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J.J. Abrams on ‘Star Trek,’ Khan’s Blood and Keeping the Mystery Box Closed

jj abrams

J.J. Abrams may have moved on to Star Wars, but on Tuesday night, he was still very much in Star Trek mode. Speaking to each and every outlet on the white carpet at the Blu-ray release party for Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams’ attention to detail was as sharp as ever as he discussed the film’s twists and turns, its critical reception, and his feelings about the Trek universe as he embarks on a different sort of journey.

The director spoke briefly with Spinoff Online about the film, first talking about choosing Khan as a villain, and then the ramifications of that character on the rest of the franchise’s mythology going forward. Finally, he chatted about his “mystery box” approach to moviemaking, which aims to preserve surprises for his audience, but as a consequence inspires so much anticipation from fans that it demands a pay off worthy of the speculation that precedes it.

Spinoff Online: Now that you’re finally able to talk about him being in the film, what to you was the point and the value of making Khan the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness?

jj abrams3J.J. Abrams: I think the thing was that Khan really is the most iconic villain of the series, and it felt like an opportunity to see another side of Khan and to something that, like the first film did, use elements that people were familiar with but in a new. It’s a valid argument that it’s about time for them to go off and discover and see things that have nothing to do with what we’ve seen before, and I think we’ll always have some overlap. But I’m excited about the next chapter.

Star Trek Into Darkness’ Alex Kurtzman Talks Khan, Kirk’s Journey and Carol’s Underwear

One of the issues that Kirk deals with in the film is facing mortality personally and as a captain. What sort of conversations or concerns did you have in introducing Khan’s blood as sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to that?

Well, it’s funny – we had this idea in the beginning of the film of this girl who is sort of being brought back into good health as a means of coercing her father to do something horrific, and it was sitting there. And we knew we wanted to do something that was going to kind of push Kirk to a limit where he was tested in a way he never had been before where he really had to appreciate the kind of chair that he was sitting in. And it ended up just coming out of realizing that we had this thing that was sitting there that was already set up in the movie. The idea for me with Khan that was so powerful was this was a sort of monster that we made – he was someone who, having been sort of genetically engineered and banished, he was someone who just like Kirk, loved his crew, and would do anything for them. And we realized that Kirk and Khan were very much in a similar position, and then finally we put them in a situation where you really question, can I trust him? Can I work with him at all? That to me was a fun thing, especially after the first movie where we had a wonderfully-performed bad guy, but a sort of simpler one, where it was just about a raving, vengeful, angry Romulan. So it was a fun thing to have a character that was able to have illuminating, deep, emotional, unexpected conversations.

HHHow much do you look at the approach you take – the sort of mystery box – as much as a self-imposed pressure as an opportunity? Because it seems like some of the adverse reactions people had to the movie came out of determining whether the pay off to the surprise lives up to their expectations or anticipation?

I don’t approach things, though I had a conversation about the mystery box in the TED Talk I did, the mystery box thing for me is less of an approach to storytelling than it’s something I just feel [which is] you don’t want to ruin things. So it wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s make it a big mystery!” We just didn’t want to tell everyone what they were going to see before they saw it. It was simpler. So if people wish they had known beforehand, OK, I totally get it. But we just were trying to preserve the experience. But it’s not like we saved it until the end of the movie where there was a big, final, shocking reveal. This was something that was revealed by the middle of the movie to the audience. But if we’d gone forward with it and said, it’s Khan, it’s Khan, it’s Khan, and I never, unlike Simon Pegg, who literally lied to everyone and said “It’s not Khan,” I never said it’s not Khan. He read that he said “It’s not Khan,” and I was like, “It’s kind of Khan, Simon.”

But I think at the end of the day, the withholding of story elements for me is something I would far rather have as an audience member than someone ruining a good first or second-act twist. But look, for people who want to have that information in advance, there’s no shortage of access to that information if you want to see it. And I’m sure anybody who wanted to knew before they went to the theater that it was Khan.


  • Morgs

    Into the darkness was a great movie the first time I saw it in the 80’s. hope they gave the original writers of wrath of Kahn some credit.

  • RHandley

    I keep seeing the writers and Abrams claiming Khan is the most iconic villain, or the deadliest enemy, or Kirk’s Joker–and yet, none of those statements are at all true.

  • budman2008

    He is pretty iconic but comparing him to the Joker is ridiculous. Batman and the Joker have fought in the comics dozens upon dozens of times and yielded many different stories to take inspiration from. Khan and Kirk faced eachother exactly twice.

    I personally feel that the first Abrams Trek movie borrowed enough from Khan as it is and that they pissed away the opportunity to do something completely new with this one. Its nonsensical to create an alternate timeline and say “Hey ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!” and then take no real storytellings risks whatsoever.

