How far did J.J. Abrams go to keep the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch's "Star Trek Into Darkness" villain a secret? So far, that he manipulated certain footage to prevent media members from getting an advanced reveal at Cumberbatch's "Star Trek" name.
During a visit to the Bad Robot production studios last year, Abrams showed a group of journalists the "Star Trek Into Darkness" scene where Cumberbatch and Chris Pine's Captain Kirk fly through space in super suits. The sequence happens more than an hour into the film, after the true origin of Cumberbatch's villainous John Harrison is unveiled. (No spoilers here, but check IMDb or this HuffPost piece from Monday.)
"[Producer] Bryan Burk was the one who first proposed that we use the space jump sequence as a way of getting folks excited for the movie," co-writer Damon Lindelof told Slashfilm. "The challenge was obvious [because] this is AFTER the reveal. Therefore, J.J. and post production supervisor Ben Rosenblatt executed a 'Harrison Cut' to preserve the secret. I'd rather not get into the details of how this was accomplished, suffice to say it wasn't easy. It was, however, worth it."
Or was it? By keeping the "Star Trek Into Darkness" villain on the down low, Abrams and his team may have hurt the film's bottom line. (Imagine if Warner Bros. decided to market "The Dark Knight" without Heath Ledger's Joker front and center.) It's possible that audiences didn't connect with "Star Trek Into Darkness" in a way more in line with the film's expectations because they weren't actually excited about someone named John Harrison fighting with Kirk and the U.S.S. Enterprise crew.
"We just wanted to make sure that when the audience went to see the movie, that they were having the same subjective experience that Kirk and Spock and the crew were, so that when Kirk and Spock and the crew hear [Harrison's real] name for the first time, that's when the audience is -- you know, the savvy audience, the fanboys and -girls -- getting confirmation of something that they really intensely suspect, but weren't sure of until it happens," Lindelof told Grantland about the logic behind keeping the villain a secret.
That's fair, but it's also somewhat misguided: For instance, 2009's "Star Trek" didn't put Kirk in official charge of the U.S.S. Enterprise until the end, but the audience knew that was going to happen long before Kirk did. (It was "Star Trek," after all.) All of which is to say, keeping surprises from the audience is often great (hello, "Iron Man 3"), except when the surprise isn't that surprising.
For more on Abrams' mystery box, head to Slashfilm.