As part of my annual tradition of being sick on Christmas despite not really ever getting sick for the rest of the year, I’ve been fighting a really nasty cold all week. So please forgive me if I am less eloquent than usual. However, as my boyfriend and I decided to take in an IMAX showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last night, I find myself unwilling to leave the experience without comment.
As I may have mentioned previously in this venue, I absolutely abhor 3D films. I know I sound like I’ve grown prematurely old and am yelling at these kids to get off my 2D lawn, but when I get to the film proper I hope it will become apparent that that isn’t what’s going on. The reason I mention this is because there is a very distinct reason I saw this film in IMAX 3D, which was of course to see the first ten minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness.
I realize now that I have not commented here on my so far guarded feelings on Star Trek Into Darkness. Before I get into how I felt about the first ten minutes, let me be clear that I am going to spoil what happened in the first ten minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness, and use that to engage in wild speculation. So if you’re religiously avoiding spoilers please just hang tight until my next article, which will cover The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (And if you’re worried about spoilers for The Hobbit, what on earth are you doing going to see a film like that without reading the extremely-readable book first?)
My history with this film is roughly as follows. A few months back,the obligatory rumors that the villain in the second film would be none other than Khan Noonien Singh began to circulate. This was not unexpected as the second film of the original Star Trek film series is still such a prominent part of modern parlance that Bryan Singer described his intended Superman Returns sequel as “going all Wrath of Khan on it” nearly twenty-five years later. (Yes, it really has been that long.)
The precedent was there, to be sure. When it became clear that Christopher Nolan was planning on reintroducing the Joker, there was a fierce public outcry. No one could replace Jack Nicholson. His performance had just been far too iconic. (I didn’t agree with this at all, incidentally, as I have never been overly fond of his take on the Joker, or Burton’s fan fiction-like approach in general other than the surprisingly-pronounced S&M vibes between Batman and Catwoman, but let’s move on.) And what happened? As everyone knows by now, Heath Ledger completely blew Nicholson out of the water, and delivered perhaps the greatest villain performance of all time.
I still had no problem ignoring those rumors. They were too lazy and obvious and unlikely to be based on anything other than it being an obvious next step. And a short time later a second set of rumors started to circulate: that the villain in the second film would be Gary Mitchell.
If you’re a non-Trekkie, it’s very possible that your immediate reaction was, “Who?” As someone who had seen every single episode of every single Star Trek series by the time the last episode of Enterprise aired (and have been rewatching them in order with my boyfriend for over a year–we’re in season six of Deep Space Nine, if you were wondering), I was very familiar with the character and plot line in question. And couldn’t possibly be less excited.
For those unfamiliar with the story, basically what happened is this. Star Trek was unique amongst television programs inasmuch as it had two pilot episodes. One with Captain Pike (whom most of you probably best remember from Abrams’ first film), one with the more studio-friendly James T. Kirk (though he was named James R. Kirk in that episode… whatever). The studio executives passed on Pike because he seemed too cerebral. And yes, The Next Generation (arguably the best Trek series) used exactly that approach to great effect, but it probably wouldn’t have been as effective without Patrick Stewart playing him. The studio liked Kirk because he was more action-oriented and all-American (despite ironically being a Canadian). A few additional concessions (choosing between having a female first officer as in the first pilot or having a half-alien officer, and we all know how that went), and viola. We had a greenlit series.
One… small problem. If you haven’t seen the second pilot, titled “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” let me just say that in my opinion it is quite possibly the most monotone and most irredeemably depressing Star Trek episode of all time. And Gary Mitchell was quite possibly the least interesting villain in the long, long, long history of the ongoing franchise.
Okay. Obviously all is not lost here. Perhaps they were going to thoroughly rewrite the character to make him more interesting. Like the way they empowered Uhura in the first film. While we’re here, let me at least briefly mention that some of the commentary about that aspect has been downright insulting to how difficult it was for Roddenberry to do even as much as he did with her character at the time. Please keep in mind that Nichelle Nichols frequently tells the story of her meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, Martin Luther King. Because he was still alive when she was doing this. So hopefully that provides some context for what Roddenberry was able to accomplish, okay? (Of course, there is some “equal and opposite” disgusting commentary about how Uhura shouldn’t be a more empowered character when her only job is to “answer the phones,” but it goes without saying that anyone who thinks that is probably a few neurons short of a synapse.)
Or perhaps the rumors were completely wrong, and the villain was actually going to be Kahn (an idea many people understandably recoiled at), or someone else entirely. In a last bit of misdirection, the studio released a teaser trailer that made it absolutely clear (or so I thought) who the villain was going to be. Of course, most of the confused fans who saw the trailer with little outside context screamed, “It’s Kahn!” But I saw something different. I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in a Starfleet uniform. And, perhaps more tellingly, I saw a blonde officer in a blue uniform, whom I considered a dead ringer for Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, an integral part of the Gary Mitchell storyline.
And then, nearly simultaneously, Abrams’ crew finally released the name of the villain, and it was… neither of them. It was someone named John Harrison, whom aside from having a virtually identical name to John Harriman, captain of the Enterprise-B (did I mention I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek?), is not a character who has appeared in any previous iteration of Star Trek, despite the earlier announcement that Abrams would be using a character who had previously appeared in the original series.
