At Random: Taking trek into dark proves fun

The best thing about watching a 3-D movie is seeing how silly your seatmate looks while wearing those disposable 3-D glasses.

Or so I was reminded a couple of weekends ago when my wife and I chaperoned our 12-year-old son and some of his friends at a screening of “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Donning our theater-issued spectacles as the previews began, our bug-eyed crew looked like a logful of frogs waiting for a fly to buzz our way.

Even when we don’t put on plastic eyeware at the local cineplex, most of us go to the movies to find some new way of seeing the familiar. That’s what the latest “Star Trek” movie is, at its heart — a slightly different take on an old story.

My wife hasn’t followed the “Star Trek” series and its many TV and feature film spinoffs over the decades, but that didn’t diminish her enjoyment of the new “Star Trek” movie. The plot is like one of those long-running soap operas that you can easily pick up and put down, not missing much even after an absence of years.

“Into Darkness” gives fans younger versions of the characters from the 1960s TV show, imagining their lives as tender-faced space cadets just beginning to explore the far reaches of the universe.

I enjoy “Star Trek,” but not as a lifestyle, so I couldn’t match the enthusiasm of the theater patron I met during a bathroom break who was standing at the urinal wearing a Star Fleet uniform.

Because I’m not among the tribe of Trekkies who embrace “Star Trek” as a secular religion, I don’t feel any sense of sacrilege in saying that the “Into Darkness” cast members seem like better actors than the original “Star Trek” crew. Chris Pine, who plays Captain Kirk, and Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock, give their roles the kind of subtle inflections that were missing when “Star Trek” debuted as a TV drama in 1966.

The fictional terrorism in “Into Darkness” — and the imperfect bargains that Star Fleet officers make while combating it — have obvious parallels in today’s national security headlines.

On that score, “Into Darkness” follows a tradition of social commentary that started with the first “Star Trek” series. In its first version, “Star Trek” speculated on the promise of a world governed by cooperation rather than hate, but one couldn’t help noticing that the show’s vision of progress also included a lot of men in uniforms keeping the peace with guns.

The original series aptly expressed the running tension in the 1960s between utopian dreaming and the quest for law and order.

Luckily, “Into Darkness,” like most “Star Trek” outings, doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The movie borrows heavily from the style of old matinee cliffhangers like “Flash Gordon,” although director J.J. Abrams quickens the pace to accommodate viewers raised on video games.

During our evening in Abrams’ world of tomorrow, we spent $27 at the concession stand. Here’s hoping that in the real future, popcorn will be a lot cheaper.