Months after the dramatic events seen in the 2009 blockbuster film Star Trek, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise—including Captain James T. Kirk, First Officer Spock, Doctor Leonard McCoy, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and Ensign Pavel Chekov—is called back home. But an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has declared all-out war on Starfleet and everything it stands for, leaving Earth in a state of crisis. Now with a personal score to settle as a result, Kirk must lead a covert manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction. As these valiant heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Captain Kirk has left: his crew.
“The book is always better than the film.” That’s the common argument you hear when a movie based upon prose fails to live up to its expectations. On the flip-side, many folks are of the mind that a book that is based upon a screenplay is always going to be deficient. The scope and pacing of a filmed work is not always conducive to the page, and so most novelizations tend to come across as superfluous.
Not so with “Star Trek Into Darkness”.
In my review of Foster’s adaptation of the 2009 film, I used the words “severe disappointment” to describe my overall feeling of the film. The 2013 effort, however, left me feeling that the on-screen version of “Star Trek Into Darkness” was the severe disappointment.
|No 'cold fusion' device here...|
Throughout the adaptation of the new film, Foster takes great pains to flesh out and provide more grounded reasons for things that are going on. Cold fusion nuking the volcano? Gone… and an admittedly Trek Tech explanation given. No security around Headquarters when Harrison comes a’ callin’? Covered. Darned good reason for Scotty resigning instead of signing for the torpedoes? Given. And yes, I could go on.
While Foster is unable eliminate the gaping plot holes in the base story, his writing manages to at least significantly narrow their diameter to such a degree that it makes the tale feel more cohesive, intelligent, and engaging. In the current adaptation, Foster has no problem with mildly varying lines seen on screen to make the story work, provide explanations that were not immediately evident on screen, or otherwise simply give some depth to what – otherwise – was more an action/superhero film than a science fiction one.
|Foster made even the film's worst moments a bit more palatable.|
Foster’s 2013 adaptation was also able to do something that his 2009 one failed to do – keep me completely engaged right up to the end. While “Star Trek” tanked when Kirk boarded his shuttle for the Academy, there is no discernible drop-off this time around. Even in the worst moments of the story, Foster’s writing rescues the lackluster and saves important moments from themselves – even Kirk’s penultimate moment has more gravitas in the book than in the film. (Not that it was difficult to accomplish that!).
|Successful on film and in the book.|
Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain comes across clear and strong in the adaptation. In part that should not be surprising, because he did a great job on-screen (given what he had to work with). However, the success of his translation to the page is almost beyond measure in a Star Trek adaptation. Only Vonda McIntyre’s Kahn in her novelization of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” did a more complete and thorough job of truly translating the power and gravitas of an adversary than Foster’s take on Harrison.
|The single disappointment in the novel.|
To be fair and rounded, the characterizations of Admiral Marcus and Carol were somewhat lacking in the novelization – the Admiral was fairly flat and stereotypical in the film, however, so his depiction in the novelization isn’t really surprising or disappointing. The single let-down in the book is Carol, who was definitely better fleshed out (no pun intended) on screen. In the film, Carol feels integral to the narrative, while in the novel, her inclusion never really lives up to the weight she carried on-screen.
In every way, this adaptation was superior to its 2009 predecessor… but it is also far superior to the filmed work upon which it is based. I may skip a second viewing in the theater, but there is a very strong chance I’ll be reading this adaptation again. And that says a lot, considering I am still rather skeptical of the new direction for “Star Trek”.