The Imitation Game (2014)

★★★

Advertisements

The Imitation Game PosterDirector: Morten Tyldum

Release Date: November 14th, 2014 (UK); December 25th, 2014 (US)

Genre: Biography; Drama; Thriller

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley

I saw The Imitation Game last year and was too caught up in other work to jot down some thoughts in a semi-coherent manner. This review, then, comes significantly later than it should have and, despite still possessing a few pages of notes designed to jog the memory, I’m now struggling to recall much of the film. That’s the main problem here. The Imitation Game is just unmemorable. It’s not a time issue either — the piece left as much to be desired back in December as it does now. Of course, the story of Alan Turing is an incredibly memorable one but that has nothing to do with this film per se (rather, it’s because his life actually happened and was shocking in and of itself).

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing, a British mathematician and cryptanalyst courted by his country to solve the seemingly impenetrable Nazi Enigma code. The film takes place at the peak of World War II, but you wouldn’t have guessed it if not for the occasional reference. At one point, problem solving team member Peter (Matthew Beard) refers to that big battle thing happening far from the otherwise serene Bletchley Park: “There are actual soldiers out there trying to win an actual war.” We don’t see enough, or at the very least feel enough, of this supposed ongoing war. It’s as if all the events on-screen are unfolding on a remote island as opposed to an island entrenched in a horrendous, deadly human struggle.

Returning to more local matters, we watch as a whole host of obstacles are thrown in front of Turing — those well-known ones related to his private life, but also professional obstacles that simply do not make sense. Charles Dance’s Commander Alistair Denniston, who is overseeing the operation at Bletchley Park, essentially becomes a less brutal version of Tywin Lannister as he dishes out ultimatums to Turing and his team, threatening to shut down their potentially life-saving efforts. “Our patience has expired,” he groans. But why? Surely it’d be wise to keep the process going irrespective of how long success is taking. The film doesn’t address this awkward stance enough, and as such we’re left with a weird sense of internal squabbling that doesn’t chime well given the war climate.

For the most part, emotionally devastating moments — at least, that’s what they should be — are presented in a fairly generic manner. Graham Moore’s screenplay lacks imagination. A ship sinking debate is one of the more morally dubious scenes but you can see the ambiguity coming from a mile off. Since the film is based on a true story it is very possible that parts such as the one referred to above are reflected with genuine truthfulness, their blunt coincidence thus horrible to even consider. However, Moore and director Morten Tyldum set up the majority of these would-be taut interactions too easily. The ship sinking argument feels like a Hollywood moment when it should be the complete antithesis – dirty and righteously murky.

There is a lot fuelling the narrative and as such the film begins to confuse itself as it juggles a number of different layers (any codebreakers around to sort this mess out?). We touch upon the intricacies of gender politics, man versus machine, sexual orientation and the war climate, each with varying impetus. The technological struggle between Turing’s team and the Enigma machine is intriguing, and when Tyldum focuses on the mathematician’s private life the piece flourishes with authenticity and solemn gravitas. To its credit, The Imitation Game does effectively capture the painstaking conclusion to Turing’s life. Perhaps singling out only two elements instead of trying to engage with a handful of themes would’ve yielded something more concise and coherent for Tyldum.

Having said all that, the performances from many of the cast are very good — one or two are particularly noteworthy — and these keep the piece bubbling over (they also undoubtedly had a hand in shooting the film into wide-netted Oscar contention). Cumberbatch bumbles as well as ever playing the intellectually gifted Turing, whilst at the same time empowering the periodically unaccommodating man with increasing resilience and vigour. He is the perfect fit for the role and Cumberbatch really comes into his own when reflecting the weightier points of Turing’s life.

Matthew Goode, Allen Leech and Matthew Beard complete the team of puzzle solvers. The latter duo don’t have as much to do but as Hugh Alexander, Goode carries out the brazen and often unimpressed act to a T. It is Keira Knightley, though, who has the most impact opposite Cumberbatch. She plays Cambridge graduate Joan Clarke who develops a close bond with Turing throughout the film. In lesser hands the role might’ve fallen foul of poor characterisation but Knightley has steel in her eyes, Joan often the person bearing the strongest will.

