Space, the final frontier. Well, a final frontier with room for sequels, that is. Recently, I went on the closest thing to a field trip that I can imagine – I, along with a group of other journalists, got to spend the day at Bad Robot where we were treated to some new clips of Star Trek Into Darkness as well as in-depth presentations from folks working on the props, costumes, visual effects, score – you name it! We were also treated to some top-secret footage by J.J. Abrams who made us swear on our iPhones’ battery life that we would keep silent about its contents. Fortunately, I have plenty of answers to many of your burning questions, which, in turn, create more questions. It’s a vicious cycle, really. For those who like their sprawling sci-fi blockbusters like they like their milk – unspoiled – then beware, because the following information contains potential spoilers.
QUESTION: WHAT THE HELL IS GONNA HAPPEN?
Here’s the official synopsis:
In Summer 2013, pioneering director J.J. Abrams will deliver an explosive action thriller that takes “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis.
With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.
As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.
Doesn’t answer many questions now, does it? If you read our recap of the 9 minutes of footage shown in advance of The Hobbit, then it will shed the tiniest bit of light. io9 had a pretty stellar breakdown of the teaser trailer, which may offer some clues, too. We’ll be visiting Nibiru to stop a volcano, attending a Starfleet memorial service back on Earth, and we’ll also be paying a visit to Klingon homeworld Qo’noS, which brings us to our next question.
QUESTION: WILL THERE BE KLINGONS?
Yes, yes and more yes. Not only will there be Klingons, but we will be visiting the Klingon homeworld of Qo’noS (pronounced “Kronos”). 14 Klingons, to be numerically precise. Perhaps more will be digitally added later, Oompa Loompa-style, but for now we’ll have to settle for the Qo’noS 14 (a documentary title if I’ve ever heard one). We saw large, imposing assault rifles with all manner of blades and bayonets attached, which prop master Andy Siegel explained were “designed with an eye towards making look as brutal as possible” because the Klingons “are a barbaric race.” From their ridged heads to their oversized armaments to their imposing, Bane-like armor, the Klingons are here to kick ass and chew spacegum, and they’re all out of spacegum. Siegel explained further that “over the series, the Klingons went from scary to almost comical,” so the production team wanted to bring back that intimidating element to the Klingons. From what we’ve seen so far, we’d say they’re on the right track.
As a bonus tidbit, MSN’s James Rocchi asked Siegel about the challenges of making futuristic props out of present day materials. Siegel pointed to a wristwatch communicator:
“I promised one thing…I promised [to put] a screen in to a prop that I almost could not fulfill. But I did! Finding a one-inch by one-inch screen that you can practically drive, that’s battery operated, that you can load an image into … and it’s funny, a year later, you can do that with an iPod nano. But a year ago? I was mistaken!”
And you just know that Apple has been sitting on those tiny iPod nano screens for a while. Think of the poor Andy Siegels out there, corporate overlords!
QUESTION: WHOSE FREAKIN’ HAND IS THAT?
Is J.J. Abrams just messing with us? Whose hand is that pressed against the glass in the extra scene at the end of the Japanese teaser trailer? While it’s an obvious homage to the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (where Spock locks himself in the glass-walled warp core and gets a lethal dose of radiation in order to save the Enterprise and set up the plot for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), it was not placed there as a red herring. Abrams elaborated to Slashfilm:
“The Japanese trailer is different because Star Trek isn’t as popular internationally as it is here. … Some foreign audiences are more interested in emotions than action. Hence the inclusion of that shot. However, [Abrams] admitted it’s obviously an homage. It just wasn’t specifically included at this moment to screw with people. It just worked out that way.”
Great. So at least we know that it wasn’t put there to purposely mess with us. However, one devoted e-detective, DeviantART’s Astadi, did her best Sherlock impression and went further down the rabbit hole by doing a little bit of “hand-stalking,” which is every bit as weird as it sounds.
