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Star Trek Into Darkness
Director: J.J. Abrams
Screenplay: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof (based on the television series created by Gene Roddenberry)
Stars: Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (Bones), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Benedict Cumberbatch (John Harrison), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Peter Weller (Marcus), Alice Eve (Carol), Noel Clarke (Thomas Harewood), Nazneen Contractor (Rima Harewood), Amanda Foreman (Ensign Brackett), Jay Scully (Lieutentant Chapin)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2013
Country: U.S.
Star Trek: Into Darkness 3D Blu-ray
Star Trek: Into Darkness There is a lot that is familiar in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness, the follow-up to his critically and financially successful reboot of the decades-old sci-fi franchise four years ago. Abrams’ best move in rebooting the series was finding ways to make it consistently appealing to both long-time Trek fans and the uninitiated, which he did primarily by building the film’s many allusions and shout-outs to previous Trek movies and television episodes into an exciting visual aesthetic and genuine sense of character. The fact that he started at the beginning helped, as it allowed him and his long-time writing collaborators Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof to put their own unique spin on familiar characters; in other words, they made Star Trek their own without losing the essence of what millions of fans have invested in the Trek universe since Gene Roddenberry’s original TV series aired in the late 1960s.

Abrams continues that approach with Into Darkness, which, like its predecessor, feels very much like a set-up for forthcoming films. Playing that same tune twice is something of a risky endeavor, as viewers may be anxious to see Captain Kirk and company boldly going where no man has ever gone before, but Abrams makes the path to that crucial point so enjoyable that it becomes easy to forget that virtually everything in the film is a riff or spin on something we (including only casual Star Trek fans) have already seen. Of course, he and his writers are free to do that since they made the astute decision to use the first film’s time-travel plot to establish a parallel universe to the pre-existing Trek narrative, which allows them to borrow characters and situations at will from previous movies and TV episodes without having to adhere slavishly to any preset mythology or narrative direction. The door is wide open.

The beginning of Into Darkness finds Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the other crew members of the U.S.S. Enterprise on a distant, previously unexplored alien planet, where they intervene in the planet’s natural development by stopping an erupting volcano that would otherwise wipe out the planet’s indigenous population. This action sets up two crucial elements of the film’s unfolding plot: First, that Kirk is still a cocky, rules-don’t-apply-to-me maverick who is desperately in need of some stern guidance (he gets not one, but two potential father figures this time around) and second that his relationship with Spock (Zachary Quinto), his half-human, half-Vulcan first officer, is still in flux given that Kirk’s gut-instinct emotionalism has little in common with Spock’s insistence on logic, order, and rule-following. The idea of sacrifice provides the film with one of its sturdiest narrative backbones, as both Spock and Kirk essentially sacrifice their own lives at different points in the film for each other, thus solidifying one of the genre’s most enduring friendships.

The plot of Into Darkness centers around the Federation’s response to a terrorist attack by John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a mysterious, brilliant, and utterly remorseless former Star Fleet officer who has a major bone to pick with the Federation. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), the steely-eyed Starfleet leader, allows Kirk to turn the Enterprise into a military vessel in order to pursue Harrison to where he is hiding in the uninhabited terrain of Qo’noS, home of the Klingons, the Federation’s biggest foe. This, of course, is in direct conflict with the Enterprise’s stated mission of exploration, which provides another source of tension as Kirk seeks revenge for the death of one father figure by embracing another’s war-mongering, which threatens to cloud his own sense of justice. Needless to say, simply tracking Harrison down and killing him is no small feat, and by the time the film has reached its midway point, everything we thought we knew has been turned upside down as allies become enemies and enemies become allies.

As in the first film, the screenwriters find plenty of room for the large cast of familiar characters, although it is probably Scotty (Simon Pegg) the engineer who gets the biggest bump this time around, as not only does he go toe-to-toe with Kirk about the militarization of the Enterprise, but also becomes an unlikely hero whose vast technical knowledge turns out to be one of the movie’s best weapons. Spock also continues to grow as a character, and Quinto proves to be even more adept this time around at playing the line between his character’s simmering human emotions and Vulcan insistence on cold logic. Bones (Karl Urban) doesn’t have too much to do other than comment gruffly on the action (although he does get a classic, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a ...” line), while Uhura (Zoe Saldana) gets to demonstrate how being romantically involved with a half-Vulcan is a mission in and of itself. There are also a few new characters introduced, including Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), a scientist and daughter of Admiral Marcus whose blood ties are limited by her fundamental sense of morality.

