ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES. PHOTO CREDIT: ZADE ROSENTHAL
This summer director J.J. Abrams takes “Star Trek Into Darkness” as the young officers of The U.S.S. Enterprise set course for their most epic journey yet. Abrams reunites with the team that created the fun, the humor, and the spirit of 2009’s acclaimed hit reboot of the beloved franchise. On this second voyage, they’ve amped the action, raised the emotional stakes and launched the Enterprise into a high-wire, life-or-death game of chess with an unstoppable force of destruction. With everything the men and women of The Enterprise believe on the line, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn and sacrifices must be made for the only family Captain Kirk has left: the crew he commands.
It begins with a homecoming, as The Enterprise returns to earth in the wake of a controversial galactic incident, its brash Captain still itching to head back into the stars on a longer mission of peace and exploration. But all is not well on the Blue Planet. A devastating act of terror has exposed an alarming reality: Star Fleet is being attacked from within and the fall-out will leave the entire world in crisis. Captain Kirk leads the Enterprise on a mission like no other spanning from the Klingon homeworld to the San Francisco Bay. Aboard The Enterprise the enemy among them has a shocking talent for destruction. Kirk will lead them into a shadowy mirror-realm of doubts where they’ve never gone before – navigating the razor-thin lines between friends and enemies, revenge and justice, all-out war and the infinite potential of a united future.
Returning to The Enterprise is the crew that brought it so viscerally to life in Abrams’ “Star Trek”: Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk, Zachary Quinto as First Officer Spock, Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Simon Pegg as Chief Engineer “Scotty” Scott, Zoe Saldana as Communications Officer Uhura, John Cho as Helmsman Hikaru Sulu, Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov and Bruce Greenwood as Admiral Christopher Pike. Joining the cast is Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of the mysterious intergalactic terrorist John Harrison, Alice Eve as ship newcomer Carol Marcus and Peter Weller as the Star Fleet Admiral who comes into conflict with the Enterprise.
Shot with extremely high resolution IMAX® cameras and presented in an expansively detailed 3D conversion that pushes the technology, the film gives audiences a glimpse into the Star Trek universe as it hasn’t been seen before.
Paramount Pictures and Skydance present a Bad Robot production of a J.J. Abrams film, “Star Trek Into Darkness.” The film is written by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof based upon Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry. The producers are Abrams, Bryan Burk, Lindelof, Orci and Kurtzman and the executive producers are Jeffrey Chernov, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Paul Schwake. The reuniting behind-the-scenes team includes director of photography Dan Mindel, production designer Scott Chambliss, costume designer Michael Kaplan, editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey and composer Michael Giacchino – and the film’s interstellar visual effects and animations have once again been forged by the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, under the aegis of Roger Guyett, who was Oscar®-nominated for his work on “Star Trek.”
VERY DETAILED PRODUCTION NOTES (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Space: Confronting The Darkness
In a legacy that has sparked four television series, 11 motion pictures and countless galactic dreams, this marks the first time audiences will experience Star Trek 8-stories high and in three dimensions, in 2009’s “Star Trek,” a group of undeniably promising but mischief-prone spacefarers, fresh out of the Academy, set out on an enthralling maiden voyage to the stars. It was the first major test of their smarts, their skills and the loyalties lying just beneath their clashing personalities, but it was also just the beginning. Now, as they come into their own, the novice crew of The U.S.S. Enterprise must head both further into the vast darkness — and back to 23rd Century Earth, as sinister forces of war threaten both the sanctity of home and worlds yet unseen.
With “Star Trek Into Darkness,” J.J. Abrams returns to his human vision of the Star Trek universe – one that pays affectionate homage to an iconic piece of pop culture while hurtling it into uncharted territory.
The first film won accolades for merging the irreverent humor, charismatic characters and boundless imagination of the humble 1960s television series with 21st Century pacing and action– and, in the process, forging a fresh, emotional origins story. Echoing Gene Roddenberry’s core premise, Abrams’ “Star Trek” seemed to speak to the stargazer in everyone, and to make infinite possibility feel palpably real.
On the heels of that film’s success, Abrams had no intention of resting on those laurels. Following the Star Trek dictum, for their second journey, he knew every aspect of the film would have to go deeper, to probe more boldly than ever before into what makes the Star Trek characters tick and why their mission is so compelling. This meant an incredible new array of challenges for the filmmakers. The Enterprise would expand beyond anything anyone has yet seen. Entire new worlds would be imagined, then built. And to take the story into yet another frontier, Abrams made the decision to shoot the film in a hybrid mix of IMAX® and anamorphic 35mm, and to present it in 3D, .
And yet the biggest changes of all are those faced by Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Bones, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. When Starfleet is shattered by a terrifying attack, they must not only face the shadow side of Starfleet and a fearsomely brilliant new enemy, but they will question the only thing they will ever be able to rely on in such an unpredictable universe: each other.
“This movie goes further than the first movie in every way – there are volcanic planets, wild spaceship chases and massive special effects, but there is also a more nuanced story,” says Abrams. “The Enterprise crew is up against a lot more this time in terms of their personal and moral dilemmas as they face questions of trust, loyalty and what happens to your principles when you are put to the most extreme test? The goal we had was to keep all the comedy, humanity and buoyancy while going into more complex and darker territory. For Captain Kirk, what begins as a mission of revenge becomes a quest for what it really means to be worthy of being captain.”
Abrams goes on: “For the story to move forward, this had to be a more ambitious movie than the first. The action and the scale are light years ahead. Bringing IMAX® and 3D technology in will give audiences yet another level of excitement and fun to be had. But at the same time, no matter the scale or the format, the thing that still mattered most to everyone was to tell the most exciting and emotional story yet.”
