A day at Bad Robot gives us a better look at ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

12.11.12 5 years ago 48 Comments

The Bad Robot offices occupy a large building in Santa Monica that you would never notice just driving by.  I missed it the first time around the block, and had to circle back before I was able to hand off my car to the waiting valet.  I was afraid I’d missed the start of today’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” event, but ended up making it in just enough time to get my green wristband, join my group, and start the tour of the building, designed to give us a look inside one of next year’s most anticipated sequels.

To be clear, there was one point in the day where we saw something we had to promise not to disclose.  I wouldn’t say it radically changed anything I’m going to share with you, but instead simply served to amp up my own enthusiasm because it was really, really, yes, I’m going to say it three whole times, REALLY cool.

If you’re curious about the identity of the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Paramount took care of that earlier today, and they’re not lying to you.  They released an image of Zachary Quinto as Spock, Cumberbatch in the cell that held Loki and Silva, and Chris Pine as Captain James T. Motherscratchin’ Kirk, and in the caption, they named him as “John Harrison.”

Yes, there was indeed a character named Harrison on the episode “Space Seed,” the original series moment that introduced Khan Noonien Singh, played by Ricardo Montalban.  Harrison had a fourteen episode run, evidently.  And, no, I did not know that before today, and neither did most people.  No, I don’t think he’s playing that character, nor do I think that is a confirmation of the character as Khan hiding under another name.  I think Abrams likes to play the game, and I think this time out, there is an opportunity to really tweak those who have tried to crack the picture.  Do I think it’s possible it’s Khan?  Sure.  In fact, I’d say probable, and this is most likely a bit of the ol’ bob and weave.  I’d also argue that there is only one villain that means anything to the general public as far as “Star Trek” is concerned, and that’s Khan.  Any other character name and most people aren’t going to get it.  There were people advancing the theory that it’s Gary Mitchell, and I think the fact that an all-powerful godlike lunatic is named “Gary Mitchell” is one of the reasons “Star Trek” villains are hard for most casual fans to remember.

But, yeah, it’s probably Khan.  And I think they’re not doing “Wrath Of Khan.” They’re doing an alternate “Space Seed.”  This is part one of whatever they’ll do with him.  I think they’ll play Khan back and forth in terms of what audiences are supposed to think of him.  The conversation doesn’t end with “Is he Khan or isn’t he?”  The bigger question is “If you’re going to bring back Khan, what are you going to do with him that’s new and interesting?”

For example, not everyone was loving the news when Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker.  But when you saw his Joker, it was instantly obvious that he was nothing like previous takes, and that was interesting.  Just because I’d seen the 1989 “Batman” didn’t mean I knew the way the script would unfold for “The Dark Knight.”  One is not a remake of the other.  They’re just two films that play with the Batman and Joker archetypes in different ways.  That’s what this seems like to me.  That’s what Abrams and company bought themselves when they reset the clock on everything.

For this entire article, keep in mind… I don’t have all the answers and I’m not being coy by pretending I do. For the most part on this one, I am just looking at the same marketing materials that you guys either have seen or are about to see, and I’m reacting to that.  The full-length trailer will have the footage that ran on the Japanese spot, and by “hiding” it, Abrams only made it more enticing

Our first stop was in the Bad Robot screening room, where JJ Abrams introduced the new trailer for the film that arrives on December 17th, and while it’s not radically different than the announcement video that Paramount released last week, it did suggest some new things about the film.  It starts with Bruce Greenwood (I believe, since we only hear the voice) as Pike, talking to Kirk.  Considering he’s the one who got Kirk to start taking his future seriously, it would make sense that Pike would be the one to talk about some hard truths to him again.  “You have greatness in you… but no humility.”  He talks about how one day, Kirk is going to make a mistake, and he’s going to be sure he’s right, and by the time he realizes he’s not, he’s going to get his entire crew killed.  We saw more quick shots from other sequences in the film, and those who are worried about an Earth-bound “Star Trek” probably shouldn’t be.  It looks like there are some major space sequences in the film, and I’m pretty sure I even saw a hint of the Klingons in there.

Then again, that could just be because I saw some Klingons later in the day.

