The thoroughly enjoyable Star Trek: Into Darkness looks and sounds amazing, but its supplements are a disaster.
As a diehard Star Trek fan, I’ve seen Science Fiction evolve over the years, with the amazing Star Trek: The Original Series leading the way in my early youth. To me, the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and Bones were the epitome of human drama in space, with The USS Enterprise hosting this trio of bold brave men (and women) exploring the galaxy. Their interactions and debates were as enjoyable as every Vulcan Nerve Pinch by Spock and high-flying drop kick that Kirk ever made. To him, the Enterprise was a living thing, with as much emotion as its chief engineer Montgomery Scott. Spock and Bones were represented as Kirk’s values and morals, and their friendship bound them together as this soap opera set among the backdrop of space paved the way for Star Wars, Babylon 5, and later a financially successful string of Trek movies and television series.
But, Trek was never so good after TOS, with the could-have-been (The Next Generation), the blah (Deep Space Nine and Voyager), and the disastrous (Enterprise). But as of late, there’s been a glimmer of hope: 2009’s film reboot by Director J.J. Abrams (Mission Impossible III) successfully launched the Enterprise into an alternate reality, even though its plot had holes as big as the planet killer from The Doomsday Machine. With the release of the nearly perfect Star Trek: Into Darkness on Blu-ray, old fans like me can finally rejoice that the franchise is triumphantly back. The only problem is which version to buy, and that’s no one’s fault but the studio.
Set several months after their encounter with the futuristic Romulan Nero, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, Rise of the Guardians) and crew attempt to save a pre-industrious civilization from the imminent destruction of a volcano. When his first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto, Heroes) is placed in mortal danger, Kirk ignores The Prime Directive to rescue his Vulcan friend, exposing their ship to an unsuspecting people who immediately begin to worship it. Although he’s saved the people of Nibiru, Kirk has angered Starfleet Command, including Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, Young Justice), who is forced to demote Kirk. To the young captain, it’s business as usual: he doesn’t respect the chain of command and regards his perfect record as proof of his greatness. As he drinks his demotion away, a mysterious explosion destroys a London archival building, courtesy of the terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock). He’s a former Starfleet officer whose incredible strength, intelligence, and dark intentions make him public enemy #1.
After a second attack leaves most of Starfleet’s commanders dead, Kirk is reinstated to hunt Harrison down, only to learn later that the terrorist is in fact one of the most popular villains from the Star Trek universe. As news of ‘Harrison’s’ capture reaches Starfleet, another starship arrives to attack the Enterprise, sending its crew on a high-speed chase back to Earth. With ‘Harrison’ promising to help, Kirk launches a last desperate mission to defeat the Starfleet traitors, whatever the cost, while keeping an eye on the dangerous Harrison.
Based on Abrams’ alternate timeline universe, Darkness is at once a rip-roaring action-packed adventure, but also excels as a smart and character-driven story about friendships, family, and the steps we’re willing to take to protect them. In so many ways, we see those TOS friendships ignite once more, with spirited debates, wise-cracking jokes, and a genuine feeling of camaraderie that feels like a favorite shirt. Quinto, Urban, and Pine fit seamlessly together on screen, strengthening these classic characters by turning the tables on our expectations and delivering a higher level of drama that hasn’t been seen since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But, it’s also the emergence of Cumberbatch who steals so many scenes, proving that he’s ready for a big moment in the sun. His brilliance and deeply evil portrayal is encompassing, as he attempts to manipulate Kirk and crew before finally turning on them. Frankly we haven’t seen a bad guy of this sort in the franchise since Ricardo Montalban, and Cumberbatch fits nicely into that role. Credit this deep character development to Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers series), who continue to build on their resume while complementing Abrams’ incredible eye for sprawling and impactful space scenes. If Abrams can do this to Star Trek, what re-imaginings will he bring to Star Wars Episode VII?
Composer Michael Giacchino (Up) crafts a soundtrack filled both with fast-paced war pieces as well as tender ballads, especially near film’s end. And yes, the familiar TOS theme by Alexander Courage comes out to play just enough to remind us veterans of the series’ pedigree. Abrams is also a master at casting, and his additions of Carol Marcus (Alice Eve, The Raven) and former Enterprise television baddie Peter Weller (Robocop) are perfectly suited. This all adds up to a film that feels remarkably quick (even though it’s 130 minutes long), but only because it’s so well made, locking us in from the start and refusing to let go until either ‘Harrison’ is finished with us or Kirk rules the day. I couldn’t say that about 2009’s reboot, but I can emphatically call this mission a total success.
