In a legacy that has sparked four television series, 11 motion pictures and countless galactic dreams, this marks the first time audiences will experience Star Trek 8-stories high and in three dimensions, in 2009’s “Star Trek,” a group of undeniably promising but mischief-prone spacefarers, fresh out of the Academy, set out on an enthralling maiden voyage to the stars. It was the first major test of their smarts, their skills and the loyalties lying just beneath their clashing personalities, but it was also just the beginning. Now, as they come into their own, the novice crew of The U.S.S. Enterprise must head both further into the vast darkness — and back to 23rd Century Earth, as sinister forces of war threaten both the sanctity of home and worlds yet unseen.
With “Star Trek Into Darkness,” J.J. Abrams returns to his human vision of the Star Trek universe – one that pays affectionate homage to an iconic piece of pop culture while hurtling it into uncharted territory.
A new nemesis
The inky heart of “Star Trek Into Darkness” comes in the person of a mysterious enemy, an intergalactic terrorist whose destructive instincts seem to know no earthly, or cosmic, bounds. This is John Harrison, a one-man army of doom who becomes Captain Kirk’s target.
From the time the filmmakers first began thinking about the man called John Harrison, and his deep connection to Star Trek lore, the search was on for someone with the acting chops to embody him.
After meeting with dozens upon dozens of skilled actors, Abrams decided to take off in a completely unpredictable direction. Going far afield, he looked at Benedict Cumberbatch, the English actor best known for historical and period roles ranging from television’s “Sherlock”, “War Horse,” “Atonement” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” to “The Hobbit” and “Parade’s End.” Though he might seem to defy expectations, Abrams was sold on Cumberbatch’s combo of skill and magnetism. Cumberbatch was already a Trek fan when he read the script.
“I’d seen the first one and I thought it was just terrific. It was an amazing witty, intelligent romp at the same time as being faithful to the original. And this script hooked me even deeper”
Cumberbatch on his character John Harrison
Back to The Bridge
As “Star Trek Into Darkness” begins, Captain James T. Kirk is at a crossroads. He has developed into a consummate commander who will defy the rules to do what he believes is right. But his cheeky audacity and willingness to fly in the face of protocol continues to put him in conflict with Star Fleet – even as Star Fleet is faced with the most overwhelming danger to its mission yet.
Reprising the role of Kirk as he comes to grips with both his power and his vulnerability is Chris Pine. Excited as he was to return to The Enterprise, Pine notes that setting off on a second wild ride was rife with anxiety and expectations.
“The first day on the set was a lot like your first day back at school, seeing everyone again, feeling so excited about what’s ahead, yet wanting to do a great job for them. But once I got back into the rhythm of the character, things picked right back up.”
Only this time, Pine would put a new spin on those rhythms as Kirk goes through the most intense shake-up of his career, facing loss, doubt and big questions about what matters most to him.
Kirk is not the only one who must face his inner demons in outer space – his First Officer, Spock, is also compelled to look at himself as he never has before in “Into Darkness.” Returning as the half-Vulcan, half-human who grapples to keep his logical side on top of his peskier emotions is Zachary Quinto, most recently seen as an investment banker in “Margin Call,” which he also produced. “Into Darkness” takes Spock, and Quinto, in many new directions, equally in terms of drama, action and romance.
From the opening moments of the film, Spock is wrestling with his ideals of duty, adherence to the rules and selfless sacrifice – and with Kirk’s more passionate but troublesome way of engaging with the world. “I think for Spock this movie is about understanding what it is to be emotionally available and what it is to be a friend,” Quinto observes. “In the beginning of the film, Kirk, true to form, makes some cavalier decisions that come back to bite him in the ass, but the basic set-up is that Spock is willing to die in order to obey the law, and Kirk is not willing to let his friend die just because of some rules. That really sets them at odds early on and it becomes a recurring theme throughout the film. But then, there comes a moment when Spock really gets what best friends are for, when he admits to himself how deeply he can feel for people. It’s a moment when you realize he’s probably more human than he ever thought.”
