Ever since filming began, rumors have run rampant on the Internet. Is the bad guy in the film really the iconic villain Khan (originally played by Ricardo Montalban) in disguise? Is the shot from the Japanese trailer of two hands touching through a pane of glass an homage to the ending of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and if so, who do the hands belong to? Is there really a Tribble in the movie?
Writer Larry Nemecek, a Star Trek authority who maintains the popular treklandblog.com, says even he was caught off-guard by some of the twists in Into Darkness.
“The story starts out as a routine mission, but there are some major milestones for many of the characters,” he says. “I was really struck by how many homages they paid to the original show. They managed to walk the line and satisfy both the core fans and the casual viewers. During the last third of the movie, I was sitting there thinking ‘I can’t believe they’re going there.’ And they really went there!”
What makes Into Darkness feel like a true Star Trek movie — even more than the previous film — is that the story is replete with allegories and metaphors that speak to modern times, honoring the intent Gene Roddenberry had when he created the TV show in the 1960s.
“When you think about science fiction in general, the vast majority of future scenarios are very bleak,” says professor Anthony Rotolo, who teaches a class called “ Star Trek and the Information Age” at Syracuse University. “People are always struggling against some kind of tyrannical empire. Roddenberry was the first to offer a vision of humanity that was hopeful. Earth had overcome all the elements of war and we were exploring the universe again — a kind of race-to-the-moon feeling. He had a humanist vision of the future, being self-aware and educating yourself and carrying that to the way you deal with other people. That’s why his phasers had a stun setting. Wouldn’t we rather make weapons that would knock [our enemies] out so we could talk to them later? Now you have that idea represented today by Tasers.”
Abrams made a point to honor Roddeberry’s legacy with Into Darkness, making sure that the futuristic story unfolding onscreen bore some connection to contemporary audiences.
“ Star Trek is not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” he says. “It’s us in the future, and that future will come sooner than you think. It’s imperative that the movie not be preachy or be a polemic. But it should also deal with resonant, relevant issues we are grappling with today. While this movie was not made with a precious import, we were very conscious to deal with elements that we could relate to and make us feel. If the audience doesn’t feel connected to the themes and events and the villain of the story, you end up with a theoretical, observational experience, where people watch the movie but don’t live the movie. They are not inside it.
“So we let the characters have philosophical debates about certain moral quandaries without getting preachy. What happens when authority is wrong? What happens when following the rules means doing the immoral thing? What happens when you suspect you’re going to be attacked, so you become the attacker? How far are you willing to go to protect your family? None of that takes away from the excitement of the movie. On the contrary, it gives it a real pulse and soul. The key to the movie is if you don’t care about these characters — if they don’t make you laugh and you can’t relate to them — then all the action sequences, of which there are many, won’t matter at all.”