The "Star Trek Into Darkness" marketing push has already been thrown into warp drive. Over the last week, Paramount has released a teaser poster for the "Star Trek" sequel, an announcement teaser for the teaser trailer and a new still teasing Benedict Cumberbatch's mysterious villain. Needless to say, the expectation building doesn't end there: On Friday, the first nine minutes of "Star Trek Into Darkness" will unspool before IMAX showings of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Of course, since the film is from noted showman J.J. Abrams, none of this toying should come as a big surprise.
On Monday, Dec. 10, a group of journalists, including HuffPost Entertainment, were invited to Abrams' Bad Robot production headquarters to check out the IMAX prologue of "Star Trek Into Darkness," as well as discuss the film's production with cast and crew; unfortunately, some of those chats were off-the-record. On the record, however, was the "Star Trek Into Darkness" footage. Those who wish to experience the film completely unspoiled should turn back now; otherwise, proceed with caution -- spoilers ahead.
Abrams requested that reporters avoid giving a complete play-by-play of the prologue (and fans only have to wait until Friday to experience it themselves at participating theaters), but it doesn't give much away to reveal that the opening moments of the film take place in London, Stardate 2259.55, and involve a couple played by Noel Clarke and Nazneen Contractor. They have a sick child, and our first introduction to Cumberbatch's character (now revealed to be named "John Harrison") involves the fate of said child.
Clearly, Abrams and his team are well aware of the speculation already surrounding Cumberbatch's character (namely: Is he playing Khan?), since this sequence gleefully toys with the audience's expectations involving his identity, teasing us unabashedly before cutting to the crew of the Enterprise in the midst of an action-packed chase scene.
There, on the planet Nibiru, Kirk (Chris Pine) has -- as usual -- gotten himself into trouble with the natives. The sequence deftly balances humor and suspense -- it has already drawn some comparisons to the opening of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and the opening sequences of many a Bond film -- and allows Abrams to start playing with some 3D conceits that weren't available to him in the first film. (You can see quick shots of the scene as part of the newly released teaser trailer.)
Land, sea and air are all utilized in the opening minutes, and Abrams' bright color palette is especially vivid during the red-hued Nibiru scenes. As the sequence reveals, the crew's main objective is to neutralize an active volcano, which lands Spock (Zachary Quinto) in a particularly unenviable position. Each member of the cast has a brief moment to shine (and true to form, Simon Pegg's Scotty gets two), but overall, the prologue perfectly serves its purpose -- to whet the audiences' appetites for the main event without giving too much of the plot away.
Beyond the IMAX prologue, the main takeaway from the visit was the level of enthusiasm for "Star Trek Into Darkness," which was evident from the writing and producing team to the cast and crew. There was a sense that Abrams and his cohorts paid close attention to what worked in "Star Trek," and have tried to course-correct what didn't, whether that means streamlining the design of a phase or finding a more efficient way to apply Spock's eyebrows.
The most engaging aspects of the visit involved a display of new props and costumes, specifically involving the Klingons. (As had been previously assumed, Klingons do appear in "Star Trek Into Darkness.") The film will feature the Klingon homeworld of Qo'noS (pronounced Kronos) and at least some of the warriors will be equipped with the iconic bat'leth sword first introduced in the "The Next Generation." Two Klingons have major speaking roles, although their names weren't provided.
Another ongoing mystery involved the identity of Alice Eve's character, though it was revealed that she is playing Dr. Carol Marcus, who -- perhaps coincidentally -- was first introduced in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Since she's widely believed to be a love interest for Kirk in "Into Darkness," her involvement certainly could provide a clue to the film's larger story if you're familiar with "Star Trek" canon. None of the footage or behind-the-scenes materials, however, did anything to confirm that Cumberbatch is definitively playing Khan. His character is referred to as Harrison in the film, although whether it's designed as a Miranda Tate/Talia al Ghul-style misdirect will likely remain in question until the movie is released.
HuffPost Entertainment will have more from the "Star Trek Into Darkness" visit soon -- including interviews with costume, prop and makeup effects supervisors as well as composer Michael Giacchino. Fans can experience the nine-minute prologue for themselves in front of "The Hobbit" in select theaters on Dec 14. "Star Trek Into Darkness" arrives in theaters on May 17, 2013.