Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

May 25, 2013

It has been a rough year, and a rough month, and a rough few weeks.  I shouldn’t have taken time away from family and work, but I decided to finally take in the new Star Trek film.  Obviously, if you haven’t seen it, and intend to, don’t read further.

 

Kirk and McCoy are on a planet inhabited by some primitive race, and they are being chased in a scene not to dissimilar from the famous opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It turns out, this is a distraction, as Spock is being lowered via shuttlecraft into the volcano which is next to the village, about to erupt and wipe out the emerging civilization.  McCoy and Kirk eventually dive off a cliff, where we find the USS Enterprise hiding underwater.  Spock is stuck in the volcano, and Kirk breaks the Prime Directive (the law of the Federation forbidding any interference with the natural evolution of primitive cultures)by flying the Enterprise out in full view of the natives to beam him out of the volcano before volcano stopping device goes off.  Spock is upset that the law was broken, and Kirk and McCoy are both miffed that Spock is ungrateful.  Spock’s girlfriend, Uhura, is upset that he was so reckless and not thinking of themselves as he was about to die.

Back on Earth, an officer goes with his wife to visit their daughter who lays dying in a hospital.   A mysterious stranger approaches him offering a cure, which he soon delivers on ….

Back at Starfleet Command in San Francisco, Admiral Pike, Kirk’s mentor and father-figure is incensed that Kirk , who was supposed to be strictly observing this planet, not only risked the crew and ship to ave the planet, but then broke the Prime Directive.  Kirk tries to explain, but Pike won’t hear it … Kirk wasn’t ready for the command.  Kirk is busted down to first officer, with Pike back in command of the Enterprise, and Spock is reassigned.

In London, with his daughter cured, the officer now must pay for the miracle.  He walks into the basement of an archives building in London, and blows the building up.

In San Francisco, Star fleet Command assembles, and determines that one of their own officers, a John Harriman, was behind the bombing, and managed to escape from the building with some unknown materials.  Kirk is the only one to ask “Why bomb a library?”, and when the head of Starfleet, Admiral Marcus, asks for his answer, Kirk responds that such an event would gather the leaders of Starfleet into one room like they were now.  No sooner has that been said, than a ship appears outside the windows, and begins shooting the place up.  Kirk manages to jury rig a way to bring the ship down, but not before Harriman transports away.  When Kirk returns to the meeting room, he finds that Pike has been killed.  Scotty determines that Harriman stole his long distance beaming formulas, and is now on Cronus, the home planet of th Klingon Empire;  an empire that has seen increased tensions with the Federation.  Kirk goes to Admiral Marcus, demanding the Enterprise back so that he can hunt Harriman down.  Marcus agrees , and even goes a step further.  Marcus believes that war with the Klingons is inevitable, but now is not the time to start a war.  He offers Kirk a salvo of newly created photon torpedoes which can be fired from the neutral zone and approach by stealth, killing Harriman at his isolated outpost.  Kirk readily agrees, but Spock privately informs him that this is all wrong … that the Admiral is approving an act of revenge killing that could very easily trigger a war.

Once aboard the Enterprise, Scotty refuses to accept the transfer of the new torpedos, since he cannot determine what is inside of them (they are shielded against scanning), and Starfleet won’t tell him what is inside.  Kirk orders him to approve the transfer, and Scotty resigns rather than back down.  Checkov is named new Chief Engineer.The ship also gets a new science officer, who just happens to be a weapons specialist.  Spock quickly figures out that this new science officer is here under false orders, and is in fact Carol Marcus, the Admiral’s daughter.  She has become concerned about her father who has been acting more and more strangely, and has been obsessed about the Klingons of late.

Kirk decides that Spock is right, and rather than fire the torpedoes, he uses captured civilian ship to travel to Cronus and arrest Harriman.  Upon arrival at the Neutral Zone, the warp drive conks out, though Kirk leads a raiding party to Cronus while repairs are being made.  They are discovered by a Klingon patrol, and after a firefight, Harriman arrives and begins kicking serious Klingon ass.  He then surrenders to Kirk.

Kirk and company smell a rat.  this guy is a slick operator, wiped out a Klingon garrison single handed, but surrendered way too quickly.  When pressed, Harriman finally tells the truth.

