With this week’s ‘Star Trek Day’ at Bad Robot’s US offices, and with nine minutes from Star Trek Into Darkness being previewed before IMAX screenings of The Hobbit as of today, information is finally leaking out about one of Hollywood’s most mysterious sequels. Of course, we’re only getting bits and pieces, but it’s enough for those of us who fancy ourselves Treksperts to take a stab at what the movie will eventually be about.
To make our guesses even more accurate (or to mislead us wildly), earlier this week HeyUGuys were invited to watch the nine minutes of preview footage, and to take part in an online press conference with uber secretive Director J.J. Abrams and cast members Chris Pine, Benedict Cumberbatch and Zachary Quinto. But before we delve into that, it seems sensible to give those who haven’t made it to the IMAX yet (and those who’d rather stick pins in their eyes than watch a Hobbit movie) some insight into what the nine minutes of preview footage actually depicts.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
The footage is divided into two distinct sections, and at the screening we were at, there was absolutely no context for either clip. It seems fair to assume that they are from near the beginning of the film, and are shown in the order that they are to be presented. Beyond that, they’re two utterly disjointed moments in a movie.
The first, about two minutes in length – London, 2259 – Noel Clark and on-screen wife go to a hospital to visit a sick child (their daughter?). It seems all hope for the girl is lost, until Benedict Cumberbatch – a.k.a ‘John Harrison’ introduces himself with an offer to save her.
The second, about seven minutes in length – On ‘an M Class Planet’*, a blue-robed figure, with his face disguised by a hood sprints through a forest of spiky red plant-life, being pursued by a mob of black-eyed tribesmen in white war paint. The figure, it seems, has stolen something precious, and they want it back. As our hooded thief breaks through the trees, he finds himself confronted by a huge slobbering monster. In one quick movement he pulls his weapon and shoots the beast, causing it to fall to the floor. Behind the monster – a frustrated Lenoard McCoy, dressed in the same blue robes, complains, ‘you’ve stunned our getaway’. At this point it’s revealed that his companion is Kirk, and together the two take flight from the fast-closing mob.
The reason for Kirk’s act of larceny is revealed, as a shuttlecraft hovers above a very active volcano, which is only moments from raining fire upon the home of the tribesmen. Inside, Uhura helps Spock into a suit of heatproof armour (which appears to have been acquired when Tony Stark sold all his old disco outfits!), kisses him for luck, and lowers him into the caldera, together with a device to stop the impending eruption, and save the planet.
As the Enterprise’s first officer/mirror ball dangles precariously underneath, the shuttle takes damage, and Sulu (because all Star Trek away missions have to involve the entire bridge crew) pulls up, severing Spock’s line, and causing him to plunge into the volcano – landing on the one bit of solid rock still floating around in a sea of magma.
Meanwhile, Kirk and McCoy realise the only way to make good their escape from the tribesmen is to jump off a cliff. It’s an impressive set piece, and seems to work well – particularly when any questions viewers might have about the logic of hiding a starship underwater are articulated by a frustrated Scotty.
With Kirk and McCoy, Uhura and Sulu back on board, the threat to Spock becomes clear – they can’t transport him out without a line of sight, and they can’t get that line of sight without being directly above the volcano. As the scene ends, Spock insists Kirk leave him to die, in a way familiar to fans of The Wrath of Khan (and, depressingly Transformers: Dark of the Moon), before spreading his arms wide and apparently being consumed by lava.
Taken on its own, the footage tells us little, but a picture is beginning to emerge.
The Khan connection
J.J. Abrams is a fan of The Wrath of Khan. But we already knew this. The first ever public screening of Star Trek was a bait and switch with a showing of The Wrath of Khan, so it was no surprise when rumours that Khan was Star Trek Into Darkness’ villain started circulating.
This week’s developments have done little to quash that rumour: Alice Eve is confirmed as playing Carol Marcus (see our interview Alice from earlier in the week here), whose only other appearance in Trek was in The Wrath of Khan. We’ve also had, with Spock’s final line in the preview footage, two references to this scene from that movie, in a surprisingly limited amount of marketing material.
The thing is, it feels a little like they’re trying too hard – that it’s all a big bit of misdirection and what we’ll get is something completely different. Let’s face it, Abrams is pretty notorious for working with marketing departments to play games with audiences’ expectations.
At any length, it seems clear now that Cumberbatch isn’t playing Khan. Even though John Harrison may yet turn out to be an alias, it’s probably not an alias for everyone’s favourite space-dictator. This was underlined by comments made by Cumberbatch at the press conference we attended earlier this week. When asked the inevitable question about what drew him to play the character, he explained,
“There’s an awful lot to play. He’s a terrorist. He’s someone who does extraordinarily bad, horrible things, but for good intentions”.
Which doesn’t sound particularly Khan-like.
For a film called ‘Star Trek’, the trailer seems particularly Earth-bound. Most of what we see takes place with surrounded by futuristic buildings rather than starships, and the climax shows what looks like the Enterprise, plunging into an expanse of water with a city in the background.
“We are in London, on the ground in this film; in a number of scenes we are in San Francisco, and creating that world, making sure these cities felt unique and distinct was a challenge, but also a real joy”,
Abrams confirmed during the conference,
“While the whole movie didn’t take place [on Earth], much more of it does than the first film. A considerable amount does.”
Several months ago it was announced that former Robocop, Peter Weller had been cast in the as then named Star Trek 2. At the time, reports claimed it was unclear who he would be playing. Except it was. Weller has already been a part of the Star Trek universe, playing an Earth-separatist called John Fredrick Paxton in the short-lived series Enterprise. No one seemed to pick up on this at the time, as no one actually watched Enterprise(!), but where this becomes particularly of note is that because Enterprise is set before he events of Star Trek, it’s still cannon. Peter Weller’s Paxton as we know him is still a part of this universe. Given the comments Cumberbatch made about playing a ‘terrorist’, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch that ‘John Harrison’ could be in league with Paxton.
There’s also another tantalising hint about this in the first, London-set clip. Paxton is also said to suffer from a disease called ‘Taggart’s syndrome’, described by Memory Alpha as, “a neurological disorder which afflicted humans… usually cause death by the age of twenty”. A description that could well fit the child in the bed in the clip. It doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that the help Cumberbatch’s character offers is the help of someone who has already suffered from the disease.
Part of a bigger picture
Putting all of these pieces together (and it helps if you wear a tin foil hat while you do so), it’s beginning to seem as if this film could be a lead in to a much bigger story. It doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that Cumberbatch’s character is an agent, working on behalf of Paxton. Or Khan. Or both, and that while they may not feature heavily in this film (or in the case of Khan, at all) they might appear in a sequel.
Alternatively, it could just be that Cumberbatch is playing a character that we’ve never heard of.
Your thoughts in the comments section below please!
*For non-trekkies (why are you reading this?) ‘M Class’ planets can sustain human life, and are roughly Earth-like, as opposed to say ‘L Class’, which can, but are for less hospitable..