The film doesn’t really match up to the awards recognition it has been receiving over the past few months, but it does manage to be a suitably uplifting-turned-demoralising piece. I reckon that has more to do with Turing’s real life struggles than how the picture depicts them. Maybe The Imitation Game isn’t as dreary as I recall, but I’m not recalling much.

The Imitation Game - Cast

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): StudioCanal, The Weinstein Company

12 Years a Slave (2014)

★★★★★

Director: Steve McQueen

Release Date: November 8th, 2013 (US); January 10th, 2014 (UK)

Genre: Biography; Drama; History

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o

“I will not fall into despair till freedom is opportune!”

Those purposeful words, you will have heard over the last few months in trailers, adverts and previews. They are strong-willed; in one sense uplifting, yet in another more visceral sense, haunted by humanity’s most evil endeavours. Despair and freedom, traits inversely diverging in the life, rather, the existence of Solomon Norfolk. Steve McQueen challenges us to consider and then reconsider as his depiction of the animalistic slave trade hammers with shock, but does not rely on it. For the most part, the moments of solitude and silence profoundly exhibit a monstrous reality lived by those such as the remorseless slave owner Edwin Epps. There are no punches pulled, no whippings recoiled; McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing watch without question. More than that though, it is a necessary watch. Not to reassure a cultural ridding that hasn’t fully been expunged. Rather, to condemn what should never have occurred, and to shed a flicker of true resilience on a truly despicable time.

A well-off and considerate skilled carpenter, Solomon Norfolk (Chiwetel Ejiofor) tends to the every need of his young family. It’s 1841 and the slave trade is rife with wealthy disregard. Approached by two not noticeably iffy gentlemen, Solomon — a fiddle player at heart — is offered an extended musical job, an offer greeted with appreciative acceptance. After a drunken night, he awakens in chains, stripped of his identity and mercilessly pawned. 12 Years a Slave tells Solomon’s harrowing story, as he is traded from a would-be sympathetic slave owner (that is, if such a juxtaposition exists) to the vile, despicable Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) who has abomination clenched in his fists and the abyss peering through his eyes.

This is an intense watch, no doubt. Not necessarily because it’s another retelling of a horrible time — though that alone warrants attention and denouncing. Rather, it comes down to how Steve McQueen unflinchingly tells the story. His directorial application is admirable in that no disservice is done to those who fell victim to slavery, this isn’t in any remote sense a Hollywood-esque drama bloated full of riveting set pieces or manipulative tones. Nor is it buoyed by a somewhat ironic, semi-exploitative raft akin to that of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, a cinematic spectacle in every sense. 12 Years a Slave is real life, a reflection of events not so long gone. You may judge success on ticket sales, or audience reception, or even personal affirmation, but there’s also a genuine feeling abound that McQueen’s priorities are and would always have been aligned alongside authentic storytelling regardless. His straightforward devotion to re-imagining the unimaginable is admirable, and it’s this wholeheartedness that enables the viewer to watch with an only just an ounce of ease, but an ounce nonetheless.

From the point of his wrongful capture, Solomon wrestles with a tragic dignity-driven dilemma: does he succumb to hate to become bastion of support for his helpless compatriots already grappled by despair, or does he stoutly, fearlessly stare directly into the heartlessness of one of humanity’s worst episodes? Initially, Solomon is disbelieving, perhaps as much of slavery’s existence as of his own forced manoeuvre into it. “They were not kidnappers, they were artists… fellow performers,” he wrongly assures, detailing those absolutely iffy gentlemen. Maybe if he can convince someone, anyone, they’ll see sense. But there is no sense, not in the racist pits of Southern USA. Everywhere Solomon glances there is a monster in human skin. The slave-trader, auctioning off people like watches (“My sentimentality stretches the length of a coin”). The plantation owner, who treats his slaves fairly well — but to treat a slave well would be to treat a slave as a human, not an object, therefore not to treat a slave at all. His empathy is misguided. The hired carpenter, a white pre-Nazi figure teaming with abhorrent spew. Yet through these early trials, Solomon remains resilient and hopeful — freedom is still vaguely in sight.

