17 May 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: Star Dark - Trek to the Moon

Welcome once again folks to that Oldest of Norwegian Morning Wood Summer Friday Traditions, the Road to a Blockbuster. In anticipation of each big Summer Movie, we're taking account of each films' potential for critical, commercial, and most importantly, cultural success. We are ever-vigilant for those big crazy movies that will really resonate - the ones we'll abandon our families to watch on Netflix months from now, and the ones that years from now we'll look back on most fondly and think "Hey...that was alright."

Shocked because he was upstaged in the marketing material...
Today we see the release of the latest (and possibly lastest) installment in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek universe, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). This is a film so bold as to actually convert what was previously a noun in its title...to a verb. Holy shit. It all makes for a fairly stupid title that once again finagles a variation of the word "dark" into the title in order to appear edgy, I guess. Thus it follows a long tradition of blockbusters such as The Dark Knight (2008), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and the upcoming Thor: The Dark World (2013), as well as smaller, dumber movies that I'm sure you forgot, such as The Darkest Hour (2011) and Dark Skies (2013). Needless to say, Dark IS cool (all of these blockbusters have so far performed excellently), but enough is enough. I can't really say that Star Trek Into an Area Obscured from Light would have been more effective, but it's still getting to be a fairly standard cliché in big movie making.

Four years back Star Trek (2009) arrived hot off the hands of LOST and Cloverfield (2008) whizzmaster J.J. Abrams, even though he hadn't really been heavily involved in LOST since its first season and was only a producer on Cloverfield. He also had a hand in creating the shows Felicity and Alias, as well as the screenplay for Armageddon (1998). Yes, that Armageddon. The only feature he had actually directed prior to taking on the most revered of all Nerd Franchises was Mission: Impossible III (2006), which was notable for actually not sucking, despite the hate on Tom Cruise associated with it at the time of its premiere. In general, I never never been tremendously impressed with J.J. Abrams as a visionary or even an auteur director, but his films do tend to be bold, clever, interesting, and competent - which places them on a pedestal far above many other Tentpole Offerings. So this is the guy going into Star Trek.

Star Trek has somehow been around for nearly 50 years, with 82-year old Shatner somehow still showing up everywhere, from Priceline commercials (that seem to have a strange ongoing story line with his daughter going on recently, you notice that?) to Jimmy Kimmel and reliving Gorn fights. But Shatner isn't quite the only thing Star Trek gave us. There's that Beastie Boys video.

But seriously, Star Trek has waddled between pulp intellectual property and big time action fest throughout its entire lifetime. The ethos of the show has always been that of discovery, intrigue, and exploration, while the films have trended more towards shit blowing up. While there have always been lulls, notably in the early-to-mid 1970s after the original series ended but before Star Wars (1977) turned everyone on to Blockbuster Sci-Fi, and in the early 2000s when Nemesis (2002) reminded everyone that a Trek movie that didn't involve Khan or a Whale was really awful.

Still, it has always been a niche property. Moreso than the broad adventure appeal of Star Wars, Trek had higher sensibilities. Gene Roddenberry was always attempting to comment on something; whether it be race relations, coming to terms with death and dying, or the need to be ever-vigilant when you see a bearded double, there was a lot going on here. This has caused it in general to be less accessible than its Wars counterpart, and a tougher sell to dumb kids who just want to see Chewie bang Leia once and for all. It found its way towards the more obscure end of the Geek Spectrum, and there it sat until a man named Abrams came along.

Star Trek, the 2009 movie, was an epic step towards the mainstream for the storied franchise. J.J., in his own words, Star Wars-ized the basic concept, moving away from a rigorous chess match and towards a big smashing of ships and monsters. It was a virtual success on all fronts - critics, consumers, and nerds alike were enthralled with the excellent cast and direction, as well as a story so bold as to push Spock and Uhura into doing it. And blowing up Vulcan. It existed as a perfect, time-travel-fueled excuse for a remake that allowed its creators to make a new universe while setting it in the same universe. Kind of. It worked on every level.
Oooh look! A lens flare!

Star Journey into Blackness seems to take the same loveable characters, who we've had the chance now to really sit with for years and enjoy on F/X broadcasts and other stuff like Unstoppable (2010) and Dredd (2012), and really fucks their day up. The star is clearly Benedict Cumberbatch, who is about to have a career like Mark Strong a few years back, playing the villain in every damn movie out there and doing a hell of a job. For those of you who forgot, Mark nailed it as the chief baddie in Sherlock Holmes (2009), Kick-Ass (2010), Robin Hood (2010), Green Lantern (2011), and John Carter (2012). Actually....damn he was in some terrible movies. After this weekend, Benedict will play both villains in the upcoming Hobbit: Unexpected Crack Party (2013), and is sure to hit leading man status.

Unless of course it turns out that Cumberbatch's character is actually just a drunken British actor pawn for some dude who can breathe fire. If only. Nah, he's probably Khan. Although, by all accounts he doesn't seem to fit the Ricardo Montalban superphysique supervillain. We'll just have to see tonight.

So what are the chances this becomes a cultural landmark? I'd say pretty damn good - it's poster already has its share of parodies, and with the Abrams trademark "fuck everything" approach to story, there ought to be some great narrative decisions in this to keep things interesting. It'll make a ton of money, although competition this summer is rough. Being sandwiched between Iron Man 3 (2013) and the Fast Six / Hangover III (2013) two-punch next weekend is not an enviable position. To really stick in our memory, this one ought to do something pretty damn crazy.

Live long and prosper, bitches.

Will you trek into darkness tonight?

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