That’s right! This Starfleet super sleuth did some in-depth hands-on (sorry) research to determine the owner of the mystery hand is none other than Captain James T. Kirk! Here’s the full version, too, so you can see exactly what she’s talking about. This would seem to lend further credence to the theory that Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan, but it could be an homage designed to fake us out (despite what Abrams said). Thank goodness we’ll have Handgate 2012 to keep us on the edge of our seats through the holiday season. At the bare minimum, you’ve got to hand it to Abrams (sorry again) – he’s the master of pre-release suspense.
QUESTION: WHO IS ALICE EVE?
J.J. Abrams confirmed that a Wrath of Khan character would indeed appear in Into Darkness, but it may not be the one you had in mind. During our time at Bad Robot, we learned that Alice Eve is none other than Dr. Carol Marcus, the molecular biologist/blonde bombshell from Wrath of Khan (played by Bibi Besch) and mother of Kirk’s son, David. If this immediately raised your eyebrows, then good. It should, because it lends way more credence to the theory that Benedict Cumberbatch is none other than Benedict KHANberbatch. You’re welcome, Tumblr. That one’s free.
QUESTION: WHO IS BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH?
We still don’t know. According to to latest publicity still from Paramount (which came out while we were at Bad Robot), Cumberbatch is playing a man named “John Harrison,” which is clearly an alias. Plenty of names from Star Trek lore have been dredged up in comment sections from across the web, but several merit further investigation.
Is he Gary Mitchell? This was a popular theory (and the one I held) among fans, especially after Karl Urban said so in an interview with SFX. Mitchell, for those not in the know, appeared in the original Star Trek series episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” as a helmsman on the Enterprise who gained godlike powers after coming in contact with a galactic barrier. Alice Eve’s resemblance to Elizabeth Dehner (played by Sally Kellerman), a Starfleet psychiatrist and friend of Kirk’s and Mitchell’s who was instrumental in stopping Mitchell’s reign of terror, seemed like a bit of a red herring.
See? Pretty convincing. Except that we now know that Eve is Carol Marcus, which pokes the Mitchell theory full of holes. Further skewering the theory is this Trekmovie.com’s interview with writer Roberto Orci, which confirms Cumberbatch is not playing Mitchell. In a recent interview with MTV, Cumberbatch was candid about his character:
“He’s a terrorist; he operates as a terrorist. He has extraordinary physical powers, but also mental powers. He can sow an idea, which is as powerful as gunshots or close-hand combat, which he’s masterful in. He tears into the fabric of both the world and the Enterprise family, and he leaves behind him a trail of devastation. It’s quite exciting to watch.”
Okay, this is an interesting one. Khan is still in play. Sybock seems like a stretch. Garth of Izar is within the realm of possibility. Cumberbatch continues:
“Giving away the full motivation would ruin it, but it’s personal. It’s also political, I think. He’s somebody who, at some point in the film, you should feel a certain amount of empathy towards his cause, if not his means. … There’s no two-dimensional obstacle he presents purely and simply by the fact that he’s opposing our hero”
All the political talk and the repeated use of the term terrorist has me leaning strongly towards Khan (with Garth as a dark horse). Even if it’s not a character we’ve seen before, John Harrison is looking like one bad-ass addition to the Star Trek mythology. Plus that voice, huh? God, you could just drizzle it over pancakes. They should release a vocoder/autotune app that makes your voice sound like Ol’ Cumby’s. You’re welcome, Paramount. That one’s also on me.
QUESTION: WHO IS JOSEPH GATT?
Apart from a man who looks terrifyingly similar to the Engineers from Prometheus even when he’s not wearing makeup, Joseph Gatt will be playing a being known as GATT5000 (although we have seen him called GATT2000 elsewhere), a bald humanoid with a Tony Stark-like glowing power core on the back of his head. Is he an android? A cyborg? A robot? An LED light enthusiast? Another synonym for “machine?” Only time will tell.
Fun fact as revealed by head of makeup, David LeRoy Anderson: the design on the gadget back of his head is actually the same design as the roof of the Enterprise, which we never actually get to see.
Double fun fact: when asked about how advances in makeup FX technology affect his process on a film like Star Trek, he pointed to a Klingon bust and countered, “In all honesty, my preference is the old school way. This is foam rubber. The same foam rubber they used in the Thirties… some things are just better off the original way.”
