Though he’s riding high as king of the nerds thanks to the overwhelmingly positive responses to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams has never quite been forgiven by Trekkies for what he did to the Star Trek franchise in its last instalment Into Darkness. Ever the humble guy though, Abrams has made peace with its shortcomings, taking “full responsibility” for it.
In an in-depth interview with Buzzfeed via Squareeyed (that you really should read) the director runs through his big screen outings, from Mission: Impossible III to The Force Awakens, giving his look back on the final products. He glosses over 2009’s initial Star Trek outing, but when it comes to the follow-up in 2013, Abrams feels he has a lot to set straight.
“I take full responsibility for this — I was encouraging the writers in certain directions, and we were working on the script and putting it together,” Abrams says, “But by the time we started shooting, and this was literally at the very beginning of the shoot, there were certain things I was unsure of.”
It’s never a good sign when a director sets off at the wrong pace. Talking about basic movie storytelling, Abrams says “Any movie, any story has a fundamental conversation happening during it. There’s a fundamental argument; there’s a central question. And I didn’t have it.”
2009’s adventure aboard the Enterprise was critically well received, praising its fresh take on the classic themes of the original series, while also paying homage to it. Into Darkness did not receive such a treatment, with a lot of the negativity directed at the script. Abrams would agree, calling it “a little bit lightweight.”
The big twist of the film – so, spoilers warning for Into Darkness, in case you were the one person in deep space at the time of its release and missed this – is that Benedict Cumberbatch’s character turned out to be Khan, longtime villain to Captain Kirk in the franchise. Before the film’s release there was a back-and-forth about the would he/wouldn’t he be playing that character, with Abrams throwing fans off the scent before Into Darkness came out by saying Cumberbatch was playing someone named John Harrison. While this is technically true, the alias was just a bit of misdirection on his part.
“At the end of the day, while I agree with Damon Lindelof [writer of the film, and Abrams past conspirator on Lost] that withholding the Khan thing ended up seeming like we were lying to people, I was trying to preserve the fun for the audience, and not just tell them something that the characters don’t learn for 45 minutes into the movie, so the audience wouldn’t be so ahead of it.”
Abrams adds, with a chuckle, “But it was Simon Pegg who lied outright, and I adore him for doing so. I remember when I read that he basically said, ‘He doesn’t play Khan,’ and I thought, Oh my god, Simon Pegg!”
Speaking on his control of the project, he adds “I felt like, in a weird way, it was a little bit of a collection of scenes that were written by my friends — brilliantly talented writers — who I somehow misled in trying to do certain things. And yet, I found myself frustrated by my choices, and unable to hang my hat on an undeniable thread of the main story.”
In conclusion, Abrams reflects “I would never say that I don’t think that the movie ended up working, but I feel like it didn’t work as well as it could have had I made some better decisions before we started shooting.”