After we watched the trailer, we were shown around the rest of the Bad Robot building.  There were tons of journalists there today, and we were walked through in groups.  We visited Props and Costumes first, where, as if to make people crazy, Alice Eve was revealed to us today to be playing Carol Marcus.  You know… the woman from “Wrath Of Khan” who had an affair with Kirk and who is raising his son?  That does not appear to be her role here, though, so it’ll be fun to see how they introduce her.  For example, also in the film?  Admiral Marcus, who is evidently her father.  

Qo’noS, the home planet of the Klingons, is definitely in the film, and we saw an outfit of hers (a formal dress Naval miniskirt ensemble that did a great job of evoking the awesome aesthetic of the original show), an outfit of his, and most notably, a Klingon warrior’s armor.  They’ve been sure to incorporate things like the original design elements like the Klingon’s symbol, but with lots of new touches as well.  We saw Spock’s volcano suit, a great practical bit of design that took four months from idea to final execution, and we heard how important it was for Abrams to make sure you’d see the flames reflecting on the suit to help sell the volcano sequence.  We saw Uhura’s wetsuit, complete with jetboots to help propel her underwater, which you’ll see on Zoe Saldana in the 9-minute IMAX 3D prologue that’s playing in front of these engagements of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.  3D IMAX wetsuit-wearing Zoe Saldana?  Are you sure this isn’t a Christmas movie?

We also saw the robes that Kirk and Bones (Karl Urban) are wearing when they’re fleeing from a group of aliens in that same prologue, and some of the props designed for the film as well.  Things like the phasers and the communicators and the tricorders are all careful to fit into the new design of the film while still evoking the classic designs.  For example, you’ll see there’s a mesh piece on the communicator cover now that wasn’t there before but that suggests the look of the originals.  Little details like that don’t make or break a film, of course, but they sure do sell the idea that they’re committed to really playing with “the five year mission to seek out new life and new civilizations.”  I want a “Trek” that encourages exploration, and I’ll tell you why it’s important.  

Kids today are indeed falling in love with this “Trek.”  Toshi enjoys watching the original series and we’re still sort of tiptoeing through the first season of “Next Generation,” but for him, the feature films are it, and the 2009 film was the moment where he really seemed to click on as a film fan.  Before that, he was a little kid who had seen some movies.  After that, he was a movie watcher.  When he saw the trailer for the new film, he was shaky in that excited little-kid way, thrilled at the prospect.  He thinks it already looks better than the first one, and I love seeing the optimism in him, the pure excitement.  There comes a point where some film fans are incapable of being that wide open to a movie, and that’s a shame.  Watching him, I’m reminded what a gift that anticipation is, and how much fun it is to be teased without being told everything.  

And when he and I talk about the Mars rover or go to the Planetarium or play with the star maps app on my phone sitting outside in our front yard, the enthusiasm he has for the idea of space and what it could contain is fueled in no small part by his belief in “Star Trek.”  He sees a time in our future where we have gotten our shit together and we have shaken loose of the planet in a very real way.  We’re not there yet, and we’ll never get there if we don’t re-inspire kids to want to go.  We need a next generation of astronauts, and if you talk to people who really did work in or around the space program, there are a whooooole lot of “Star Trek” fans in there.  It helps, but only if that’s part of the equation.  I know that my first fascination with the show came from that notion of exploring the larger universe and meeting new races every week. Anything that encourages that sort of dreaming about exploration and expansion is okay by me.

During the props and costumes presentation, we were shown the device that Spock tries to use in the film to defuse a volcano. It started out as a slick single-function device, but Abrams pushed them to make it look more cobbled together.  It’s supposed to be something that Spock and Scotty and whoever else had to improvise for this particular situation.  One of the reporters asked about people in the cast taking souvenirs, and the response was delivered with a huge smile that seemed vaguely menacing:  “They know better.”

We also spent some time with the make-up department looking at the designs they put together for the Klingons, and they went through some serious adjustments as they tried to find a look that worked and that gave whatever actors they hired free to perform through the make-up.  We saw some of the other races you’ll see in the film, some in the background, some in featured sequences, and we saw how those designs evolved over the pre-production period.  It’s interesting to see how high-tech some of the tricks in the film are, and how low-tech others are.  Some of the aliens took six hours to apply to performers, some were just masks that someone could slip on while on-set.  That wide array of things on display is important to sell the idea that it’s a big universe and that Starfleet is definitely not alone.

