Late last year, at a promotional event at the Santa Monica headquarters of J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot, the trio of screenwriters who penned “Star Trek Into Darkness” gathered around a cocktail table to talk about the veil of secrecy that has surrounded the project nearly since its inception.
Later that week, the opening nine minutes of the film were set to unspool ahead of Imax 3-D screenings of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” but Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof still weren’t willing to reveal the film’s biggest secret: the identity of the villain played in the Abrams-directed sequel by English actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
“Benedict doesn’t even know who he’s playing,” Lindelof joked.
Even as the latest trailer for the film makes it debut, Lindelof continued to remain mum about the details of “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which beams into theaters May 17. So, what exactly can he say?
“If the first movie was about meeting and introductions, this movie is about becoming a family,” Lindelof said. “The title of the movie is not just about the mission that the Enterprise is going on but what happens when you get to know each other a little better and the hurdles you must jump over in order to truly become family.”
With 2009’s “Star Trek,” Abrams and his writing and producing team rebooted one of science fiction’s most beloved franchises and managed a nearly impossible feat: pleasing devoted fans and mainstream moviegoers who might not know their Klingons from their Romulans.
Rather than allowing themselves to indulge in greater creative liberty heading into the sequel, Lindelof said the filmmakers prioritized fealty to the guiding principles of the “Star Trek” universe devised by Gene Roddenberry.
“If anything, we’ve become more terrified,” he said. “We kind of got it right the first time, [we thought], ‘Let’s really not screw it up this time.’ You really have to honor the 40-plus years of canon and legacy that this amazing franchise had before we put pen to paper.”
Lindelof said they settled on the villain for the movie and decided very early on to say little about him — apart from the fact that Cumberbatch’s antagonist is named John Harrison.
“The audience needs to have the same experience that the crew is having,” Lindelof explained. “You’re Kirk, you’re Spock, you’re McCoy, so if they don’t know who the bad guy is going to be in the movie, then you shouldn’t know. It’s not just keeping the secret for secrecy’s sake. It’s not giving the audience information that the characters don’t have.”
Lindelof, of course, has a reputation for working on projects with arcane, cloak-and-dagger mythologies: “Lost,” “Prometheus,” even his upcoming film with director Brad Bird, “Tomorrowland,” a George Clooney-starrer set for release at the end of 2014, is shrouded in secrecy.
“I feel like I’m constantly planning the surprise party — instead of it just being for one person in my life, it’s for all these people,” Lindelof said. “I’m working on a bunch of different projects, and I even have to keep secrets about one project from the people I’m working with on the other project. They’ll say, ‘So, seriously, who’s Benedict playing?’ I’ll say, ‘Do you really want to know?’ Then they go, ‘No, no, no, I don’t.’
“They know that if I said it to them,” he continued, “they would have a five-second rush of exhilaration followed by four months of being completely and totally bummed out that they can’t tell anybody else and that when it gets revealed in the movie, it will have been spoiled for them. That’s why they’re called ‘spoilers,’ they’re not called ‘awesomes.’”
— Gina McIntyre
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