After spending most of my Monday at J.J. Abrams's Bad Robot headquarters in Santa Monica, I've concocted perhaps the craziest STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS theory yet. It's a wild one, so just follow me on this.
I think it might be a really good movie.
I've arrived at this conclusion based on a careful examination of the nine-minute prologue (coming December 14th to an IMAX theater near you), and a series of presentations from several key contributors to the film. I'm also taking into account the good vibes that course throughout the Bad Robot facility. It is, with the sole exception of Pixar, the cheeriest working environment I've ever encountered; no one can be this happy whilst working on a mediocrity, much less a flop. And then there was the post-presentation reception, where journalists rubbed elbows with damn near the entire crew of the Enterprise (minus Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin), the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), the screenwriters (Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof), and the mighty Mr. Abrams.
It's days like this where I realize how fortunate I am to do what I do: take a stroll to the bar, and suddenly I'm discussing Atom Egoyan movies with Bruce Greenwood. But it also makes objectivity extremely difficult. Everyone is so damn nice (and the booze is so damn free), that I don't want to see them fall short of making a great STAR TREK movie. Abrams was especially pleasant, humoring my nerdy inquiries about the plausibility of a submersible USS Enterprise even though, deep down, he probably wanted to shake me and scream "Lighten up, Poindexter! It's a popcorn movie!" (His actual response wasn't that far off: "If that's the thing that's going to keep you from seeing the movie, great! Enjoy your reruns!") Sure, it's a PR event designed primarily to generate international buzz for a movie that was largely a U.S. phenomenon, but I've been doing this long enough to know the difference between feigned enthusiasm and genuine pride in one's work. These guys believe they've got the goods, and they can't wait to get the film out there.
My role in this transaction is to get all charged up from an in-depth look at the crafting of the opening nine minutes, and to pass along that excitement to the AICN readership. What's more, Abrams and company were careful to hide little clues throughout the presentation in the hope that we'll start connecting dots that may or may not want to be connected. Our old pal Drew McWeeny has ventured out on a branch regarding a TREK character named Robert April, while Jen Yamato, with a little help from Alice Eve, has found a way to link Charlie X with Gary Mitchell. Meanwhile, the ongoing Khan/Not-Khan debate got a little more interesting yesterday when it was casually revealed that Eve is playing Carol Marcus. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS' setting of 2259 places us roughly in the vicinity of "Space Seed" (in the original series' timeline, the Botany Bay was discovered in 2267), and two years out from Marcus giving birth to her son David. Add to that the hand-to-glass WRATH OF KHAN homage in the trailer and a couple of intriguing references in the prologue, and it's beginning to look a lot like this is some kind of Khan narrative.
Slashfilm's Germain Lussier and I asked Abrams directly about the glass shot in the trailer, and while he freely admitted it's a direct homage, he claimed that its inclusion had everything to do with emphasizing emotion for an international market that isn't pre-sold on STAR TREK. As for the nudges in the prologue, Abrams swore that the nine minutes were never meant to be excerpted as a marketing tool, so why drop in a bunch of cutesy references?
Fair enough, but there is a game being played here, just as there was with CLOVERFIELD and SUPER 8, and that's fine so long as there's something of substance in Abrams's trusty "Mystery Box". So what's there to be gleaned from Monday's presentation? Here are my big takeaways:
1) I asked Michael Giacchino about what I believed to be a telltale WRATH OF KHAN cue in the opening nine minutes. His response. "That's not what it is. Even just writing it, I never even thought of that. But I have listened to that score a million times as a kid, so who knows?" He later brought up Ravel as an influence for both himself and Horner. It could be a coincidence, but my ears tell me otherwise. (Giacchino also added that he could completely re-score this sequence. He also won't get around to scoring the rest of the movie until early next year.)
2) Cumberbatch's John Harrison is one stylish cat. We were shown the clothing the Enterprise crew (plus Harrison) wears when they visit the Klingon planet of Qo'noS, and Cumberbatch's harsh-climate attire is a long black overcoat with a thick, fanned-out collar that reminds me of Deckard's trench from BLADE RUNNER. Funny that, as STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS costume designer Michael Kaplan received his first feature credit thirty years ago on, you guessed it, BLADE RUNNER.
3) Abrams and visual f/x supervisor Roger Guyett gave their otherworldly environments a realistic touch by first shooting practically on a Playa del Rey parking lot. Basically, the actors are surrounded by greenscreens as they mimic hurtling through thick red foliage or swan diving off the top of a London skyscraper, and the real outdoor lighting is incorporated into the final shot. While this won't stand out as you're watching the film, this little flourish is of great assistance in the selling of the illusion.
4) Klingons. Yes, there are Klingons in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, and they look pretty much as they did in that deleted scene from Abrams's first movie. How significant a role will they play in this film? No clue. We did get to see the full-body armor worn by the Klingons, and it's appropriately fierce. Still not sure how I feel about them wearing combat helmets, but that's a hopelessly nerdy quibble.
5) From this point forward, I'd prefer to know as little as possible, so let's hope there's radio silence from the Bad Robot gang until they start screening the finished film for the press next year. They've scattered enough breadcrumbs for now. Let us speculate wildly for the next few months, while you guys focus on topping the last movie.
All that's left is to check out the prologue this weekend, so you can join in the fun of overanalyzing nine minutes of one of next year's most anticipated blockbusters.