  • ultraaman

    Thank you. Khan was never inherently ‘deadly’ just singularly focused which could make him deadly if you got in his way.

    Klingon’s et al are Kirk’s original iconic villain something the movies proved time and again and addressed head on in VI. And actually, if we take some time to think about how the new universe has unfolded, it would not be too much of a stretch for New Kirk to see Romulans the same way. Nero was Romulan after all and did kill his father (so to speak) regardless of the fact that he was from a different time line. Sure it would not be rational but it would make the character so much more interesting.

  • Squib

    This movie was retarded.

  • GC001

    Let’s just leave it at “Star Trek: Into Darkness” WAS the worst Star Trek film made to date and leave it at that, okay?
    You guys really still sold on JJ restarting Star Wars after seeing the royal cluster!@#$@ this last Star Trek film was?
    If I had my doubts before about some of his choices, the last film sure nailed them down for me!
    It’s a joke to put this guy in the league of Steven Spielberg… even George Lucas, despite the stink of the Prequel Universe, is ALmOST coming up smelling roses.


    Yeah, the iconic Star Trek villains are The Klingons. I guess you had to be around before ST:TNG or actually paying attention — and Abrams seems to be neither despite being a few years older than me!

    After the Klingons, I’d give props to the Borg but that group got ruined by bad writing in the last few years of ST: TNG, ST: First Contact, and the follow-on TV Voyager series.

  • Alex H

    Much as I found it a middling film at best, you can’t persuade me that Into Darkness was a fraction as bad as Nemesis…

  • Michael Aguiar

    I LOVED The first movie. When they introduced the “Parallel” timeline I was like GREAT, we’re about to see some new stuff, and then the sequel comes and full of holes!! We watched the first part of the movie where kirk was demoted back to the academy, then 20 seconds later he was again 1st officer to Pike and 3 minutes later Pike dies and he’s captain again LOL so pointless!! And Kirk’s “Death” was so anti climatic its not even funny, they introduced the “healing blood” in the beginning of the movie, fine.. Then in the middle bones makes even more obvious just in case you didnt get the first time by healing a Furbie, that The blood HEALS and might EVEN BRING PEOPLE FROM THE DEAD.. Khan was also introduced with no real reason or connection to Kirk, in the original Khan was Marooned in the planet during the TV series and spent all those years brooding and planning his revenge against Kirk. This Khan is overall a really nice chap and had no real reason to dislike Kirk at all.. again very anti climatic. I still think this is one of the best Reboot series and Im not bashing by any means but it felt really sloppy compared to the original like they wasted away the chance to use Khan as something significant not some generic bad guy.

  • Strangelove

    I really like how he either misses the point of “get-out-of-jail-free card” question of chooses to skirt answering it.

  • Drew_Melbourne

    In the rebooted universe, the ODD numbered movies are the good ones.

  • Hypestyles

    the next film should have more giant creatures to deal with. There should be an extended sequence on a planet’s surface where the creatures live.

  • the Dagman

    Using Khan now was going to the well too quickly. It was lazy storytelling. If Abrams and co. really wanted to explore the idea of friendship and sacrifice, they should have used Kirk’s old friend Gary MItchell from the second pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Not only would it have been more chronologically accurate, but having an old friend go bonkers with power versus the fate of his new best friend, Spock, as well as the crew of the Enterprise, and the hard choices that result would have made for a better movie IMO. And Gary Mitchell’s powers with today’s CGI would have be great to see on the movie screen.

  • Renaldo

    Just let Blomkamp direct pt 3. It’ll win for sure. Show some more Klingon warfare

  • Ashbury137

    Wow! A reasonable argument for once. All I hear people saying is: “This movie sucks” without actually stating WHY they dislike it. I’m glad you actually took the time to put thought in to this. Good job.

  • Khun David

    You mean the writers of Space Seed, Gene Coon and Carey Wilber, right?

  • Khun David

    Or Star Trek V.

  • Steely Dan

    I’m not a Star Trek fan and never have been, so I am the audience that Paramount is trying to reach with this new series of films. And I loved both movies, especially “Into Darkness.” So in that sense the production team has succeeded in reaching a new audience that was completely turned off by 45 years of meandering continuity and mediocre storytelling.

    I’m sure you can poke holes in the Abrams’ films, but they are still great visceral cinematic experiences. For the sake of argument, let’s concede that the films and TV shows of original series’ and Next Generation casts had fewer plot holes and continuity errors. But they were also unbelievably boring to those of us who weren’t vested in the mythology, and they came across as incredibly didactic and simplistic morality tales.