Wholly, 12 Years a Slave is mighty, but a number of moments stand out in their contrasting potency. As a twenty-first century audience, we’ve sponged it all, and have resultantly become immune to most atrocities displayed in film or any other art-form. There’s something to be said, then, for an act of depicted violence that leaves you mouth gaping, eyes watering and mind searching. In a sickening whipping display not far removed from The Passion of the Christ, the film emphatically compounds its horrors. Yet it remains realistic, and that rankles the stomach. Conversely, a scene of isolation is striking. Surrounded by an audibly hissing nature, pupils dark and eclipsing, Solomon slowly stares right and left before catching the camera’s lens. Profound, absolutely. Painful, worryingly. You wonder whether Solomon has approached the point of no return, the despair, and assume thereafter that he has seen no end. It’s an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, perhaps the most poignant all both in delivery and meaning.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s depiction of Solomon is utterly remarkable. He is defiant in hope, upsetting in pain and compelling throughout, embodying this range in absolute earnest. The role is a difficult one; Ejiofor must reign in grief and disperse it invariably at the correct moments, or risk devaluing the man. At the same time, Solomon’s sympathetic nature cannot restrain, and instead Ejiofor has to symbolise at least partial hope where there is none. Ejiofor masterfully accomplishes all of this, and more — every strained note from his mouth rings with plea, and his eyes bulge with emotion. As diabolical slave-owner Edwin Epps, Michael Fassbender demonstrably bewitches himself in a spell of pure evil. At one point Epps falls flat on his face, yet you cannot muster up the slightest node of joy because it’s obvious that his repulsive mindset enjoyed the discomfort.

Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is also incredible. She plays Patsey, a young female slave whom Epps fantasies over and hates himself for it. Nyong’o displays an air of vulnerability, whilst at the same time commanding the screen with her undeniably astute presence. Paul Giamatti has a minor role as the aforementioned slave-trader, excelling in cruelty, the same uncaring sensibility as Paul Dano, the aforementioned hired carpenter. Brad Pitt oddly appears as a different carpenter, Amish beard and all. His random arrival is slightly off-putting, though the co-producer of the film (ah, that’s why) is solid enough. Benedict Cumberbatch is William Ford, the empathetic plantation owner whose sentences begin with an English accent and end in a southern drawl. Having said that, Cumberbatch is an excellent choice to play the role, that much-loved real life personality giving the character some small semblance of decency.

Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography is exquisite, offering a pristine vehicle for the film to vibrantly beam out of. A contagious scent of excellence must’ve attached itself to each component on set, and Hans Zimmer’s score is no different. Moving and soaring, Zimmer’s orchestral harmonies wrap around events on screen as if to comfort the forsaken humans. This contrasts with the weighty Roll Jordan Roll, a roar of solidarity that you don’t want Solomon to contribute to for fear of his own confirmation of plight.

If not the best film of the year, 12 Years a Slave is certainly the most important and probably the least comfortable to watch. Steve McQueen powerfully unravels a horrific period lived mercilessly by those far wickeder than any revised history suggests, and endured harrowingly by those whose suffering is unrelenting in its depiction. It’s stark and honest, so much so that you’ll exit the cinema, mind image-strewn, wishing the film never had to be made.

August: Osage County (2014)

★★

Director: John Wells

Release Date: January 10th, 2014 (US); January 24th, 2014 (UK)

Genre: Drama

Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

Family reunions are often tarred with the ‘awkward’ label. And they can be, particularly if the participators share a common animosity. Or at the very least are in any way unfamiliar with each other. Both former and latter are absolutely the case here, only the stench of awkwardness is far from enough. To this family awkwardness encompasses simply the petulant appetiser before an enormous main course; a main course that presents a Sunday roast of hysterics, abrasion and arguments. The Weston family collectively exist in a pit of dysfunction. Sadly though, there’s far too much of it going on. Too much acting, too much shouting, too much loudness. In fact this film is so incredibly over the top it even reduced Sherlock to a blubbering idiot.

Welcome to Osage County. Presumably it’s August.

