Blu-ray Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

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For a 133-minute film, so often an overbearingly indulgent length, Star Trek Into Darkness zips along at a refreshingly brisk pace. It turns out to be a blessing and a curse for this follow-up to the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Director J.J. Abrams moves so frantically through the first two-thirds of Into Darkness that, as thrilling as it is, the essential emptiness of the story is masked. The problems with the final act (essentially a re-imagining of a previous big screen Trek adventure) compound the general air of inspiration-run-dry that, by its conclusion, permeates this “good enough” sequel.

Spock (Zachary Quinto) winds up with the most fully-realized character arc, beginning with his intended self-sacrifice on Nibiru. Speaking of which, apparently if the indigenous people see the Enterprise, it’s a violation of the prime directive—interfering with the planet’s natural evolution is not? Spock has a particularly effective monologue midway through as he relates to girlfriend Uhura (Zoe Saldana) how he felt the day Vulcan was destroyed. It’s a nice tie-in to the earlier film that suggests the filmmakers want these films to be more than just isolated action romps. By the end, this “new” Spock comes to see his relationship with Kirk (Chris Pine) in a very different light. They’re building these well-known characters almost from scratch, allowing them to continue evolving within the alternative timeline of the reboot series.

Into Darkness Spock Uhura (380x253).jpgThat’s why the retread of Trek’s most celebrated movie seems especially perplexing. It reveals nothing to say that the entirety of Into Darkness is a very loose remake of . Without revealing further specifics, it can safely be said that Abrams and company have turned the previously established Khan narrative on its side. For those first two-thirds, it works like gangbusters. With the crew of the Enterprise temporarily splintered, Starfleet headquarters comes under attack. The culprit appears to be a lone wolf named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who Kirk (Chris Pine) tracks to the remote Klingon homeworld, Kronos. War with the still-mysterious Klingons is unwanted, but Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller, delivering the same performance we saw from him on season five of 24) authorizes what will hopefully be a quick, unobtrusive strike.

Again, I cannot emphasize how much fun the first 100 minutes or so truly are. The cast of familiar characters, already strong in the previously film, has gelled even more. They play off each other beautifully, with Pine especially making Kirk his own. Everyone gets at least one spotlight moment, with Simon Pegg stealing numerous scenes as Scotty. Quinto appropriately conveys Spock’s intellectual gravity (though I wish the writers weren’t so hell-bent on forcing Spock to indulge in emotional responses). The plot twists are mostly effective, up until that troublesome final act. Why go to the trouble of reinventing something, only to revert to a lazy inversion of characters playing out a scene all Trek junkies know by heart?

Into Darkness Kirk (380x196).jpg In terms of audio/visual presentation, Into Darkness is simply as good as it gets. Right from the opening, with the intense reds of planet Nibiru, it’s clear that this will be a stunning high definition image. With startling clarity and detail, the expertise of the tech team is extraordinarily well presented. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix matches that quality level, with an emphasis on subtle effects that makes the quieter scenes just as impressive as the more bombastic ones. Michael Giacchino’s score sounds terrific too.

Less of a treat are the special features. There is no commentary, no deleted scenes, and nothing especially enlightening beyond a generally technical examination of the production. About 45 minutes of featurettes are broken down into bite-sized pieces (none exceeding eight minutes). If you’re into special effects, these segments might hold some interest. Titles like “Creating the Red Planet” and “Attack on Starfleet” convey the aim of these essentially superficial pieces. From what I understand, there are additional features available as exclusives at various retailers, so shop around if you’re looking for more.

Into Darkness Scotty (380x253).jpg Star Trek Into Darkness is difficult to recommend wholeheartedly. Perhaps viewers unfamiliar with anything prior to the 2009 film will react very differently to the faux emotional catharsis that serves as its climax. But then again, I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling the film relies a little too heavily on overly familiar tropes (the true climax is followed by an overblown—and, even within the confines of the film’s internal logic, unlikely—fistfight). All that said, fans of the first film should definitely check it out if for no other reason than the chemistry between the primary cast members.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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