Release Date(s)2013 (September 10, 2013)
Studio(s)Bad Robot/Skydance (Paramount)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: F
Set roughly a year after the events of Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness finds the crew of the Enterprise at a crossroads. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is taken to task by Starfleet Command after a first contact incident in which he manages to save the indigenous population of the planet Nibiru, and also Spock’s (Zach Quinto) life, but breaks the Prime Directive in the process. As punishment for this and other transgressions, Kirk loses command of the Enterprise to his mentor, Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), though Pike manages to save his protégé’s career and keep him on as First Officer. Pike believes in Kirk, but tells the younger man that he’s still too impulsive and “doesn’t respect the chair.”
Meanwhile, a terrorist attack on a Starfleet facility in London leaves scores of personnel and bystanders dead. It seems the bomber is a former Starfleet operative named John Harrison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch of the BBC’s Sherlock). In response to this tragedy, Starfleet calls all of its senior officers into an emergency meeting in San Francisco… and Harrison attacks this too, causing still more devastating causalities. Upon sifting through the aftermath, Scotty (Simon Pegg) discovers that Harrison escaped by beaming himself to Kronos, the Klingon homeworld. As a result, Kirk and Spock are restored to their original status, given back the Enterprise and are tasked by Fleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to hunt down and kill Harrison with prejudice, using a new type of advanced long-range torpedo. It’s an order that Spock and Scotty find morally questionable, causing a rift with Kirk. Worse yet, there’s far more to Harrison than Kirk and Spock have been led to believe… and the effort to bring him to justice will put the crew of the Enterprise to their ultimate test.
Much has been made of the big “surprise” in this film, which centers around Harrison’s identity – a twist that divided Star Trek fans over the summer and which I won’t reveal here in case you haven’t yet seen the film (and have somehow managed to stay unspoiled). Nevertheless, forget all of the controversy – way too much has been made of the twist. The strength of Star Trek Into Darkness revolves instead around a set of very strong character performances by Pine, Quinto, Cumberbatch and Greenwood. They deliver in a big way here. Their interactions are really the beating heart of this story and their performances carry this sequel through no small amount of mechanical obviousness in the plot (which will be especially apparent to longtime Trek fans). If you go into this film looking for flaws, you will find them. If you simply can’t abide director J.J. Abrams’ take on these classic characters, this film is not going to change your mind. And if you go in having memorized your battered old copy of the Starfleet Technical Manual, you’ll probably have an aneurysm. But…
As was the case with Star Trek (2009), this film is undeniably entertaining. The set piece action sequences here are many, surprisingly creative and absolutely relentless. This Trek is bigger, bolder and much more aggressively paced than the original. I actually quite enjoyed it – more than I expected in fact. If you let yourself just go with it, Star Trek Into Darkness is a helluva fun ride. The best thing is, by the end of the film, this “reboot” Trek universe is finally closer to where it needs to be. Much like the latest Bond film, Star Trek Into Darkness clears the decks for new (and hopefully completely original) adventures to come. With film three, if the filmmakers play their cards right, this updated Trek universe can finally be about “boldly going” and “seeking out new life and new civilizations” again. That would really be something to see. (And if Abrams can’t direct given his new Star Wars commitments, may I suggest Nicholas Meyer as the next director?)
Okay, so now on to the disc. What we have here is a good news/bad news type situation.