That story was once again tackled by screenwriters and producers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, along with Damon Lindelof, who turned the writing process into a near-constant brainstorming session. “I can’t even tell you how many story meetings we had,” muses Abrams. “We were constantly collaborating, making adjustments, figuring out what needed to be set up. I felt really lucky to be working with Bob, Alex and Damon again. They were tireless, and they created a story in which, at one point or another, each of the main characters has their life and their ideals on the line.”
Producer and Bad Robot co-founder Bryan Burk notes that another foundation for the script was the idea that the Star Trek crewmembers are developing into an inseparable, if sometimes unruly, band of friends. He explains: “The script for ‘Into Darkness’ started with one question: how can we put The Enterprise team into the greatest jeopardy and conflict? We felt that if the first film was about how this team came together then this story had to be about them really growing up and how they are becoming adults. That idea had tremendous energy and possibility.”
To take the film’s intensified dramatic energy to the next visual level, Abrams used IMAX® and a painstaking post-production conversion to 3D to blow past previous expectations. It was not a decision the director took lightly, for his bottom line is to keep things authentic, even in the most fantastical story. But after looking closely the most cutting-edge 3D and IMAX® films of the last few years and working with director Brad Bird, who used IMAX® on “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” Abrams became convinced the time was right to marry the scope-broadening technology to Star Trek’s wide-open storytelling.
“When a film is shot in IMAX®, it’s like nothing else out there,” says the director. “The resolution is insane and you are swallowed into the movie. But I’d yet to see a space adventure presented in this way. Christopher Nolan was incredibly sweet and screened for me the portion of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ using IMAX®. Watching that incredible footage, it made me realize if we had an opportunity to shoot some of this movie in IMAX®, we’d be crazy not to.”
As production began, the results proved to be worth the brain-racking logistical challenges. “We are finally able to convey the story’s vast scale, not just in space but on earth and the starships. I think that is going to be insanely exciting,” Abrams says.
Adds Roger Guyett, the Industrial Light & Magic visual supervisor who returns to the team as well: “With a concept that is almost like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in space, IMAX® was a magnificent way for J.J. to reveal the grand vistas that the Enterprise experiences.”
Using IMAX® photography for a percentage of the film also served its own creative purposes. “A number of our sets are more vertical then horizontal, and IMAX makes the scale feel even bigger,” explains Abrams. “We used it for the volcanic jungle planet Nibiru in the beginning of the film, the Klingon planet Kronos, and especially at the end where there’s an incredible chase through San Francisco. It became a rule that when the action was outdoors, we shot using IMAX®, and when we were indoors, we used anamorphic 35.”
When it came to creating a 3D experience to match the spark and immediacy of the Star Trek world, Abrams and his team pushed the envelope even further. At first the filmmakers were reticent to use it at all, until they realized they could do it in a way that would match their visual ambitions. “We’ve never done 3D on any of our films before,” Burk notes. “But when we looked at what ‘Star Trek’ is all about – epic battles, sweeping planet vistas and nail-biting action — we thought, if ‘Star Trek’ isn’t worthy of 3D, then what movie is? The bottom line for us was that if we were going to embrace 3D for the first time, we wanted to make it special and different.”
That process started with the premise that simply adding 3D to the mix is not enough – it has to be used to heighten the storytelling, or in “Star Trek’s” case to bring unseen worlds alive. “James Cameron really raised the bar with ‘Avatar’ and showed us something we’ve never seen before. But just shooting a movie in 3D doesn’t make it ‘Avatar,’ as we’ve seen with many releases that came after,” Burk continues. “We knew if we did this, we wanted to really go for it.”
To do that, they brought in stereographer Corey Turner, who has worked on some of the biggest 3D movies of the last few years . . . and then spurred him to take his techniques for forging depth and immersive detail into territory audiences have not yet seen. “The process was both extremely laborious and more precise than we ever imagined,” says Burk. “Along with Corey, we literally went through the film frame by frame, pushing every aspect of the 3D that was possible – really making objects feel as if they are coming out from the screen. We would routinely say to Corey ‘let’s push it further’ and he would say, ‘this is as far as anyone could possibly go’ and we would say ‘Go further! Go further!’ and then he would. We hope that the combination of the IMAX® and 3D will be unlike anything audiences have seen.”
Visual magic also came to fore in Abrams’ collaboration with cinematographer Dan Mindel, whose innovative use of lenses, lighting design and angles set the course for 2009’s “Star Trek.” Says Abrams of Mindel: “He’s one of the best directors of photography out there, and he shot this movie in a way that lends a tactile emotional texture to every scene. Dan uses the photography to give the story guts and reality, to allow the characters to be accessible and the world to breathe.”
For all of the film’s visual fantasy and imagination, Abrams still prefers to create everything he possibly can in-camera. He uses green-screens and CG only when necessary to take audiences into galaxies no one has ever seen, but he likes the action and drama more gritty and intimate, making for a rich contrast. “Obviously, you can’t do a movie called ‘Star Trek’ and not have green screen elements,” the director remarks, “but one of the things we’ve continued from the first movie in “Into Darkness” is the idea of finding locations or building sets whenever we could to create a world that isn’t synthetic or sterile, but feels very, very real.”
Notes executive producer Jeffrey Chernov: “Even though this movie takes you into deep space, there’s always something down to earth about J.J.’s story telling. He understands that if emotion drives your action and effect, that makes even the most wide-ranging story personal.”
Abrams notes that in taking Star Trek into new visual and emotional territory, he felt a bit like Captain Kirk heading into a cosmos where you never know what’s coming next . . . and yet you better be ready for it. “On a film like this, you’re being tested every single day on every single level to do better than you have before,” he explains. “But a lot like Kirk does in this story, I’ve come to really appreciate the opportunity of that.”
Concludes Burk: “With the first film we really wanted to defy expectations of what Star Trek could be. Now, I think J.J. has gone to the next step of complexity, so that people might leave the theatre after this one asking, ‘wow, that was a Star Trek film?’”
