Thursday, May 23, 2013

Into Darkness Is Dark. It Also Left Me Dark.


If you haven't seen Star Trek Into Darkness but want to, you might want to hold off on reading this post. Or, at the very least, only read until I warn you again, further down. I'm going to reveal stuff that will make you hate me.

But you can read the first part. I don't even talk much at all about the film.

I was three or four years old when I saw my first episode of Star Trek. It was on a black-and-white television, and I can clearly picture the cast on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk was on the bridge, flanked by Spock and Bones. Uhura was opening hailing frequencies, and that's about all that I remember. At such a young age, I couldn't tell you what episode it was, but the mix of men, women, and aliens captivated me.

I don't think I saw much of the episode: my mother probably thought that I was too young to watch the show, or it conflicted with something she or my dad wanted to watch. I don't think I saw another episode for quite some time, because it's my only recollection of having watched the show in black and white.

And, at that age, the show would have been cancelled right around that time.

I don't remember when I started watching the syndicated episodes on a regular basis, but it must have been the very early 70s. I remember that I could watch it on CBC after dinner, on Saturday evenings, and on Sunday mornings. If I missed the Saturday airing, I always caught the Sunday-morning show, which ran while my folks were sleeping in. I got to know the Enterprise crew and their adventures to the point where I could quote them. Knowing every detail of a show didn't keep me from watching them over and over again.

I was a die-hard Trekkie.

My favourite episode was "The Doomsday Machine," with the large, hulking cone that devoured planets and starships for energy. When Kirk is standing on the Constitution, which is on a direct course for the mouth of the machine, I would sit on the edge of my seat. Every time.

I also loved "City on the Edge of Forever" and the original pilot, "The Cage," which was later used for another favourite, "The Menagerie." Other favourites include "Tomorrow is Yesterday," "Amok Time," "The Trouble With Tribbles," and "The Enterprise Incident." Truth be told, they were all much-loved, with the exception of a few: I didn't care for "A Piece of the Action" or "Miri."

I also wasn't a big fan of "Space Seed," which spawned Captain Kirk's arch enemy, Khan Noonien Singh, who returned in The Wrath of Khan. While I had seen "Space Seed" countless times and had even read the story in a Star Trek anthology that I had, I found that the story wrapped up far too quickly, the solution to beating Khan somewhat weak.

I loved The Wrath of Khan because it didn't seem as easy to beat Kirk's foe, and it was done at great cost to Kirk's ship and crew.

Despite my love for the original series, I totally embraced The Next Generation, enjoyed DS-9, and liked Voyager so much that I had my folks record episodes and send them to me in the years that I lived in South Korea.

I even enjoyed the short-lived series, Enterprise, despite the fact that they messed with the long-established Trek time line. Introducing the Romulan cloaking device decades before the Federation knew about it was one big way to get Trekkers as outraged as Harcourt Fenton Mudd, when he discovers that Kirk has created 500 copies of his wife.


One of the greatest draws to Star Trek fans was its continuity, how characters could come and go, and in many cases, the actors would return to reprise their role. Some of those characters, like Spock's father, Sarek (played by Mark Lenard), appeared in the original series, in two movies, and in two episodes of TNG.

I guess the Star Trek franchise is a good gig to get.

When the original series was rebooted in 2009, I was skeptical at first. I was mindful of the time line and I was going to be upset if it wasn't respected. But it was. Instead of starting over and doing things differently, without regard for what had happened in the past, the writers decided to create an event that seriously alters the time line as Trekkies knew it. The new actors embraced the past in the characters but were free to take them on a new path, and the audience bought it.

So did I.

I loved the reboot of Star Trek and couldn't wait for the next movie to come out. Even as the film was still in theatres, there was talk about a sequel and rumours that Khan would come back.

Into Darkness opened a week ago and was met initially with rave reviews, though a couple of people slammed it. Those reviewers probably weren't Trekkies.

The premise of the film is one of terrorism. London is bombed and Starfleet HQ is attacked by what seems to be a renegade elite agent, John Harrison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). After Kirk's mentor and captain, Christopher Pike, is killed in the attack, Kirk and the Enterprise set off to find and take out Harrison.

But all is not as it seems.

In a twist of the Trek time line, Harrison is not who he is made to be. He is actually Khan, found a few years earlier aboard the Botany Bay by another Federation crew and brought back to Earth. Along with his 72 surviving followers.

I loved how the story twisted and turned throughout the movie, how lines from past movies were brought back, and how the Star Trek universe shows that while the past can change, fate still tries to work its way in.

But I did have one fundamental problem with the movie that has nothing to do with the time line. It has to do with casting.

While I love Cumberbatch (I was absolutely riveted by his performance in the series Sherlock Holmes), and he is purely evil in his part, he is not Khan. Khan was supposed to be a Sikh prince from late 20th-century Asia. Sure, the role was played by a Mexican actor, Ricardo Montalbán, but at least he tried to play the part.

Jean-Luc Picard had a Scottish accent and came from France. Go figure.

But to have an Anglo-Saxon guy play Khan? The Khan whose time line was not altered? The Sikh prince? I found it hard to swallow.

Sure, the writers wanted to have all sorts of twists and had built up this surprise, but could they have not chosen someone who at least resembled Montalbán. Or used an actor from India or Pakistan.

Once I learned that Harrison was actually Khan, I couldn't get the disconnection out of my head. It interfered with the rest of what was going on, on screen. And it disappointed me.

Sure, the movie was otherwise great. Lots of action and special effects, great bonding with the other characters in the film. Good acting all around. Into Darkness is truly worth seeing.

But to me, Cumberbatch is not Khan.

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