Over the weekend, select IMAX 3D screenings of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (read FamousMonster’s review here) are being prefaced by an extended preview for Star Trek Into Darkness. I have seen the nine-minute preview and am prepared to offer my thoughts, but first a lengthy recap.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOLLOW!
First off, there are no further revelations as to the identity of the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The studio and director J.J. Abrams say his name is John Harrison so for now let us call him…John Harrison. Yes, that will do nicely. There is a small hint as to the role the character will be playing in the grand scheme of the plot but that is all Abrams and company are permitting us to know for the time being. If you have seen this preview I seriously doubt you are still pondering whether or not the villain is really going to be a classic Trek adversary.
The preview opens with a attractive-looking couple living in London, Stardate: 2259.55. I didn’t recognize the woman but any fan of Doctor Who will instantly know that is Noel Clarke – a.k.a. Mickey, the ever-loyal boyfriend of former Who companion Rose Tyler – playing the husband. They take a car ride to a hospital located in a countryside manor. Some very beautiful pastoral scenery here. A doctor appears to give the couple some discouraging news. Cut to them at the bedside of a sleeping girl. The woman places a stuffed toy rabbit next to the child as she slumbers peacefully and weeps. Clarke’s character looks on helplessly, tears welling up in his eyes. He then retreats to the roof of the building to be alone. As he looks out over the country a mysterious figure appears behind him.
“I can save her,” he says.
A stunned Clarke turns around and replies, “What did you say?”
“Your daughter,” the gentleman with the deep, mannered voice says. “I can save her.”
The young father asks, “Who are you?” We don’t get a verbal answer, just the camera pushing in on the familiar face of John Harrison (Cumberbatch), looking charmingly malevolent.
That’s just the first two-and-a-half minutes, give or take. Now we cut to an overhead shot of a field of strange red foliage – think of the red weed from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds – and we’re on an M-class planet. A figure shrouded in gray cloaks is running through a field as an angry crowd of the planet’s population keep close pace behind them. The hidden character comes across a snarling, bipedal beast and shoots it with a phaser. Another cloaked figure appears and reveals their identity, and they’re none too happy about what just happened.
“Damn it man, that was our ride! You just stunned our ride!” Who else could it be but the lovably cantankerous Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban). The shrouded figure we first saw running then gives us a nice close-up of their visage and of course it’s Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine). After briefly bemoaning their loss of a suitable mode of transportation Kirk and McCoy resume their fleeing and we get a good look at their pursuers: pale, ghoulish figures wearing yellow shrouds over their faces and packing primitive but deadly weaponry.
Kirk sends word to an Enterprise shuttle to head for the planet’s unstable volcano once they’re clear (I may have missed some of the dialogue since people around me were yakking it up half the time). On board the shuttle are Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Spock, decked out in a special protective suit, asks Kirk if the indigenous population spotted him, to which the captain replies that they didn’t. Although they’re trying to save the planet from destruction Kirk and his crew are technically violating the Prime Directive – Starfleet General Order #1: there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations. As Spock is preparing to be lowered into the volcano to plant an ice bomb that will stop it from erupting Uhura plants a good luck kiss on the face plate of his helmet. Then he is dropped into the volcano, barely surviving, and Sulu is forced to take the shuttle to a safer distance.
Kirk hangs a scroll containing unknown writing and symbols from a tree branch and that seems to halt their pursuers’ efforts to kill McCoy and him. They continue running until they reach a cliff overlooking a vast and beautiful blue ocean, and then they dive straight in. Michael Giacchino‘s theme music kicks in and it is revealed to us that Kirk and McCoy are swimming towards a submerged starship Enterprise. Safely inside they’re greeted by Scotty (Simon Pegg), who informs them that Spock is still in the volcano. Once they return to the bridge Kirk establishes contact with Spock. They are now faced with a dilemma: if they attempt to rescue Spock the ship could be destroyed and in the process they will be seen by the planet’s species and thus the Prime Directive will be violated. Spock instructs them not to attempt a rescue: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Then their contact is severed.
Kirk refuses to leave his friend and shipmate behind to die. He asks McCoy what he thinks Spock would do if the Vulcan was in command and Kirk was the one in the volcano. McCoy responds, “He’d let you die.” The final image is of Spock inside the volcano, the dark forces of nature raging away all around him. He closes his eyes and prepares to accept death, arms outstretched.
