Star Trek Into Darkness (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Jun 15, 2016
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Star Trek Into Darkness (4K UHD Review)


J.J. Abrams

Release Date(s)

2013 (June 14, 2016)


Bad Robot/Paramount (Paramount Pictures)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: B+

Star Trek Into Darkness (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)



Set roughly a year after the events of Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness finds the crew of the Enterprise at a crossroads. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is taken to task by Starfleet Command after a first contact incident in which he manages to save the indigenous population of the planet Nibiru, and also Spock’s (Zach Quinto) life, but breaks the Prime Directive in the process. As punishment for this and other transgressions, Kirk loses command of the Enterprise to his mentor, Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), though Pike manages to save his protégé’s career and keep him on as First Officer. Pike believes in Kirk, but tells the younger man that he’s still too impulsive and “doesn’t respect the chair.”

Meanwhile, a terrorist attack on a Starfleet facility in London leaves scores of personnel and bystanders dead. It seems the bomber is a former Starfleet operative named John Harrison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch of the BBC’s Sherlock). In response to this tragedy, Starfleet calls all of its senior officers into an emergency meeting in San Francisco… and Harrison attacks this too, causing still more devastating causalities. Upon sifting through the aftermath, Scotty (Simon Pegg) discovers that Harrison escaped by beaming himself to Qo’noS, the Klingon homeworld. As a result, Kirk and Spock are restored to their original status, given back the Enterprise and are tasked by Fleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to hunt down and kill Harrison with prejudice, using a new type of advanced long-range torpedo. It’s an order that Spock and Scotty find morally questionable, causing a rift with Kirk. Worse yet, there’s far more to Harrison than Kirk and Spock have been led to believe… and the effort to bring him to justice will put the crew of the Enterprise to their ultimate test.

Much has been made of the big “surprise” in this film, which centers around Harrison’s identity – a twist that has divided Star Trek fans and which I won’t reveal here in case you haven’t yet seen the film. Nevertheless, forget all of the controversy – way too much has been made of the twist. The strength of Star Trek Into Darkness revolves instead around a set of very strong character performances by Pine, Quinto, Cumberbatch and Greenwood. They deliver in a big way here. Their interactions are really the beating heart of this story and their performances carry this sequel through no small amount of mechanical obviousness in the plot (which will be especially apparent to longtime Trek fans). If you go into this film looking for flaws, you will find them. If you simply can’t abide director J.J. Abrams’ take on these classic characters, this film is not going to change your mind. And if you go in having memorized your battered old copy of the Starfleet Technical Manual, you’ll probably have an aneurysm. But…

As was the case with Star Trek (2009), this film is undeniably entertaining. The set piece action sequences here are many, surprisingly creative, and absolutely relentless. This Trek is bigger, bolder and much more aggressively paced than the original. I actually quite enjoyed it – more than I expected in fact. If you let yourself just go with it, Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun rollercoaster ride. By the end of the film, this “reboot” Trek universe is finally closer to where it needs to be. Star Trek Into Darkness clears the decks for new (and hopefully completely original) adventures to come. With film three, if the filmmakers play their cards right, this updated Trek universe can finally be about “boldly going” and “seeking out new life and new civilizations” again. That would really be something to see.

Paramount’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release includes the film in a variable aspect ratio format that mirrors the IMAX theatrical presentation, shifting from 2.39:1 to 1.78:1 during the specific IMAX-filmed sequences. Star Trek Into Darkness was shot largely on photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 (35mm anamorphic) and IMAX MSM 9802 (large format 65mm) cameras. I’ve now confirmed with the studio that the film was finished as a 2K DI, which was up-sampled to 4K and given an HDR color timing pass for this Ultra HD release. The surprise is this: The IMAX footage amounts to about 40% of the film and it looks way better than native 2K up-sampled. No doubt this is due to the fact that the original 15-perf 65mm film image boasts the equivalent of 11K resolution or 10928 x 8192, so even after down-sampling to 2K (and then re-upping to 4K) the additional detail visible here is impressive as hell. The imagery is simply breathtaking – a noticeable improvement even from the Star Trek (2009) presentation. Clarity is absolutely exceptional, with an incredible level of fine detail in evidence. This is particularly true in the IMAX-filmed sequences, of course, but it’s true of the whole as well. Colors are vibrant, accurate, and richly exquisite. The nebula starfield backgrounds (near the Klingon Neutral Zone, when the Vengeance arrives to intercept the Enterprise) are just jaw-dropping. So too is the shot of Jupiter’s swirling Great Red Spot in the middle of the film, and pretty much the entire opening chase through the red-tinted forests of Nibiru. When Kirk wedges the alien scroll in the tree and it unspools, there are frames where you can make out virtually every tiny symbol – I actually walked right up to my display and stood inches away to look at them closely. It’s pretty incredible. Blacks are deep and dark, yet finely detailed. There’s not as much lens flaring in this film as in the previous one, but when they do appear your eye reacts to the brightness naturally, and yet you can still see fine detail even in the brightest imagery. This is, quite possibly, the best looking 4K Ultra HD film image I’ve seen yet. I’m a little awed by it.

