Is Star Trek Into Darkness Too Dark?

With all the doom and gloom in its advertising (and title), could 'Star Trek Into Darkness' be too grim for its core audience?

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Image: Star Trek Poster
Paramount Pictures

When I think about it, any worries I might have had about Star Trek Into Darkness didn’t really begin with the announcement of the movie’ title last September, as much as I like to pretend otherwise. I mean, the title is just a little too on the nose, isn’t it? Not only in the way that it seemed to be an all-too-obvious signifier that, Hey, this time out we’re going after the Dark Knight audience, but also that it turned the title into a sentence, and, in the process, reminded the audience of just how weird a title Star Trek actually is. “Trek,” is a word that’s always seemed a bit archaic and old-fashioned, even with “Star” preceding it.

But it wasn’t the title that made me worried. All told, it just seemed silly, and a little embarrassing. I was still on board the Into Darkness train with the release of the first teaser trailer, filled with Benedict Cumberbatch’s grumbling monologue, and all those scenes of destruction, and Kirk, Uhura et al looking particularly concerned about everything that was going on. It was, after all, only a minute of footage — and if things looked particularly grim, isn’t that the point of teasers? To get your hackles raised and your anxiety going? Watching the Enterprise crash into San Francisco Bay made me want to know why, and who, and, most importantly, what happened next. As a teaser, it did its job.

No, for whatever reason, it took the second (longer) teaser, released less than two weeks after the first, to make me feel a bit uncertain about Star Trek Into Darkness. Watching the trailer again now, I know exactly what it was that worried me: It’s doing everything it can to impress upon you that things will get sad.

Listen to the music, all low, slow and filled with haunted vocals that dull the otherwise exciting visuals. Or the voiceover in the first half of the trailer, which warns Kirk that he’s “gonna get [himself] and everyone under [his] command killed,” while we see — again — shots of the Enterprise crew looking upset, intercut with scenes of funerals and caskets and death and destruction. And then, Benedict Cumberbatch says “You think you’re safe… you are not” over yet more scenes of expertly choreographed violence, accompanied by an orchestra seemingly given the instruction “sound as ominous as you can.”

My problem with that trailer is not that that trailer isn’t well-made and evocative, because it is both of those things. Instead, my problem is far simpler: There’s nothing about that trailer that’s fun.

Star Trek should be fun. That’s a reductive statement, of course. Star Trek as a franchise has been more than just fun many times; it’s been exciting and moving and thought-provoking. It’s been inspirational and it’s been challenging. Star Trek can be all or any of those things, but the one thing that Star Trek should be — really, has to be, for me — is fun.

Star Trek is a fictional universe that’s based almost entirely on optimism; it’s threaded throughout the concept. Not only do we evolve as a species, it says, but look what humanity accomplishes along the way. Look what we can do, if we dare. Trek, at heart, is all about self-determination and self-actualization, and as a fictional engine, that’s something that only really works if the good guys succeed, and keep succeeding.

To deliver a universe where things work otherwise, the franchise’s core message goes from one of “When we work hard, we can accomplish great things” to “We tried, but you know, stuff happened.” Trek‘s inherent optimism may defuse part of the tension in the stories being told — going from “Will the good guys win?” to “How will the good guys win?” — but it makes Trek a particularly fun experience, when done right.

And here’s the thing: Abrams & Co. can do it right. Watch the trailer for their first outing with the franchise:

Doesn’t that just look great? It’s a movie you want to watch, because it looks like a good time. The trailers for Star Trek Into Darkness make the movie look like something far less enjoyable, and far darker than most casual Trek fans probably want.

It’s possible that Star Trek Into Darkness will end up being a rip-roaring adventure where everything turns out okay in the end, and it’s just the trailers that have misjudged what Trek needs to be in order to operate, but even so: I’ve been into Star Trek for close to thirty years, now. If I’m not excited about the new movie, isn’t that a problem, somehow?

17 comments
clubkookoo
clubkookoo

If you read the book "Dreadnought!" by Diane Carey, you will recognize much of the movie in her book. Too bad she didn't get any credit!

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

One has to wonder just how hard-up a critic is for cash when they review a TRAILER rather than the actual movie.  This is like looking at a package of corn flakes then criticizing the taste based ENTIRELY on what's on the label.

Mr. McMillan, next time you want to urinate on someone's cornflakes because you don't think you'll like the flavor, you might want to try tasting them first.

Rhomega
Rhomega like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Not as dark as the first movie where Kirk's father was killed, a whole planet was sucked into a black hole and Spock was forced to watch, and the same nearly happened to Earth.

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

No wonder that cat turned out so cold.