Upon learning about the apparent suicide of her father, Barbara (Julia Roberts) travels to her parents’ residence for the funeral and accompanying strenuous family congregation. Mother Violet (Meryl Streep) has mouth cancer, an affliction that never halts her ability to rattle out words nor does it subdue the uncontrollable pill-popping antics she vicariously partakes in. As she denounces her Native American maid’s right to refer to her own heritage, it becomes apparent that Violent isn’t a very likeable person. Perhaps she has every right to detest the world given her stricken circumstances, and if so who can hold such insignificant spiting against her? It could even be the drugs taking control and shoving each negative cell in her body to the forefront. But then her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) doesn’t exactly strike a chord of positivity either, relentlessly berating her own son for flaws overwhelmingly less vindictive than her own. And Violet’s aforementioned daughter Barbara, although at times a great deal more pleasant than mother and aunt, constantly finds herself battling against a future envisioning the same resentful tone as her elders. Only she’s already halfway there.

Therein lies one of two main problems that hampers this drama: it becomes increasingly difficult to pinpoint a character that you can actually relate to, one that you don’t feel guilty empathising with. As the saga plunges deeper and deeper into an abyss of loud shrieks and scalding off-the-cuff remarks, more and more family members are picked off by hate. It’s like a horror film, only instead of a mass-murdering antagonist the villain is a murky cloud of hostility, and instead of people perishing at the swing of a gleaming axe they choke on said whirling cloud and in turn lose any redeemability. Meryl Streep goes all out as the patriarch and is very good at being very bad, but her frenzies cast a shadow over other more genuine lower-key offerings from the likes of Julianne Nicholson and Chris Cooper, as Ivy and Charles respectively (ironically, the only sort of appealing characters on show). Yet even aside from all the noise and palaver, none of the people on screen are extensively interesting. You’d do well to connect with someone who is brash and a tad evil. At best it’s fun for a while, but by the time Streep has smoked her seventh cigarette and Roberts has blown her fourth gasket it all becomes a bit boring.

The screenplay is adapted from Tracy Letts’ critically lauded Pulitzer Prize–winning play of the same name and this provides the nucleus for significant problem number two. Everything feels quite artificial, almost agonisingly forced (tick off the proverbial stage props as you go: dinner table for ultimate congregation scene, porch for nighttime reminiscence scene). Few laughs are on offer, partly because the script can be whimsical but mainly due to the physical nature of delivery required for success. You can clearly see why the hair-raising approach works on stage, where the interaction with audiences who are part of a communally emotive atmosphere surely aids matters too. On screen though the execution is wooden meaning conversational exchanges — of which there are many — wear quickly. Having run out of relevant anecdotes, Streep and co streamline into discussing dying birds and more topics which feebly bear contrived relevance to their situation.

There’s no substance to the dialogue. Petty attempts at stirring the thought-provoking pot (or perhaps cauldron in Violet’s case) backfire as words fall on deaf ears: “Die after me, I don’t care what you do… just survive” might hold some sort of emotional resonance in a John Hughes film, but here it just sounds like terrible advice from a mother to her teenage daughter. Speaking of questionable behaviour, why do some members of the family grasp so tightly to the courtesy of grace at the dinner table, when they’ve just conducted a post-funeral fashion extravaganza? The film often appears to be trying to assure its own direction and often fails. One moment it’s a black comedy, the next a family drama, shortly thereafter a sentimental life-lesson. At one point I was certain the film blaring in view was some sort of Anchorman/Thor hybrid. Turns out Ewan McGregor just has a dodgy accent (“You’re a pain in the ass!”).

It does wave a few white flag-esque redeemable qualities in fairness. A charming soundtrack interweaves amongst the chaos, one which deviates from pleasant to sombre depending on which mode the narrative has shifted to. The extended family dinner is probably the best sequence on display, and is a very good one at that. Only here do each of the characters get to evolve their varying dynamics with other family members. It is the one time where you are absolutely certain proceedings are going to erupt at any given moment, yet the film deviously keeps you guessing and engaged for an extended period of time. The performances on the whole are excellent, if a smidgen awards-gesturing at times. Heck it even conveys the know-how to be funny on the one or two occasions laughs permeate the volatility (reasoning behind Abigail Breslin’s desire to get home is particularly apt).

August: Osage County is just about as messy as the family it thrusts on screen. Half of the characters are undesirable, whilst the other half’s presence merely equates to making up the numbers. There’s a lot of acting going on — bouts of which are very good — but sadly performances aren’t the be all and end all when it comes to engaging an audience.

