‘Star Trek Into Darkness’: Why J.J. Abrams Regrets Khan Secrecy

Published 1 year ago by

star trek into darkness jj abrams Star Trek Into Darkness: Why J.J. Abrams Regrets Khan Secrecy

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.

star trek2 Star Trek Into Darkness: Why J.J. Abrams Regrets Khan Secrecy

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.

star trek darkness kirk harrison Star Trek Into Darkness: Why J.J. Abrams Regrets Khan Secrecy

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.

Source: MTV

Follow Andy Crump on Twitter @agracru
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  1. Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan may just be my favorite villain of the year. Michael Shannon’s Zod a close second.

    • javier bardem

    • Kruger from Elysium is my favourite, with Zod and Khan tying for me.

  2. Being secret (not talking) about it is one thing…lying about it is another.

    Let’s hope he’s not so tight-lipped with Star Wars, although it appears he is already taking that path.

    • Here we go again…

  3. It is okay, J.J. We all, and always, knew who “John Harrison” was. The mistake was the evocation (and therefore comparative) of ‘Wrath of Khan’. That was never going to end well…

  4. Well, IMO these secret are a crutch to really good stories. If the stories are good, you don’t need to fake it.

    • Well said! Everyone knew who the villain was in The Wrath of Khan, and comparably, that was a much better film in so many ways!

      • Are you agreeing with him after you specifically blasted Abrams for keeping a secret? Hypocrite

        • @Art

          Don’t worry, that’s what Jeff does. Total hypocrite that one plus acts completely immature, condescending and insulting to pretty much everyone for no reason at all. I think he just likes to troll and get a rise out of people for the hell of it.

          • Ah, Dazz and Art, would you care to explain how I am disagreeing with wjrxyz?!

            You both need better reading comprehension skills.

            And Dazz, might I further suggest that you refrain from commenting, and just be thought a fool, rather than continue to speak, and remove all doubt.

        • Reread the comments. Wjrxyz was also critical of the secret. Now rather than me being a hypcocrite, you prove yourself to be a fool.

    • I think that’s my biggest problem with this whole thing as well. It’s not like if they had revealed that the villain was Khan in the promotional materials, it would’ve ruined the story. It just ends up feeling like a cheap marketing ploy the way they handled it. Not entirely JJ’s fault since it’s usually the studio that determines how a film gets marketed.

    • “becuz”? Really?? lol

      • And here we witness the death of civilization, in text speak and illiteracy.

  5. i could have done without a remake to Wrath of Khan period… the first film was a step in the right direction, but Into DArkness was a huge step back. couple that with the terrible release of the Blu-ray with the special features spread out all over the place. seems they keep making more and more mistakes. it’s lazy and greedy and i am pretty much done with the franchise.

  6. Meh, just come out with it. Everything in the movie explains who Khan is, even for the uninitiated.

    With that being said, seems like Abrams and co. are apologizing a lot for this film lately. STID was not that good (IMHO), and feel that JJ’s talents would best be served on the Star Wars franchise.

    A new direction/director would be good (although Orci/Kurtzman give me pause). I’d prefer for ST to go back to television, but that ain’t gonna happen for a while.

  7. Overall I didn’t really have a problem with the secrecy it’s just that it seemed to go a bit overboard especially because what the characters name was didn’t really matter.
    Even Trek fans who didn’t follow the marketing seemed to respond to the reveal with a shrug or at most a “Oh that’s cool” reaction.
    So, IMO that falls into the writers and ultimately JJ’s lap as the director and I hope a lesson was learned.
    His next film is and will be one of the most anticipated ever. Don’t worry about reveals, marketing stunts or secrets. None of that matters if you make an uninspired film and sadly IMO that’s what Into Darkness was and what Episode 7 can not be.
    The Internet won’t survive if it is. ;)

  8. Well it was pretty stupid IMO.

    I loved the film on my second viewing but if you had just come out in the advertising with a bad ass character and called him Khan the Trekkies would’ve still been blown away because they would want to know how and why Khan came back.

    And the non-trekkies would just view it as a bad ass villain named Khan. No one would’ve felt obligated to absolutely HAVE to know who Khan is ?

    And in in the end the movie he just comes out and says “My name is Khan” and the non-trekkies still shrugged and didn’t care about his backstory.

  9. I think they just tried to keep a secret, old school style, in a modern society that demands to know every detail of a movie months before the movie releases and that’s commendable but the end result just didn’t live up to the hype.

