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June 1, 2013
Shark Bite Theatre
Star Trek into Darkness: Still Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before
by Andrew E. Lindsay

In 1966, NBC debuted a television show set roughly 300 years in the future. Despite being set in outer space, the Nielsen ratings for the show were less than stellar, and it was cancelled after only three seasons.

Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, and its cast of relatively unknown actors, were dumped into the cavernous bin of cancelled and long-forgotten television programs, where they died an ignominious death and were never heard of again.

Oh, wait — I must’ve stumbled into a rift in the time/space continuum and accidentally recalled an alternate reality. Because in our reality, Star Trek, ten years after being cancelled, went on to spawn six feature-length motion pictures featuring the original cast. That, in turn, inspired another TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ran seven seasons and produced four more major motion pictures.

Three more television shows spun off from that, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and a prequel, Star Trek: Enterprise. There was also an animated series based on the original show, as well as several video games.

And we won’t even talk about the multi-billion dollar merchandising machine or the fan-atical conventions that cause middle-aged fanboys to flock together with Trekkies and Trekkers of a similar feather by the thousands.

So whether you watched the original show or not (in its original airing or in years of syndication), or whether you were a watcher of one of the many spin-off shows and movies or not, it is pretty safe to say that you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in America (or a lot of the rest of the world, for that matter) who isn’t at least peripherally familiar with the Star Trek universe.

It seems like even folks who aren’t fans of Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock still make references to being beamed up, and kids on playgrounds are still trying to do that Vulcan thing with their fingers while saying, “Live long, and prosper.”

Some of the brightest minds at NASA and MIT (and wherever else really, really smart guys hang out and invent the future) were all inspired by Star Trek as kids, so it’s no coincidence that more and more of our technology resembles stuff that used to be science fiction. Seriously, Star Trek’s communicators are clearly cell phones with intergalactic coverage areas and unlimited data plans.

So by the time we get to 2009, it would seem reasonable to assume that Star Trek had run its course, its original five-year mission having taken more than four decades to complete. And then J.J. Abrams (who was born about the same time that the Enterprise first flew onto TV screens) decided to have a go at rebooting the whole franchise.

Under Abrams’ direction, a whole new generation of movie-goers would be introduced to the iconic characters of the original TV series, but now played, necessarily, by a new cast of young and extremely talented actors. In some cases, the actors bore more than a passing resemblance to the actors of yesteryear, and much of the world they inhabit is more than slightly familiar to fans of the original fare.

But what Abrams so masterfully did was to somehow weave a story that, at once, appealed to the legions of diehard Trekkies and Trekkers whilst also making a movie with mass appeal to, well, the masses.

2009’s Star Trek was an exceptionally good film that provided laughter and suspense and action and romance and courage and sacrifice and good guys and bad guys and, well, what else do you want? It was practically perfect.

Which brings us to Star Trek into Darkness, which, somehow, was even better.

Star Trek into Darkness picks up somewhere after the first movie left off, and we see the intrepid crew of the Enterprise trying to save a planet from catastrophic volcanic destruction without being detected by the natives. The best laid plans of mice and Vulcans don’t always work out as intended, however, and things get crazy in a hurry for Captain Kirk and company. But it’s not until the Enterprise returns to Earth that all Hell breaks loose, as the Federation finds themselves the target of some serious acts of terrorism.

The responsible party is a rogue Starfleet agent named John Harrison (played brilliantly and coldly by Benedict Cumberbatch), and he apparently has a pretty big axe to grind. Wielding a big axe is not much of a daunting challenge, however, as we quickly learn that Harrison is, in reality, Khan, a genetically augmented superhuman who is very, very angry about something that happened around 300 years ago.

And, as you probably guessed, it’s going to be up to Captain Kirk and his crew to bring him to justice or die trying.

If you’re a long-time fan and remember Khan from the original TV series, or particularly if you recall 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, then you’ll have a loose framework for what’s happening. Very loose. Some things will seem very familiar, in a satisfying way, all the while being completely new and unpredictable.

But if you’re new to the party as of 2009’s Star Trek, you won’t feel left out or confused at all because the story stands on its own two, extremely solid feet.

So regardless of whether you’ve been dashing around the galaxy for decades or if you were just recruited as a Starfleet Cadet in 2009, you’re in for an extremely enjoyable ride. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp, you’ll cheer, and you’ll wait to go to the bathroom until it’s over, because you won’t want to miss a minute of this movie masterpiece.

For all its dealings with aliens and space exploration, some of Star Trek into Darkness’ finest moments explore the depths of our own humanity and the complexities of our terrestrial relationships.

The questions Roddenberry raised and the ideals he espoused so long ago in a fictional future are still the best hope for our future. The way we treat our neighbors — next door, across the ocean, or on the far side of the galaxy — is fundamental to finding lasting peace. And yet, despite our desires for peaceful coexistence, we must also decide what is worth fighting for, and what is worth dying for.

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