Back to The Bridge: The Crew Reunites
As “Star Trek Into Darkness” begins, Captain James T. Kirk is at a crossroads. He has developed into a consummate commander who will defy the rules to do what he believes is right. But his cheeky audacity and willingness to fly in the face of protocol continues to put him in conflict with Star Fleet – even as Star Fleet is faced with the most overwhelming danger to its mission yet.
Reprising the role of Kirk as he comes to grips with both his power and his vulnerability is Chris Pine, who will next be seen in the title role of Kenneth Branagh’s “Jack Ryan.” Excited as he was to return to The Enterprise, Pine notes that setting off on a second wild ride was rife with anxiety and expectations. “The first day on the set was a lot like your first day back at school,” he laughs, “seeing everyone again, feeling so excited about what’s ahead, yet wanting to do a great job for them. But once I got back into the rhythm of the character, things picked right back up.”
Only this time, Pine would put a new spin on those rhythms as Kirk goes through the most intense shake-up of his career, facing loss, doubt and big questions about what matters most to him.
Pine was particularly fascinated by how the script for “Star Trek Into Darkness” explores the intricate yin-and-yang developing between Kirk and Spock as they get to know each other better and struggle with both their glaring differences and their incontestable connection.
“There’s always been a sense that neither character would be the same without the other,” he observes. “And this story seems to follow a necessary journey for both. Kirk loves to flout the rules but when, in the beginning of this story, Captain Pine sits him down and says ‘you can be great, but you’re not yet,’ that becomes a crack in his armor. Kirk has always had that insouciant, razzle-dazzle charm but in the course of this mission, he’s wracked with doubts. I found it to be a really wonderful story for both characters.”
He continues: “You couldn’t come up with two guys whose DNA is more completely at odds, but they find their own synthesis as friends.”
While the themes of “Into Darkness” take Kirk into starkly emotional realms, he notes that Abrams seems to instinctually know how to balance darkness with color and light. “J.J. knows the power of having fun,” observes Pine, “and he knows the power of letting the audience really care about the characters. And no matter how fantastical or incredible the events he’s shooting, he knows how to connect the audience to the story. There are incredible action sequences this time, but at the heart of it all is that kernel of human experience.”
Kirk is not the only one who must face his inner demons in outer space – his First Officer, Spock, is also compelled to look at himself as he never has before in “Into Darkness.” Returning as the half-Vulcan, half-human who grapples to keep his logical side on top of his peskier emotions is Zachary Quinto, most recently seen as an investment banker in “Margin Call,” which he also produced. “Into Darkness” takes Spock, and Quinto, in many new directions, equally in terms of drama, action and romance.
From the opening moments of the film, Spock is wrestling with his ideals of duty, adherence to the rules and selfless sacrifice – and with Kirk’s more passionate but troublesome way of engaging with the world. “I think for Spock this movie is about understanding what it is to be emotionally available and what it is to be a friend,” Quinto observes. “In the beginning of the film, Kirk, true to form, makes some cavalier decisions that come back to bite him in the ass, but the basic set-up is that Spock is willing to die in order to obey the law, and Kirk is not willing to let his friend die just because of some rules. That really sets them at odds early on and it becomes a recurring theme throughout the film. But then, there comes a moment when Spock really gets what best friends are for, when he admits to himself how deeply he can feel for people. It’s a moment when you realize he’s probably more human than he ever thought.”
Quinto notes that the film also required more physical intensity from Spock than any other incarnation of the character– from leaping into a fiery volcano to fierce hand-to-hand combat. “There was a lot running, a lot of physicality and I did a lot of training getting myself ready for the film,” he says. “But that was also one of the biggest rewards of the film because it allowed me to connect with Spock in a completely different way, which was a lot of fun.”
Also fun was further exploring the unlikely romance between Spock and Uhura, a relationship that has a tendency to reveal Spock’s inner world far more than he would like. “There’s a really nice moment in this film between Uhura and Spock, where she lets out why she’s so upset with him about his being willing to die, and he comes back at her saying ‘You think I make this choice lightly, but I promise you I don’t.’ So you get some real glimpses into Spock’s psyche in this that we haven’t seen yet. That was really powerful for me.”
He adds: “Working with Zoe Saldana as Uhura is amazing. She has such openness and such vulnerability and yet such strength. She can kick ass with the best of them and then she can soften and open up in a way that is magnetizing. We’ve known each other for years and it’s great to come back to that kind of familiarity, especially when you’re working with such intimacy.”
Throughout all this change for Spock, Quinto says he fully trusted Abrams to take the characters in new directions. “What sets J.J. apart is the emphasis he puts on humanity and character. He doesn’t do things by the book and he certainly hasn’t with Star Trek. He also never let us take the first movie for granted. He made it clear we were resetting with a completely new kind of story and not just starting from where we left off,” he says.
One thing that did remain the same for Quinto was the daily makeup ritual that transforms his features into the classic Vulcan silhouette. But this time out, there were also new challenges. Early in the film, Spock dons a special volcano suit that allows him to descend into the Nibiru planet’s raging core of fire and rock – the building of which Quinto says became a process unto itself. “The suit was custom-made based on laser computer designs of my body so there were a lot of fittings,” he explains. “The suit was incredibly restrictive and uncomfortable, but it does look stunning. Working inside it became an exercise in meditation for me. I wore the suit for 6 days of filming the volcano sequences, and it was pretty challenging.”
Most of all though, Quinto was exhilarated by the chance to more fully reveal a character who has fascinated millions with his never-ending contradictions and search for a unified self. “It’s a huge honor for me to have this chance to inhabit a character who is so widely regarded as a beacon of intelligence, logic and compassion,” he concludes. “Spock teaches me every time I come into contact with him – and one of the things he teaches me about is integrity.”
