Movie adaptations are tricky business. The more familiar moviegoers are with the source material, the more likely they are to reject most, if not all, of the adaptation's changes, emendations, or repairs. I couldn't help but feel this way while watching The Great Gatsby last week. It was tough to watch a movie adaptation based on a book containing passages as familiar to me as my address and Social Security number.
On the other hand, the less familiar moviegoers are with an adaptation's source material, the more likely they are to give it a fair chance, whatever that means. Such moviegoers are the perfect marks for franchise reboots, because they exude the optimism of ignorance. In other words, the less cultural baggage you bring to something like J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness, the more fun it will probably be.
Of course, by now the mythology of Star Trek is such a part of the pop-culture troposphere that even a non-Trekkie should notice Into Darkness' allusions to and inversions of the TV series and the previous feature films. This installment reintroduces both Klingons and Tribbles; I'll keep quiet about the poorly guarded true identity of the main villain if you will.
Similarly, Star Trek's core philosophical conflict remains compelling and relevant, because it's always been that way. Tough guys have been arguing about the relationship between passion and reason since the Iliad. Credit Chris Pine's Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto's Mr. Spock for reviving these old ideas and imbuing their sci-fi stand-ins for Achilles and Oedipus with youthful energy.
Parts of Into Darkness play out like an oral epic, too. For a film loaded from stem to stern with action pyrotechnics, its most immediate pleasures come from listening to its alpha males bluster. The distinct vocal timbres of Pine, Quinto, Peter Weller, Bruce Greenwood, and super-villainous Benedict Cumberbatch convey gravity and experience. Their polytonal bravado is as important to the film's sound design as the sounds of phasers and explosions.
About those explosions: In summer-blockbuster fashion, the whole movie is wired together like a set-piece daisy chain linked by at least four solemn countdowns until imminent destruction. These sequences snap and spring along, pausing just long enough to highlight production-design touches like menacing red lights and shimmering blue warp-drive trails.
So let the idol-smashing commence; let the filmmakers take as many liberties with this new take on Trek as they want. Reintroduce even more familiar alien menaces. Make Bones McCoy an even more ridiculous final-frontier worrywart. Let the female crew members sit and spin in the Enterprise captain's chair for once. Make a movie that treats the whole mission as a kind of workplace comedy — Deep Space 9 to 5. Bring back the Q! The possibilities are endless. Star Trek is relatively young as a mythology, but it's already proven durable. And this is what happens to durable mythologies: They change and change and change and change. Into Darkness is only the beginning of a long series of mutations that isn't going to end for, um, generations.
Star Trek Into Darkness