Tomatoes at the ready.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

★★★★

Director: Peter Jackson

Release Date: December 13th, 2013 (UK/US)

Genre: Action; Fantasy

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly

Peter Jackson’s carrot-wielding Bree resident looks knowingly at the screen before sidling along the rainy, muddy Middle-earth town. Moments later the smoky, beer-filled room of the Prancing Pony inn hosts dwarf-heir Thorin as he glances wearily around clutching his axe in preparation for any potential attack. Gandalf the Grey sits opposite him, enticing us with familiar wispy tones, underplayed confidence and Lord of the Rings lingo (“We’ve been blind… and in our blindness the enemy has returned”).

We’re back. No, it’s not quite the Middle-earth from a decade ago — or, narratively, decades later — but it was never going to be. Rather, The Desolation of Smaug signals a return to the comfort of Peter Jackson’s pre-Lord of the Rings universe, and already proceedings seem more urgent than last time around.

Following their narrow escape from the Misty Mountains and temporary fending off of Orc war chief Azog, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his company of dwarfs find themselves splintered from Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who must investigate the state and whereabouts of an evil necromancer boasting powers that are ever-growing. As they part ways for the time being, Gandalf suggests that the best way to continue on their journey towards the Lonely Mountain and Erebor, is for the group to travel through a dishevelled, haunting forest, rather than treading two-hundred miles north and going around it. In the first film, the dwarfs and Bilbo most certainly would’ve taken the long route, and would definitely have sung an out-of-place song about picking mushrooms or making fire en route. Many of the previous instalment’s shortcomings (long-comings, even) are brushed to the side this time though, as the film hurtles along at a splendidly speedy pace, with plenty of action and wit to serve.

In fact, the variety of creature encounters and battle sequences give The Desolation of Smaug a much needed burst of energy from the get-go, unlike An Unexpected Journey which never really hit any kind of stride until Bilbo’s magnetic encounter with Gollum. Sadly Gollum does not feature here, however Bilbo does partake in a similarly dynamic conversation with Smaug the dragon, a meeting which is surprisingly full of more humour than tension. Martin Freeman comes into his own as the Hobbit Baggins, and along with a new found purpose through which his character evolves, Freeman also offers more than a handful of genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. His hurried, fidgety approach works expertly as he is often seen placing his cohorts before himself, exemplified during the tremendous barrel scene. However Bilbo’s engaging back-and-forth with Smaug sits effortlessly at the pinnacle of Freeman’s performance. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the dragon and, unlike Gandalf who possesses an assuring whispery tone, delivers his speeches deceitfully and slyly, as the words echo off the screen.

For a film (and trilogy) entitled “The Hobbit” we really could’ve done with more of said small being. At over two hours and 40 minutes (nine minutes shorter than the previous film) there is bountiful time for director Peter Jackson to tell the story of Bilbo finding the Ring and how the poisoned chalice affects him, however the film only breezes over the developing relationship between Hobbit and Ring. Rather, The Desolation of Smaug puts greater emphasis on the relationship triangle which incorporates a returning-to-the-franchise Legolas (Orlando Bloom), new-to-the-franchise Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and already-in-the-franchise Kili (Aidan Turner). The return of a makeup-laden Legolas is smart move on Jackson’s part as both the elf and Tauriel are the primary vehicles of energy, dispatched by way of exhilarating, fun-to-watch battle sequences; we even see Legolas skate via Orc rather than shield, as he did in The Two Towers. However unlike the romance sub-plot featured throughout the original trilogy (both book and film), the love triangle here feels very forced and artificial. Its creation was conceived exclusively for the big screen, but the film does not need it for added drama or emotion — that is already there as part of Bilbo’s journey.

