J.J. Abrams’ penchant for secrecy is well known, and few of his movies encompass his “mystery box” approach to filmmaking so well as this year’s Star Trek Into Darkness. In the months leading up to the blockbuster’s May release, Abrams teased out and danced around the identity of his villain, “John Harrison”, discussing the character’s agenda and intentions without actually spilling the beans on his true name and back story; he kept the lid tight on these details – at least as much as he could – within reason.
But the smokescreen cast by Abrams and Paramount turned out to be all for naught – halfway through the film, Harrison reveals that he’s none other than the genetically engineered superhuman, Khan, vindicating long-held fan speculation that the iconic Star Trek heavy would appear in Into Darkness as its central antagonist. In the end, the campaign of misdirection leading into the film’s premiere wound up feeling kind of pointless.
Viewers who felt that efforts made to preserve the deception over Khan’s presence in the film were rather unnecessary are now in good company: Abrams himself wishes that the movie’s advertising had been open about who Benedict Cumberbatch was really cast to portray. Speaking in a recent interview with MTV, Abrams expressed his misgivings over the duplicity, citing several reasons as to why he and the studio plead the fifth instead of admitting that Khan would serve as Star Trek Into Darkness‘ big bad.
Notably, Paramount wanted to avoid making non-Trek fans feeling excluded from enjoying the film by giving the impression that one had to be familiar with Star Trek in total to understand it. Here’s the direct quote from Abrams:
The truth is because it was so important to the studio that we not angle this thing for existing fans. If we said it was Khan, it would feel like you’ve really got to know what ‘Star Trek’ is about to see this movie. That would have been limiting. I can understand their argument to try to keep that quiet, but I do wonder if it would have seemed a little bit less like an attempt at deception if we had just come out with it.
For Abrams’ part, it was also important to not ruin the movie for people before they went to go see it by giving away Khan’s role, but he believes now that being upfront about Khan would have ultimately been the smarter move.
On one hand, it’s easy to sympathize with him and with Paramount; no one wants to have the big twist to any movie given away by trailers or commercials, as that totally defeats the purpose of having a twist in the first place. On top of that, one of the big challenges of making niche genre fare like Star Trek successful is making it palatable to the mainstream instead of just catering to fans. It’s essential to please fans, of course, but doing so at the cost of a wider audience is bad business sense.
At the same time, divulging Khan’s identity wouldn’t have given away anything valuable about Star Trek Into Darkness‘ plot; the film’s climactic play on The Wrath of Khan feels like the far bigger spoiler between the two. Additionally, there’s no reference made to Khan’s position in Trek canon that goes unexplained, as Spock Prime speaks fairly explicitly to the character’s background, enough to bring unfamiliar viewers up to speed.
So it seems that Abrams’ considers both of these concerns unfounded in retrospect. In light of how often the guy plays with his cards close to the vest, his candor here is appreciated, if a bit past Star Trek Into Darkness‘ expiration date – especially since he’s done with the franchise as a director, having put Star Wars: VII on his docket instead.
What do you all think, Screen Ranters? Are Abrams’ points spot on, or did Paramount make the right move by leaving Khan’s name out of the film’s marketing?
Star Trek Into Darkness is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Star Wars: Episode VII opens in theaters on December 18th, 2015.