How Far Did Abrams Go to Hide 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Villain?
This past weekend, Star Trek Into Darkness took the #1 spot at the box office. And despite some intense (and mostly valid) nitpicking of the writing and plot, the film is a fun roller coaster ride of suspense and action, complete with stellar performances and a glorious score. But leading up to the film, the primary focus was that of the film's villain. Early rumors pegged the sequel's bad guy as the infamous Khan from the frequently lauded Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but J.J. Abrams and everyone else kept saying that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing a villain named John Harrison, and they were wrong. More below!
**If you don't want any spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness, stop reading. You've been warned.**
And so began the long debate of whether or not J.J. Abrams was using one of the most iconic villains from the Star Trek universe. In fact, last winter, a group of press were invited to check out some footage from Star Trek Into Darkness, and any suspicions that Khan was in the film were erased. Why? Well, the footage shown highlighted the space jumping sequence in which Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) has to work with John Harrison to shoot from the Enterprise to the Vengeance where Scotty is waiting to open the ship's door for them to fly into. It's a pretty exciting sequence.
Well, in this sequence, there are two blatant references to Cumberbatch's character. One has Spock saying the villain's name a few times while another shows the progress of Kirk and Harrison making their way across space, with the latter's name clearly visible. And so that seemed to settle the debate, at least for the press in attendance of this footage screening. However, for those who have now seen the film, they know that this was a blatant attempt to trick everyone into believing one thing to allow for a surprise as to the villain's real identity: Khan Noonien Singh
Ironically enough, this footage was shown around the exact time that Cumberbatch's villain's identity was revealed with a photo from the film. It was around this time that we proclaimed our annoyance with everyone trying to uncover the villain's identity. What real value does any fan or audience member gain by learning a fact that filmmakers are trying to keep secret? It's obviously part of the fun. SlashFilm has a quote from producer Bryan Burk who explains why they decided to keep the villain secret as opposed to broadcasting the name of the iconic villain to rake in fan interest:
The characters believe he is one person: John Harrison. If everything you know going into the movie is “It’s a guy named Khan,” even if you don’t even know who Khan is, you know that you’re watching a film where for forty-five minutes or an hour of the movie you are ahead of the characters. So you’re just kind of waiting for them to catch up with what you already know, that he is not who he says he is. So there’s the general idea of going to see a movie and allowing it to unfold as it normally does.
And there you have it. Honestly, I wish more production companies and filmmakers would take a cue from Bad Robot. If they want to flat out lie to fans about certain elements of the film, that makes the experience of seeing the film that much more enticing. We're living in an age where something like Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker's father would be spoiled in a heartbeat. Could you imagine if one of the biggest reveals in cinema history was spoiled by some asshole? Filmmakers need to do everything they can to keep their stories under a tight lid so we can experience them with an open mind and no major expectations. For more on how Bad Robot kept Khan's identity a secret, read SlashFilm's great article. Thoughts?