Last night, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness in the AMC Burbank 16 ETX theater with a Dolby Atmos sound system and a single Christie CP4230 4K projector outfitted with RealD XL 3D firing onto a 65-foot screen. As with virtually all digital cinema today, the DCP (digital cinema package) file was 2K, which the projector upscaled to 4K.
The 3D was a post-production conversion by Stereo D, which also did the various Marvel Avenger movies, Titanic, and Jurassic Park, and I thought it looked great. The movie was obviously shot with 3D conversion in mind, because there were plenty of images that were made for it—the warp-speed effect, jumping off cliffs and buildings, the long cargo bay in the USS Vengeance, things flying all over the place. The 3D effect was more obvious in some scenes than others, but that didn't bother me at all, and I rarely noticed a cardboard-cutout effect.
Speaking of things flying all over the place, those moments were well served by the Dolby Atmos mix. In the opening scene, Kirk and McCoy are being chased by primitives who fire arrows at them, and the sound of those arrows flying all around was—well, all around. And there are plenty of other scenes with sounds located through the hemispherical soundfield. I really enjoy Dolby Atmos, and I'm glad it's being installed in more theaters around the country—I think it's in about 100 theaters so far, and I highly recommend you find one near you if possible.
Unfortunately, the sound levels were pretty brutal—not the fault of Dolby Atmos per se, but an all-too-common trend in commercial cinemas today. I measured the sound levels with my Larson Davis 720 logging SPL meter, and the average level over two and a half hours (including the trailers) was 84.7 dBA with a highest maximum level of 99.4 dBA. The level exceeded 89.4 dBA 10 percent of the time, 83.4 dBA 33 percent of the time, and 78.2 dBA 50 percent of the time. The average level is within the OSHA standard, which many experts—including myself—believe is too high to begin with. In any event, I wore my custom-molded earplugs (-25 dB) throughout and Bose QC15 noise-cancelling headphones during the really loud parts, of which there were many, especially low-frequency blasts from the subwoofers.
If you haven't seen Star Trek: Into Darkness yet and you don't want any spoilers, stop reading now.
I'm a dedicated fan of the entire Star Trek franchise, and I really liked J.J. Abrams' first foray into that world. The new one, however, left me somewhat disappointed. There are many references and quotes from the various series and movies, which are undoubtedly meant to appeal to hard-core Trekkers, but most of them felt entirely gratuitous with no real connection to the movie at hand.
Of those that are integral to the plot, many are kinda ridiculous. For example, Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) is revived from 300 years of cryosleep and forced to work on advanced weapons systems by holding the rest of his suspended crew hostage? Even if he is intellectually superior, he was three centuries behind on technology. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) is a weapons specialist? The character's first appearance in Wrath of Khan was as a biologist; it was Khan who wanted to pervert the Genesis device into a weapon.
Granted, Into Darkness is sort of an alternate Wrath of Khan, but to have Kirk and Spock exactly reverse their roles in the climax (Kirk saves the ship and dies of radiation exposure in a sealed compartment while Spock looks on helplessly) with much the same dialog was way too obvious for me. Of course, Kirk is brought back to life—in this case, with a serum developed by Dr. McCoy from Khan's "super blood"; at least the next movie isn't going to be The Search for Kirk!
On the whole, I remain very pleased with the new casting—Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (McCoy), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), and Anton Yelchin (Chekov) all portray their characters beautifully, though I still object to the romantic relationship between Spock and Uhura, which makes no sense to me. Peter Weller is great as the evil Admiral Marcus (and father of Carol Marcus), and Benedict Cumberbatch turns in a finely wrought performance as Khan, though his British accent is less believable coming from an Indian prince than Ricardo Montalban's less-specific Indo-European speech pattern in the same role a generation earlier.
Despite its shortcomings, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fun action flick with beautiful imagery and good 3D (if you like 3D). And if you can, see it in a Dolby Atmos theater—that alone is worth the price of admission. Just be sure to bring earplugs!