  10. If Abrams didn’t want to alienate non-ST fans, then why make Cumberbatch Khan anyway? Just make him “John Harrison.” There’s nothing Khan-like about him, other than he’s got a bunch of pod people the movie doesn’t do anything with. Make him a mercenary who goes rogue when he realizes he’s being double-crossed by the main villain. Abrams already used Khan-like villain in ST ’09 and the only benefit to it being Khan here is that he can rip off the ending of WoK in a way that’s completely unearned.

  11. Well, I’m actually glad they kept it secret. I, like everyone else, had my suspicions, but I’m glad it wasn’t ruined beforehad. I was happy to find out in the movie rather than in the trailer.

    Too much is given away these days before a movie comes out, and it often ruins or taints the experience in the film.

    I agree though that they tried to tie it too much to WoK, especially with the death scene, and Spock yelling Khaaaan!

  12. What everyone responsible should really regret is not so much the secrecy as using Khan, period. I cannot recall the last time that I cringed so much as during the “dramatic” reveal and during the “clever” parallels to Wrath of Khan. Simply atrocious IMO. They should have just left the character as a British guy named John Harrison, which started out interestingly enough, and you know, moved the franchise forward. (!!!)

    I maintain that all of the Star Trek II similarities served no one. New fans who enjoyed the 2009 film did not care about Khan, and older fans familiar with the Shatner films would have much preferred to see new story ideas and original ground broken, or at least I would have. Into Darkness did have some new ideas, but they were overwhelmed by all of the clumsy old ideas in the mix. Yuck.

  13. The mistake wasn’t the secrecy, the mistake was recycling Khan in the first place. I like the Into Darknes, a lot actually, but I would definitely have preferred an entirely original story. Hopefully we get one of those in the third installment.

  14. JJ Abrams should regret the last 20 minutes of the film. The Khan secrecy wasn’t the problem, it was that damn rehash of Wrath of Khan that was embarrassing. Rest of the film was pretty good though.

    • I agree, overall it was a good movie until the end.

      It transported the shark when they used the Khan/vampire blood.

      Now you don’t have to worry about redshirts as long as you have a supply of the fountain of Khan.

      • Yeah… they really need to stop adding overpowered deus ex machina plot devices like Khans blood and and the transwarp beaming stuff. That’s just terrible writing without thinking once about the consequences they have for subsequent stories.

  15. *I like Into Darkness

  16. Frankly if he should regret anything it’s the weak middle and ham fisted ending to the film.

  17. I like the movie more the second time,but the Wrath of Khan scenes should not have been done,the film didn’t need it.

  18. I don’t care about the secrecy. The Non Star Trek Audicence does not even know who Khan is, and the Trekkies were actually expecting it anyway, after Abrams wanted to cast Benicio del Toro.

  19. It’s good that he kept Khan a secret. If I’d knew, I wouldn’t of spent the money on seeing a cheesy rehash. So much for promising something new…

  20. I didn’t agree with the secrecy. This is one villain that should have been public. However, it’s still a good choice, I look forward to seeing Khan return in a future film.

  21. On the whole, Into Darkness was every bit as entertaining and watchable as the first.

    Let’s be honest, the Khan reveal wasn’t what was wrong with the movie. It didn’t spoil the overall product of the film at all. Lots of today’s viewers wouldn’t have seen Wrath of Khan anyway. Abrams knows this deep down inside and is probably trying to smokescreen the fact that the sequel didn’t meet expectations in terms of box office.

    What disappointed everyone was the clear lack of originality. The whole point of the alternate timeline was to keep the original crew but allow room for newer, fresher storylines. Yet all they did was remake one of the best Trek movies. The last 20 mins just went too far in my opinion.

  22. into darkness was very disappointing. JJ can direct for sure, but his scripts are terrible.

  23. Well I for one hope his Star Wars film is better than both of the Star Trek’s have been. While they have been good just a little to cheeky for me. The whole Kirk Death scene in this was pretty wack.

  24. The problem was the script ,you really screwed the pooch, do something like this to Star Wars and you’ll have to leave the planet.

  25. I wish he had been open about that crappy remake, I could have saved myself seven dollars.

  26. the problem is not the decision made by the director, the problem is the amount of information about the movie. the spoilers and theories are just too much… we knew the identity of thalia 2 year before the movie!!! it sucks!!! (yes, my english is awful… deal with it)

  27. Wrath of Kahn was a classic that didn’t need to be redone. If he hadn’t kept it quiet nobody would have wanted to see it.

  28. I honestly don’t really care. Secret or not, I just watch the movie and decide if I enjoyed it. I don’t get how their advertising would affect how you feel about a movie.