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Immersed in Movies: Previewing JJ Abrams’ ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ Prologue

Immersed in Movies: Previewing JJ Abrams' 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Prologue

I got an early glimpse on Sunday of the nine-minute prologue for “Star Trek into Darkness” in IMAX 3D, followed by a meet and greet yesterday at director J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot studio in Santa Monica. Abrams additionally screened the new trailer that will go online next week along with special footage that will be kept under wraps until much closer to the May 17 release. The prologue will screen in front of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” beginning Friday at select IMAX theaters

What’s definitely reinforced is that Abrams now owns “Star Trek” in much the same way that Chris Nolan took possession of Batman. In fact, if Abrams’ popular origin story/reboot was “Star Trek” on steroids, then the prologue is more like “Star Trek” on super steroids. Abrams not only captures the dramatic essence of the original series (in which Kirk, Spock, and McCoy represent the ego, id, and superego), but also channels James Bond and Indiana Jones with a little “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” thrown in for good measure. At the same time, though, Abrams and his writers (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof) ladle in even more humor this time out to defuse some of the darkness.

However, the movie begins solemnly in 2259 with a husband and wife visiting their sick daughter at a children’s hospital in London, where the angry father is approached by a dashing stranger (Benedict Cumberbatch), who proclaims that he can save his daughter.

Cut to Kirk (Chris Pine) and McCoy (Karl Urban) rushing to escape from Red planet Nibiru while attempting to avoid detection from the indigenous tribesmen adorned with white paint. Here the IMAX 3D immerses us in the “Raiders”-like action, where we’re assaulted with hurling spears.

Meanwhile, Spock (Zachary Quinto) enters the planet’s overheated volcano with a deactivator to suspend eruption, but encounters great difficulty, which unnerves the always overheated Kirk. Echoes of “Wrath of Khan” are insinuated here (“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”) and in the teaser trailer, yet Abrams and his writers refuse to confirm anything, including the secret identity of baddie Cumberbatch. He’s been rumored to be arch-nemesis Khan, but his character has now been identified as John Harrison.

We’ve also learned that Alice Eve will play Carol Marcus, the Federation scientist who had a fling with Kirk in the original series. They wound up parenting a son, David, who was featured in “Wrath of Khan.”

The only thing that Abrams confirmed to me was that Nibiru is the same red planet viewed in the background during the original series’ opening credits. “Why shouldn’t we make use of it?” he smiled. “It’s there… we might as well go there.”

Cumberbatch, who’s having the time of his life playing a post-modern Holmes addicted to life on the edge in the popular BBC series, “Sherlock” (on the verge of its third season), told me that he’s not much of a Trekkie but was instantly drawn to the script: “He’s a terrorist and although there’s a lot of destruction, he has his reasons and I hope audiences will sympathize with him.”

Orci suggested that “Into Darkness” reveals Kirk struggling to find his way as captain of the Enterprise. Judging by the prologue and trailers, it reverberates with issues of life, death, sacrifice, and vengeance in both fresh and familiar ways. Orci added that the “Star Trek” origin story freed them to now explore hidden depths.

Then again, Abrams’ maiden voyage three years ago was so successful in its design and execution that “Into Darkness” has only required minor tweaking and streamlining. The props and costumes are a bit more stylish (especially Harrison’s coat made of wax cotton from Japan), and the signature communicator, phaser, and tricorder are merely 2.0 versions. Yet the Klingon weaponry is more badass while the foam rubber makeup is still very much old school as opposed to the silicon application for other aliens (now referred to as visitors).

As for ILM’s VFX, supervisor Roger Guyett touted the futuristic London being sleeker yet still recognizable in its digital form (courtesy of designer Neville Page), and pointed out that the volcanic eruption is so much more believable and art directable, thanks to advances in fluid simulation and hardware-based rendering.

Finally, composer Michael Giacchino walked us through his creative process in scoring the prologue: “What’s going on there is a lot of adrenaline and a lot of fear. These are moments that I have to catch so you’re following the story every step of the way — everything that J.J. wants you to feel and I’m there to yank you through.”

However, when questioned about an apparent quote from James Horner’s “Wrath of Khan” score, Giacchino was totally surprised: it was not his intention to reference “Khan.”

It seems there’s no escaping the beloved Nicholas Meyer “Star Trek” movie, but we’ll have to wait and see to what degree “Wrath of Khan” informs “Into Darkness.”

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