Michael Giacchino walked us through the scoring of the IMAX 3D prologue, which is all he’s recorded for the film so far.  He won’t really get started on the rest of the score until Abrams has a final cut he likes, and there’s still some time to go before they reach that point.  I had to run at that point in the afternoon to get across town for my “This Is 40” interviews, and as I waited for the valet to bring my car, both Robert Orci and Damon Lindelof arrived to drop their cars off.  I talked to them both for a moment just to share some thoughts about what they’ve shown us in the last few days, then jumped into my car so I could split.

Finally, I’d like to advance a theory.

I may be taking one of the most obvious bits of bait of all time.  Because I’ll explain exactly how I ended up forming this “completely silly out of left field but what if” theory.  If you don’t want anything spoiled about the film, you can most probably read the following because I think it’s unlikely I am right.  In fact, today’s press event was probably carefully calibrated to help generate some misinformation.

There is a character who exists on the fringes of “Star Trek” canon, and that’s why I think it’s a crazy theory. Would Abrams and Orci and Kurtzman and Lindelof really take advantage of their big cosmic reset button and tell the story of the character originally named Captain Robert April in the first pilot script for the original series?  When “Star Trek” finally did go to pilot, they changed April’s name to… Christopher Pike.

In his episode of the animated show, which you can see on NetFlix Instant right now, he’s a Commodore, a former captain of the Enterprise, taking a trip with his wife on the ship, and when a mysterious illness hits the crew and starts aging them in reverse, Commodore April and his wife, who are much older than anyone else, and as a result, they were the ones to save the day because they had more time than anyone else to solve the problem.  His wife was a Starfleet medical officer when he was the captain, too, so they were both tied to the Enterprise.

Meanwhile, in the books, April is revealed to be someone who came from Coventry in England.  You know England, right?  That’s where London is.  You remember why that matters right?  Because of the one-sheet looking out on the London skyline.

And the opening of the film, which you’ll see at the IMAX presentation, features a moment where Cumberbatch offers to help a family whose daughter is hospitalized in the London Children’s Hospital. So it seems like England is important to this April character.  Hmmmm.  And why does the daughter need help?  Because she appears to be prematurely aging.  The guy who figured out how to reset the body clock to move in a different direction might be a perfect person to help that little girl… wouldn’t you think?

What if you learned that in the books that April’s executive officer was a dude named Commander George Kirk?  You know… the one that Chris Hemsworth so memorably played at the start of 2009’s “Star Trek”?  On the other hand, in other books, Pike is April’s second-in-command.

So what if something happened to April on a mission somewhere with Pike.  It didn’t have to be on the Enterprise as long as the two of them were serving together.  And what if something terrible happened to April because of Pike and Pike came home and went on with his life?  What if April is the one who comes to Earth, not for revenge on Kirk, but for revenge on Pike?

After all, that shot at the end of the trailer that hits online and in theaters on December 17th has Cumberbatch asking, “Is there anything you would not do for your family?” while we see that oh-so-tricky shot of the two hands on opposite sides of the glass.  That’s totally designed and cut to make you think they’re going to try to reproduce the ending of “Wrath of Khan.”

But what if it’s not Kirk on the other side of the glass from Spock?

What if it’s Pike?  What if he’s playing for his “sins” and saving everyone else on the Enterprise at the same time?

Like I said… that’s one crazy theory.  I’ll bet I’m connecting dots that just don’t connect.

But… one last thing.  In the trailer, you’ve seen the shot where Cumberbatch jumps, lands, and then swats a dude using a huge long hunk of metal.  Well, that hunk of metal is what the crew on the film called “The Big Gun.”  That’s what we were told during our tour, and as everyone was discussing it, we were standing in a room that had been specially set up for today’s event.

And on the counter at the back of the room, there was a big book of production art that was open.  Laying right there were anyone could see it.  And on one of the two pages, there was a concept design sketch for that gun.

But instead of “The Big Gun,” it was called “April’s Gatling Gun.”

As in the gun that April uses.  The gun that seems to belong to Cumberbatch in the trailer, which would suggest that Cumberbatch is April.

You see what I mean about misdirection?  What if they intentionally left that there, open to that page, in the exact area where everyone was standing, just to help obfuscate everything even more?

Or… even crazier… what if they really didn’t think anyone would pay attention to that, and that’s really what they’re doing for this film?

Whatever the case, it’s fun to play along as we count down to the release of both the trailer and the prologue in a few weeks, and I hope this sneak peek behind the scenes got you as interested as I am at this point.

“Star Trek Into Darkness” opens May 17, 2012.

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