Monday, 22 April 2013

Are We Warping Star Trek Into Dark(ness) Directions?

Welcome to the first EVER Some Kind of Star Trek contributor post. You've heard a lot about what's been seen in trailers and what we're about to see - but what do we want from a sequel as fans? What does Star Trek Into Darkness need to do? +JoeHardacre tackles the questions...

"You think you can't make mistakes? But the choices you make could get yourself, and everyone under your command, killed." 

The strong opening words from another stellar trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness, but it's surprising how easily those words could fall right onto the shoulders of JJ Abrams, the man spearheading one of the more pleasing franchise reboots in recent memory. Okay, maybe not the killed part, but the expectations for Star Trek Into Darkness dwarf even the weight felt when Abrams was leading us into an unknown frontier with Star Trek in 2009. 

Looking back to the build up to the Star Trek reboot, as much as I was overawed by those initial posters, screen shots, trailers and interviews leading up to the release of the film, the one thing that stands out to me is apprehension. The Trekkie in me harkened back to my childhood days; of nights watching Kirk, Picard and Janeway. I recall with fondness sitting alongside my father as they battled through seemingly impossible odds and charming the pants off of everyone they came across while they did it.

For me, a reboot, even one as promising as this, hinged on one key factor: the casting. The Kirk Vs Picard argument seems as though it has existed since time immemorial, but no matter whose corner you stand in (I’m a Picard fan personally), the recasting of James Tiberius Kirk and his beloved crew was met with more than a few raised eyebrows. Who could stand up to the role? Would it be a big name actor, overflowing with rugged charisma in a hope they could match William Shatner? This approach, however, didn't sit well with me at all. In my opinion, given the mammoth history of the Star Trek universe, as well as the fervency of its fan base, the second an established actor hit the screen, I believe our attentions would have been drawn to immediate comparisons not only between the original and the re-imagining. Not only that, but to other performances that actor has delivered over the years, rather than the character they are portraying.

This is a common issue for me with films; performances can be inconsistent. In some films, actors are accused of “mailing in” their performances, playing a slightly different version of themselves as opposed to truly losing themselves in the performance (save Daniel Day-Lewis, but he’s arguably the greatest actor of all time; but that’s for another day). As such, JJ Abrams and his team turned to the alternative, an approach I was more inclined to agree with; lesser known actors. This of course leads to its own trials and tribulations; could someone without certified pedigree handle the pressure of these roles? Kirk, Spock, Scotty and co. fresh out of Starfleet was a tantalising prospect, but with so much lore to learn from, could an inexperienced actor be bogged down with preset notions of how these characters should act, or could they embrace the freedom given to them a little too much, leaving our beloved heroes nigh on unrecognizable?

Thankfully, these issues were largely unfounded; Chris Pine, relatively unknown except for the Princess Diaries 2, and Lindsay Lohan-led rom-com Just My Luck, was a revelation. He immediately captured Kirk’s arrogance, not to mention his ability to throw (and indeed take) a punch. His delivery was less refined for sure, but no less assured; the bar scene left no doubt in anyone's mind that Pine could carry Kirk’s resilience, both in a fight and indeed in his pursuit of the other, but just as legendary of Kirk’s penchants. Karl Urban stars as Bones, his introduction a startling reminder of the weathered, experienced voice of reason opposite Kirk’s impetuous, cavalier approach, and Brits amongst us will have needed no introduction to home-grown star Simon Pegg, who slipped into the role of Scotty with consummate ease. So far, so good; but the biggest question mark remained above arguably the franchise’s most beloved character: Spock.

Spock embodies so many essential elements of the Star Trek universe that the trepidation with his casting was more than understandable; here was the character who delivered the franchise’s most memorable line, it’s most recognizable gesture, and was the figurehead for possibly the most famous alien race in the entire universe, the Vulcan. Enter Zachary Quinto. Quinto was possibly the most renowned of the main cast, having starred in both 24 as well appearing as fan-favourite Sylar in cult-hit Heroes. Still, to pick up the mantle of not only one of the most memorable sci-fi roles in memory, but arguably the face of a franchise should not be understated. Amazingly, he was so at home that I found the eventual introduction of once irreplaceable Leonard Nimoy to be somewhat jarring, which I think indicates a job well done. 

Ultimately, the reboot was an undoubted success; perhaps overshadowed by the James Cameron led Avatar, but still, it became an instant cult hit, and achieved so much more than I could possibly have imagined back in the late 2000's. We were introduced to believable characters, a carefully worked plot device to preserve all our earliest Star Trek memories, whilst paving the way for JJ Abrams and his writing team to take this Enterprise and boldly go where no Star Trek team have gone before.

