Boyish and buoyant, “Star Trek Into Darkness” filmmaker J.J. Abrams bounded into a Century City screening room Sunday night to greet an audience gathered to watch the first nine minutes of the highly anticipated May release from Paramount.
He promised the footage would contain “a lot of intensity, a little bit of gloom.” What he didn’t mention were the revealing space-age wetsuits, the scarlet trees of alien worlds or the fact that Spock (Zachary Quinto) finds himself inside an active volcano that threatens to blow the highly logical Vulcan into another dimension.
The screening was the first piece of a two-day effort to woo journalists with early access to scenes from the film, the sequel to Abrams’ 2009 big-screen reboot of the landmark science-fiction franchise.
On Monday, at the Santa Monica offices of Abrams’ company, Bad Robot, the director and select cast members were due to assemble to chat up reporters and to show off select costumes and props from the upcoming film.
It’s an interesting move for Abrams, whose feature-film directing credits include “Mission: Impossible III” and “Super 8″ and who closely guards the secrets of his film and television projects.
Paramount has been carefully stoking fan interest in the “Star Trek” follow-up — first releasing a plot synopsis at the end of November, then the film’s poster, then a teaser trailer prior to releasing a full trailer and screening the same nine minutes of footage before Imax 3-D showings of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which opens in theaters Friday. (Non-Imax screenings of “The Hobbit” will get the official “Into Darkness” trailer.)
The plot synopsis alone inspired wild speculation across the Internet, particularly when it came to the still mysterious identity of the villain portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The synopsis said that the crew of the Enterprise is called back home only to discover “an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis.”
It went on to state, “With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction.”
Some fans seem convinced that Cumberbatch would appear as Khan Noonien Singh, the character initially made famous by Ricardo Montalban on the original TV series and in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Others appeared certain that Cumberbatch would play Gary Mitchell, a dangerous villain with psionic powers first played by actor Gary Lockwood in the original series episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the second “Star Trek” pilot filmed and the first to feature William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk.
Nothing in the nine minutes of footage that Abrams screened Sunday definitively settled the matter, though Cumberbatch is seen at one point in a uniform that closely resembles those worn on the Enterprise.
The clip opens with a sequence set in futuristic London, with a couple visiting a comatose girl at a children’s hospital, and Cumberbatch’s character informing the distraught father that he possesses the ability to cure the child.
Cut to Class M Planet Nibiru, where Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) are running through a field of red trees and diving into vibrant blue waters, attempting to flee from a tribe of aliens who, it seems, are on the verge of extinction unless the crew of the Enterprise can prevent that volcano from exploding.
It’s Spock who’s in a position to deploy a device designed to render the eruption inert, but he finds himself perilously close to death standing on a rock inside the volcano amid rivers of lava.
Also seen in the sequence are John Cho as Mr. Sulu, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty and Anton Yelchin as Chekov.
There was certainly no shortage of spectacle, which bodes well for fans of the franchise.
“Star Trek Into Darkness,” written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof, is set to open in theaters May 17.
— Gina McIntyre
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