Friday, May 24, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

by C.J. Chase

Despite its humble beginnings as a campy, low-budget, short-run TV series, Star Trek has grown to be a multi-billion dollar industry and nearly unparalleled cultural phenomenon. I asked around to see if anyone in my circle could think of a similar pop culture success, and the only comparable suggestion was Sherlock Holmes, the legendary detective of book, stage, radio, and screen.

The original Star Trek series lasted only three seasons (76 episodes) before NBC dropped it from the lineup in 1969. Compare the production quality of the series to that of the original Star Wars movie made less than 10 years later (1977), and you can see how unsophisticated the Star Trek set really was.

And yet, in syndication, it gained a cult following such that Hollywood funded a full-length feature film starring the original cast. And then another. And another. And five more Star Trek series for television – for a total of 722 television episodes and 12 full-length movies, of which Into Darkness (released last week) is the most recent.

The Chase family went to the theater to see Paramount’s latest offering in the franchise. (Have I ever mentioned that as the only female in my household, I usually see “guy” movies?) The new movie merges characters from the original series (played by a younger cast) with the high-tech special effects of a Hollywood blockbuster. No, the effects were beyond special. They were incredible.

Perhaps part of the original Star Trek’s enduring appeal is that, for all its campiness (i.e., Kirk throwing punches and meeting a different attractive alien each week), the series offered up not-so-subtle commentary on social issues of the day. Consider, for instance, the presence of a black, female officer on the bridge (during the height of the Civil Rights movement) or the cooperation between the American and Russian officers (practically unimaginable so soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis and as the Vietnam War was heating up). 

The television series began with basic plots focused around exploration. Remarkably human-looking aliens served as foils to the real humans, often making a point about the foibles of the human condition. 
The Star Trek movies and later Star Trek series moved toward a more high stakes save-the-world (or even the universe) theme. 

I asked my oldest son his impression of Into Darkness. He liked it better than I did. Perhaps he’s just easier to please than I or perhaps as a lover of SciFi and Fantasy fiction, he understood it more than I.

The plot is very complex, with multiple villains each having his own motives. Now I love a plot with lots of twists and surprises. However, I felt it deviated too far from my expectations of a typical Star Trek plot for me to truly enjoy the story. The conflict was internal to Starfleet. No exploration. No hostile life form threatening to exterminate humanity . Perhaps the plot just seemed weak when held against the dazzling special effects.

So what did I like (besides the special effects)? Benedict Cumberbatch (best known for his role on the BBC’s Sherlock) makes a great sympathetic villain. And the snappy dialogue had the trademark Star Trek wry humor, even in the tensest of situations. Having just recently read an excerpt of a book with NO humor or laughter by the characters, I noticed right away how the writers were able to incorporate sarcasm and wit into all but the darkest moments. 
For example, here is a particularly memorable line, spoken by Doctor McCoy while he
and a beautiful science officer were trying to deactivate a weapon. “You know, when I dreamt about being stranded on a deserted planet with a gorgeous woman, there was no torpedo!”

And then there was gem when Kirk accused Spock of using a technicality: “I am Vulcan. I embrace technicality.”

Overall, I enjoyed Into Darkness. If you are a long-time fan, you’ll want to put this on your to-see list. If you are a diehard Trekkie, well, you’ve probably already seen it – but if not, you’ll want to see it on a big screen with surround sound. However, if you are basically unfamiliar with the characters from the original series, you’ll probably find it beneficial to preview the 2009 Star Trek to get familiar with the characters first.

Oh, and the 82-year-old Leonard Nimoy (Spock from the original series) makes a cameo appearance, so I’ll leave you with this Spock vs. Spock commercial. Cultural phenomenon, I tell you.

UPDATE: For everyone who enjoyed the Audi commercial, here's the inside joke about the song Nimoy is singing while he drives (about 1:10 mark). Um, you needn't watch/listen to the entire thing to get in on the joke...

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Her current release, The Reluctant Earl, is now available  in online bookstores. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at  


  1. CJ, I'm a diehard Trekkie. I know it didn't meet the space exploration expectations, but the couple who love Star Trek so much they named their son Kirk, really enjoyed it. Said son, nerdier than his parents, liked - not loved - it. Like you, he expected (or hoped) for more "space".

    My favorite line was Kirk threatening to rip Spock's Vulcan bangs out.

    The one thing that drew me out of the story was the submersible Enterprise. Huh? Since when?

    Fun review, CJ.

  2. Oh, my. I never considered how your son got his name. You really are die-hard.

    I guess I just thought of the Enterprise as the futuristic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. You know, it's a car, it's a boat, it's a plane. But if you put the shields up, wouldn't that make it waterproof?

  3. I love Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

    If the shields make it submersible, it's a very new phenomenon. Lol. I thought it was so cool when they were swimming with those little jet packs on their ankles. I was just thinking how cool that was when I saw the ship under water. On part of me thought "cool" and the other part of me groaned.

    Personally, I would like to have a pair of those little ankle jet packs. I'd also like my own personal submersible vehicle. :)

  4. Um, Suzie, it's not real -- so they can make the ship do anything they want, no matter how outlandish.

    Like, for instance, no one has ever given me a credible explanation for how a ship traveling faster than the speed of light can exchange instantaneous voice and picture transmissions with the home planet light years away.

    And the whole universal translator thing. Does it read minds, so you just have to think your speech and it comes out in the native language? Otherwise, why doesn't the alien hear the English version followed by the translation?

