Friday in London, Paramount Pictures screened an extended look at “Star Trek Into Darkness” at the BFI IMAX cinema, introduced by producer Bryan Burk and including the opening 28 minutes of the film plus two other extended sequences. What they showed of J.J. Abrams’ belated sequel, which arrives four years after he rebooted the franchise with 2009’s “Star Trek,” was thrilling stuff, even if you don’t count yourself a colossal (or even casual) Trekkie. That, as Burk explained in his intro to the footage, has always been their primary goal with this sequel: to make a film that appeals across the board.
So what did we witness? Anyone not keen on spoilers turn away now. The film kicks off with a high-octane bang and the crew of the Enterprise in the midst of a gonzo mission on a primitive planet with white-mud-caked inhabitants that ends with Kirk (Chris Pine) deciding to save the life of Spock (Zachary Quinto) while defying Star Fleet’s core principles.
Back on Earth, Kirk is stripped of his Captain’s rank while a London-based Starfleet engineer – and father with a very sick daughter – makes a Faustian pact with Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain John Harrison that results in him decimating a building in a suicide bombing. Kirk – who is shown enjoying some inter-species action with a pair of alien babes – attends an emergency meeting at Starfleet HQ, which then comes under attack from Harrison who blasts the building from a hovering craft and seemingly decimates Starfleet command.
The essential takeaway is that “Star Trek Into Darkness” is going to be a faster, more furious action ride than the first, but without skimping on the humor or affectionate characterization that’s been key to this sci-fi franchise’s success. If they can fit all that into 28 minutes, it bodes gloriously well for the rest of the film. (The two other unrelated scenes featured a battle-scarred Enterprise being sucked into the gravitational pull of a nearby planet, with mega-mayhem aboard the ship; and Spock pursuing Harrison in a frenzied foot chase that ends atop a flying vehicle.)
Thrilling stuff, and it whetted the appetite to see the rest of the film, particularly in 3-D (today’s screening was 2-D) which Burk promises will blow our socks off in the way that “Avatar” managed and so many other tentpole blockbusters have failed. Cumberbatch seems like he’ll make an inspired villain. Is he, in fact, the fabled Khan? No one’s saying yet but with his revenge-seeking mindset against Starfleet, we’ll hazard a guess: yes.
Afterwards, we caught up with Burk, who’s part of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot posse and has been with him on everything from “Alias” and “Lost to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” The producer is in the midst of an 11-day, 11-city world tour that kicked off in Mexico City and finishes in Tokyo, a globe-trotting blitzkrieg he says was inspired by the indefatigable Jeffrey Katzenberg at his DreamWorks pinnacle.
“It’s fascinating and it’s smart because you’ll often hear people dividing things into ‘domestic’ and ‘international.’ But how is it that the UK, Russia, Japan and Brazil all have the same tastes?” says Burk. “Going around on these tours, you meet the people who see your movies and you understand why certain things work and others don’t, why this poster or trailer may work in this country but not in this one.”
Plastered on the walls around us are the dark, destruction-filled poster for “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which features Cumberbatch from behind as he surveys the futuristic London skyline through the wreckage of the structure he’s just laid waste to (possibly the Starfleet research building we saw leveled in the footage). A few web-heads have noted its similarities to the frayed cityscape depicted in “The Dark Knight Rises” poster. “It’s impossible not to see the similarities although it wasn’t something we consciously did,” insists Burk. “It was only when we were pretty far down the line with it that someone pointed that out.”
The budget for “Star Trek In Darkness” is “nominally bigger” than Abrams’ inaugural 2009 outing, which was pegged at $150 million. But having had to start from scratch there and build a new conceptual universe “through trial and error,”,Burk says more money has been funneled into set-pieces this time round. “With that world having been embraced, and particularly by ‘Star Trek’ fans, now we can make the action scenes that much bigger and the visual effects that much better. Even in four years, you can see the difference.”
This ‘Star Trek’ adventure will spend a significant amount of time on Earth, which Burk says is simply the result of deciding that ‘Into Darkness’’ chief villain would be an Earthling. As for Abrams and Bad Robot’s other science-fiction gig, as the filmmakers entrusted with relaunching the Disney-owned “Star Wars” franchise, Burk insists it’s not an either/or deal and that their involvement with “Star Trek” will continue to be as vital and involved as it is now. “We’re not leaving ‘Star Trek;’ it’s still a labor of love and passion for us,” he vouches. “’Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’ are totally different worlds – the only thing they have in common is the word ‘star.’”
Surely, though, Abrams will be too busy to direct a third ‘Trek’ and have to step aside into a producer’s role? “All that’s to be discussed,” says Burk. “We’re actively talking about the third one. We’re not going to wait four years for the next one to come out. It’s at the forefront of our minds.”
Is he confident that “Star Trek Into Darkness” will outstrip the $386 million box-office gross they achieved with the 2009 franchise starter? That figure alone outstripped any previous “Star Trek” film but also, crucially, solved the international puzzle in a way the previous franchise entries had failed to do. Even so, it was still a 2:1 box-office split in favor of domestic, another reason why Burk is on his 11-city journey.
“We have a movie that’s bigger and better than the last film,” he says. “We’ve made a film that anyone can jump into and watch – not just ‘Star Trek’ fans – and for that reason I think we will. We’re trying to reach people who, like I once did, have always said, ‘Star Trek’s not for me.’”