The biggest mystery surrounding Star Trek Into Darkness is the long standing question about who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing. When the first still was released, the name attached to the character was John Harrison, but that didn’t seem right. Could he be a new character, or would he be a famous villain from Star Trek‘s rich history? Well, one of the writers of Into Darkness has spoken out, and confirmed that John Harrison is not the character’s real name.
“The audience needs to have the same experience that the crew is having. 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.”
There are a couple points to make about this. One is that if it is revealed that John Harrison is Khan Noonien Singh (who was originally portrayed by Ricardo Montalban), will that play well? Seriously, if they’ve been dodging the question for months (even though the villain was originally rumored as Khan, and many of the actors they were going after — like Edgar Ramirez and Benicio Del Toro – were more Montalban-esque), and many involved have denied that it is Khan, will that be a pleasant reveal or a groaner? Doesn’t hiding it set up disappointment more? And if it is Khan, will it matter that they lied to the fans? It all depends on the ride.
Let’s be real, though. When it comes to Star Trek villains, fans can reel off a couple, from Gary Mitchell to Harcourt Fenton Mudd, to Sybok to General Chang, but it seems the only name villain the show and movies had that aren’t species (Klingons, the Borg, etc.) is Khan. Which is why fans have been annoyed with the hiding game, because they are the only ones who will care one way or the other.
Another issue: If you want to talk about perspective, then is Lindelof saying that these films are told strictly from the point of view of the crew? That wasn’t the case in the first film, but perhaps they’ve done that with the second. But if they have any scenes that take place outside of the knowledge of the Trek crew, Lindelof is full of it. It being poop.
And the final point to make is this. There’s a huge difference between surprise and suspense. And it’s easy to understand why Darth Vader telling Luke that he is his father was a huge reveal and it seemingly came out of nowhere, but that was the end of the movie. That was the hook for continuing the adventure. But Alfred Hitchcock described surprise versus suspense like this:
Four men are sitting at a table playing poker. The scene is rather boring. Suddenly, after 15 minutes, we hear a big bang – it turns out there was a bomb under the table. This is called surprise as it isn’t what we expected would happen. If we watch the same scene again with the important difference that we have seen the bomb being placed under the table and the timer set to 11 AM, and we can see a watch in the background, the same scene becomes very intense and almost unbearable – we are sitting there hoping the timer will fail, the game is interrupted or the hero leaves the table in time, before the blast. This is called suspense.
Hitchcock preferred suspense for a good reason: It’s more cinematic. But it seems that this film prefers surprises. Big reveals of this nature may work if it changes motivation. And perhaps the context of the reveal will make it work. That’s always possible. But by playing this game, they should have known that people are going to see the film before it’s released, and those secrets, because they’ve been built up so, will get out there. Star Trek Into Darkness opens May 17.
Will you care if Khan is the villain?