  5. I think inherent with the sci-fi genre is the need to ignore plausibility and possibility.

    I loved Into Darkness. The first Abrams film "reinvented" the story, setting the foundation for new story lines while not negating the previous events in tv shows and movies.

    This second movie takes those flawed individuals (Kirk and his arrogance, Spock and his adherence to protocol) and gave them what they needed to become the men they need to be before they can take that 5-year mission. The Spock and Kirk at end of first movie weren't "ready" for their future. Now they are.

  6. Oh, last week we saw the movie twice. Wednesday at 11 pm, then Saturday at 8pm at the drive-in.

  7. I will see it. And I hope it's at the theater. I will go to my #1 source for Star Trek and see what she thought of it as well, and get back to you all.

    Loved the commercial!

    And watched the original series as a tween with that same #1 source aforementioned, so I'm glad to see you throw in the number of episodes and movies. Star Trek has been a part of life in one shape or another for so long it's amazing!

  8. I'm looking forward to seeing this one too. I think the casting was great, in the first prequel they did. Zach Quinto especially made a good Spock.

    Gotta ask, Suzie, why couldn't the ship be submersible? Aside from the shields. It has to be airtight in order to operate in space. Of course, I haven't seen the scene in question, but why not? if we're suspending disbelief on other phenomena this one wouldn't make me blink.

  9. "Um, Suzie, it's not real -- so they can make the ship do anything they want, no matter how outlandish."

    Oh, no! CJ, you just totally burst my bubble. Those people are like family to me!

  10. Gina, my husband offered to take me a second time -- you know, so I could make certain I had everything I needed to write the review. Thoughtful guy, that husband of mine.

    Deb, I added another video of Nimoy for you that explains an inside joke during the commercial.

    Lisa, I mostly enjoy the casting. I'm not as keen on the Scotty character though. Don't know why, but he just doesn't strike me the way I'd picture a young Scotty.

    Sorry, Suzie!

  11. Lisa, yes, of course it definitely could be. But in keeping with my entire life of watching Star Trek, it never had, so it just threw me for a loop. I do love this new series and the casting has been so good.

    CJ, you're forgiven, of course. :)

    Fina, I'm sure I'll be seeing this at least two more times. :)

  12. My roommate in college was in love with Captain Picard, so I ended up watching all the Next Generation and Voyager series. But they lost me with Deep Space Nine. Too weird for my taste.

  13. Dina, Patrick Stewart might be bald as a cue ball, but that VOICE. Oh, my.

    Okay, since you mentioned Voyager, something that got left out while I was writing. My Star Trek pet peeve. (Which I should probably turn into a separate post sometime -- and still might.) The obviously humanist worldview of the creators/writers. Anyone else ever notice that only aliens and Chekotay (the Indian on Voyager) are religious? No other human has any of the traditional faiths.

  14. Okay, that commercial was THE best. Heh heh.

    I grew up with original Star Trek. Haven't seen much of the later stuff, though Patrick Stewart reading "The Last Battle" is MARVELOUS!

    I must admit, though, Star Trek helped me stay on track writing my second and third Annie books. I would tell myself, "Write 100 words and you get five minutes of the show." It worked! :D

    Ummmm . . . the Bilbo Baggins song. No. Just no.

  15. Yes, I have to share this added attraction!

  16. DeAnna, I didn't realize my dh hadn't seen the commercial until tonight. He laughed so hard he had tears. And THEN I showed him the Bilbo Baggins song. He was nearly speechless.

    For another aural treat, Patrick Stewart reading A Christmas Carol.

    Deb, thanks for the share. I sent it off to a Star Trek fan friend. May everyone have the Bilbo song stuck in their heads for the weekend!

  17. CJ, I haven't seen the movie yet, so I'm not reading the blog or the comments... but I had to say, when I was a kid, my mom had that Leonard Nimoy album! In fact, she had two different LM albums, but Bilbo was one of my favorites. I used to sing along with it all the time!

  18. Deb, as your #1 source, I believe, I will go with you anytime to see it again! And yes, I loved it. They did a great job casting this reboot. I love all the interactions - although I was a little taken aback by the Spock/Uhura matchup.

    The Enterprise underwater? Well, they did it a few times with the Delta Flyer in Voyager, so I didn't see it as that much of a stretch.

    Of the series, I loved DS9 the best. My husband likes Voyager better. My son was 2 when TNG first aired; when Enterprise finished its run in 2005 he was 20, and it was the first time in his life without a new episode of Star Trek on a weekly basis; I think he was a little lost!

    And oh my goodness YES that commercial is all kinds of wonderful!

  19. Oh, and I respectfully disagree on the concept of having to ignore plausibility and possibility with science fiction. That's what you have to do with fantasy. Science fiction is just that - based in science. Do we have FTL travel? No, but it's not outside the realm of possibility. A couple hundred years ago the thought of breaking the sound barrier was insane, and yet here we are. Are there humans that can turn into flame and fly? No, and never will be.

  20. Jen, I wonder what those albums are worth to collectors these days. I suppose it's long gone, huh?

    Maquis, DS9 was my least favorite series. I think the reason I didn't like it was because they didn't go anywhere. Hmm, kind of similar to what I didn't like with this movie. And how do you have FTL communication between a planet and a FTL space ship? That's the part I don't understand. I can buy a ship traveling that quickly (it's got that big warp-speed engine, after all), but I haven't figured out how they get the communications to do that.


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