This week, one of the most hotly anticipated (and deliberately mysterious) movies of the summer movie season boldly goes into theaters nationwide. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is director J.J. Abrams‘ follow-up to the ridiculously entertaining 2009 “Star Trek” reboot, which introduced audiences to a younger, sexier Enterprise crew and turned the occasionally lifeless original series into a zippy space opera. The first film was the best kind of surprise — Abrams only had a single feature under his belt (the somewhat disappointing “Mission: Impossible III“) and had yet to solidify his magic-loving geek-cred persona into an identifiable, Steven Spielberg-like brand. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is less of an unknown quantity in that respect, but Abrams and his confederates have tried, tirelessly, to keep the movie shrouded in mystery, offering all sorts of red herrings and deliberate attempts at obscuring plot details from being delivered prematurely. (Read our spoiler-free review here) Still, there are some things we can tell you about this new “Star Trek” experience. And so, without further ado, we will deliver five things you might not know about “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Because in space, no one will hear you nerd out.
1. Benedict Cumberbatch Came Very Close To Not Playing The Mysterious Bad Guy
Most of the speculation surrounding “Star Trek Into Darkness” centers on Benedict Cumberbatch‘s mysterious bad guy John Harrison, who has somewhat preternatural abilities and a wild flop of hair that seems to become more unhinged the angrier he becomes. Cumberbatch will also be the thing that most people talk about walking out of “Star Trek Into Darkness” –- he’s that good. Cumberbatch’s Harrison is the kind of rich, commanding, star-making performance that comes all too infrequently (especially in a jumbo-sized studio blockbuster). But what’s interesting is how close Cumberbatch came to not getting the role at all.
Abrams’ first choice for the villain was actually Benicio del Toro, who came incredibly close to claiming the role before negotiations with Paramount over money stalled and ultimately faltered. (This is when rumors of the villain being the infamous baddie from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” initially appeared, mostly because Ricard Montalban, a Mexican actor, immortalized the Khan character in both the original series and big screen sequel.) When del Toro passed, Edgar Ramirez, star of “Carlos,” quickly became the frontrunner (Jordi Molla from “Bad Boys II” and Demian Bichir from “A Better Life” were also considered). When Cumberbatch was finally decided on, it threw people off for only a moment, instead of Khan most assumed he would be playing another canonical character – Gary Mitchell, who in one of the show’s earliest episodes was revealed to be an old chum of Kirk’s who gains godlike powers after coming across something called the “Galactic Barrier.” This was further stoked by comments that “Star Trek Into Darkness” costar Karl Urban made about Cumberbatch being an “exemplary” Gary Mitchell. Even days after the film had opened overseas Cumberbatch was playing coy on David Letterman‘s show, suggesting that the true nature of his character (and his familiarity with the ‘Trek’ audience) would be revealed throughout the course of the movie. We’d like to see del Toro stonewall with such utter efficiency.
2. J.J. Abrams Didn’t Want It To Be In 3D Because He Loves Whip Pans So Much
“Star Trek Into Darkness” looks fucking amazing in IMAX 3D. There’s a moment at the beginning where we literally ducked and things like the warp drive sequences stun with an additional layer of you-are-there dimensionality. But the movie wasn’t shot in 3D and, even a few months before shooting began, Abrams was outspoken in his disinterest in 3D. Hilariously, a lot of this had to do with his love of rapid-fire whip pans — a noticeable stylistic flourish in the first film and tempered (if not altogether removed) from the sequel. In early 2011, about a week after Cumberbatch had been cast (if we’re getting all ‘Trek’-y about the canonical timeline), Abrams told Vulture that he wasn’t really all that into 3D. “I have nothing against 3-D in theory. But I’ve also never run to the movies because something’s in 3D,” the director said. Abrams then went on to describe a major hurdle: “I’m a big fan of whip pans, which is very hard to do in 3D.” Still, a movie intended for 3D and later robbed of it does have some inherent value to him: “You know, when I was in New York fifteen years ago, and I sort of had the flu, I remember turning the TV on. There were these kids in a very dark, kind of muddy movie that was on a local channel, talking about making out. Then you cut to them walking in the forest, and somebody had a paddle-ball, and they were doing it right to the camera. It was like this weird, experimental Fellini movie. I was like, ‘What the fuck is this movie?’ And it was ‘Friday the 13th Part 3‘ in 3-D — without sex, violence, or 3D! It was genius.” Sadly, no one will get the same surreal experience watching “Star Trek Into Darkness” in 2D, even with the unnecessary paddle-ball sequence.
