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Star Trek – Into Darkness: Eyebrows going where no eyebrows have been before


Highbrow eyebrows


Star Trek  Into Darkness – J J Abrams

Eyebrows boldly going where no eyebrows have been before. Deliciously the Latin for eyebrows is supercilia: and there is much superciliasness in STID. Chris Pine’s young Jimbo Kirk sports Healeyesque bushy beetle brackets in an archly arcing style of bifurcated unibrow. Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) perfectly plucked linear pair are inclined at a jaunty angle to give him a look of permanent surprise as if he can’t believe the 3 Stooges helmet haircut he has been lumbered with when he had asked for – ‘just a trim’ please. Not since Javier Bardem’s pudding basin cut…..

As befits an arch-villain, the Bene Cu-Cumberbatch eye-thatches occasionally shoot up on either side like a couple of inverted ? signs ending with a villainous ‘v’ that Cu-Cumber can unilaterally raise and lower depending upon the dramatic need of the moment. The so cool Mr Cumber plays a rogue Star Fleet agent masquerading as one John Harrison until unmasked as the villainous Khan: a super-being with super powers (including super control of his cilia characteristics).

STID contains some of the great eyebrow-actors of this generation. However these mere human beings are eventually eclipsed superciliasly by Klingon fleshy furrows. Cumberbatch has a ball as the malevolent Khan (Can we take over the world? – yes we Khan). Often mouthing some sublimely silly words, I swear the elegantly suave Mr C was on the edge of an uncontrollable fit of the giggles throughout – but we share in his diabolical fun and the sense of tense expectancy that generates.

Mockery aside, STID is all good clean end-of-the-Universe-life-as-we-know-it fun with a breathless, breakneck opening sequence in which we meet one of the stars of Abrams’ movie – a fantastically dramatic score by Michael Giacchino. Like some of John Williams’ best, Giacchino builds to heart-rattling crescendos that superbly enhance the now de rigeur magnificent visual and special effects created by a group of talented people only marginally outnumbering the population of New York.

Add in stunts, Art Direction etc and there are small states in the world with fewer people. The mere 3 writers who fashioned the meaning, sense and dramatic purpose of the narrative which in the end is what makes us want to keep watching and care what happens next, aren’t so much outnumbered as obliterated. There is nothing new in this: but Abrams’ ‘rejuvenation’ is of the Star Trek franchise, not the Star Trek imaginative legacy. We accepted the farcically cheap props and hilariously phoney sets of the original TV series without a moment’s demur because of the power of Gene Roddenberry’s imaginative ability to engage our minds and emotions in the adventures and fate of his faintly ludicrous characters. The Star Trek TV series was intelligent, creative fun, stirring the active imaginations of its loyal viewers in contrast to Abrams’ literal, visual and aural onslaught on our perceptions.

Rodenberry invited us to a great party with lots of fascinating people engaged in intelligent, interesting conversations to listen in to. Abrams’ has charged admission to a rave where the music is so relentlessly loud that no one can hear a word anyone else says so we give up and just abandon ourselves to the beat. It’s fun. It’s a trip. It overwhelms the senses and dulls the mind. And it suffers, like all its effects-driven, comic-book competitors from the law of diminishing returns. The opening half hour grabs us and launches us into a stunning sense of travelling in space; embarking on a adventure. The dialogue, despite its distinctive Star Trek irony and self-mockery, keeps dragging us literally back to Earth and reducing the exhilarating pace to a disappointing plod. Even an actor of Cumberbatch’s ability can’t do much with “I’m going to walk over your cold, dead corpses.” C’mon, I know evil is supposed to be banal but perleaassse.

Following the traditional Spock/Kirk trope of human passions versus detached logic, Kirk saves Spock’s life and a whole planet of a primitive people but breaks a Starfleet rule of exploration by revealing the presence of the Enterprise. He is demoted when Spock’s snitchily accurate report reveals the breach. Before he can head off as 1st Officer to his mentor Commander Pike (Bruce Greenwood) a cleverly planned assault on the gathered heads of Starfleet introduces us to Cumberbatch’s be-cloaked rogue secret Starfleet agent we first know as John Harrison, but soon to be revealed as super-villain, or is he (?) Khan.

Following this attack, Khan flees to hide on the Klingon home planet of Kronos where Starfleet cannot pursue him on pain of provoking a war with the ever-belligerent warrior enemies of Earth. Kirk, re-instated as Captain of the Enterprise and reconciled with Spock, is charged with taking out Kahn’s hideaway in what amounts to a high-tech drone attack – the first of many contemporary ironies, perhaps unwitting, in Abrams’ movie. Kahn has deviously subverted this plan and for a while persuades Kirk to enlist his aid in thwarting an unexpected internal plot.

Much eyebrow arching, beetling, furrowing later, with the quaintly comic assistance of Simon Pegg’s irascible Scotty and a lot of pseudo-scientific gobbledegook, Abrams recaptures the visceral excitement and headlong pace of his opening. In a less-than-heart-stopping moment we wonder whether Jimbo is gonna do a Judi Dench and give up Q-ing for all eternity. A profound dilemma: an end of franchise, end of cash-cow denouement…or not? As the Americans say – you do the Math.

STID, despite its silly moments is great fun; especially if you don’t know or care about the thin vein of imaginative gold that was Roddenberry’s brainchild. It is hard to believe now that when first seen on TV, Star Trek wasn’t regarded as campy parody. Indeed when I was doing Philosophy at Kings in London in the seventies a post-graduate from Berkeley in California said that Star Trek episodes were occasionally used to set up (for context, not content) Philosophical discussions about Personal Identity, Telepathy, Time, even ethics.

I’m not sure how much juice there is left in the franchise which begins to look as dried out, wrinkled and on the edge of oblivion as dear old Leonard Nimoy reprising his role as a kind of holographic Methusala intoning the eternal injunction that he may not help his Spockling younger self in any way that might alter events in the world: an ethical principle so absolute that it takes him about 10 seconds after stating it to break.

Just two nice little ironies: I wonder how many Americans identify with Kirk’s acceptance of Spock’s ethical demand that Kahn must not be taken out as he, villain or not, must be accorded the right of due process and a proper trial. Yeah – pull the other one pointy ears.

The other one is visually sublime and makes me wonder whether Costume Designer Michael Kaplan is a closet anarchist. During the obligatory patriotic platitudes delivered by a chastened Kirk, matured by the humbling necessities of command and leadership to the assembled serried uniformed ranks of Star Fleet, the camera tracks along the lines of fresh faced idealists. There is something unsettlingly, oddly familiar in the images. I am no expert in these things but it suddenly struck me that in their uniform, uniformed chilling homogeneneity these patriotic paragons of virtue and the American way, looked for all the world as if they were clad in the chic khaki hessian of the North Korean military.

Now that’s what I call irony.

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