Harriman is in fact Kahn Noonian Singh.

After the event of the lat film which saw Earth almost destroyed, and with a threat against the Federation from the Klingons looming, a top secret rogue part of Starfleet Intelligence called Section 31 (a group that was very big in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and whose origins were shown in Star Trek: Enterprise) realized that the Federation was really to wussified to stand up to the Klingons and any other threat.  Searching their history books, they realized that in Earth’s Eugenics Wars of the late 20th century, a group of genetically engineered “supermen” escaped Earth after trying to subjugate it by unleashing a genocide against weaker humans.  Section 31 found Khan’s ship, and revived him, keeping his crew (family) frozen as hostages to control him.  He helped the federation design weapons and tactics to defend Earth, but was also laying low until he could find an out.  He realizes that Kirk has a conscience, and might help him.  He asks Kirk to open the new torpedoes.  when Dr. MArcus and McCoy manage to open them, they find that Khan had managed to replace the warheads with the cryogenic tubes of his crew.  He had hoped Kirk would fire them, and that he could safely land them and rescue his people … but then he asks Kirk to consider that his warp drive got knocked out, that his was likely planned, and that Admiral Marcus likely wanted the Enterprise to be caught and destroyed to trigger the war he had wanted.  Khan even gives Kirk the coordinates of the secret Section 31 base around Jupiter where they are building new warships.  Kirk calls Scotty, and instructs him to investigate.

 

Admiral Marcuse shortly after arrives in his new dreadnought .. kind of a cross between the Galaxy class Enterprise from the Next Generation and a stealth fighter).  Admiral Marcus orders Khan to be turned over, which Kirk refuses.  Marcus then fires on the Enterprise, seriously damaging it, buying only a little time when his daughter begs for mercy.  Just as the death blow is about to be delivered, the dreadnought’s systems shut down … compliments of a stow away Scotty!

Kirk and Khan transfer over and gain control of the bridge, but once they are in control, Khan turns on Kirk.  He demands Spock transfer the torpedoes over.  Spock does so, and then beams Kirk and party back to the Enterprise, though before he can destroy the Enterprise, the torpedoes explode.  Sending both ships crashing to Earth (Spock had gotten some advice that he should do this).

A part of the engine is out of alignment, and without fixing it, the ship will crash.  Kirk manages to knock Scotty out, and races into the radiation soaked chamber to effect repairs.  Kirk dies in the process, and Spock is there to see his friend die.  Khan’s ship crashes, leveling most of San Francisco, and escapes.  Spock goes after him, in a rather exciting chase that ends when Uhura comes to Spock’s aide.  McCoy, who had been studying Khan’s blood, realizes that he can revive Kirk, and manages to do so.  In another Raiders homage, we see the croygenic tubes of Khan and his crew sitting in a warehouse that is being closed.

The film ends a year later with the re-dedication of the Enterprise, the crew (plus the lovely Dr. Marcus) now assigned to a five year deep space mission to explore strange new worlds and to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly … you get it.

Let me start with what I don’t like.  First, JJ Abrams needs new camera equipment, because his lens flares are still a problem.  Second, I really don’t like the new formal uniforms (seeing Spock wearing a hat just seems weird).

What’s to like … quite a bit.  First, JJ Abrams rolled the dice big on making big changes to the Khan story line that was so big in Star Trek II.  Handle improperly, this franchise dies for another decade.  Instead, he found a new and intriguing way to bring the character into play, while simultaneously paying homage to the established past of the show (I thought it was great to use Section 31, something not too well known to old Trek fans).  Just as Heath Ledger had big shoes to fill as The Joker, Dominic Cumberbatch had to follow Ricardo Mantalban.  Because of the changes to the character’s situation, Cumberbatch did not have to recreate the roll, but rather had liberty to take Khan in a different direction (in Star Trek II, Khan is half-mad from being marooned on a planet for 20 years … this Khan had been living in civilization, under duress, for a few years).  Cumberbatch is not as over the top and mad as Mantalban’s Khan, but he is more cold, more reptilian, and more calculating.

While certainly fraught with deus ex machina, the switch on which character dies is interesting.  Kirk’s dying words are also somewhat unexpected.