3. The Movie Was Almost Two Movies
One of the more welcome aspects of these new “Star Trek” movies is that they are wholly stand-alone affairs; if you’re a diehard or a newcomer, you can slip into the franchise with a comparable level of ease. This wasn’t always the case, however. Way back at San Diego Comic Con 2009, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who would eventually be joined by “Prometheus” scribe Damon Lindelof and, to some unspecified degree, Abrams himself) mentioned that the next ‘Trek’ outing could span two movies, with the first sequel ending on a cliffhanger that was immediately resolved in the following film. (Again, speculation pointed towards a “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan”-type narrative. At the end of that film, Spock is killed and, in the subsequent movie, “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” he is revived, with much of the narrative of the previous film carried over directly – including the mysterious Genesis Device doodad that all the bad guys want so desperately.) The “Kill Bill” approach was stoked further with a conversation with i09 during that same Comic Con, in which Orci said: “Nothing was decided… [They said to us] ‘We thought maybe you could do that as like 2 and 3.'” Of course, this idea was probably one of a thousand that was batted around and ultimately discarded — it would be another 18 months before plans for the sequel even solidified in any kind of real way, with filming not starting until January 2012. In space-terms, that’s longer than light-years.
4. A Number Of Discarded Notions From The Original Wound Up Here
When Abrams came aboard the original “Star Trek” reboot, there were a whole galaxy’s worth of ideas that he wanted to cram into the movie that ended up not making it in. Thankfully, that’s what “Star Trek Into Darkness” is for, acting as a kind of dumping ground for ideas developed but not utilized. One of the things that so fascinated Abrams about the ‘Trek’ property as a whole was the idea of the “Prime Directive” – something in ‘Star Trek’ lore that forbids the crew of the Enterprise from interacting with primitive civilizations. Abrams couldn’t fit it into the more focused first film, so he made it the breathless prologue for the new movie. (Abrams got to also explore the consequences following what happens when you fuck up the Prime Directive.) Another facet of the original film that found its way ‘Into Darkness’ was the inclusion of Carol Marcus, a character that in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is revealed to be the mother of Kirk’s son (she’s a scientist that developed the aforementioned, highly sought-after Genesis device). In the original Orci/Kurtzman script, a young Kirk falls in love with Carol Marcus. Marcus appears in the new movie (played by the lovely Alice Eve), but in an entirely different capacity too good to spoil here. And for those of you with the bursting-at-the-seams “Star Trek” Blu-ray, you know that a huge part of the original film that was shot but left on the cutting room floor was the Klingons! The famous ‘Trek’ baddies actually held Eric Bana‘s evil Romulan Nero prisoner (Abrams favorite Victor Garber played a Klingon interrogator even). Famously, these scenes were cut for time and featured completely masked Klingons, which would have left the audience guessing as to which “style” of Klingon the new series would employ – the Klingons from the original series with their smooth foreheads or the more iconic, ridged-forehead Klingons from follow-up series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Thankfully, “Star Trek Into Darkness” answers this question. But we’re not spilling.
5. Abrams Now Considers Him A True “Star Trek” Fan
Many members of the ‘Star Trek’ faithful were unhappy with director Abrams when he expressed indifference towards the original franchise. This is something that Abrams has gone to grain pains to rectify (after all, he still wants all of the nerds who lashed out against him to show up to “Star Trek Into Darkness” this weekend), recently describing the situation to The Guardian as: “Here’s the thing: it definitely put some fans off… I think they think it’s me saying, ‘I’m better than you.’ But I’m not saying that at all. I am saying that I do not think I was as smart and sophisticated as my friends who loved the show. So I didn’t get it, it doesn’t mean I’m judging anyone.” And he has since changed his tune: “I have come to love it working on it, but it would be disingenuous of me to say I was a ‘Trek’ fan.” (Orci and Lindelof were the requisite fanboys on the team.) In an admittedly hilarious interview with “The Daily Show” host/’Trek’ super-fan Jon Stewart this week, after Stewart mentioned Abrams’ involvement in “Star Wars” and gushed “I’m not even going to go to these conventions anymore, I’m just going to sit on your lap,” Abrams reiterated his new-found commitment to the ‘Trek’ universe. “I fell in love with it – getting to understand the characters, the archetypes, the dynamics, made me appreciate it,” Abrams said. Stewart then tried to get Abrams to cast him in “Star Wars.” It remains to be seen if that will be the case.
There are other things, of course, that you don’t know about “Star Trek Into Darkness” that we’re not keen on spoiling. As the movie finally opens around the world and the people behind the film are able to talk more freely about specific plot points and characters, even more will be revealed about the latest adventure of the crew of the Enterprise. It’s honestly hard to dig stuff up when everyone involved in the movie has taken an unshakable vow of silence (which, come to think of it, was another part of Bana’s Nero character from the original ‘Trek’ that was abandoned). We’ll also have our rundown of the film early next week, which should pick apart some of the aspects of the film that have been untouched here. Until then: live long and prosper.