Drop Your Shields

So what do I think about the new Star Trek Into Darkess motion picture. Think, think. Thinking is not the first word that comes to my mind. As a long time trekkie who also became involved in academic research about science fiction at some point, I think I can recognise when a Star Trek movie is meant for the sheer pleasure of mindless entertainment, and this one was from the very beginning of production.

Accordingly, I went to see at the BFI London IMAX, which offers a satisfying total screen size of 540m (26m by 20m). I could have done without the 3D but anyway, the drawbacks of 3D (low quality screening, blurred action, confusion of the cerebellum) are reduced in IMAX format, where the image tends to be sharper and generally more comfortable to watch.

Overall, the film is good. Fresh, never derivative. Abrams has already proved that he understands and loves the ST material he’s working with, so he handles it with craftsmanship and even virtuosity. He builds up an excellent TOS bromance + a bit of romance, so that long time trekkies can relax and enjoy. He also respects TNG ethics and the first directive is deal with correctly (that is to say broken critically). This time he picks up the post-Roddenberryan line of unveiling evil within the Federation, which agrees with younger fans who grew up in the DS9-VOY-whatever era.

Casting and acting are perfect, as always. Let alone the gigantic Khan (a very commanding 20m tall Cumberbach), the original crew is amazing, especially Scotty played by Simon Pegg.

Unfortunately, the screenplay and the execution are not as compact and effective as they were in the previous movie. Here we have overlong political conversations, overcomplicated political complications, and several holes in the plot itself. Therefore the rhythm is flawed and the film tends to lag here and there.

Khan would have needed more screen time, and believe me this it the opinion of the published author, not of the fangirl. From this movie we get that Khan is a good looking, determined, dangerous superman in search of revenge against corrupted Federation admirals and nothing else. We get a lot of details on what he does, basically he makes things and people explode, he wears a European-baddie silver cloak and he flies if necessity arises, but we don’t know what he feels. In my opinion this Khan could have been written better, considering how emotional he will turn out to be during TOS and the classic motion pictures (albeit in a different timeline). Without Cumberbatch’s stellar delivery (the drop your shields line must be the best of the entire saga), I don’t know what we could have done of mere explosions, silver cloaks and some flying around, in Star Trek.

Star Trek mindless entertainment is in fact all about iconic starships, the comfort of serialization, intergalactic ethics and what characters feel, meaning all of them, including the third alien from the right. Why not Khan?

For example, it is my firm opinion, that the infamous shower of evil scene would have helped to understand Khan’s feelings better (yes yes I know this sounds ridiculous, but believe it or not, Carol Marcus in underwear and a bare-chested Kirk do mean something, considering the future, the past, whatever).

Anyway, at least now I get why Abrams was so upset last year for the leaked images, they were from the main action sequence, no less. Poor Abrams.

A quick note about the boring 3D thing. Ok everyone in Hollywood is making a big fuss about 3D being the real way everyone had always wanted to make cinema but could not and now they can what a joy. But it’s been a few years now, we’ve all watched and considered, and I think we can safely say that 3D adds nothing to the sensorial experience (except maybe fatigue), but it changes things semantically. When a sequence is designed for 3D, it is meant to be watched using 3D criteria, even in the 2D version. 3D sequences are supposed to be watched differently, with our eyes making different things, in particular looking only at the small portion of the image that is supposed to be looked at, and following that portion during the sequence. Your sight can’t wander, you can’t look at a detail in the background, or watch the expression of the character you want, or linger. You must move and follow orders, otherwise you won’t understand what’s happening. Of course also traditional cinema work this way, but the area tends to be bigger and you’re allowed much more freedom, visually speaking. In traditional cinema you can understand a sequence by watching it in different ways. I don’t know what will happen to cinema as we know it, if it will survive or will be replaced by this new bespectacled thing. What I know is that, in the meanwhile, 3D is mostly blurred, especially the action sequences, unless you watch it in IMAX, where it is mostly sharp, except action sequences which are still blurred. For example, the opening running through-the-red-forest sequence is better in 2D. It might be less immersive (it’s not), but at least you can see the trees. In 3D you can’t see anything, it’s just meant to tickle your limbic system.