Zoe Saldana also relished the chance to show new sides of Uhura, the ravishing, no-nonsense xenolinguist who puts her skills for listening and interpreting to vital use as the Enterprise’s Communications Officer. Like Quinto, Saldana was intrigued by the idea of pushing Spock and Uhura’s relationship to the next level – and into turmoil. “I think their relationship in the first movie surprised everybody, but the only way to move on was to go even further,” she comments. “If they’re going to be together then they will have to go through tests to their relationship – and the way it happens in this movie is one of those great twists that you love J.J. for.”
Once the sole woman on The Enterprise’s Bridge – joined on this new mission by Carol Marcus – Uhura occupies a distinct place between Kirk and Spock, sought after by both as an ally. “She’s drawn more to someone like Spock, because she’s more a person who lives by the book. But there’s a wildness to Kirk that she admires and she knows his heart is always in a good place,” Saldana says. “She’s in a unique position because her authority is so respected by both of them.”
That position gave Saldana a front row seat from which to watch Kirk and Spock confound and confide in each other in new ways. “It’s been wonderful seeing Chris and Zach continue to build these characters, respecting their essences but adding their own twists,” she observes. “I think they’ve only gotten better and I loved watching them banter on this film. When they go back and forth, you see underneath the beautiful, respectful friendship that Chris and Zach really have.”
Like Kirk and Spock, Uhura also undergoes major changes in “Into Darkness.” “The crew is shifting into adulthood, taking on bigger responsibilities and learning to accept the paths they each have chosen,” Saldana says. “You see them becoming more comfortable in their own skins – and Uhura is very much doing that. She is asking herself do I have what it takes to sacrifice my life for my team, for my ship, for the principles that I believe in? Those are exciting questions for her.”
Especially exciting for Saldana was a chance to display for the first time Uhura’s talent for fluent Klingon – which meant picking up a new, albeit entirely fictional, language with its own strange grammar and structure. “Klingon is a lot of fun,” she muses. “It was really interesting to explore the pronunciations and what every word means and then try to incorporate all that into the drama and tension of the scene. On the set, when I was with the Klingon actors with their cattails in the air, my imagination was really sparked to see how far we could take it. I love doing things like that, things that are so new and rare and challenging.”
Abrams was exhilarated by the way Saldana took on the Klingon encounters. “She has an ability, no matter what language she is speaking, to deliver lines in an emotionally compelling way,” he says. “Zoe brought it and made it real, so it became something cool and fun, not rubbery and silly. It can be a fine line in this movie and she was amazing.”
Bones, Scotty, Chekov and Sulu:
The ship’s Old School Medical Officer, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, is also in a questioning phase — questioning the very direction that Star Fleet is taking. “He has a great degree of concern about this mission they are going on because it is more of a military mission and he believes Starfleet is at its best when its about peace and exploration,” explains Karl Urban, the action star who returns to the role after recently playing the futuristic title character of “Dredd.”
Bones’ salty sense of humor has already become a useful tool on The Enterprise for keeping Kirk and Spock from taking things, or each other, too seriously. But now, he really has his work cut out for him in that department as conflicts come to a head all over the Enterprise. For Urban, this was all part of the fun. “To me, the core of Star Trek has always been that it’s about a group of people who aren’t necessarily geared to get along perfectly with each other — but who always overcome their differences to defeat a common adversary,” he explains. “I see Bones as being at the opposite extreme of Spock. If Spock is logic, then Bones is humanism . . . and Kirk has to find the middle ground between the two to be a great captain. In “Star Trek Into Darkness” you get to see a critical juncture in that relationship as they each try to hash out how to respond to this mission.”
The ship’s boisterous engineer, Scotty, is also at a juncture in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which thrilled English actor and comedian Simon Pegg as he returned to the role. “It was exciting to play Scotty again, because The Enterprise is becoming a real crew now. In the first film, we were just meeting up and finding our way together. Now, Scotty knows everyone better – although they’re still working out their relationships. He still calls Chekov ‘wee man,’ for example,” Pegg laughs.
But the man on The Enterprise Scotty knows best is his friend, Kirk, and the fact that he’s now a powerful ship’s captain doesn’t keep the outspoken engineer from giving him a piece of his mind – at the risk of his job. “Scotty might be chaotic and unruly, but he’s disciplined when it comes to his job. He always calls Jim ‘Captain,’ but he’s also pretty honest with him – and in this installment, they come to blows. Scotty tests him at the wrong time and suffers the result,” Pegg explains. “At the same time, there’s a real bond there. Scotty respects Kirk; he sees him as a brave, talented, intuitive captain and he likes the fact that he is his own person. When they have their big tiff, Scotty’s indignant about it . . . but he’s also ready to do whatever his captain asks of him.”
As it turns out, Scotty’s initial worries about the dangers of The Enterprise’s new mission prove to be well founded. “Scotty’s a bit of a drinker, a bit of a brawler and a bit silly some times, but he’s a damn good engineer,” remarks Pegg.
Pegg was also happy to reunite with JJ Abrams. “He’s the engine that drives this Enterprise with enthusiasm, positivity and an inventiveness that keeps everyone on their toes,” he says.
Anton Yelchin, who comes back to Enterprise as the Russian prodigy Pavel Chekov, felt similarly. “What I enjoy about J.J. is that he really cares about this world and about each character’s personal journey,” he says. “It’s fun not just to be directed by J.J. but to watch him direct.”
It is Chekov who momentarily replaces Scotty when things go awry with Kirk. “In a heated moment, Kirk and Scotty have a disagreement, and Kirk tells Chekov, ‘throw on a red shirt,’” Yelchin explains. “That was exciting. It was exciting even on a purely aesthetic level because I’ve spent one film wearing one color and now I’m in another color! But more than that it was great to play a moment where Chekov has to prove he’s ready and able to stand up and switch jobs.”