Triple fun fact: LeRoy Anderson was feeling the pressure when he came onboard to work on Into Darkness. After all, the previous makeup crew won an Academy Award for their work on Spock. One of the biggest challenges LeRoy Anderson faced was Spock’s eyebrows. He explained:
“Zach had the make-up done by another team on the last one and they won an Academy Award for it. They weren’t available to come in on this film because of the schedules, so I had huge shoes to fill. He [was a bit worried] because I would be mutilating his face by shaving off his eyebrows, It made me nervous, it made him nervous, so I approached that very delicately.”
LeRoy Anderson was so dedicated to the task and wanted Quinto to feel at ease, so for two hours at the beginning of each shooting day, he would personally apply Spock’s makeup. Each eyebrow took forty-five minutes. Ladies and/or well-groomed men, this is an abnormally long time, right? Right. Pretty cool, huh? The more you know!
QUESTION: HOW MANY MIDI-CHLORIANS DOES SPOCK HAVE?
Oh, man, you should have seen your face. Seriously, though, this question is highly illogical.
QUESTION: WHAT IS SPOCK WEARING INSIDE THAT VOLCANO ANYWAY?
You may recall from the teaser trailer (or the 9 minutes of advance footage) that our ol’ pal Spock is seen descending into the fiery pit of death that is an IMAX-sized volcano on Class-M Planet Nibiru. While spending the day at Bad Robot, we got to speak with assistant costume designer Ann Foley, who stood in front of an impressive array of costumes, including a metallic orange suit with tiled details on the front and ribbed leather arms to allow for greater in-costume mobility. Spock’s impressive suit was an imposing design challenge which took four months (!) to make from scratch. Four months. For one suit. When it comes to space travel, everything is bespoke, I guess.
QUESTION: HOW FAR ALONG IS MICHAEL GIACCHINO IN THE SCORE?
Spending twenty minutes with any one of the talented people working on Into Darkness is a treat, but it was particularly cool to step into the studio of Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino to talk about his process, his timeframe, and his influences. Right off the bat, Giacchino addressed one of the chief complaints a composer faces – that the score is used to manipulate the audience into having a certain feeling. He rolled his eyes and offered this as an answer:
“Everything that JJ wants you to feel and follow, I’m there to help yank you through. And yes, you can call that manipulation. It is manipulation. Any film is manipulation really. None of this is real, so anyone who says that ‘oh, you were manipulating me,’ well, no shit, of course we are. That’s why you go to the movies. To be manipulated.”
And the popcorn. Don’t forget the popcorn. That’s a big draw too. How much has he written so far? Well, just 9 minutes’ worth, actually. You can’t write a score without a finished copy of the film; he needs it to know what kind of music to pair with each scene. So, that being said, how long does he have to write the score? “Typically, I have 8 weeks,” he told us, the weight of the task ahead of him clearly weighing on his shoulders. How does he tackle something so daunting, especially for a franchise that has such a storied history? Giacchino had an anecdote ready and waiting:
“When I first started writing the [Star Trek] music, I was so concerned about what other people would think of it and what it should be. I didn’t think of what this music should be. And I went through eighteen to twenty different versions of a theme that never felt right because I was kind of worried about what everyone else would think. And it was Damon [Lindelof] and I having a conversation about it and he just said, ‘Forget all that, forget all the space stuff. It’s not a space movie. It’s just a movie about two guys who meet and become the best of friends. Why don’t we start from there?’ Oh my God, that’s such a great idea!”
So, there you have it, folks. Star Trek is just about a couple of space bros having space adventures. Space high five, freeze frame, roll credits.
QUESTION: WHAT WAS IN THE SECRET FOOTAGE THAT J.J. ABRAMS SHOWED US?
I would tell you, but apparently they still have those polar bears from Lost hanging around their office and they threatened to cover me in Coca-Cola and hand me over to their in-house arctic assassins. Trust me, it was super rad.
Star Trek Into Darkness is in theaters on Stardate May 17th, 2013.