Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkess IMAX Review; Star Trek Into Darkness 3D Review

I've seen Star Trek Into Darkness in IMAX 3D and regular 3D. This review will cover both. So, in the words of the movie's antagonist, John Harrison, "Shall we begin."

Star Trek Into Darkness is the sequel to the 2009 successful reboot of the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek. J.J. Abrams who directed the 2009 movie is again brought on to direct. The 2009 writers Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci also return to create the screenplay with Damon Lindelof. I'll admit that I'm a Trekker and liked the 2009 movie but found it light in terms of being Star Trek. So I'm a harder critic of the Star Trek films.

Star Trek Into Darkness starts out with the crew of the Enterprise working to stop a volcano from erupting on the planet Nibiru. The Enterprise is hidden underwater so it won't be exposed to the primitive population. Such contamination would violate the Prime Directive which prohibits interference with native populations. Spock (Zachery Quinto) gets stranded in the volcano. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) decides to expose the Enterprise to rescue Spock. Back on earth, Kirk is punished for violating the Prime Directive and he loses command of the Enterprise to Admiral Christopher Pike. (Bruce Greenwood) While accompanying Pike to a meeting of senior command, the conference is interrupted by an attack from John Harrison. (Benedict Cumberbatch) He's a member of Starfleet who recently bombed a London Starfleet archive. He flees to the Klingon home world of Kronos. Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) sends the Enterprise back under the command of Captain Kirk to kill Harrison.

Kirk is portrayed here as an older but not wiser Kirk. In the first movie, he's confident but kind of an arrogant jerk. Chris Pine gives him that swagger. But it's the beginning of the evolution to a more mature Kirk that is on display here. Pine's Kirk shows insecurity, doubt and finally humility. Zachery Quinto's Spock is a wonder here. There's a line where Quinto's Spock acknowledges that he displays multiple attitudes at once. You see Quinto plays a Vulcan, a member of a race that suppresses emotions. It's remarkable that Quinto displays emotion in a cool and collected manner. Zoe Saldana is Uhura. She's not given much to do but when she is on the screen, she loves her man (Spock) and is a bold, take charge woman. Karl Urban comes back as Dr. Leonard McCoy. He's pitch perfect. His McCoy is not an imitation of DeForest Kelley who originally played him. It's a performance that captures the passionate doctor of the sixties show. Peter Weller gives Marcus a regal and commanding vibe. But it's Benedict Cumberbatch as Harrison who nearly steals the film. He's a chameleon when it comes to his motivations. He manipulates. He's vicious. It's a magnetic performance.

Director J.J. Abrams doesn't doesn't ditch his trademark style for Star Trek Into Darkness. It's a visual style that has a rich color palette. There are epic scenes. He handles action sequences well but has bad tendency to keep the camera moving at warp speed. This leads to confusion. That happens when there's a battle between Kirk's squad and Klingons. It makes me want to say to Abrams that it's a movie not a documentary. Fortunately, 3D filmmaking prohibits aggressive camera movement since that would make the audience sick. So Abrams is a little more restrained here. But there's still his love of the editing technique of fast cutting. While Abrams use of it adds to the excitement, it can come off as an appeal to teenagers with ADHD. Still, Abrams does a much better job of balancing dialogue with the action by breaking up the action set pieces. This movie breathes better than the 2009 movie. Abrams also has a great rhythm when it comes to getting out the emotion and humor in a scene.

But a good movie starts with a good screenplay. And Star Trek Into Darkness' has a good screenplay. As actor Leonard Nimoy likes to say, Star Trek works on multiple levels. There's adventure. There's emotion. And there are ideas. Scientific or philosophical. Star Trek Into Darkness explores many ideas. The Prime Directive. War. The war on terror. Revenge. Death. Yet the film flies between all these ideas with grace and humor. And the humor works better this time. It's not forced but flows from the situation. Still, this is a summer tentpole. And the action pieces are all logically connected smartly by various plot devices. A tribble makes a innocuous appearance here and turns into an important plot point later. Excellent stuff. There are very few miscues. I'm not a big fan of the literal references to an earlier Star Trek movie but I'll just accept that maybe it's the new timeline trying to correct to the old one. (You have to watch the first movie and get the reference to "alternate reality.")

As for the which version of Star Trek Into Darkness, you should see, let me start first with what kind of 3D film it is. It's a 3D conversion from 2D. The process of converting a 2D movie into a 3D movie is like creating a cinematic pop up book. Don't expect to see nooks and crannies, light and shadow that a 3D camera rig will pick up. As the late film critic Roger Ebert likes to say, you cannot make a 2D movie into a 3D movie.

Someday, say in the twenty third century, the technology to convert a 2D movie into a movie that looks like it was filmed in 3D may exist. But as of 2013, we don't have that capability. Paramount forced 3D on director J.J. Abrams. So, one can argue it's a cash grab. But Abrams does something different here. He filmed empty sets to help in the conversion process. Did it work? No. Both the IMAX and 3D versions lack pop, and depth. Neither version made me say "wow." There were many times I questioned whether the movie was released in 3D. While the IMAX version has 30 minutes specifically shot for the format, it's not special enough from the regular 3D version. IMAX does have the better resolution and consequently it had better 3D effects. So if you must see Star Trek Into Darkness in 3D choose IMAX. Otherwise choose the 2D version.

Star Trek Into Darkness is an exciting, funny, smart film. The best compliment I can give to any Star Trek production is that they made Star Trek. In Star Trek Into Darkness, they made Star Trek. The grade is A.

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