Many skeptical fans (including myself) saw this as a clear case of misdirection. It was “obviously” Kahn or Mitchell, depending on whom you asked. There had been so many conflicting reports for so long (perhaps deliberately on Abrams’ part) that at this point he could stand at a podium on top of the Empire State Building and announce who the villain is and no one would believe him. And perhaps that’s the way it should be. But I remained convinced (and not in a happy way) that it was Mitchell.
Worse, the combination of the writers’ comments that they had “taken cues” from Nolan’s The Dark Knight and the trailer’s obviously intentionally similar tone had me ready to rip my hair out. For crying out loud, can we please not have all of pop culture have to fit Chris Nolan’s aesthetic? Especially when we’re talking about Star Trek, the franchise that’s supposed to be about optimism and humanism and diversity and ethics and violence as a last resort? Please?
I sank into a funk about this upcoming film. I recoiled every time it was mentioned. I tried not to think about it. And then, like a prodigal daughter, I dutifully marched into a packed stadium-style IMAX movie theater last night to see a 3D film, something I pretty much only do if there’s an exclusive trailer for a film I’m very curious about or if there aren’t any convenient 2D showings. (Again, please withhold your judgments until the next article.)
And then something strange happened. I saw a few minutes of thoroughly confusing exposition that revealed Benedict Cumberbatch as… someone. It really isn’t made clear. Worse, there are elements of all three potential villains on display in this teaser, and also some pretty solid arguments against all three (perhaps intentionally on Abrams’ part?). He promises to save a couple’s child after doctors say they can do nothing for her. The maddening thing about this is that that fits both Mitchell and Kahn.
In Kahn’s case, perhaps the child’s disorder is genetic and he can cure her through the genetic engineering that created him in the first place. But that wouldn’t make sense, because Kahn was alive in the 1990s and should be in deep space right now on the Botany Bay, and there’s no reason the Kelvin‘s destruction (which caused the split in the timelines) would cause that to change. In Mitchell’s case, he could obviously use his godlike powers to heal their child. But that doesn’t make sense because Mitchell acquires his godlike powers while serving on the Enterprise, and they would’ve been noticed long before he ever got back to earth.
So now all signs seem to point to this “John Harrison” fellow. Or do they? There has been so many conflicting reports, so much speculation, that it’s difficult to keep track of at this point. After giving the matter some thought, I suppose this previously unheard of character is the most likely answer… but what about the alternate timeline causes him to exist when he didn’t in the original timeline? Or does Abrams even care about that? And if he doesn’t, doesn’t that make the other two villains a distinct possibility?
It’s entirely likely at this point that I am completely overthinking this, and maybe I am… but that’s what I do, okay? If I’m going to try to try my best to look at this franchise both as a fan and as something as close to an objective observer as I possibly can (something I strive for in every arena in which I engage in analysis, be it athletic contest or literature or film), I hope that’s a pretty understandable occupational risk.
Now, aside from the burning villain question keeping everyone up at night (and with three pretty substantial camps all equally convinced they know for certain who it is), a lot more happened in that ten-minute prologue. There was a strong spirit of adventure, which I loved. Captain Kirk still came off like a bumbling fool, which I did not. And there is no way I’m seeing this film in 3D unless they smartly attach the trailer for something else I want to see to it. Before I get into this in greater detail, let me just say that The Hobbit was perhaps the best use of 3D filming that I’ve ever seen (yes, better than Avatar, but I understand it’s quite debatable)… what I saw in this Star Trek Into Darkness trailer was not. It was not even close. At times, it confused the viewer’s eyes as to what was actually going on, especially when Kirk and McCoy were running through the dense foilage. The underwater scene with the Enterprise and the volcano scene were both dramatically more effective, but still probably not worth the price of admission (again, in the opinion of someone who is admittedly far from an apologist for 3D films.)
But what I loved about the first ten minutes was the aforementioned spirit of adventure, and the way Kirk and Spock’s relationship was placed front and center, where it has been since the original series really (mostly) hit its stride. Where it belongs.
… except for all that foreshadowing about that other thing that happened in The Wrath of Kahn. You know (half-hearted spoiler alert for a 1982 film), the part where Spock died. It was there in the actual prologue (with Spock repeating his famous phrase “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one”) which, despite its strong association with the character, was actually introduced in The Wrath of Kahh. (Don’t ask me for a source. Trust me. I know these things, as I hope I’ve already demonstrated.) And the scene used in both the teaser trailer and the mini-trailer after the prologue that prominently shows Spock’s hand touching a glass wall, reminiscent of the iconic scene in The Wrath of Kahn that makes me cry every time no matter how many years pass, no matter how many times I see the film.
If they are indeed killing Spock, as has been widely rumored, when Zachary Quinto has proved himself capable of pulling off the impossible, of owning the character in a way that might even match Leonard Nimoy’s performance… I will “go all Wrath of Kahn” on them.
Lastly, can I get a concrete ruling on whether it’s Star Trek Into Darkness (as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes say), or Star Trek into Darkness (as Wikipedia and Google say)? The textbook rule would be Star Trek into Darkness, as “into” is a preposition, but it somehow looks “wrong” and two of the most widely-regarded film websites disagree with it. Thanks.