Star Trek: Into Darkness excels with one of most amazing transfers of the year. The MPEG-4/AVC transfer is in a word, stunning, with Paramount’s transfer acumen on full display. They perfectly realize Abrams’ vision, from the colorful blues, reds, and yellows of the Starfleet uniforms to the contrasting pristine whites of the Enterprise decks and Starfleet Command. Every color presented is bright without losing a single strand of detail in the textures, or from looking too primary. Details on uniforms, control panels, and on the Enterprise itself are crisp and sharp, while human features such as sweat, blood, and strands of hair stand out, demanding to be noticed. Fleshtones never look pasty, but instead reflecting a realistic and almost gritty style, with Spock’s prosthetic ears blending in with Pine’s rugged look. With all this color, one would think that blacks and shadows would get blasted to bits – not here. Shadows are deep and fade very well to black, which are inky both in space and on pants and boots without suffering from crush. Abrams is a fabulous director, which Paramount excels at recognizing with this transfer; they deserve high praise for bringing his vision so stunningly into the home.
Similarly, the booming and thundering soundtrack for Star Trek: Into Darkness amazes, both for its depth and pure power. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD offers audiophiles a unique journey, starting with the front speakers. Here, we get an intelligible mix of dialogue, music, and effects, none of which dominates the other. Dialogue is the central feature of the center channel, delivering crisp and detailed voices. Some mixes we’ve heard this year don’t turn up this channel up enough, but there’s no Remote Game needed here. The real power here comes from the nuanced sound of the surround speakers, delivering a wide array of beeps, engine noise, wind, blowing sand, and crew chatter. It’s one of the most active tracks I’ve ever heard without getting in the way of all the other action going on. Same for the LFE, which booms, pulses, and thrusts its way throughout the film. Space battles are explosions pack a nice effect, bringing the theater experience home so effectively. The music by Giacchino prances and parades like a pony that knows it’s the best in breed, leaving nothing on the table. In short, if there’s been a better audio transfer by Paramount this year, I’d be hard-pressed to find it.
Sadly, the boys at Paramount have made a costly error, spreading out what would have been an amazing breadth of supplements across several retailer versions. Want a director’s commentary? Gotta buy it on iTunes. Want ‘exclusive content?’ Only Best Buy’s version has it. It’s one thing to offer different slipcases and other goodies to entice customers to purchase your particular version, but why must basic supplements be strewn across four different retailers, some of whom had 5 versions of the movie available for Day One purchase? This places consumers in an untenable situation, and Paramount should be ashamed at forcing us to triple- and quadruple-dip to get all the supplements. Below are those offered on the Walmart disc, which are presented in HD and included a steelbook and die-cast villain starship:
- Creating the Red Planet (8:28): The crew and cast discuss moving the shooting of Niribu from Hawaii and the process of bringing the Nibirans to reality. We also learn about the challenges of shooting the scene.
- Attack on Starfleet (5:25): This is a highly technical piece about set design and the various pyrotechnics used to destroy a set.
- The Klingon Home World (7:30): A look at building the massive set of the Klingon homeworld, introducing those warriors into the alternate universe, and the fun of actors trying to memorize Klingon dialogue.
- The Enemy of My Enemy (7:03): A nicely done piece featuring the selection of Cumberbatch as Khan and the challenges of bringing new fans into the world of Star Trek.
- Ship to Ship (6:03): A featurette focusing on the dangerous ‘flight’ flight between two ships, we learn how pre-visualization (PreViz) assisted the crew and CGI artists. As a lover of Pre-Viz, I was happy to see some of it offered here. We also learn how an old airplane hanger set the stage for another critical scene.
- Brawl by the Bay (5:44): One of my scenes of the film, we learn about the ingenuity of preparing for the shoot, as well as Zachary Quinto’s physical preparation for the role of Spock.
- Continuing the Mission (1:57): Abrams shows his appreciation to returning veterans of service by including them in the film.
- The Mission Continues (1:29): An advertisement voiced by Chris Pine highlighting the work which our veterans are doing at home through The Mission Continues program.
Our Walmart copy came as a Blu-ray Combo pack, including a DVD and UltraViolet digital copy (iTunes as well, but buyers can only choose one or the other), but that’s not the problem. There are literally a dozen more supplements between the Target and Best Buy versions, few of which are available on the one we reviewed. In fact, it appears Walmart’s versions had slightly different features spread across their Blu-rays. Will we ever see a ‘director’s version’ that combines these supplements? Hopefully, the backlash by fans on this and other forums were read loud and clear by the studio, who cannot have a decent excuse for a folly like this. Shame on you, Paramount.
Star Trek: Into Darkness was one of the best Summer films of 2013, making nearly $500 million worldwide. With its perfect casting, immersive story, and top-notch directing, audiences will be hard-pressed to make a case against owning it. The home release is marked by excellent sound and video; the problem comes in which version to buy. Paramount should be ashamed for spreading out the supplements across several retail discs, forcing prospective customers to double- and triple-dip. While we at last have the Trek we need and deserve, let’s hope this awful behavior by Paramount isn’t a trend. Star Trek: Into Darkness is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 130 minutes.