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J.J. Abrams admits lying about Star Trek 2's Khan was a mistake

Illustration for article titled J.J. Abrams admits lying about Star Trek 2s Khan was a mistake

The most irritating part of Star Trek Into Darkness was the reveal of Benedict Cumberbatch as Kirk's arch-nemesis Khan, because 1) J.J. Abrams swore for months, multiple times, that the character was not Khan, but 2) we all knew Cumberbatch had to be playing Khan because it wasn't worth keeping any other character secret, so that 3) when the movie revealed it was indeed Khan, it wasn't surprising at all, just obnoxious. And now J.J. Abrams kind of agrees.

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As Abrams told MTV (the money quote is below the video, if you don't want to sit through the interview):

The truth is I think it probably would have been smarter just to say upfront 'This is who it is.' It was only trying to preserve the fun of it, and it might have given more time to acclimate and accept that's what the thing was. The truth is because it was so important to the studio that we not angle this thing for existing fans. If we said it was Khan, it would feel like you've really got to know what 'Star Trek' is about to see this movie," he said. "That would have been limiting. I can understand their argument to try to keep that quiet, but I do wonder if it would have seemed a little bit less like an attempt at deception if we had just come out with it.

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The funny part here, besides Abrams trying to indirectly blame the whole debacle on Paramount (much easier now that he's jumped ship to Disney and Star Wars), is that he thinks revealing Khan would have somehow twisted the marketing of the movie to be solely for fans. That's nonsense. Sure, fans are the ones who care about the character, but all Paramount would have to do to keep Khan from skewing the marketing would be not to use Khan in the marketing. If Abrams had confirmed who the character was, no one was going to put a gun up to the marketing department's collective heads and force them to include Khan in the commercials.

Seriously, they're two different things. Had the character been announced as Khan, there might be like two crazy people in the general audience of America who would have said, "What? There's a character named Khan in this movie? Well, forget it!" But 99.99% just wouldn't give a shit. If they don't know who Khan is, they don't care. That's the whole point.

The people who do care about Khan, i.e. Star Trek fans, would be seeing the movie no matter what. So all the denial did was annoy fans who were pissed off at being so obviously lied to, and ruin the non-reveal of Khan's character to the only people who had a chance of giving a shit in the first place.

Oh, one more thing: Hey, do you guys remember a movie that came out around 1982, I think it was called The Wrath of somebody or other, and the title character was actually at that point a character who had only appeared in a single episode of some TV show from 15 years ago? Seems like that movie did all right for itself.

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[Via /Film]

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DISCUSSION

charliejane
Charlie Jane Anders

I continue to obsess over this. And here's the thing I keep coming back to:

Khan had not appeared on screen for over 30 years when STID came out. His last on-screen appearance was in 1982. He'd been in books and comics since then, but most moviegoers under 30 might even have seen him before, unless they caught "Space Seed" or TWoK on late night cable.

Reintroducing Khan was problematic for all sorts of reasons — but if you're going to do it, you have to assume a lot of your audience knows nothing about him. Which means, do the marketing campaign around explaining Khan and why he's scary. And spend the first half of the movie building up Khan as a major threat. Don't introduce "John Harrison, generic superspy guy" for the first half of the movie, and then suddenly reveal that he's actually "Khan Noonien Singh, generic maniac guy." The first five minutes of STID should have introduced Khan as Khan, and shown us why he's awesome, and why he's a unique character.

The only reason to play games for the first half of the movie is because of Abrams' obsession with secrecy, and this time around it actually hurt his storytelling in a fatal way.