Snippet film review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Despite being shoe-horned into the script, Benedict Cumberbatch‘s rendition of Khan is a performance to savour in Star Trek Into Darkness

I feature the image above because it typifies what J.J. Abrams captures best in his newest trek: impeccable lighting, chic cinematography, sleek mise-en-scene that condenses fifty years of futurist imagery into a single set, and heavy overtones of Kubrick’s seminal science-fiction film rounding out the design. And Cumberbatch stands alone. Giving his all to a thankless and underwritten role, Cumberbatch triumphs as the villain–despite the character being woefully underutilized in a cumbersome and bastardized blow-by-blow of Star Trek II.  It’s a pity then, with nearly half a decade at his disposal, Abrams couldn’t do more with this opportunity than to make a competent action film.

As a standalone action film Star Trek Into Darkness is thrilling, engaging, competently photographed and manufactured to move at a clip pace (if remaining uncomfortably derivative of its 2009 predecessor all the while). As anything other than a guilty pleasure though it’s problematic. Abrams guts the heart and mind out of the Enterprise and her crew to make room for warp chases, laser beams and fisticuffs. Characters and starships alike communicate only in truculent bursts; no small wonder then that the film struggles to amount to anything with all the destruction on screen. Though Abrams has made it quite clear he’s not interested in the ennobling philosophy underpinning Roddenberry‘s vision, by the time he crams in a presumably unintended homage to the climax of Speed one has to wonder where Abrams is boldly trying to go instead. Paramount’s release is notoriously dodgy to boot, with special features spread thin as multiple retailer exclusives.

Read more of my thoughts on this film, especially on the role of Khan in the script, over at my one-shot rant on the film:

And learn more about the situation with Paramount’s Blu-ray release:

Beware Paramount’s upcoming release of Star Trek Into Darkness

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Khhhaaaan you believe it?

After reading Bill Hunt’s rant over at The Digital Bits about Paramount’s decision to split the special features for its upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness blu-ray amongst retailers, Star Trek fans may want to reconsider buying the title now. In short, if you want all the content created for this release, you need to purchase the blu-ray at Target and Best Buy (if you live in Canada, or download the title from CinemaNow in the US), as well as download a copy from iTunes for the director commentary. Don’t ask about the various physical retailer exclusives (Wal-mart has an amazing Vengeance 1:50 scale model). As Hunt notes, Paramount seems to forget that its duty should be first to the consumer, and not the retailer. Though I suppose the latter pays better.

While the practice of retailer exclusives remains a familiar standby for Paramount (I recall that Mission: Impossible 4 bonus disc which could only be found at Futureshop), the tactic of splitting bonus content between retailers seems entirely counter-intuitive. Cases and physical bonuses (like Starfleet badges and Enterprise models for the last Star Trek movie) are one thing, but when it comes to disc-based content consumers already purchasing a premium format at a premium price should be treated to a premium selection of content at a reasonable premium (astute readers will notice a pattern developing here in my rant). It would be one thing if Paramount offered all of the additional bonus content as an extra disc (as Touchstone did with the War Horse 4-disc blu-ray) and then gave consumers the choice to pay the premium (roughly $10 more in the case of War Horse), it is quite another to require customers to pay upwards of $100 to receive all of the supplemental content created for a particular title. Moreover, all of the content created for this release pales in comparison to the material created for Paramount’s 2009 blu-ray release of Star Trek. I hasten to add that there the voluminous special features were all provided on a single bonus disc as the sole blu-ray edition–which Paramount seems to have discontinued in favour of a single disc sans extras! For Star Trek Into Darkness the customer can purchase the title on DVD, on blu-ray, on blu-ray 3D, as a digital download, and still not receive all the content. When studios treat their films like prostitutes customers tend to perceive those films as such–and the studios, by extension, as shameless pimps. Behold then the syphilitic corpse of Star Trek and lament for the ennobling enterprise envisioned by its glorious future is without doubt a dream consigned to the past.

Criterion’s rationale for going dual-format

While Criterion’s decision to release its upcoming November title Zatoichi as a dual-format product may have been construed as a baffling waste at first glance, the company recently explained their motivations for the change. Their reasons are essentially what one would suspect. With the customer base split 60/40 between Blu-ray and DVD, Criterion need only focus on the volume required of a single title, not multiple versions of the same. Beyond allowing for greater efficiency, narrowing their focus to one product (instead of preparing two releases, a DVD and Blu-ray) also reduces the economic risk associated with high volume pressings–that same move which signaled a welcome and substantial drop in the average SRP for their titles.

Criterion was quick to assure its customers that the price point on the Blu-ray would remain unchanged, while the DVD product would be eventually phased out. The company also noted their plans to retroactively repackage older titles in the dual-format.

Though the decision means only an extra disc for someone like me, I nevertheless enthusiastically support whatever plan that keeps Criterion in the black without diminishing the quality of their product (and without needing to raise their prices!). The move may actually increase their customer base, as customers who prefer Blu-ray may lend out their DVD copy to friends and family. But then, does anyone really lend out their Criterions? Perhaps they might now.

What does Criterion’s new business model mean for you?