Star Trek, we need to talk. We’ve had a lot of good times. But we’re both in such different places now. I’ve grown. You’ve shrunk.
I never saw INTO DARKNESS. After STAR TREK (2009) I decided to save myself the aggravation. But I was one of the hopeful fans who’d heard STAR TREK BEYOND would be the course-correction the series needed. I got burned again.
Initial reports that this one “got it right” were probably based on a few quiet scenes between McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). The casting has always been the best thing about these reboot movies, and indeed, here they kinda get the dynamic: Spock and McCoy bicker but underneath we can tell they respect each other. Fine. The bar is pretty low if we’re pleased with 10 minutes of chit-chat amid two hours of frenetic nonsense.
I won’t waste anyone’s time with a plot synopsis, but BEYOND kicks off with Kirk whining into his Captain’s log that he’s basically bored (what) with the routine (WHAT) of his 5-year mission. Exploring strange new worlds and boldly going has apparently become a big drag. I wanted to slap Chris Pine. Imagine original series Shatner/Kirk expressing this. It would never have happened. Here, the reboot (or “Kelvin timeline,” if you must) gets fundamental traits of both Kirk and the franchise wrong. This scene was Star Trek putting itself on the psychiatrist couch, trying to diagnose its own malaise. It’s not you, Jim: it’s the scripts.
But J.J. Abrams (director on the first two reboot pics, producer on BEYOND) has never respected the source material. He’s never treated Star Trek like anything more than a gig. He said he tried to watch the original series but “couldn’t get into it.” So he ripped it to shreds and picked out the bits that looked shiny to him. The end result is some kind of assemblage that only vaguely resembles Trek. In this metaphor I think Abrams is either some kind of primitive folk artist or maybe a crow.
But if you like movies made by crows, there’s plenty of shiny bits here to keep you busy. Kirk rides a motorcycle! The Enterprise gets smashed (again), and then the crew blows up the bad guys with an old Beastie Boys tape! Neat! And director Justin Lin never, ever, ever stops moving the camera.
In a rare quiet moment near the end of the film, Spock pulls out a picture of the original cast (from WRATH OF KHAN, I believe) and silently gazes upon it. More soul-searching, maybe: “where did we go wrong?”
Star Trek, I came back to you. I thought you’d changed. I thought maybe it could be like it was before, when we were both younger. But I got hurt again. So this is goodbye.
At least until May, when Discovery debuts.
HOLLYWOOD – April 11, 2013 – In the final weeks before the release of STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, producer/director J.J. Abrams has revealed that the TREK sequel will be his last traditional feature film. In January of this year, Abrams was contracted to direct the first Disney/Lucasfilm STAR WARS sequel, scheduled for a 2015 release. The future of that project now appears in question.
Abrams departs from the STAR WARS franchise to focus solely on pre-production for his new project, FLARE: INTERNAL LIGHT REFLECTION AND SCATTERING VIA MATERIAL INHOMOGENEITIES. This 6-hour immersive IMAX project will eschew characters and traditional story structure in favor of extended takes of bright point-sources of light.
“I’m through with narrative,” Abrams announced in a press conference held Thursday morning. “I’ve finally admitted to myself that it’s the lens flares that truly interest me. Storytelling? That was always just a means to an end, and if you examine my work you can see I never really had the knack for it anyway.”
Following the release of FLARE, Abrams’ muse will take him even further afield, into the the realms of conceptual art.
“FLARE, while non-narrative, was still intended for public consumption, as a communal viewing experience,” Abrams explained. “This next piece will be solely about my personal experience.”
In SQUINT, a performance art piece, a rotating team of gaffers will follow Abrams around 24 hours a day, pointing high-intensity halogen lights right in his face. During the press conference Abrams modeled the specially-designed spectacles he will wear, constructed of multiple layers of cheap glass. These lenses will scatter the incoming light and maximize the amount of glare he’ll see.
A brief Q&A period followed in which Abrams seemed distracted by the chandeliers in the conference room.
“I’ll take some… uh, questions,” he began. “You in the back, enveloped in the heavenly glow?”
When asked about traditional artistic considerations, such as sharing his experience with others, he was dismissive.
“Fuck the audience,” Abrams quipped.
Abrams left the podium with the assistance of his service dog, Bokeh.
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John Harden is a screenwriter, director, and graphic designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He maintains that J. J. Abrams is the new Irwin Allen. He also believes it may still be possible to make a science fiction movie a semi-intelligent grownup could enjoy. You can see him try to make one here.