Starting this weekend, in select IMAX screens across the country, there will be a special, nine-minute preview of May's hotly anticipated sci-fi sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness," in a marketing maneuver similar to last Christmas' "The Dark Knight Rises" prologue, which was attached to IMAX prints of "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol." Last week's teaser of the trailer (or whatever that was) was purposely elliptical, showing only visual effects-y glimpses of the scenarios that crew of the Starship Enterprise (including Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg and Zoe Saldana) will face this time around. And while these opening nine minutes aren't exactly revelatory, they do give a good idea of what will be in store for audiences this summer. And based on the preview, we are very, very excited.
The footage opens with a familiar beep-beep-beep that you would assume is some kind of spaceship transponder or something, but instead is the alarm clock of a totally random character. We watch as this character, an African American man in his early thirties, gets ready for his day – he wakes up his wife, eats breakfast, gets ready to leave. At one point the camera cranes up and out the window, at a glittery futuristic London (star-date: we-didn't-write-it-down). We watch as he and his wife visit a hospital in the English countryside, consoling their young daughter, who seems to lie in some kind of coma (the wife exchanges stuffed animals by the girl's bed). As the couple is leaving the hospital, seemingly despondent, a figure emerges, wearing a really cool coat: it's Benedict Cumberbatch!
"I can make her better," he intones, ominously. This is John Harrison, who Cumberbatch has repeatedly described as "a terrorist" and who many still think is the iconic baddie Khan (from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"), especially after it was revealed that Alive Eve's character, Dr. Carol Marcus, is also from that film. Either way, after Cumberbatch's startling introduction, the screen cuts to black, which left us wondering who, exactly, John Harrison was, what he was up to, and, most importantly, where he got his coat.
We then smash cut to a giant red rainforest. There's a figure, cloaked from head to toe in a kind of gauzy blue fabric. The natives, presumably, are chasing after this figure. A giant monster appears and the figure phases him. When the creature goes down, another figure in a similar blue outfit reveals himself, exposing his face and saying, "You just stunned our ride." It's Karl Urban's Bones! The first figure then shows himself: it's Kirk! The two then start to run together, trading verbal jabs while the natives, painted up with yellow face-paint and black eyes, throw spears at them. We then cut away to a small spaceship with Spock (Quinto), Uhura (Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) and basic plot stuff is established – Spock is going to drop some kind of freeze bomb ("a giant ice cube" according to Kirk) into a volcano, which will save the indigenous population from being wiped out (something Spock is probably very still touchy about since his home planet went kaboom in the last movie). After Spock sets off the bomb, he will be reeled back into the small spaceship and they will return to the Enterprise. Kirk and Bones have another way of getting back to the Enterprise.
Basically, Kirk and Bones get back to the Enterprise (we can't say how, exactly, because it's such a great reveal if anyone ruins it they should be fired into the deep vacuum of space), while Spock's lifeline to the smaller craft is severed, leaving him inside the volcano, before it explodes or the ice bomb explodes or they both explode. They can't teleport him out because of the electromagnetic make-up of the planet, and getting the Enterprise closer to Spock's location would give away that the Enterprise intervened, which is a big no-no. Kirk, desperate, asks Bones what Spock would do in the same position. "He would let you die," Bones growls. We see Spock, surrounded by waves of hot lava. The camera pulls back, pulls back, pulls back…
Cut to black. Brief clips are shown, mostly from the teaser trailer that is online. Now you're stuck watching "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
A couple of things were striking about the preview -- firstly, although much of the footage was both a) in IMAX and b) 3D, director J.J. Abrams' distinct style remains intact. (Earlier, he had expressed concern over his trademark whip-pans making the translation to 3D. There weren't any here, but it probably won't be a problem.) This footage is gorgeous, and there were a number of moments where we got all goose-pimply at the images on the screen (which, composed for IMAX, look beautifully boxy), including the reveal of the Enterprise. Also – his lens flares are back! In 3D! That's the other thing that is so striking about the footage – it seems to be the first time 3D photography (film, no less) has been shot for IMAX. And it is something close to a revelation. This is the personification of immersion – a giant, gorgeous image, full of depth both natural and 3D-ized, that absolutely sucks you in. It's beautiful and unlike anything we've ever seen, and makes 48 fps seem like even more of a folly than it already does, which is really saying something.
Story-wise, what's so compelling is that Abrams didn't spend any time re-establishing characters. He just jumps into one of the crew's adventures, which felt very reminiscent of the old television show, and lets all of the characters make their little introductions (we love Uhura kissing the outside of Spock's bubbly plastic helmet). This is something that he would do all the time on his spy show "Alias" (and to a lesser degree "Mission: Impossible III") – start in the middle of the action and then go back to see how they got there. We don't think he'll necessarily do that here, since this seems like a stand-alone opening adventure, but we appreciate that he just jumped right in. It adds to the already high level of excitement, and is a witty choice, editorially and visually. It should also be noted that these nine minutes were impeccably scored with brand-new music from Abrams' favorite Michael Giacchino. His already established "Star Trek" theme reappears and the new music is swelling and romantic and totally sci-fi. It's going to be a long wait between now and May.