While Scotty has always been a bit of a comic relief character (and he remains so in this film, it was really good to see him given a pair of testes to stand up to Kirk and show that when it came to right and wrong, there was no compromise.

In some ways, this was an improvement over the last film, which was good in its own right.  I’m still not sure I like the whole Spock-Uhura thing … but I give credit that there was a more than token attempt to give each character something to do other than “hailing frequencies open” and “Aye, aye, sir”.

All-in-all, a positive step forward for the franchise.


Mom (1947-2013)

May 3, 2013

Last night, I had called off work for Friday, and planned on spending the day at the hospital.

The doctors had been working on an assumption that mom’s very sudden downturn had been the result of an infection, and they had been treating her for one.  After a few days, the tests all kept coming back negative, and it was becoming clear that her deteriorating condition was the result of the advanced stages of the pulmonary fibrosis.  The doctors made it clear that all of the treatment options were exhausted.  I went home, and figured that time was now really against us.

I got a call this morning informing me that mom had had a bad night … she had to be restrained when she tried taking off her high pressure oxygen mask, and had pulled one IV line out.  They needed the family there quickly.  Her breathing was now highly labored, and breathing was causing her pain.  She was tired from lack of oxygen, and tired from her heart and respiratory muscles working at such a high rate.

By now her oxygen saturation was in the low 80s, but her heart rate was back over 120.  She was awake, and she could respond, but she was slow, she was hard to understand, and this was at least partially due to a prolonged reduction in oxygen, as well as a build up in carbon dioxide.  The doctors came in and asked what the family’s wishes were.  We informed him that we wanted her to be in the greatest of comfort, with minimal attempts to prolong life.   They began a morphine drip as the chaplain came in to give her the last rights.  Scott and Pepper couldn’t stay.  I pulled up a chair, and I held her hand as she drifted off to sleep.  At one point she opened her eyes and gripped my hand, and she said “I love you” twice, and I kept a big smile on my face and told her that I loved her too.

After about an hour and a half, she was asleep, and the decision was made to remove her high pressure oxygen mask and replace it with a lower flow mask, since this was giving her the most discomfort.  The doctors informed me that without the high pressure of oxygen, she was not likely to last long.  We had talked this over, and felt that we did not want mom to suffer any more.  They switched the masks, and her oxygen saturation crashed … at least until they turned all of the monitors and alarms off.

I watched as the breathing changed …. it became shallower, and her rate of breathing reduced.  After about 10 minutes, it was down to 2-3 times a minute, and they were just gasps of breath.  My uncle, a doctor from Denver, informed me what I already knew from my own education:  this was the autonomic system still trying to do its job.  Mom’s higher brain functions were already gone.  After about five more minutes, she gasped one more time, and then after about a minute, there was nothing more.  My aunt closed her eyes.  I gave her a kiss, and I went out to tell my brother and sister.

My aunt noted, and she was right, that mom was lucky.  While she did deal with discomfort and pain for a few days, it wasn’t months or years.  She died surrounded by loved ones, all of whom got to talk to her a bit before she went.  It wasn’t ideal (when is death ever a fair thing), but it was far better than many people get.

By my mother’s wishes, her body will be harvested for tissue and organs.  Mom was all about helping people.  She gets to do that one more time.

Things will be very busy for the next week or so.  We are making funeral arrangements tomorrow.  Keeping the family in your thoughts and prayer is absolutely going to be helpful.  I will apologize in advance for not getting back to you as soon as I would like.


Another update …

May 1, 2013

I have spent the afternoon and now into the evening with mom.  She has had difficulty getting sleep, and the strain of the extra breathing is making her tired.

 

They have her on a device that gives oxygen at higher pressure.  This device has brought down her respiration and heart rate, but even with this, her blood oxygen level is still low, and today it was lower than yesterday.  She can still talk, but it is difficult to understand her with the oxygen mask on, and the more she talks, the lower her oxygen blood saturation gets.

Her boss, a doctor, and his wife came for a visit this evening.  It was very  nice of him.  We also had a harpist.  As part of the hospital’s ministry department, they have musicians who will come in and play music that, depending on what is going on, aids with recovery, focus, healing, breathing, and relaxation.  It was quite nice to have a live, soothing performance like that.

My aunt and uncle from Denver are coming in tomorrow.

For now, we are all in a wait-and-see mode.