Yelchin prepared to reprise Chekov by returning to the character’s roots. “I watched and rewatched several episodes from the original series that I enjoyed Chekov in,” he explains. “I really love this character and I was so excited to be back on The Enterprise. And I love how this movie plugs in this great theme of winning versus doing what’s right – a theme that been repeated throughout literature and film history — into the humor and intelligence of the Star Trek universe.”
John Cho who once again plays helmsman Hikaru Sulu echoes that sentiment, saying: “This second movie feels really true to Star Trek’s spiritual origins in the way it approaches big ideas and questions through these familiar characters.”
For Cho, being back on the Bridge with his compatriots felt organic. “It was as if no time had passed,” he muses. “You don’t get many times in life where you have a great experience and then you get to do it all over again in an even more exciting way so it felt like a privilege.”
Carol Marcus, Christopher Pike and The Admiral
The Bridge of The Enterprise welcomes a new member on this voyage: auxiliary Science Officer Carol Marcus, who brings unwitting complications of her own. Taking on the role of the alluring physicist, based on a character introduced in prior Star Trek canon, is Alice Eve, the Oxford-educated English actress seen in “She’s Out of My League” and “Sex and the City 2.”
“We needed someone who would feel like a different flavor from the rest of the cast yet could fit in with the team in a wonderful way. She needed to be smart and fun. She needed to be sexy but really driven and determined – and Alice brought all that,” says Abrams.
Eve was ecstatic to join the crew, especially in such an intrigue-filled way. “Carol comes on to The Enterprise shrouded in secrecy,” Eve notes. “She’s a weapons specialist with a doctorate in advanced physics, so she is kind of treading on Spock’s toes a little bit. Also, Carol and Kirk immediately have a spark and Spock is there to see that, so that maybe threatens him a little.”
That troublesome romantic spark was especially fun to explore with Chris Pine as Kirk. “Carol and Kirk have a kind of Hepburn and Tracy vibe,” she muses, “with this great back-and-forth rapport. Working with Chris was phenomenal. He’s an incredibly generous guy, but I think he also carries the film beautifully.”
The Enterprise’s mentor and original captain, Christopher Pike, also plays a pivotal role in “Into Darkness,” with Bruce Greenwood returning for a moment that changes everything, especially for his young protégé, Captain Kirk. As the film begins, Pike is furious that Kirk has violated the Prime Directive – the inviolable Star Fleet rule that space travelers must not interfere in or do anything that might alter the course of another civilization – and could take away his command. “It’s only the fact that Pike loves Kirk like a son,” says Greenwood, “that allows him to make a judgment call on behalf of Kirk and Spock, even though what they did is a major transgression.”
Pike not only fires Kirk, he lights a fire under him to become a better leader. “Pike tells Kirk when you let your emotions drive your decisions you put people at risk, and you might even change the very evolution of the universe, which is unacceptable,” says Greenwood. “He tells him this because Pike knows one day he just might use his skills to save the galaxy.”
Another Starfleet commander also enters the fray in “Into Darkness” – but he may not be exactly what he seems. Taking on the dark and mysterious character is actor, filmmaker and art historian Peter Weller, known for intense roles ranging from “Robocop” to the sly serial killer drama “Dexter,” and he was intrigued by the chance to take Star Trek into a dangerous new realm of Black Ops, pre-emptive strikes and Starfleet secrets.
Weller wound up being cast for the film by providence. He just happened to be at the Bad Robot production office for a meeting about directing an unrelated television project, when Abrams was struck with inspiration. “As I was talking to him, I kept thinking hmmm, he’d be perfect for the Admiral,” recalls the director. “Later, I called him back, pitched him and he said I’m in. It was the weirdest casting accident that I can remember.”
Abrams adds: “We were lucky to get him. On the one hand, Peter is methodical and cares about every nuance and detail. On the other hand, he’s very intellectual and incredibly smart about why he’s saying what he’s saying. But he also has great instincts and once he gets comfortable with the mechanics of what he’s doing, he forgets about those mechanics and he is incredible to watch.”
Weller jumped in with both feet. “The script was fantastic,” he says. “Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof gave me a lot of meat and with J.J.’s further honing, I think we were able to create a magnificent character. He is someone with a righteous sense of patriotism who does what he believes is correct for Starfleet. He might seem like he’s an antagonist but it’s more complex than that.”
A Nemesis Uncovered
The inky heart of “Star Trek Into Darkness” comes in the person of a mysterious enemy, an intergalactic terrorist whose destructive instincts seem to know no earthly, or cosmic, bounds. This is John Harrison, a one-man army of doom who becomes Captain Kirk’s target.
From the time the filmmakers first began thinking about the man called John Harrison, and his deep connection to Star Trek lore, the search was on for someone with the acting chops to embody him.
After meeting with dozens upon dozens of skilled actors, Abrams decided to take off in a completely unpredictable direction. Going far afield, he looked at Benedict Cumberbatch, the English actor best known for historical and period roles ranging from television’s “Sherlock”, “War Horse,” “Atonement” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” to “The Hobbit” and “Parade’s End.” Though he might seem to defy expectations, Abrams was sold on Cumberbatch’s combo of skill and magnetism.
“In the first film, we had extraordinary actors who took these iconic roles and made them their own, with a spirit that completely validated what they were doing. Benedict did exactly the same thing with his character,” Abrams explains. “He came to the table with a whole new attitude, personality, background and strength. But he’s such a compelling and powerful actor that it works. He has a wry sophistication to his approach that is so right. To me it nullified any concerns of how he might look. We are not in any way undoing what’s come before, but he is our version of this character. It was the right way to go because he was so damn good.”
