Star Trek Into Darkness (9 minute IMAX preview)

I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last night in IMAX 3-D (more on that later, if I’m not too lazy to write about it). I knew that before the feature, I would be treated to what I had heard advertised as “the first 9 minutes” of the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movie, Into Darkness. Below is my reaction to the extended preview. There are some SPOILERS below, mostly for what is seen in the preview, but also a few outside details (that have been revealed elsewhere) and just some speculation from yours truly.

Before jumping into a my quick thoughts on the preview, I should briefly explain my level of Trekkie-ness. I fall somewhere between a hard-core Trekkie and a casual viewer. I’ve actively made an effort to see every episode of the first three Trek TV shows (four if you count the animated series), though I’ve seen none of Voyager or Enterprise. I’ve also seen all of the feature films. I was lukewarm on the 2009 Abrams reboot. I thought it was a solid action movie (as Abrams always provides) and it was kind of fun seeing new introductions to familiar characters, settings and situations. However, I didn’t think the new Trek had the heart/soul of The Original Series. It was a slick movie, better made (and arguably better) than some of the weaker entries in the Trek film series, but I don’t think it quite won the uphill battle it was fighting to be a smash hit and still please most of the fans. I’m still excited for Into Darkness and will definitely be there on (or shortly after) opening day.

The preview begins in London 2259.55 with two characters we’ve never seen (at least I didn’t recognize them) waking up and driving their hover car to a hospital (that looks kind of like Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and Wayne Manor, and the mansion where Rachel Weisz lives in The Brothers Bloom). The couple goes in to visit what is presumably their sick daughter. The mother, played by Nazneen Contractor (the annoying daughter of the president of “Kamistan” in season 8 of 24, and recently a reporter on Last Resort, if anyone watches that) holds the daughter’s hand and the father (Noel Clarke, apparently of Doctor Who fame) looks on in anger. Dad goes out to a balcony and is spoken to by an unseen individual who claims that he can save the girl. Turns out the guy talking to him is Benedict Cumberbatch, who, reports generally say, is the antagonist of the film.

If this is indeed “the first 9 minutes” of the new film, it starts out on the wrong foot. As I said, we don’t know either of these characters, and giving them a sick child is no way to force us to care about them. Cumberbatch’s introduction is appropriately ominous, which I quite liked, but I don’t think it packed the oomph necessary to open a new Star Trek movie. We don’t get a demonstration of his power and we don’t know anything about this little girl or her parents and why he’s helping them. It’s hard to say whether this scene would work better later in the film, but considering the action takes place one year earlier than the next scene (thanks to an on-screen title) I think it’s stuck where it is.

The rest of the preview deals with a big action sequence on a very striking “Class M” planet filled with Dr. Seuss-like red trees and populated by what appear to be primitive, pale, white-skinned (or at least white-painted) natives with all-black eyes. In a scene that takes a few cues from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the natives chase two figures (who turn out to be Bones and Kirk) through the red tree forest, firing arrows and throwing spears at them. It seems the two have stolen an artifact from the natives as a distraction while Uhura, Sulu and Spock take a shuttle into the planet’s gigantic active volcano in order to neutralize it and prevent the destruction of the native race. This involves Spock being lowered into the volcano from the shuttle to plant a device. Of course, Spock’s cable snaps and the shuttle has to abandon him. Bones and Kirk leave behind the artifact and jump off of a cliff into a large body of water. Turns out they have underwater breathing equipment and little shoe-jets to propel them along (a reminder of some of the sillier gadgets Sydney Bristow made use of in Alias). They scoot through the water and come upon…

…The Enterprise! It’s a pretty cool reveal with the ship hiding underwater so as not to tip off the natives that they are there. How they got it down there without causing a commotion (within a couple minutes’ run of the community’s center) I have no idea. Maybe they entered on the other side of the ocean? Anyway, everyone (but Spock) is back on the bridge and they need to decide how to rescue Spock without disobeying the Prime Directive. Somehow they have communication with Spock, who tells Kirk that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” It’s a nice reference, though I can’t imagine they’d have Spock “die” in the “first 9 minutes” of the new film. Still, the situation goes unresolved as Bones tells Kirk that if Spock were in his shoes, he’d let Kirk die.

I really enjoyed this second part of the preview. It’s a really fun action scene–or more of a chase scene and also CGI Spock bouncing around in a CGI volcano–which is what I’ve come to expect from Abrams. If the movie puts together a couple more scenes like this and figures out how to sell us on Cumberbatch’s villain after the weaker opening sequence (which shouldn’t be hard, since he’s Benedict Cumberbatch) I think Into Darkness will be just as good as the previous film. I know that’s not especially high praise, but I’m honestly hoping that Abrams tops the first film. Whether that means I’ll like it more as a Trek fan, or simply enjoy it as a second installment of a fun sci-fi action franchise remains to be seen.

Before the preview ends, we get a few clips of “sizzle reel” action from other parts of the film. There is at least one shot that appears to be the Enterprise skimming through the surface of water (in daylight). We see a very Elizabeth Dehner-like Alice Eve (though apparently she’s playing Dr. Carol Marcus, another familiar figure). We also see two people’s hands on either side of a pane of glass, reminiscent of The Wrath of Khan, of course. I could see Abrams going the Khan-like route and “killing” Spock to take us “into darkness” and set up the third film. I can only imagine him actually killing off one of the major characters without offering a chance of return. I can’t see it happening, but if it does, my money is on Uhura (an admittedly problematic choice which would certainly raise questions given her race/gender). Or, now that I’m thinking of it, maybe one of the crew dies or is dying and Cumberbatch needs to “save” him/her. It’s equal parts fun and difficult to speculate as to what might happen in the new film. I guess all will be revealed in May.

If you’re going to see The Hobbit, and you have the choice to go in IMAX, just do it. Even without the Trek bonus it’s worth it.

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