When I think about it, any worries I might have had about Star Trek Into Darkness didn’t really begin with the announcement of the movie’ title last September, as much as I like to pretend otherwise. I mean, the title is just a little too on the nose, isn’t it? Not only in the way that it seemed to be an all-too-obvious signifier that, Hey, this time out we’re going after the Dark Knight audience, but also that it turned the title into a sentence, and, in the process, reminded the audience of just how weird a title Star Trek actually is. “Trek,” is a word that’s always seemed a bit archaic and old-fashioned, even with “Star” preceding it.
But it wasn’t the title that made me worried. All told, it just seemed silly, and a little embarrassing. I was still on board the Into Darkness train with the release of the first teaser trailer, filled with Benedict Cumberbatch’s grumbling monologue, and all those scenes of destruction, and Kirk, Uhura et al looking particularly concerned about everything that was going on. It was, after all, only a minute of footage — and if things looked particularly grim, isn’t that the point of teasers? To get your hackles raised and your anxiety going? Watching the Enterprise crash into San Francisco Bay made me want to know why, and who, and, most importantly, what happened next. As a teaser, it did its job.
No, for whatever reason, it took the second (longer) teaser, released less than two weeks after the first, to make me feel a bit uncertain about Star Trek Into Darkness. Watching the trailer again now, I know exactly what it was that worried me: It’s doing everything it can to impress upon you that things will get sad.
Listen to the music, all low, slow and filled with haunted vocals that dull the otherwise exciting visuals. Or the voiceover in the first half of the trailer, which warns Kirk that he’s “gonna get [himself] and everyone under [his] command killed,” while we see — again — shots of the Enterprise crew looking upset, intercut with scenes of funerals and caskets and death and destruction. And then, Benedict Cumberbatch says “You think you’re safe… you are not” over yet more scenes of expertly choreographed violence, accompanied by an orchestra seemingly given the instruction “sound as ominous as you can.”
My problem with that trailer is not that that trailer isn’t well-made and evocative, because it is both of those things. Instead, my problem is far simpler: There’s nothing about that trailer that’s fun.
Star Trek should be fun. That’s a reductive statement, of course. Star Trek as a franchise has been more than just fun many times; it’s been exciting and moving and thought-provoking. It’s been inspirational and it’s been challenging. Star Trek can be all or any of those things, but the one thing that Star Trek should be — really, has to be, for me — is fun.
Star Trek is a fictional universe that’s based almost entirely on optimism; it’s threaded throughout the concept. Not only do we evolve as a species, it says, but look what humanity accomplishes along the way. Look what we can do, if we dare. Trek, at heart, is all about self-determination and self-actualization, and as a fictional engine, that’s something that only really works if the good guys succeed, and keep succeeding.
To deliver a universe where things work otherwise, the franchise’s core message goes from one of “When we work hard, we can accomplish great things” to “We tried, but you know, stuff happened.” Trek‘s inherent optimism may defuse part of the tension in the stories being told — going from “Will the good guys win?” to “How will the good guys win?” — but it makes Trek a particularly fun experience, when done right.
And here’s the thing: Abrams & Co. can do it right. Watch the trailer for their first outing with the franchise:
Doesn’t that just look great? It’s a movie you want to watch, because it looks like a good time. The trailers for Star Trek Into Darkness make the movie look like something far less enjoyable, and far darker than most casual Trek fans probably want.
It’s possible that Star Trek Into Darkness will end up being a rip-roaring adventure where everything turns out okay in the end, and it’s just the trailers that have misjudged what Trek needs to be in order to operate, but even so: I’ve been into Star Trek for close to thirty years, now. If I’m not excited about the new movie, isn’t that a problem, somehow?