Cumberbatch was already a Trek fan when he read the script. “I’d seen the first one and I thought it was just terrific. It was an amazing witty, intelligent romp at the same time as being faithful to the original. And this script hooked me even deeper,” he says. “J.J and I talked a lot about my character, about who is this man and what role has he played in Starfleet?”
It was thrilling for Cumberbatch to come onto the set of The Enterprise in the midst of an already tightly constructed family – even if he plays the ultimate threatening outsider to that family. “J.J. creates an atmosphere on the set that is absurdly good fun,” he comments. “He has great respect for actors and their process – so there’s always a time and a place for play but also for serious concentration. That’s a great mixture of dynamics to have on set.”
As he dove into the character’s roiling psyche, Cumberbatch also dove into training for the most physically demanding role he’s ever taken, chock full of fight scenes and chase sequences. He says both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto helped him in that department. “Zach and Chris are just brilliant at this stuff, very strong and fast, but they were also really kind and considerate with me,” he says. “They were always concerned about safety – but then they just let the emotions rip.”
Those high-wire emotions, especially between Pine and Cumberbatch, were viscerally felt by everyone. “I loved watching Chris and Benedict when they were doing scenes together because the sparks would literally fly,” says Karl Urban.
Adds Pine: “Benedict went at this character like a scalpel. His performance is so precise, I watched in awe as a fan and a fellow actor. It was chilling and creepy and hands down I think he has created some moments that will stand in the pantheon of great Star Trek moments.”
Growing The Enterprise
If “Star Trek Into Darkness” magnifies the action, the scale and even the psyches of its characters, the filmmakers also agreed it was time to expand the view of The Enterprise herself, from the ship’s beating heart, the Bridge. They took a leap not only from the cardboard sets of the original series, but from the sets of just a few years ago.
“We wanted to show audiences far more of the ship, and to give it more depth,” says Abrams. “On the first film, we worked hard to make the ship feel real and epically large, and for the most part, it worked. The problem though was that the Bridge was on one set, the Transporter Room on another, the Med Bay on another, etcetera. You could never do any kind of continuity. We had the opportunity this time to build a set that was contiguous so that we were able to go from the Bridge down a hallway, into the Turbo Plaza area and go around a corner into the Med Bay. It gives the ship a sense not only of scale, which is a fun by-product, but a real sense of being interconnected. And when the cast and crew come onto a set that’s so beautifully designed, it helps them believe in this place. It elevates everything – the performances, the lighting, the camera work. It was helpful in every way; and it gives people a bigger view into this world that we love so much.”
Executive producer Jeffrey Chernov puts it succinctly: “The new design gives the audience the opportunity to really live on The Enterprise.” He continues: “When I saw the original plans, I thought this is going to be something really unique for Star Trek. No one has ever been able to walk from one end of the ship to the other or run throughout the ship. And then, to top it off, we built the Turbo Plaza, which for the first time, gives a vertical range to the ship.”
The actors agree that the new Enterprise set helped bring the reality of space travel home. “On this film, we really had the full playground,” says Chris Pine. “The detail work the crew did was just mind-boggling. We had construction guys working 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, just so we could have this totally immersive world to be in. It was awesome.”
The designs fell once again to production designer Scott Chambliss, who has been a frequent collaborator with Abrams but did some of the most awe-inspiring work of his career on the first “Star Trek”, re-imagining the Enterprise through the prism of our present-day modernist design. Now, he set out to raise the bar on his own work.
Says Abrams: “Scott blew away my every expectation on this film. He did an extraordinary job not just designing amazing sets but building them in a way that elevated the designs. Every element of The Enterprise was remarkable. Everywhere I looked, I was amazed.”
Adds Chernov: “Scott had a very tall order on this film: to take audiences further into the future, yet sustain the credibility. When I watched J.J. and Scott work, I saw them agonizing over every detail, over how do we want people to feel about this world and how are we going to take them there? They have a wonderful creative relationship.”
The creative process kicked off with Chambliss’ ambitious new designs for the full-scale Enterprise. “Once we had the conceptual artwork, we all fell in love with it,” recalls production manager Tommy Harper. “And then it became all about how to pull it off, the logistics of how to build it, light it and not break the bank in doing so. What we ended up with was truly a beautiful, gorgeous set. It really opened up this world for J.J. and I think it will do so for the audience as well.”
Chambliss notes that his work on both “Star Trek” films owes a debt to one particularly strong influence: the industrial designs of Pierre Cardin, the avant-garde, French designer who became know for his Space Age creations involving bold, mirrored colors and geometric shapes. “What Cardin was doing in industrial design is foundational to every Enterprise set,” says Chambliss.
This was especially true of the high-tech holding cell for prisoners. “In designing the prisoner’s cell, I was thinking about a beach house that Pierre Cardin built in the 70s,” explains the designer, referring to the legendary “Bubble House” just outside Cannes. “It is basically a series of white pods with roundish windows either looking into other rooms or into the sky above. I also looked at some round Italian television sets that were framed top and bottom with molded plastic. Those ultimately became the all-seeing surveillance eye in each cell. It creates this haunting effect where as a prisoner you’re kind of trapped in a beautiful storefront window, constantly being observed, with all the emotional and claustrophobic qualities that conveys.”
Throughout The Enterprise, Chambliss stayed true to the vision he and Abrams agree governs their view of Star Trek: “The idea was always to have a retro-tech feel that is contemporary but keeps us anchored to the original television series. I love taking sleek, beautiful design elements from early computer technology and letting that be our nod to the old Star Trek. We try to blend retro and futuristic sensibilities in a way that they support each other. Our touchstone continues to be taking Gene Roddenberry’s optimism for the future and translating that to our times.”