  • nld3

    I agree. Plus i think the whole group Orci, Kurtzman, Lindalof are Trek movie fans more than Original series fans. Just just read their old interviews all they do is gush about Khan. They couldn’t resist doing him again.

  • JasonMBryant

    The Kligons are a whole race. Kirk faced some very interesting Kligons, but I honestly can’t remember any of their names. If Abrams is saying that Khan is the most compelling single individual that Kirk has faced off against, then I’d agree. He may not be more iconic than all the Kligons combined, but no one Kligon stands out as much.

  • beane2099

    Star Trek Into Darkness was better than any of the Next Gen films. I don’t think it gets any worse than the way they did Kirk in Generations.

  • Beast

    Best part of Generations was Kirk’s death. I just wish they would have kept the original version where he was shot in the back and died like a punk. Never liked Kirk at all. At least the new take on him is somewhat likeable. Due to not being Shatner.

  • Tropxe

    What the hell is a Kligon? Buy yeah, I agree with your point.

  • KomicKev

    I never watched the original Star Trek series (okay, I’ve seen an occasional episode here and there, but eh, too outdated for me), but I am a Trekker for sure. I followed faithfully all the other series from “Next Generation” on, as well as watched all the movies. I liked “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” as much as anyone, but I too have LOVED these most recent two movies. I like the actors portraying the characters; I liked the variation of the Khan storyline; I just thought they were really swell. New Trek for a new generation. Us old fogies can b*tch and moan, but we’ll all be dead soon, so who will care? LOL!

  • Real Khan

    Khan wasn’t the villian. It was old Robocop! XD

    Stupid movie, waiting for a real Star Trek reboot…

  • 7992

    Why does everyone hate this film, I just watched it for the first time and thought it was very enjoyable, couple of potholes but what film doesn’t! Anyway I just like to know how people think its worse than Star Trek the motion picture as I thought that was boring lol, all the negative comments are people saying they hate it but then not am saying why, and to say you hate jj Abrams is a bit extreme I doubt any of you know him, it’s quite sad to get angry over a film director, and give him a chance if you don’t like him, shayamalen made the village and lady in the lake but he also made signs and the sixth sense

  • Buck

    The movie was enjoyable, but not of the same caliber as the last. IMO, the storyline here was competing with the 1st season Khan episode, not 2nd movie. As much as I think Benedict did a great job as an evil bad ass, he just didn’t have the same epic setup or pectorals that Ricardo Montalban had. Part of the earlier Khan’s majesty was his crew and the great tie-in between the 1st season episode and Star Trek II (simple but worked as a great foundation for the 2nd movie’s story). Then of course we had Kirk’s son, an already established relationship with Dr. Marcus, the genesis device, epic star ship battles, the famous “KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!” yell, and Khan’s epic I-ain’t-going-out-like-a-punk attempt to use the genesis to take Kirk/crew with him.

    In contrast, Into the Darkness has a rogue Admiral (corrupt [insert rank] trying to start a war has been used quite a bit, plus there wasn’t much setup. He went from big dog Admiral to thug warmonger and managed to build a huge warship without anyone knowing or caring?) who used Khan to build a star fleet war ship (the reason of needing Khan’s savagery was pretty thin) and held is crew hostage… Khan hiding his crew in torpedos?? and then assuming his crew was dead… and then attacking Star Fleet and heading to Kronos, going after Khan and his crew being stored in torpedos… It felt forced and like it tried too hard to not be Star Trek II. Couple that with no epic space battles (besides the enterprise getting bitch slapped in/out of warp until Spok’s hail mary). and that is likely why people aren’t liking the film.

    That being said, it was still a good film and the cast is brilliant, it just had really big Khan shoes to fill and it didn’t get there.

  • Matthew James Ferrantino

    Khan was maybe not deadly to Kirk *(any significantly more than many of Kirk’s foes)* BUT I will say that the Eugenics Wars seem to imply that Khan was one of the most *famous* villains in-world of Star Trek. Like, anyone in the 23rd century would have known about the 21st century’s Eugenics Wars.

    I think, let’s start with this: Let’s say that Vandal Savage is like Adolf Hitler to the Justice League, in a lot of ways. I think Khan may not be Star Trek’s Joker, but it could be said that Khan is like Star Trek’s Hitler. He’s a big deal, but he’s maybe only a big deal to everyone besides the actual crew of the Enterprise?

  • 7992

    yeah but honestly who cares, why cant people just watch a film anymore without analysing every fuking word of the script to see whether the science adds up or if the plot is contradictory, its no way to enjoy a film if you sit their like a film reviewer!

  • zogtheobvious

    Without googling: Kor, Koloth, Kang, Kruge, Chang (wtf, but true)

    Yes, I’m a damn show-off ;)