon and leaving it utterly lifeless is a bit disappointing. Maybe something will happen in a sequel. If it does, that's great, but it doesn't help Carol's limp character arc for Into Darkness.
  • There's really no reason that Spock (Quinto) needed to punch in the cheat code and phone home to Spock (Nimoy) to ask for a hint on the final level. This scene was very obviously shoehorned in to get Nimoy into the film, presumably while he's still alive and willing to appear in Trek -- both fair points, I'll add -- but it added no real substance to the film. It's great to see Leonard, of course, but there was no secret given away in his message that Spock (Quinto) couldn't have figured out for himself.
  • Kirk's communicator apparently works aaaalll the way from Klingon space to a pub on Earth. That's some good communicatoring.
  • The Klingons were pretty cool. I appreciate the fact that they didn't stray too far from the established design for their makeup. The contact lenses were a bit more exotic, and I think the jewellery and masks were appropriate. The uniforms were pretty cool, too. I'm also pleased that no changes seemed to have been made to Marc Okrand's Klingon language.
  • John Harrison was an interesting character. I avoided reading any hype about the film prior to watching it, and managed to largely avoid spoilers. I think it's a testament to the film's design and writing that I did actually question Harrison's identity right up to the point that he introduced himself as Khan. Various other possibilities crossed my mind, ranging from him being a Soong-type android to even possibly being a Founder. Obviously none of these things were true, but I'm glad the film made me consider them.
  • Having said that, Ricardo Montalban's scenery-chewing, bare-chested, Melville-quoting, ear-slug-inserting psychopathic nutjob is a hard act to follow. I really had no hope that Benedict Cumberbatch would outdo (or even match) Montalban, so I kinda dismissed it entirely and took Cumberbatch's performance for what it was. It worked. I'm happy.
  • As an addendum to that, however, I found the "bonding" scenes with Khan and Kirk sharing one-liners while completing their mission to board the Vengeance to be a bit out of character for both of them. I fail to believe even young Jim Kirk is dumb enough not to recognise that Khan is up to something diabolical.
  • I've read some unfair criticism of the design of the U.S.S. Vengeance, along the lines of "it looks like a fanboy designed it out of Lego". Y'know what? It's awesome. Because it looks like a fanboy designed it out of Lego. IT NARROWS ITS EYE AT THE ENTERPRISE. The ship has freakin' emotion. And it's angry. I approve.
  • Speaking of the Vengeance, that noise it makes as it overtakes the Enterprise at warp is all kinds of awesome.
  • Scotty strapping himself to a console in the cargo bay and blowing the hatch is reminiscent of the Next Generation episode Disaster, in which Geordi and Beverly do much the same thing to clear the cargo bay of cannisters that are leaking radiation.
  • The Kirk/Spock role reversal as Spock captains the ship into battle, unaware that Kirk is killing himself while saving the ship inside the Death Star's main reactor -- sorry, engineering room -- is a cool idea. Unfortunately, it suffers because it doesn't have the big selling point that the original scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had up its sleeve: in the original, no one knew that Spock was coming back to life in the next movie. It wasn't written yet. Nimoy had essentially quit the franchise. Spock was over. In Star Trek Into Darkness, though, there's really no doubt that Kirk would be brought back from the grave, and rather obviously by the Khan/tribble science experiment McCoy was fooling about with a few scenes before.
  • Was that a 2-1B medical droid in sickbay, or a nurse in a really crazy looking costume?
  • KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN
  • So the Enterprise is falling towards Earth. That's okay. They fall. They manage to get the thrusters to work again. They stop falling. They then rise, but without the thrusters firing any more. While I'm sure there's some kind of anti-gravity-gundulator helping to lift the ship, it seems strange that the thrusters wouldn't be firing to help raise the ship through the atmosphere.
  • They fly starships through the atmosphere a lot in these movies. Hey, I guess they can do that, now. After all, the Abramsverse Enterprise was born on Earth, after all.
  • Spock leaps from one floating garbage truck to another, identical floating garbage truck. This shot is clearly intended to show Action Spock, but smacks of not being able to afford or being unable to care to make another, different CG vehicle for him to leap onto.
  • Starfleet Headquarters people: If you look up into the sky and see that a genetically enhanced madman has stolen a starship and is going Osama Bin Laden on you with it, you should probably run away from the impending catastrophe, not towards it.
  • Until Kirk's resurrection using synthesised Khan blood, I expected the little girl from the opening of the film to reappear, probably in the context of "but wait, there's still an augment!". I guess Khan's blood just heals people, though. He's not a vampire. He doesn't make people into Khans. (Although, Kirk was healed with chemicals that were synthesised. He wasn't injected with Khan's blood directly as the girl was. Maybe there's still hope.)
  • The mission statement of the Enterprise is really awkwardly worded for a mission statement. Cool for the introduction to a television episode. Bad for a mission statement. Just sayin'.