LawrenceSmallman
LawrenceSmallman like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I thought the film was bold. The clear 9/11 and bin Ladin assassination commentary, the breaking of the absurd prime directive (as a comment on the ridiculous notion that cultures should be preserved at all costs), the development of a brash and reckless Kirk into a mature leader ... I think this was enjoyable, entertaining, well-acted and worth every penny. 

And compared to other rubbish I've watched in the last few months - such as Expendables II, Taken II, Dredd, The Hobbit ... well it towers over these films. Well done Pine amd Cumberbatch. Abrahms, drop Star Wars, and make another Star Trek please!

glennra3
glennra3 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I just saw the movie and loved it.


I grew up with the original series. I have seen all of the Star Trek movies and every episode of every incarnation of the television series (DS9 is the best, in my opinion). I guess you could say I'm a Trekker (minus the prosthetic and conventions). This ranks in the top five of the 12 Trek films thus far.


Is the story weak? Yes. Abrams opted to go with an non-stop action thriller, something the franchise had been sorely lacking before the reboot.  


I hope the next film will be an original story and will focus more on the writing than on the effects and action, but for my money this ranks just behind the last Abrams film, First Contact, and Wrath of Khan for entertainment value.

WhenWhereNow
WhenWhereNow

The action was fine, but like someone else said, the story was poor.  The death scene was atrocious and the copying of another film pair with more copying of other films was not impressive at all.  Mr. McMillan, I had the same feeling you did for some of the same reasons based off of the trailers, and after watching the film I found that I was right.  This is a movie to be skipped. 

BobbyCha
BobbyCha like.author.displayName 1 Like

Mr. McMillan, it would be interesting to know what you thought after you saw the movie.  Not what you thought in regards to the "previews".  We just returned from watching this movie in 3D and our group pretty much agreed, "It's the BEST Star Trek movie - ever!"  

It incorporated many of the attributes of the television program and the initial movies.  It even brought back the Original Mr. Spock!  Though it seemed that for once it was slipping into the world of WAR, it managed to stay on course.. STAR TREK's course to just probe and do so in peace.  And in the end we were entreated with those everso measured words:  

"Space: The final frontier

These are the voyages of the Starship, Enterprise

Its 5 year mission
To explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life and new civilizations
To boldly go where no man has gone before"
Which, though I enjoyed hearing someone else speak them, I too spoke them - from memory.  Every word.
I don't know what it was like in your movie house, but out here in very Rural America (Oregon) it recieved an amazing applause.  Well deserved, regardless your feeling about the trailers (I didn't see one) - it was worth $10.00!

PramathParijat
PramathParijat like.author.displayName 1 Like

This was a BRILLIANT movie. Somehow even better than the 2009 one.

JJ Abrams has done the impossible and made the Star Trek franchise viable beyond just nerds (and no offense intended to nerds, because I'm one myself, I just love it when everyone enjoys the same things I do).

rvgreenejr0684.rg
rvgreenejr0684.rg like.author.displayName 1 Like

Just got back from the theater. The movie was very fast paced. It ran the whole gambit of expected 2nd movie Star Trek genre with Khan, Carol Marcus and the special torpedo(s).  There were a few unexpected surprises with the cameo of Lenard Nimoy, the mention of Nurse Christine Chapel (the role late Majel Barrett Roddenberry perfected)the secretive Section 31 from Star Trek DS9, and the bigger, badder, Dreadnought class warship; let's just say that I am very pleased. The movie was sweet and exciting. I hope it makes a ton of money to help keep the Star Trek franchise alive for years to come.

JerryCasey
JerryCasey

The action of star trek was great! The story line blows. Where in the hell does j.j get his time line info? Kahn and his crowd wasn't found until into the 5 year mission.

glennra3
glennra3

@JerryCasey

If you will recall from the original series episode, "Space Seed," Khan Noonien Singh was also a exile from the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s.


The timeline needed adjusting.


Also, they explained in the movie that after the destruction of Vulcan Star Fleet actively searched for and found the genetically engineered humans from the Eugenics Wars.  In the original series the enterprise came upon the cryo tubes accidentally. 


Changes in the timeline have repercussions.   

adtekcomp
adtekcomp like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @JerryCasey Dude, they indicate that Star fleet because of the Nero incident and destruction of Vulcan pressed real hard into deep space faster than they would have and discovered the botany bay earlier in this timeframe.

JimMedcraft
JimMedcraft like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

It's a completely different time line, only events such as the eugenics wars set before the 1st movie are still going to be canon, how everything plays out is completely up in the air maybe even the Q might notice them now earlier ...

PaulLane
PaulLane like.author.displayName 1 Like

Worthy and clever.

rj1947
rj1947

Hey, the movie was great! I've been a trek fan since the beginning and have watched all of the different series. This movie was very

entertaining for new and old fans!