Audio on the 4K disc is presented in a new Dolby Atmos mix and it’s even better than the one included on Star Trek (2009). This film was mixed for Atmos right from the start, and the extra speakers are better utilized here – not just the surround backs but also the verticals. You can hear the added play from the height channels right from the opening sequence, as thrown spears pass over your head, as the Enterprise lifts out of the ocean to soar up overhead, as the “cold fusion” device blasts pillars of vertically-exploding molten lava into frozen columns. It’s really something. The sonic character of this mix is big, wide, and muscular… yet smooth and effortless at the same time. Imaging is precise, and clarity and dynamic range are exceptional. This is just an incredibly atmospheric and enveloping presentation, the quality of which is a worthy match to the visuals. When you’re looking to wow your friends with the full power of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Star Trek Into Darkness should be your go-to demo disc. Note that additional audio options include English Descriptive Audio, and French, Spanish, and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

In terms of extras, the 4K Ultra HD disc includes only one: The Mission Continues featurette (1:29 – HD). It makes little sense that it’s included on the 4K disc, but here it is regardless. I would have preferred a new commentary perhaps, or maybe a 4K-converted version of the “enhanced” commentary with the cast and crew that’s on the Blu-ray here (and that was produced originally as an iTunes digital exclusive). But such is not the case. In a nice touch, however, the previous Blu-ray menus have been adapted for use here in 4K.

Thankfully, this set includes not just the film in Blu-ray but also a Blu-ray bonus disc of extras. Moreover, you’ll be very pleased to know that they’re not from the original Blu-ray release but are, in fact, the true 2-disc special edition that was first made available in the Star Trek: The Compendium Blu-ray set (reviewed here). Disc One of this set also includes the IMAX 2D version of the film in 1080p HD, with English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio (the Blu-ray 3D version is not available in this package). This disc also includes the aforementioned “enhanced” audio commentary with the crew. The way it works is that different groups of production team members comment on different sequences – you can play them all at once to get the full commentary experience, or just play the sequence you want. When you do, you watch the film while listening to the comments, and occasionally the person talking stops the image and draws on the screen to point out different things, or you might see picture-in-picture video showing production artwork or behind-the-scenes footage. Participants include director J.J. Abrams, composer Michael Giacchino, VFX supervisor Roger Guyett, co-producer Tommy Harper, editors Maryann Brannon and Mary Jo Markey, DP Dan Mindel, 2nd unit director Bruce McCleery, and producers Bryan Burk and Damon Lindelof. The disc also includes the same The Mission Continues promo (1:29 – HD).

Blu-ray Disc Two includes all 23 of the HD behind-the-scenes featurettes that were scattered to the winds over the different retail BD SKUs when the film was originally released on disc. When you play them together, you get what is essentially a 2-hour documentary on the making of the film (2:02:14). In order, these include: The Voyage Begins… Again (2:28), Creating the Red Planet (8:28), Introducing the Villain (2:16), Rebuilding the Enterprise (5:31), National Ignition Facility: Home of the Core (4:32), Attack on Starfleet (5:25), Aliens Encountered (6:54), The Klingon Home World (7:30), The Enemy of My Enemy (7:03), Vengeance Is Coming (4:28), Ship to Ship (6:03), Mr. Spock and Mr. Spock (4:08), Down with the Ship (6:09), Kirk and Spock (5:36), Brawl by the Bay (5:44), Fitting the Future (5:03), Property of Starfleet (4:53), Unlocking the Cut (5:10), Visual Affection (9:03), The Sound of Music (and FX) (5:26), Safety First (2:27), and Continuing the Mission (1:57). You also get a Gag Reel (5:48). It’s all great behind-the-scenes content that I think really enhances your enjoyment and appreciation of the film. It covers virtually every aspect of the production, features looks at all kinds of different things you don’t otherwise see well (including the film’s props, costumes, etc), and it includes interviews with all of the major participants. Moving on, you also get 7 Deleted Scenes (5:26 in total – HD). These are just little trimmed and alternate bits and pieces. I won’t spoil them for you, though most of them have been available for viewing online before. Finally, there are the 3 Trailers in HD: the announcement trailer, and the two full trailers. Subtitles for all of the extras on Disc Two are available in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Finally, there’s the usual Digital HD code on a paper insert in the packaging.

[Editor’s Note: Given that nearly all 4K releases are multi-disc sets, with the extras often included on separate BD discs, our extras grades for these 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray reviews will reflect the bonus content across all discs in the set.]

Whatever you think of the film itself, Star Trek Into Darkness is a flat-out stunner on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. This is what the current reference quality looks and sounds like for experiencing movies at home. The only way this could get any better would be if the entire film had been shot in IMAX, and composer Michael Giacchino and his orchestra were performing right in your living room. Paramount’s $49.99 SRP for this disc is still too high, but this is the rare title I’ve seen on the format that I could almost argue is worth that price. Get this package on sale if you can, but definitely get your hands on it.

- Bill Hunt