The Desolation of Smaug is too long, although at no time does it noticeably falter as a consequence. There is more than enough going on to keep the audience attentive, and as a result the film looks more like a film than it does a congregation of set-pieces. Along with the reduced frame-rate (in most cinemas, back from 48 frames per second to 24) the swift advancement of proceedings prevents the viewer from becoming bored and spending their time staring at background objects that look exceedingly prop-like in a higher frame-rate environment — this hampered part one. The typically Lord of the Rings wide-shots which span over landscapes are beautifully shot and film’s computer-generated additions mesh in well. In an interesting move by Jackson, we see a number of mirroring scenes which serve both as a warning of evil times to come, and as a chance to reflect. For instance, Bilbo twanging the spider web and alerting many spiders a la Pippin knocking the metal armour down a shaft, in turn waking the goblins in Moria, and Thorin’s emphatic “What say you?” in his Aragorn-esque speech demanding affirmation, are two examples. Perhaps the most poignant of all though, is the elderly dwarf Balin’s declaration of his admiration for Hobbits, “It never ceases to amaze me, the courage of Hobbits,” which he unveils with the same authenticity as Gandalf does towards Frodo early in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Peter Jackon’s passion for the subject matter seeps through in abundance here and his decision to split the cinematic adaptation of The Hobbit into three films looks a great deal more justified by the end of The Desolation of Smaug (though there’s still a way to go). Martin Freeman shines as Bilbo Baggins in a sequel which, although still has its downsides, succeeds its predecessor both narratively and in content.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Out December 13th, 2013)

As presumably everybody already knows, the trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was released yesterday. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of a forthcoming trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, opened in cinemas back in December of 2012, and has now taken over $1 billion dollars at the box office. With all the fanfare behind the franchise and excitement starting to build already, I think it is fair to say that by this time next year, The Desolation of Smaug will have come close to that figure again, and perhaps have even exceeded it.

An Unexpected Journey, directed by The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, delivered a more light-hearted Middle-earth (in comparison to Middle-earth during The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and it is more than likely that part two of The Hobbit, which Jackson helms again, will be portrayed in a similar vein. For me, this is by no means a bad thing — the book itself is certainly less downbeat than its successors and therefore the film does not need to be either. The problem I had with An Unexpected Journey was its less-than-unexpected runtime, which approached almost three hours. Jackson had stated in interviews before the film was released that he was looking into using excerpts from Tolkien’s other related writings (Unfinished Tales and such), and as it turned out, he used a few more than he probably should have (such as the scene with bumbling wizard Radagast the Brown and his energetic rabbits). Something tells me The Desolation of Smaug will have a similarly long runtime, but at the end of the day if it means I am sitting for an extra hour in a cinema, why should I be complaining?

“Wait, you’re saying these are just… chocolate coins?”

The trailer for The Desolation of Smaug certainly looks more action-packed than the previous instalment, as Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins and his troupe of companions continue on their journey to the Lonely Mountain and an impending meeting with the dragon, Smaug. We see an array of new characters making an appearance in the trailer (such as Lost’s delightful Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel) and old faces returning (the ever-popular Orlando Bloom is back as the, well… ever-popular Legolas). Stephen Fry finally gets his debut in the franchise as the Master of Lake-town and Martin Freeman’s Sherlock compatriot, Benedict Cumberbatch, plays the dragon — who better (than Kanyon… never mind)? Aside from those four, many of the previous actors from An Unexpected Journey are set to reprise their roles, signalling the return of people like Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield and James Nesbitt as Bofur the dwarf. We are even getting the pleasure of another Andy Serkis performance as Gollum.

Particular events outlined in the book which stick out in the trailer include the barrel scene, the company’s arrival and travels through places such as Mirkwood and Dale, and the eventual confrontation with Smaug. We even get a greater glimpse of the dragon right at the end of the trailer (as opposed to just an eye in the previous film). Once again, it appears that the graphics team and visual departments have all worked wonders on the actual viewing aspect of the piece, as the detail exuding from the trailer alone looks magnificent, an element common in Jackson’s films — they tend to be truly cinematic and spectacular (take The Lovely Bones as an example).

One thing is for sure, at the hands of Peter Jackson, regardless of runtime or unnecessary scenes or any number of frames per second, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is certain to be a visually stunning, exciting and hugely enjoyable watch for all.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

★★★★★

Director: J.J. Abrams

Release Date: May 9th, 2013 (UK); May 16th, 2013 (US)

Genre: Science fiction; Action

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana

Following on from Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness follows the exploits of Captain James Kirk (Pine) and his crew on the USS Enterprise as they find themselves in a battle to prevent terror from being unleashed by a powerful fellow Starfleet agent who has recently defected, John Harrison (Cumberbatch). With Spock (Quinto) and Uhura (Saldana) having troubles, a domineering Admiral (Peter Weller) monitoring Kirk’s every move, and the biggest threat to Starfleet to date brooding, a seemingly inexperienced Kirk must regain the control and retain the trust of his crew and journey into dangerous territory in order to put an end to the violence.

