This weekend I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness for the second time. The first time was part of an unofficial Superstars post-conference field trip. Let me tell you, seeing this kind of movie with a group of predominantly science fiction and fantasy writers was a blast. Unfortunately, exhaustion and a 6:00 am flight the next morning curtailed my ability to discuss the movie with them as much as I would have liked.
The second viewing was with my husband and two boys. One of the great things about seeing a movie more than once is I tend to notice things I didn't the first time around. Star Trek: Into the Darkness didn't disappoint.
For all of you who are yelling at your computer - "WAIT. DON'T! I HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET." I'm going to stay fairly general so I don't give anything away.
Regardless of what you feel about the re-boot, one of the reasons the new movies work for me is the casting. All of the actors wear their characters well. There's enough of the original versions of them that I don't have to completely reset my thinking to follow along (unlike a female Starbuck).
At it's heart, Into Darkness is an action adventure in space movie. Each challenge is bigger than the one before. The movie starts with a moment that could have come from the Indian Jones franchise. That scenario builds to a peak and resolves. Just when you start to catch your breath, another crisis brews, bubbles over and explodes. By the end, you've been on such an adrenaline rollercoaster, you think that the final conflict CAN'T possibly build to a higher point. But it does.
The new movie is less Kirk dominated than the original series or movies. Spock, Uhura, Chekhov, and Scotty all have their own character arcs. In fact, I'd go so far to say that Spock is the protagonist. There are some charming moments with realistic dialog that have as much to do with character development as they do with moving the plot forward. This movie definitely has an ensemble feel to it. And it's stronger for it.
What struck me most on this second viewing though wasn't the story arc or character development. Rather it's the number of "call backs" or references to the original series, original movies, other science fiction and fantasy movies, and other action adventure movies that struck me on the second go through. Some of them are so subtle that I missed them the first time around. Some sledgehammer you. Certain time line elements are consistent with the original and others aren't - with events had hadn't yet happened in the original already occurring before this movie started. One moment made me groan and giggle even though I'm sure that's not the emotion the writer was hoping to evoke. There's paraphrasing of a quote from The Princess Bride. And a tribble.
What takes a story from "good" to "memorable"/ "fantastic?" It has to captivate us, has to have characters we want to root for, and a few we want to fail. It also needs to hook into our collective unconscious - our shared experiences. My sons, who didn't catch most of the references, loved it. My husband who sort of watched the original series and liked it, but didn't love it (I know. And I still married him, go figure) enjoyed the movie, and caught a lot of the references. I completely geeked out, and spent the closing credits (with the other twenty people still in the theatre - not my husband or sons) talking about the call back moments.
The ability to appeal to a multi-generational audience makes for big sales. It's also the hallmark of good story telling. Dave Farland/ Wolverton talks about building resonance into your stories in his seminars and Million Dollar Outlines and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing. Into Darkness \excels at resonance. It's well worth learning from. If you're the kind who doesn't want to take a notepad into the movie, wait until it comes out in electronic format or video. It's well worth the effort of analyzing it for the references to other works or events it makes. Also, if you haven't checked out Dave's books, I highly recommend that since he does a much better job at explaining resonance than I do.