The preview concludes with a brief sizzle reel of footage we saw in the recent teaser trailer along with a few additional bits that will likely surface in a newer trailer that began playing this past weekend attached to standard 2D and 3D screenings of The Hobbit and was released online today.
Paramount and Abrams doubtlessly saw how well screening extended previews for The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises months in advance of their theatrical release worked in helping to build up positive word of mouth. With summer and holiday blockbusters continuing to grow in size, if not always in substance, and studios staking out the earlier opening weekend slots they can snag to avoid the deluge of grandiose cinematic roller coaster rides each new year brings marketing efforts have to raise their game exponentially. No longer will trailers, posters, and television spots alone suffice in getting the word out. Viral websites and videos, IMAX previews during the holiday movie season, and daylong press events are now even more commonplace in an increasingly competitive film industry where potential franchises are more likely to fail than succeed.
Seeing as how Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the most anticipated sequels of recent years but still faces stiff competition next summer from the likes of Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim, and even The Hangover Part III, it would definitely behoove the studio to get some major buzz going around this thing while the time is right. Good thing Paramount did just that, and what a fine show they gave us this past weekend.
It is wonderful to see the crew of the rebooted Enterprise back in action since it has been nearly four years now since the end credits rolled on Abrams’ first Star Trek feature. The director, with a fine ensemble cast and a massive budget at his disposal, beat back years of lousy buzz and enraged apathy from the hardcore Trekkers to deliver a rip-roaring space opera that was genuinely exciting, emotional, and sweetly amusing in the appropriate doses. The haters can hate but as I have been a fan of the Trek franchise since I was young enough to wonder if Mr. Spock and Dr. Spock were the same person, I found Trek ’09 to be the shot of pure adrenochrome the stagnant series was in dire need of. It was a flawed film but also one of the finest big-screen outings of the Enterprise. Plus it was the first time I had ever seen a Trek movie on actual celluloid and the second time I saw it in 2009 was in IMAX; that was one of many memorable moviegoing experiences I had that year.
As you can possibly surmise by now, Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the films I am looking forward to seeing the most in 2013, but that does not mean that reservations regarding the project do not exist. Yet what I saw this weekend was enough to convince me that once again J.J. Abrams knew pretty much what he was doing. The final film may be a complete disaster; that remains to be seen. But judging from the footage screened nationwide last weekend it is crystal clear that the new Trek movie is off to an excellent start. The action sequences are definitely more epic and intense than before and as the footage in this preview attests they will look fantastic in eye-popping IMAX 3D. The camaraderie among Kirk and his crew is as potent and warm as ever and the cast chemistry makes the exposition-laden dialogue crackle with emotion. There is not much time in this set piece for an amusing interlude but at least Pegg’s double take at a fish swimming past the ship’s view screen is priceless – not to mention one of the main reasons you hire that guy in the first place.
There are flaws in this preview and principle among them is the lack of insight into the film’s plot or the motivations of the John Harrison character. I understand that Abrams does not want to tip his hand so early in the promotional campaign but Christopher Nolan, another beloved blockbuster craftsman who values secrecy in preserving the plots of his movies, was wise enough to select scenes for the IMAX prologues to his last two Bat-films that provided the audience with a better look at their antagonists and a chance to briefly savor the performances of the actors playing them. Cumberbatch only gets two lines and a menacing close-up before Abrams cuts the action to the exploits of the Enterprise crew and Harrison never returns until the concluding sizzle reel. When he departs the preview he takes any semblance of the plot of Star Trek Into Darkness with him and all we are left with is an extended action sequence that may have little or no bearing whatsoever on the actual story, much like the opening scenes to most James Bond films.
The footage we do get to see is great and fun to watch, especially in 3D, but it does not shine any further light on what the movie will be about, as great trailers are known to do. I am not asking for a complete breakdown of the plot, spoilers and all, but when the marketing campaign for the last Trek film kicked into high gear we knew who the villains were, that time travel was involved, and that Leonard Nimoy would have a substantial supporting role.
I hope Abrams is a bit more forthcoming with plot details in the next few months. The film critic Roger Ebert was fond of saying, and I am paraphrasing here, that films should not be judged by what they are about but rather how they are about it. This ain’t Psycho, it is a Star Trek movie, and it looks to be a damn great one if all the pieces come together.