Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t one of those “everything you know is wrong” movies; it’s more of an “everything you don’t know about Star Trek and its spinoffs is bound to confuse you” movie.

For that reason, and to avoid any spoilers, I’m not going to discuss the storyline or its villains other than to say that Benedict Cumberbatch is formidable and every bit as good here as he’s been in his other roles.

To appreciate its full ramifications, remember that this complex Trek takes place in that alternate reality established in the previous movie. With some things clearly defined, others are resurrected from Gene Roddenberry’s “bible” which was created for his second Trek series that never got produced and instead evolved into Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

In Into Darkness, Dr. McCoy questions their purpose in space, asking, “Are we explorers, or are we carrying out military operations now?” That differentiates Roddenberry’s series and the later Next Generation. Picard’s vessel masqueraded as a science colony of families but always managed to be involved in some covert “political” situation. God, how I hate that series! No miniskirts, a psychiatrist mind-reading psychic on the bridge and a captain willing to sacrifice his ship and his crew for the slightest promise of peace! James T. Kirk would not have even recognized Starfleet by the 24th century of Picard’s cripple collective.

Trek got so screwed up that after a lame run of Next Generation movies, J.J. Abrams was brought in to redeem and reboot things without reliance on replicators, holo-suites and universal translators. Already brought to the surface in Enterprise, the communications officer has risen to the position of being the most important crewman on board, essential to the captain’s away teams and decisions. Additionally, as established in the original series episode “Balance of Terror” that first introduced the Romulans, Starfleet has nautical ties, and the Enterprise is portrayed as a submarine only in space, not oceans.

Abrams has capitalized on both.

Have you ever heard of Section 31? It’s mentioned in Into Darkness, but only the most dedicated fan would have any idea what it is. First referenced on Deep Space Nine in the episode “Extreme Measures” and its follow-up, “Dogs of War,” Section 31 was discovered to be an internal secret organization that’s been around since the Federation was founded, a select group of Vulcans and humans who saw themselves as self-appointed protectors of Starfleet against the multitude of alien races suddenly with a tremendous influence and veto power in this new “federation of planets.” Later, on Enterprise, a character named Paxton is introduced in the penultimate episode as the founder of a similar organization called Terra Prime, which laid the ground rules for human and alien interaction that obviously led to Section 31. Paxton was portrayed by Peter Weller, who is cast in a similar role in Into Darkness. This is the kind of detail Abrams seizes upon to mold his parallel Trek films as some kind of amalgamated overview of all Treks.

So with these new personas established, and as Chris Pine resembles Shatner more and more, rather than creating new anomalies Into Darkness ties a bow around all that is Star Trek, while at the same time, it questions ludicrous restrictions like the “prime directive.”

That etched-in-stone policy of non-intervention allows for indigenous peoples on more primitive planets to carry out acts of barbarism, and as shown on Enterprise, to willfully ignore and permit slavery.

I’m all for colonization! Why not introduce advanced plumbing to a backwards society, or medical treatment to ward off disease? To not do so makes Starfleet elitist, adding to the Federation’s “we got the good stuff, so fuck you!” attitude.

But Abrams continues to have faulty science in his Trek movies. In Into Darkness, Spock is in an active volcano wearing an environmental outer space suit. At the same time we’re told that the Enterprise can’t enter the volcano to retrieve Spock because the heat will incinerate the ship?! Who has better fabric design than the technical skills to protect the hull of their vessel?? Maybe they were using Kazon engineers, those guys from Voyager who designed ships that could equal Federation ships but these same guys didn’t know how to condense moisture out of the atmosphere to keep from going thirsty!

But there is a goldmine of opportunities at Abrams’ disposal.

Such as returning Klingons to Roddenberry’s original concept of wearing helmets so to have them appear as Vikings rather than Native Americans. The Native American association came about after Michael Ansara appeared as a Klingon, an actor who previously appeared in TV westerns as a Native American. So did Leonard Nimoy. Both DeForest Kelley and James Doohan were veterans of westerns. Roddenberry’s initial pitch to NBC was for Star Trek to be Wagon Train in space.

When you get down to it, Star Trek is closer to Gunsmoke than Space Patrol, which is where the miniskirt and phasers and Starfleet insignia came from! You have the Marshall (Kirk), his half-breed deputy (Spock), the old “sawbones” (McCoy), the blacksmith (Scotty), the kid (Chekov) and as for the saloon girl, well, there was Harry Mudd’s stable. Speaking of, didn’t Susan Denberg have a tail in “Mudd’s Women”?

With Roddenberry’s extensive notes for the unproduced TV series, the Saturday morning cartoon as well as a multitude of novels, Star Trek Into Darkness proves that the sky is not the limit.