May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

There are so many twists upon twists upon twists, so many fake endings, so many wasted minutes of mayhem in this incoherent movie that at a certain point (say, 15 minutes in) you feel like someone dropped you into the spin cycle of a washing machine. The filmmakers (I imagine armies of them, marshaled by commander J. J. Abrams) took "cut to the chase" to heart, actually starting with a chase. It goes downhill from there. There were a couple of fun action sequences among the 827 action sequences, programmed every second heartbeat, but I forget what they were. Movies in 3D are actually mostly about objects hurling through space and their plots are written with this in mind. How many objects can we hurl at the audience in 2 hours? This movie will wear you down, it may very well destroy you, if you are not a 15 year-old male with acute ADD.
I did not quite understand "the darkness" of the title: I was morally confused. There were vague echoes of 72 virgins, and foreign wars and a speech towards the end that admonishes the Federation that we can't become like the bad guys who want to destroy us, so I have a nagging feeling that there was some sort of Hollywood style liberal lip service bullshit embedded in there, but beats me -- and I challenge anyone to tell me -- what it was.
Between periods of induced somnolence, high-decibel anxiety, and utter incomprehension of the plot, these were the things that stood out:
Captain Kirk is played by pretty boy Chris Pine, who lacks both gravitas and insouciance, and makes you pine for William Shatner. In my view, this is a major mistake in the film. You need a believable captain, not someone who looks like he can commandeer a penny arcade.
I perked up when I heard a magnificent baritone speaking offscreen, thinking that Jeremy Irons had sunk even lower than The Borgias, but it was Benedict Cumberbatch; the one reason to sit through this Guantánamo of a movie. He plays the meanie as if he was doing Shakespeare, to his eternal credit. He is a bad guy that once was good, but turned bad because of a good guy that turned bad, but now he decided to be very bad again by feigning good. Oops! Spoiler! Too bad.
I was rooting for him.  With that voice, I thought myself capable of following his every protocol, no matter how despicable. Want to destroy humanity? Just say it and your wish is my command.
I deeply admire the acting crew of the Enterprise and everyone in the cast, in particular stalwarts like Bruce Greenwood and Peter Weller (as stiff as ever). It is a mystery to me how all the actors can utter the lines they are given with such professionalism and seriousness of purpose. I wonder if the shooting schedule allowed for actors to recover from laughing, wincing and rolling their eyes at lines like "I was trying to save your life" and "You don't respect the chair" (actually my favorite line this year, possibly ever). The three multimillion-dollar writers must have consulted the Encyclopedia of Hollywood One Liners, because you've heard most of them before. Once in a while, there is a little joke in there, but not frequently enough.
The volume was cranked up so high, this might be a new "enhanced interrogation" technique devised by Hollywood to force the audience to feel thrilled. The shamelessly over the top music by Michael Giacchino is so beyond epic, that I actually liked it. It telegraphed and punctuated everything as bombastically as possible. I hope the composer had fun putting everything but the kitchen sink in there. Sounds like he had a blast.
The production design and the cinematography were, to my surprise, truly cool. Everything is highly polished and reflective, everything gleams. To this day, nobody has been able to design a spaceship that is not a hand me down of the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but hey: Respect the chair.
I loved the futuristic versions of London and San Francisco (which, inevitably, gets smashed to a pulp).
Why do guys want to destroy cities so much? Just asking.
We should all wear those fabulous jewel-toned v-necks next season. The clothes are fantastic, though I object to the miniskirts: too old fashioned.
During the exhausting ricocheting of plot points, I wondered how many hundreds of people worked on the exquisitely detailed special effects, and how many of them got laid off, their workplace bankrupt, after spending months buffing pixels.
I loved that I could see no product placement anywhere. Loved it.
There is a Russian character (Anton Yelchin), whom they have the gall to call Chekov. He is the only incompetent person aboard the Enterprise. He should not have quit his day job.
Spock has a romantic relationship with Zoe Saldana, who is beautiful. I guess even in space women fall for emotionally distant Vulcans.
At some point, I thought, hey, wasn't Star Trek about exploration? There were always nasty aliens out there, but if I remember correctly, the point was to explore and be nice to the other galaxies, not to shoot and blow them up with weapons that look like glorified dustbusters. In this version, there is a lot of mayhem, a lot of spaceship malfunction (a trope of the series) and in between, attempts to humanize the proceedings by having moments of quiet and rest, mostly involving Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and his homoerotic frissons for Captain Kirk (and why not?).
Sadly, everything that is supposed to thrill or move you is so predictable, so calculated, and so cliched, and so loud, you just want to retire to a monastery when it is all over.
"Where shall we go now?" the question is asked at the end. Away from Hollywood, is all that came to mind.

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