Zoe Saldana also relished the chance to show new sides of Uhura, the ravishing, no-nonsense xenolinguist who puts her skills for listening and interpreting to vital use as the Enterprise’s Communications Officer. Like Quinto, Saldana was intrigued by the idea of pushing Spock and Uhura’s relationship to the next level – and into turmoil.
“I think their relationship in the first movie surprised everybody, but the only way to move on was to go even further,” she comments. “If they’re going to be together then they will have to go through tests to their relationship – and the way it happens in this movie is one of those great twists that you love J.J. for.”
Bones, Scotty, Chekov and Sulu:
The ship’s Old School Medical Officer, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, is also in a questioning phase — questioning the very direction that Star Fleet is taking. “He has a great degree of concern about this mission they are going on because it is more of a military mission and he believes Starfleet is at its best when its about peace and exploration,” explains Karl Urban, the action star who returns to the role after recently playing the futuristic title character of “Dredd.”
The ship’s boisterous engineer, Scotty, is also at a juncture in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which thrilled English actor and comedian Simon Pegg as he returned to the role. “It was exciting to play Scotty again, because The Enterprise is becoming a real crew now. In the first film, we were just meeting up and finding our way together. Now, Scotty knows everyone better – although they’re still working out their relationships. He still calls Chekov ‘wee man,’ for example,” Pegg laughs.
Anton Yelchin, who comes back to Enterprise as the Russian prodigy Pavel Chekov, felt similarly. “What I enjoy about J.J. is that he really cares about this world and about each character’s personal journey,” he says. “It’s fun not just to be directed by J.J. but to watch him direct.”
For John Cho, being back on the Bridge with his compatriots felt organic. “It was as if no time had passed,” he muses. “You don’t get many times in life where you have a great experience and then you get to do it all over again in an even more exciting way so it felt like a privilege.”
Carol Marcus, Christopher Pike and The Admiral
The Bridge of The Enterprise welcomes a new member on this voyage: auxiliary Science Officer Carol Marcus, who brings unwitting complications of her own. Taking on the role of the alluring physicist, based on a character introduced in prior Star Trek canon, is Alice Eve, the Oxford-educated English actress seen in “She’s Out of My League” and “Sex and the City 2.”
Eve was ecstatic to join the crew, especially in such an intrigue-filled way. “Carol comes on to The Enterprise shrouded in secrecy,” Eve notes. “She’s a weapons specialist with a doctorate in advanced physics, so she is kind of treading on Spock’s toes a little bit. Also, Carol and Kirk immediately have a spark and Spock is there to see that, so that maybe threatens him a little.”
The Enterprise’s mentor and original captain, Christopher Pike, also plays a pivotal role in “Into Darkness,” with Bruce Greenwood returning for a moment that changes everything, especially for his young protégé, Captain Kirk. As the film begins, Pike is furious that Kirk has violated the Prime Directive – the inviolable Star Fleet rule that space travelers must not interfere in or do anything that might alter the course of another civilization – and could take away his command. “It’s only the fact that Pike loves Kirk like a son,” says Greenwood, “that allows him to make a judgment call on behalf of Kirk and Spock, even though what they did is a major transgression.”
Another Starfleet commander also enters the fray in “Into Darkness” – but he may not be exactly what he seems. Taking on the dark and mysterious character is actor, filmmaker and art historian Peter Weller, known for intense roles ranging from “Robocop” to the sly serial killer drama “Dexter,” and he was intrigued by the chance to take Star Trek into a dangerous new realm of Black Ops, pre-emptive strikes and Starfleet secrets.
Weller wound up being cast for the film by providence. He just happened to be at the Bad Robot production office for a meeting about directing an unrelated television project, when Abrams was struck with inspiration. “As I was talking to him, I kept thinking hmmm, he’d be perfect for the Admiral,” recalls the director. “Later, I called him back, pitched him and he said I’m in. It was the weirdest casting accident that I can remember.”
Star Trek Into Darkness opens in cinemas May 16
Images courtesy of United International Pictures Singapore
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