Thus, we are led to the sequel; the marketing campaign has been deliberately ambiguous, although the latest efforts have been analysed and scrutinised extensively by Clive here and in stark contrast to the efforts of the first film. The change in demeanour is deliberate, and highlights exactly what the production team have been looking to achieve with each film. The first Star Trek was presented with a very simple, but difficult goal in mind: make us believe. Make us believe that this cast of upstarts, complemented by a few well travelled and respected actors could replicate characters, locations and ideals that have been held in high regard for over 40 years. 

Early posters were simplistic, and understated, with promotional material centred on showcasing the actors in their new roles, or the Enterprise mid-warp. It endeavoured to pull a few nostalgic strings, whilst readying us for their introduction. Characters such as Spock have such a simple but massively symbolic appearance that it was imperative we saw and acknowledged them before they were thrust onto us on the big screen. The Star Trek reboot aimed to re-establish the franchise, but positioned in such a way that it could be continued for years to come. As much as people would have loved Nimoy and Shatner, or even Patrick Stewart to return if The Next Generation formed the basis for the film, the scope would have been limited massively, and given that Nemesis was making the rounds only seven years before, it wouldn't have been much of a reboot at all.

The marketing was direct but effective, and although I personally went into the film with no expectations whatsoever, such is my personal preference so as to avoid disappointment, I left with naught but a smile on my face. Obviously, I owe that to the fact the film was fantastic, and Eric Bana delivered a much underappreciated performance as Nero, but without that early preparation hammered into me through the marketing campaign, I’m not sure I would have been as readily accepting of what was occurring on screen.

Moving onto Star Trek Into Darkness however, we see that JJ Abrams is no longer content with just seeing if the reboot was even possible, he’s looking to rattle some cages. The tone couldn't be more juxtaposed; our eyes have feasted upon the same recognizable characters (with Uhura thrown in for good measure, teasing a much larger role for her in the upcoming film), but this time action shots are the key focus; Kirk, Spock and Uhura all out of their element, appearing dishevelled or in unenviable positions, and our mysterious villain marvelling at his wanton destruction. I for one am not anticipating the jovial, Kirk and Spock camaraderie we witnessed at the end of Star Trek 2009.

In fact, the reception from the early teasers has been so well received, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s role central to most conspiracy theories, that the film has generated far more buzz on its own than any marketing effort could hope for. Trailers have shown Cumberbatch on top of our heroes in more ways than one, with the mystique surrounding his true identity and intentions being displayed with certain Avengers-esque flair. Although never existing purely as a single character, the notion of a band of heroes working together to defeat a powerful foe has been a huge critical and commercial success over the years (Avengers Assemble, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall in just the past 12 months), and from the anticipation building as we approach May, it seems as though Star Trek Into Darkness should easily warp past the $385,000,000 the first made at the worldwide box office.

The true area for growth, however, is outside of the US; the reboot performed admirably, but with only $127,000,000 from burgeoning overseas markets, it’s easy to see exactly why we’ve seen a shift in locale. The destruction of London is sure to generate a lot of interest in the UK, and following on from the London Olympics, the threat to London we saw with Skyfall and the UK’s Royal Wedding all occurring within the past year, they couldn't have selected a location more engrossed in the minds of the world than the Capital of ol’ Blighty. 

So, what are my expectations? I've been incredibly impressed with the build-up to the sequel so far, and my thoughts on the first film couldn't be higher, in fact I hold it in my top 20 films of all time, but do I think the sequel will best that? Possibly is the safest word to use. I recall my opinions on other franchise reboots and the Nolan-led Batman trilogy springs to mind. The first film in that series, Batman Begins, is critically and commercially inferior to the sequel, The Dark Knight. One could argue that The Dark Knight is the better of the two films, and from an objective standpoint, it’s hard to disagree, but subjectively, based on the impact it had on me as a fan, I will always hold Batman Begins in higher regard. I think Star Trek is taking a similar path; the reboot centering around an origin story, an introduction to well known characters, seen through someone else’s eyes; eventually leading into a darker, sombre sequel with an uncertain outcome. Star Trek Into Darkness will be a fantastic film, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a near doubled box office gross from Star Trek 2009, somewhere in the region of $700-800 million. However, will I remember it as fondly, will I be as desperate to watch it again? That remains to be seen. 

Prediction: 10.5/12 (If you really want to know about the 12 point scale, just ask). 

Joe Hardacre is a Trekkie and a former work colleague of SKOST creator Clive Burrell. In the few weeks they toiled side by side in 2012 their combined interest in Star Trek gave them a respite from the daily labours of work. Although not quite a fan to the same level as can be witnessed in the wider world, it's more than enough for him to wade blindly into an argument if someone should dare speak disparagingly about Will Riker. Joe's hopefully going to stick around and talk a bit more in the future about more aspects of Star Trek

- he might even get a contributor profile...!

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