The most memorable screen presence, though, is undoubtedly Cumberbatch’s seething villain; he takes all the fierce intelligence he so impressively invested in his depiction of Sherlock Holmes on the popular BBC series and makes it deeply sinister; his brilliance is terrifying, which is all the more impressive given that he is reinventing one of the most popular characters in the series. His scenes opposite both Kirk and Spock are tense and jittery, particularly because they often rely on a game of wits, rather than fists (although plenty of fists fly). If there is a complaint about Into Darkness, it is that Abrams sometimes lets the action get away from him, ballooning into CGI bombast that threatens to dwarf the characters. In the film’s best moments, the violence defines the characters, rather than simply eclipses them, which makes the film significantly better than so many other summer blockbusters that want to deaden our senses, not enliven them. Star Trek Into Darkness certainly has its pyrotechnics and scenes of mass destruction (at one point a crashing spaceship takes out half of downtown San Francisco), but it always circles back around to the narrative momentum that is constantly drawing us toward the inevitable moment when the Enterprise is finally poised to go where no man has gone before.

Star Trek Into Darkness Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy

Aspect Ratio2.40:1
Audio
  • English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Portuguese
    Supplements
  • Enhanced audio commentary by director J.J. Abrams (iTunes digital copy only)
  • “Creating the Red Planet” featurette
  • “Attack on Starfleet” featurette
  • “The Klingon Home World” featurette
  • “The Enemy of My Enemy” featurette
  • “Ship to Ship” featurette
  • “Brawl by the Bay” featurette
  • “Continuing the Mission” featurette
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    SRP$54.99
    Release DateSeptember 10, 2013

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    I am in no way surprised, but am happy to report, that the visual and audio quality of the Star Trek Into Darkness Blu-ray is simply superb. The image is sharp, crisp, and bursting with the finest nuances of detail. Colors are particularly impressive, beginning with the intense crimson hues of the alien forest in the opening sequence and culminating with the bright, sun-drenched vistas of a futuristic San Francisco at the climax. Black levels, which come into play particularly on the Klingon home planet, are deep and near perfect. The film maintains the same 2.40:1 aspect ratio throughout, even though portions of the film were shot on IMAX, the aspect ratio of which is closer to 1.78:1. I personally prefer the shift in aspect ratios to keep in line with the best possible theatrical presentation, but I also understand the desire to maintain visual continuity during home theater presentation. The Blu-ray 3D disc offers a good representation of the film’s three-dimensional visual experience (it should be noted that it was not shot 3D native, but is rather a postproduction convert, albeit one of the better ones in recent memory). The 3D gives a nice sense of depth to the image without looking gimmicky, although it is hard to argue that it enhances or improves the viewing experience to a significant degree. There is some slight dimming of the film’s bold color schemes, but nothing terrible. Like the image quality, the Dolby TrueHD 7.1-channel surround mix is a knock-out, particularly in the action sequences. The surround channels are put to superb use, and the low end has more than enough muscle to make us feel the earth tremble when the Enterprise crashes.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    While there is no contention about the audio and visual quality on this Blu-ray, there has been quite a bit of justifiable grumbling (and some outright condemnations) regarding the supplements. The problem is that Paramount has chosen to spread the supplementary material across multiple Blu-Ray editions: a general retail edition, a special edition available only at Target that includes a bonus disc with 30 additional minutes of extras, and a special edition available only at Best Buy that allows you to download additional supplements through their CinemaNow service. This means that serious fans have no choice but to buy the film on Blu-ray three times. And, if you’re looking for an audio commentary from director J.J. Abrams, the only way to access it is to download the digital copy via iTunes (which is included in the retail package). However, it is more than just an audio commentary, as it is actually a separate encode of the film that features commentary along with picture-in-picture, and at some points the commentators actually pause and rewind the film to emphasize certain elements, which means that it runs close to half an hour longer than the film’s actual running time. I haven’t had the chance to check out the material on the Target and Best Buy editions, so all I can report is what is included in the general retail edition, which is decent, but admittedly disappointing given a title of this caliber. All the disc offers are seven making-of featurettes that comprise a total of 42 minutes: “Creating the Red Planet,” “Attack on Starfleet,” “The Klingon Home World,” “The Enemy of My Enemy,” “Ship to Ship,” “Brawl by the Bay,” and “Continuing the Mission.” The featurettes are fine in and of themselves, and they offer quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage that helped me appreciate how much of the film’s world was created in-camera, rather than via CGI (speaking of which, there is little mention of computer effects in any of the featurettes, which I found quite surprising). Still, it is hard not to feel that this spreading of the wealth across multiple releases is an unnecessary and underhanded way of separating fans from their hard-earned money, and one can only hope that this is an isolated release pattern, rather than a sign of things to come.

    Overall Rating: (3)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment


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