The Enterprise not only grows in this new voyage, it also goes through some of its most wild flight maneuvers yet. At one point, the ship tilts radically as it begins a crash landing, which Abrams chose to physically re-create on Chambliss’ sleek set. “It was all done with wires combined with a tilting set, so we were actually, literally running on the walls sideways,” explains Simon Pegg. “It was enormous fun to shoot, to constantly be reorienting our sense of what’s up and what’s down. It was a challenge, too, but Chris and I loved being in the harnesses and getting dragged about and shouting because we knew it was going to be an awesome sequence.”
“We called that the ‘rollie pollie sequence,’“ explains visual supervisor Roger Guyett. “The ship is turning and the artificial gravity is failing and when that happens, people are going to start sliding around. J.J. got very interested in the idea that if you move the camera in certain ways and if people behaved in certain ways, it would really feel like everything on the ship had wrapped around upside down. And he was right. J.J. understands visual magic at the deepest levels of detail.”
To Explore Strange New Worlds: Nibiru and Kronos
“Star Trek Into Darkness” also took the filmmakers deeper than ever into the rarified challenges of world-creating – skills that were demanded especially for Nibiru, the volcanic red planet that opens the film with a spectacular action sequence, and for Kronos, the war-torn Klingon home planet. “Nothing could be more incredibly exciting and fun for filmmakers than creating other worlds,” Scott Chambliss admits. “You get a rare chance to make the unimaginable real.”
For the film’s first scenes on the lush but technologically primitive Nibiru, Chambliss had a blast imagining an island-style civilization. “One thing I love about Star Trek is working with so many contrasting environments,” he remarks. “Nibiru is the antithesis of the Klingon planet and both are completely different from Earth. Everyone wanted the island planet to have a seductive atmosphere, and one thing that I remembered from my travels in Hawaii is what they call ‘lipstick bamboo,’ which is dark red and other-worldly, so that made me think, what if this planet was all red? There was something wonderful to that, combined with the deep turquoise blue water and white sand. It was not only a striking color palette but it had that retro vibe which we embrace in our Star Trek story telling. And then we developed a whole cultural atmosphere around that.”
Adds Jeffrey Chernov: “The challenges of Nibiru were at times almost overwhelming. Not only were the sets and photography a challenge but we also had to create a whole tribe, which took months to figure out. Many movies would probably just have said, we’re gonna do this with CG, but J.J. wanted to bring the planet to life in camera. So we started designing our Nibiru natives, and it took a very long time to come up with their look, working with Neville Page, our creature designer, David Anderson, our special effects makeup designer and Michael Kaplan, our costume designer.”
No less challenging was Kronos, and once again, Abrams gave Chambliss complete creative leeway to express the Klingon warrior society in his own original way. “It was clear to me that J.J. wanted Kronos to be an amazing playground — but what that playground would be took developing approach after approach,” Chambliss recalls. “Kronos is a warring culture so we thought it might be interesting to show a part of the planet that is like toxic wasteland, what you would see post-nuclear bomb or environmental disaster, with all the ramifications of that.”
He found inspiration in an unusual earthly location. “I found these photos of an abandoned Russian water park – a huge scale thing from the 50s or 60s that fell into complete constructive disrepair and it was so eerie. That was really inspirational to the look,” Chambliss explains.
The 40,000-foot set was built on a massive soundstage. “Its scale was monstrous,” says Tommy Harper. “J.J. wanted to do a lot in-camera and not just have it be a digital world. We were under the gun, but we completely pulled it off, including the pulsating wall of light that became a character in the set. It’s one of those sets you’ll remember – and just getting to Kronos is exciting!”
On top of giving Kronos visceral life, Chambliss had the chance to design the interior of a Klingon fighter ship. “It was really fun to give the ship its own cultural identity. This was a three-seater ship so we decided that the three seats would each face a different way. It was a really tight and intricate space and we all love that kind of challenge. All of us kept climbing inside and bumping our heads and knocking into things and we thought, ‘this is so beautiful but it’s going to be very hard to shoot.’ Then J.J. came in and just made the space work with the camera. That was thrilling.”
As far the Klingons themselves, Abrams explains: “We were very lucky to have Neville Page,
who’s a wonderful creature designer, and David Anderson, who is a terrific special effects and makeup artist, work together on bringing the Klingons to life. We cast some terrific actors in the roles and they did an amazing job. Again, as with the design of the Enterprise, the Klingons in the film are both a nod to what has come before, and their own, original thing.”
Returning costume designer Michael Kaplan would also expand his work on “Into Darkness” – work that, unlike most costuming, requires more imagination than research. “Star Trek is like doing a period movie but it’s a period movie where nothing exists from the period! You can’t go to thrift shops and costume houses and collect clothing,” he notes. “On Star Trek, everything has to be made, and if there are script changes or additions, there’s not something you can just pull out or have at hand. So an enormous amount of prep work goes into a film like this.”
For this new voyage, even the crew’s standard uniforms underwent tweaks. “We didn’t want to screw around too much with them, but we did want them to feel a bit more sophisticated and sexier,” Kaplan explains. “I silk-screened the uniforms with the boomerang pattern which you can see in close-ups. It’s a subtle change and the colors also changed a little bit. The red is a little more of a blood red. The blue has a little more green in it. The gold is a little more mustardy. The pants are also a little more fitted and we integrated some practical changes, too, so now the actors didn’t have to put their tops on over their heads because there’s an invisible zipper.”
One of the most exciting outfits this time around was clearly going to be Spock’s volcano-exploring suit – and Kaplan took the iconic imagery of the spacesuit in a new direction. “I thought about it for a long time, and I came up with the color copper, which I’ve never seen in a Sci-Fi movie,” he explains. “A spacesuit is always grey, silver, white or maybe even gold. But I just kept thinking about the reflection of the flames and I thought how beautiful it would be.”