In conclusion, I thought the film was a bunch of fun. It had some quirks, as all movies do, but I'm happy with it. I'd watch it again, and I'll no doubt splurge for the Blu-ray when it comes out. Probably not in 3D, though. I despise 3D. More on that later.

Thanks for your time.

Follow up, August 2013: Comments on some common search queries that lead people to this article:

star trek into darkness nazi uniforms, star trek into darkness uniform nazi, star trek into darkness imperial navy Yes, I may have mentioned that the uniforms the Trek characters wear on Earth look a bit like Nazi uniforms. Who'da thunk anyone would have agreed with me?

Why Australians can't act

australia-poster

It's come to my attention, from watching movies and television, that Australian actors...can't. This is not an observation targeted toward specific actors, it's a gross generalisation that applies to all of them. Even the best Australian actors tend to perform jarringly, unnaturally and in contrast to their British and American counterparts, just plain badly. This has become rather lengthy, so I'm going to put a lead break in it. You'll need to click "read more" to, uh, read more.*

* Unless you came directly to this page, in which case these paragraphs are just here to confuse you. Confused? Good.

Rather than structure this as an essay, I'm going to present a bunch of observations, then a bunch of extrapolations, reasonings and inferences based on those observations. Some of this might be a bit vague (or, in contrast, way too specific), so bear with me whilst I organise my thoughts.

  • First up, let me make it clear that I don't have a problem with Australian films, Australian actors or Australian television programs. This is an observation based on all Australian actors, with no total exceptions that I'm aware of at this moment.
  • It's not an accent problem. While it's well known that the Australian accent is difficult to imitate for outsiders, which I don't dispute, I'm concentrating largely on Australian native actors, here.
  • Having said that, this same phenomenon also applies, largely, to actors from other Antipodes-esque locales, specifically New Zealand and South Africa.
  • Although there's another corollary to the same point: If you take an Australian actor and put them in the role of an American character (as happens with monotonous regularity), provided none of their original accent peeks through, they are as good as any American actor. Even a bad one. So, this leaves us with the distinction that the issue lies entirely with casting Australian actors as Australian characters, usually (but not exclusively) in Australian films.
  • Australian actors cannot act in US productions. When placed alongside American actors, Australians come across as unnatural, artificial characters with phoney accents that do not fit into the universe of films at all. While I'm perfectly able to watch a production with an ensemble cast made up of American, British, French, German, etc actors, throwing a single Australian into the mix is always, without fail, noticably painful.
  • Even in home-grown Australian productions, the acting quality is false and noticable. While I'm the first to admit that Australia has a relatively small film and television oeuvre in comparison to other nations' film industries (more on that later), the bizarrely bad acting appears to be an across-the-board problem, from the likes of Home and Away to full-length motion pictures.
  • We've gotten worse as time has passed. Older Australian movies, such as those prior to the 1960s, tend to have less noticable bad acting. I have a suspicion that this is a result of Australians behaving (and speaking, particularly in a film'n'theatre environment) in a much more 'British' fashion.

Theories:

  • American and British films and television shows are dilute. There're thousands of them. There's a vast abundance of bad to go with the good, and you don't have to look far to find it. The "average" water mark in cinema and television outside of Australia is not a high one. I believe the result of this is that average-to-bad actors in the US and UK are, statistically, the norm, and their behaviour on-screen has become expected and accepted. When a "bad" American or British actor appears in a high-quality production, their appearance isn't necessarily noticeable as a bad performance because they're still conforming to the expectations of the audience. Australian films and television productions, by contrast, are not at all as abundant. You could count them, if you had a weekend to spare. An Australian film is immediately compared against all other Australian films, and the comparison is fair. The average water mark is not a gigantic amorphous blob of facelessly beige film that everyone's seen but no one remembers. The average Australian film is just that -- an average film. You saw it, you remember it, you can judge the next one against it. I believe this contributes to the "Australians can't act" phenomenon greatly. Until the Australian film industry produces enough product to map out a smooth bell curve of expected acting behaviour, the highs and lows are going to continue to stand out like neon lights.
  • The US and UK film industries have, over the decades, built up an established "stylised" version of their worlds, which have become accepted by the moviegoing audience. Everyone knows that the real USA is not like the USA of the movies. Everyone accepts that what you see in a film is stylised and warped for convenience, tweaked for storytelling and stretched to meet the moviegoer's expectations. Australia doesn't really have a stylised version of itself. Audiences watching a film with Australian actors can only compare it against the Australia of real life, and it will always fall short. If an Australian film tries to use the stylised universe of the US or the UK, it will fail, because Australia is not those places, and Australian characters do not behave as American or British characters would in those situations.
  • The stylised version of Britain seems to be based around a combination of theatrical acting and cobblestone streets, but regardless, it's established, and it works. Suspension of disbelief is achieved. No one questions it.
  • Having just said that there's no established stylised version of Australia, I need to backtrack enthusiastically and correct myself: There is a stylised version of Australia that appears in film and television. We just don't like it. Australia, both internally and internationally, has a tendency to be represented on television as a stereotype of itself, with enormous sheep farms, dusty deserts and backwater hicks that talk like they've not had a single day of schooling. While these things in themselves are certainly extant in Australia, they do not form a picture of the day-to-day life of the average Australian citizen, nor do they represent the average Australian's ideal of their country. I suspect this aspect of Australia as shown on the silver screen (and the idiot box) is a detriment to the suspension of disbelief required to put stock in a production's characters and the actors that portray them.
  • The Australian film and television industries, as you'd expect, reside largely in the country's major cities. If an Australian film is set in the country, as many of them are (see above, it's the done thing for representing "Australia", remember), the actors that portray the country characters are invariably actors who were born and raised in the city. Australia prides itself -- falsely -- on not having much variation in accent. There's not a huge difference between the speech of someone from Perth vs. someone from Sydney. But there is a difference. There's also a difference between the speech of someone from Sydney's inner suburbs to someone from Sydney's west. There's considerable regional variation. If memory serves, Australia has three distinct accent classifications: urban, rural and high. Urban is the voice of the people of Australia's cities. Rural is the open-mouthed drawl of the folks from the country. High is the "posh" accent ascribed to the likes of Alexander Downer. Australian actors born and raised in the city thrown into a production set in the country have a tendency to be jarring, possibly because they didn't consider the need to study and alter their accent. Maybe this is overlooked because of the acceptance of regional diversity in accents in other countries -- it's not unusual to find someone with a New York accent in Los Angeles in an American film, and it doesn't require explanation or clarification. In Australia, however, someone from the city in a dusty outback town requires acknowledgement, or the viewer will subconsciously be aware that something is "wrong" with the character's behaviour. Worse than this, though, are actors born and raised in the city who choose to imitate country behaviour. While this is just flat-out bad acting, it's an example of overcompensation for something ending in disastrous results.

I'm going to finish these thoughts by again reiterating that I have no qualms with Australian actors or films. This is just an observation about believability, and it's something based entirely on the quantity of productions we have to sample for Australian actors, I'm beginning to believe. If the time ever comes that the pile of Australian productions is the same height as the pile of American and British productions, then I believe the quality of Australian acting will equalise, but until such a time, I suspect that many Australian viewers will continue to cringe whenever someone with an Australian accent makes an appearance, especially in a production from the US or the UK.

As an entirely unconnected thought, here's a strange little fact: There has never ever been an Australian character in the Star Trek franchise. There've been Australian actors -- Wendy Hughes, for example, appeared as Jean-Luc Picard's love interest in Star Trek: TNG -- but they've always appeared with an American accent. Food for thought, perhaps.

As a final addendum, here's a random video from the YouTube channel Veritasium, in which a bunch of folk with different accents (host is American, various Australians, one enthusiastic Scotsman) have a chat about Young's Double Slit Experiment. Notice how the Australians are not jarring against the others as they tend to do in films. Intriguing, no? Also, I bet the Veritasium peoples didn't expect a secondary language experiment was also taking place.