I think it is safe to say J.J. Abrams is on a role at the moment. Without getting into his television portfolio (which includes the worldwide TV hit Lost), Abrams’ four directorial outputs have ranged from solid to sensational. Beginning with Mission Impossible III — incidentally, Tom Cruise phoned Abrams while the latter was in the middle of shooting one of the final scenes of Lost season one to offer him the job — Abrams served up an action-packed Cruise-fest which was fairly well received financially and in terms of enjoyment.

“I told you guys I was good at musical chairs.”

Up next was his take on Star Trek, a franchise that Abrams has often said he never showed any interest in as a child whereas all of his friends did. Perhaps that benefited the film, as it romped through the Box Office and reinvigorated moviegoers’ love for it. Working with Steven Spielberg had always been a dream for Abrams, and that dream was realised through making the wonderful Super 8 in 2011, another goldmine of adventure and reminiscence.

And now Star Trek Into Darkness. The first thing to say about Into Darkness is that this is a film created not just for long-time Star Trek fans, but also for new admirers (like me). By simultaneously directing an origin story retaining all that has already happened and establishing a brand new ‘parallel timeline’ in the previous instalment, Abrams has given himself and his audience a whole universe to explore vicariously through the crew of the Enterprise. We are thrust into the action straight away this time around (who has time to wait around?) in a riveting and enjoyable sequence full of danger, awesome visuals and witty dialogue — and these characteristics are maintained throughout the whole two hours and seven minutes.

“Hey Zach, look. JJ is doing the dance again.”

Admittedly, having not been a Star Trek fan (or ‘Trekkie’) before Abrams took the reins I am not well versed in the franchise and nor do I wish to pretend that I am (for fear of getting something wrong, mainly). Therefore I did not know of the significance of the different otherworldly beings that the crew encounter or the varying levels of ship on the Admiral’s desk — but the beauty of Abrams filmmaking here is that I did not need to know these things. All that I had to do was pay attention, sit back and enjoy picture. By no means am I saying that Into Darkness is merely a ‘dumb film’ focusing on big thrills and CGI effects to generate income, rather I’m saying the opposite: it is a smart film because it focuses on thrilling the audience and concocting characters to care about. The majority of thinking required from the viewer was required in the first film of the reboot — which Abrams handled supremely well — and this time around the focus seemed to be all about putting on a show for Star Trek fans old and new. And, of course, to successfully further the story of the Enterprise crew while retaining a degree of loyalty to the past.

“I’m in a glass case of emotion.”

Talking about entertaining audiences, Benedict Cumberbatch is cast impeccably well as the evil John Harrison and is the stand out performer. Even though he is used to playing ‘good guys’ like Sherlock Holmes in the self-titled BBC drama, Cumberbatch thrives in this new role, utilising everything from piercingly devilish facial expressions to a demonic-yet-educated voice level to create a tremendous villain to go up against Starfleet. Chris Pine is just as charismatic as he was in the previous film, though a little more serious and contained at the appropriate moments. Zachary Quinto can do no wrong as Spock who he was born to portray, and the likes of Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban are all effective in their roles, maximising their screen time to create a connection with the audience (when I say “the audience” I really just mean me as I can only speak for myself).

Normally at this point I would give my views on specific parts of the film and write about spoilers, but I really do not think I need to for Star Trek Into Darkness. There was nothing that I significantly disliked about the film and I think all of the main plot points were handled excellently. Moreover, I would genuinely rather not spoil any part of the film because it does not deserve to be spoiled.

I will end by saying that, regardless if you are a Star Trek fan or a science fiction geek or neither of the two, you should see Abrams’ latest offering. Star Trek Into Darkness is a film for all movie lovers who just want to go the cinema and be engrossed in a tremendous spectacle. It is a testament to J.J. Abrams’ ability in filmmaking that myself who, just like Abrams, was never really into Star Trek before, is now a big fan.