The costume’s beauty however belies a high degree of intricacy. “It is a very extensive costume – and there’s a lot of wiring and mechanical engineering that went into it in addition to the look. Zach had to literally be bolted into it, so we added some quick-release mechanisms for him.”
Kaplan also handcrafted Starfleet wetsuits for several of the principal actors, including a ruby red number for Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. “I think Uhura’s wetsuit is one of J.J.’s favorite costumes in the film,” says Kaplan. “We really wanted these to look like Star Trek-style wetsuits so I designed something that I thought would be cutting edge and right for Star Trek.”
Other new looks include woven metal space suits with illuminated helmets, Starfleet dress uniforms and a cover-all-style Shuttle Suit used for casual travelling. The film also sees the Enterprise crew donning civilian clothes, aboard the Knormian Trade Vessel and on Kronos, which was another exciting element for Kaplan. “I wanted them to wear clothes that would be practical to the kind of conditions that they were going to – so they’re rough and ready. But I also really enjoyed working with the idea that each character was in their own self-created uniform,” he explains.
Saldana was also excited about her outfit, saying: “I loved the leathery, Mad Max, nomadic clothing that keeps us inconspicuous on Kronos. Michael is as much an artist as he is a storyteller.”
On the darker side of things, Kaplan enjoyed coming up with uniforms for the crew of the Vengeance – using a grid-like pattern that plays tricks with the light — and for Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain. “For Benedict, I really liked the idea of long coats, so you see him moving through space with his coattails flying behind. When you first see him on Kronos, he’s backlit and J.J. and I thought it would be a good idea if we didn’t know who he was at first. You almost mistake his coat for a Klingon coat. Then he leaps down and you’re still not sure who it is because he’s wearing a hood and a mask and then all that comes off and you have the surprise of seeing Benedict.”
For the Klingon costumes, Kaplan utilized designs created for the first film but never seen by audiences. “We used a fabric for their storm trooper coats that looks like rhino or elephant skin,” he elucidates. “Their helmets are based on horseshoe crabs, which I thought would make a great design. Then we designed a whole other look for the warriors which is more practical for fighting.”
Another twist for Kaplan was the chance to design not just for unknown worlds but also for our own world – albeit the San Francisco and London of the 23rd century. Once again, he found himself looking both forwards and back in time. “Like the rest of the film, we wanted the designs on earth to be rooted in the 60s — but a plausibly futuristic version of that. We were inspired by designers like Christian Dior, Rudy Gernreich and Cortége – and then we made it our own.”
That, Kaplan says, is the bottom line when working with Abrams. “Everything has to be cool, but most of all it must reflect the emotional truth of the story we’re telling,” he summarizes.
Where Discovery Happens: Trekking to the National Ignition Facility
Gene Roddenberry once said of Star Trek: “Almost all of this comes out of my feeling that the human future is bright. We’re just beginning. We have wonders ahead of us. I don’t see how it can be any other way.” That spirit, which continues to draw millions to the space travel story he created more than 50 years ago, was inspired most of all by the ceaseless human drive for scientific discovery. Not surprisingly, over the years, the Star Trek philosophy has in turn inspired legions of young scientists, explorers and writers.
In a lovely ode to that cycle of inspiration, J. J. Abrams took “Star Trek Into Darkness” to an especially meaningful location: the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, site of unprecedented research into the future of energy itself. Here, 192 of the world’s most intense laser beams are being used to crack the secrets of matter and anti-matter and to explore thermonuclear fusion. The work at NIS could one day result in a world-altering energy revolution, unchaining humanity from polluting, problematic, finite fuels, and even make space travel more viable.
As a classified government facility, NIF generally does not allow film crews . . . but Star Trek was something completely different. The links between Star Trek and the NIF go literally to their cores– after all, the Enterprise is fueled with deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen also known as “heavy hydrogen, as is the NIF. And many of the scientists who work at NIF admit to having cut their teeth watching Kirk and Spock try to push beyond the current boundaries of human knowledge.
Dr. Edward Moses, Principal Associate Director for NIF and the Photon Science Directorate, says: “For many years we’ve been waiting for Star Trek to realize they should be here! This is a very futuristic facility . . . and I think we’ve all been influenced by Star Trek’s vision of the future.”
For the filmmakers, NIF provided a location that could never be emulated in any other way — one that gave them an opportunity to delve into the ships unseen nuclear innards that create Star Fleet’s most advanced warp drive, allowing for faster-than-light travel. For NIF, it was a chance to see their laboratory interpreted through the eyes of a cinematic storyteller. “It was super exciting to see J.J. Abrams’ vision of what we do,” notes Moses.
Abrams couldn’t help but be moved not only by the technological beauty but by the feeling of being smack in the middle of a place where 21st Century science is leading to the 23rd Century of the film. “We were there just trying to shoot a movie, but all around us, these innovative scientists are working on technologies that will likely help the whole world,” he says. “The idea that one day the research at NIF could create clean, limitless energy is so exciting. On the one hand, it was simply a great location for the story. But more importantly, we were really honored to be welcomed there. These people are doing research that could alter the destiny of the planet the way the wheel or the light bulb did. We couldn’t even believe they let us in to shoot – and then, they were so excited about having us. So many people told us Star Trek inspired them to get involved in science.”
Throughout the production, a wide array of other scientists, artists and public figures flocked to the “Into Darkness” set to get their own personal glimpse at Star Trek in action. Their presence was a constant reminder of how universally alluring, and inspiring, the concept remains.
Summarizes Bryan Burk. “I think what pulls all these different people to Star Trek is the same thing that brings J.J. and our cast and crew: that sense of wonder at what our future might hold when we boldly leave earth to learn from different species and worlds. We’re all drawn to that promise of a future where there’s no more war on earth and whatever problems we have, we work them out together. That’s the Star Trek vision – and that is what is at stake in this story.”