The video and audio quality is pretty terrific. Presented in 2.35:1 and shot largely on film (35 mm Panavision and some 65 mm IMAX, with select use of Red Epic HD cameras), this film just looks fantastic. Color, contrast and detail are all wonderful, with accurate flesh tones, nuanced shadings and deep, deep blacks. Plus, the lens flares that irritated so many with the first film have been toned down to a more appropriate level, so there’s that. This doesn’t have the ultra-crisp clarity of... say, The Hobbit... but detail is wonderful throughout and it’s just so nice to see a big-budget film looking like an actual film these days, with all the wonderful atmospheric touches that the use of 35 mm Panavision and anamorphic lenses can provide. [Editor’s Note: You can read our review of the Blu-ray 3D version here.] The audio experience is terrific too. This is one of the best Dolby TrueHD mixes I’ve heard in some time. All 7.1 channels are active – sometimes subtly and sometimes more stridently – creating a delightful sense of immersion for the viewer in the sound space. Dialogue is clear, bass is vigorous. Michael Giacchino’s score is fantastic and actually sounds fantastic here. Great moments worth listening to: The bombing of the London archive, Harrison’s attack on Starfleet HQ and the ship-to-ship space dive late in the film. Each exhibits all of the best qualities of this surround mix.
So that’s the good news. Now here’s bad news.
In terms of special features, this Blu-ray release absolutely sucks. You get 7 EPK-style featurettes (including 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 – all in HD) that together add up to about 42 minutes of behind-the-scenes content. There’s also a nice 2-minute promo for The Mission Continues, which is a group that helps veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan learn how to continue serving in their communities. And that’s it. No deleted scenes. No audio commentary. Not even a trailer. Now... the 42 minutes you do get aren’t bad, but just as you’re really getting into the experience, they’re done.
The lack of extras here is especially irritating when you compare this release with the elaborate 2-disc special edition Paramount assembled for Star Trek (2009) a few years back (read our review here), not to mention all the amazing bonus features that CBS is creating for their terrific Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series Blu-ray releases (see recent reviews here and here) at the moment.
Oh, but here’s what really infuriates: It turns out more extras were created for this title. But Paramount’s marketing wizards took those additional extras, split them up and made them all available as retailer exclusives. So for example, the iTunes Extra download does have audio commentary with J.J. Abrams and his team. There are additional featurettes that have been split up as CinemaNow digital extras. Still more are only available on exclusive bonus discs at Target and Best Buy. So in the end, fully half of the bonus content created for this title got scattered by the marketing team as a retailer promotions.
[Editor’s Note: There is a now complete list of exclusives in the Additional Notes section at the end of this review.]
There’s really just one appropriate reaction to this. Spock?
[Note that at this point while writing this review, I had to go for a little stroll to calm down before continuing.]
Here’s what I have to say to Paramount. Do you guys just not care about your Blu-ray customers anymore? Do you really think that anyone outside of Best Buy, Target and iTunes executives is going to be happy that you’ve done this? I’ll tell you who’s going to be rightfully pissed about it: Pretty much anyone who buys any version of this title on Blu-ray. I have to ask: Do you guys even understand who your audience is with Blu-ray anymore? Mostly, it’s serious movie and home theater enthusiasts... and, in this case, Star Trek fans for God’s sake!
THEY WANT ALL THE EXTRAS!
Blu-ray consumers deserve a lot better than to be treated like this. Bottom line: Anyone who spends $30 anywhere on a major title like this should get everything – not be forced into a pricey scavenger hunt.
Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t the best of Trek films, but it’s also very far from the worst. (I mean, seriously – anyone who says this is worse that Star Trek V needs to lay off the Tranya and dial the hyperbole back down to 10.) This is a glossy, IMAX-sized rollercoaster ride. It’s certainly not the more high-concept and utopian – though frankly also a little bit fatigued – version of Star Trek you’re used to. Personally, I have hopes that Trek will return to television where it really belongs one day soon. In the meantime, if you can separate yourself from what’s come before a little bit, there’s a plenty of good to be found here. This movie is a great deal of fun, with terrific performances, and has plenty of Star Trek’s heart (if perhaps not its intelligence).
However, its reference-quality A/V presentation aside, I simply can’t recommend that anyone buy this Blu-ray release – not any version of it. Paramount has shown with this release that it no longer understands or respects its Blu-ray consumers. Given the long history of fine Blu-ray special editions that have come from this studio in the past, that’s really a shame.
- Bill Hunt