Into Darkness and the novelverse [SPOILERS]

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by King Daniel Beyond, May 16, 2013.

  1. Therin of Andor

    Therin of Andor Admiral Admiral

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    Orci & Kurtzman showed us that the 24th century Prime Universe remains undisturbed before "Star Trek" (2009) was even released. In IDW's "Countdown" #4, Captain Data, Ambassador Picard and an injured Worf are seen conversing long after Spock's and Nero's vessels have entered the singularity.

    And, in interviews, Orci repeated said, "Think Parallels".
     
  2. Captaindemotion

    Captaindemotion Vice Admiral Admiral

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    That's exactly how I rationalised him looking like Benedict, instead of Ricardo. I never had a problem with it. It was one of those things that was so obvious it never had to be spelled out.
     
  3. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Christopher,

    I didn't want to take my silence to your last reply to my post as acceptance of your points because I didn't agree with many of your conclusions.

    First off I want to tell you that it was not my intention to imply you were being dishonest with me. I didn't care for your 'dismissal' but I can understand if you think I was implying deceit on your part. What I did feel then, and still do, is that you were sidestepping the question about Uhura being defined by Spock.

    Uhura:

    I can agree that she has seemed to taken McCoy's spot as the third pillar but I would argue that it is an issue of style and image more than substance. McCoy played a key role in helping frame the intellectual and/or moral issues affecting the crew, vis a vis his debates with Spock and his advice with Kirk. NuUhura, while starting out as a gadfly of Kirk's during the Academy scenes, has now been relegated to having her conversations with Kirk revolve around her relationship with Spock. She provides no opposition or different point of view. She added nothing to the political discussion in Into Darkness. Unless it's about Spock and how he feels about her, them, or himself, she doesn't have much to add at all. Her character is very limited. I'm not saying that isn't a step up from what Nichelle Nichols had to work with, but I'm not singing hosannas about it either.

    Granted Zoe probably is the biggest star of that cast but that doesn't automatically equate to them finding something to do with her if her relationship with Spock ended. With TNG, LeVar Burton was the best known actor to US audiences at the start of the show but that billing wasn't commensurate with the development and screen time his character got. So it remains to be seen if they do break up Spock and Uhura and what would happen to Uhura afterwards. As it stands for me, Zoe being a black Latina and a woman helps sell this new version of Trek as something different and her relationship with Spock also does that, but underneath it is still largely a story dominated by white males, as was the case with Into Darkness (Kirk, Spock-white Vulcan male, nuKhan, and Marcus). Zoe is not quite very pretty brown wall paper, like Halle was in the X-Men films, but she isn't that far removed from it. Better than Nichelle's Uhura-let me repeat-but the level of empowerment is going to continue to be a subject of debate.

    Khan:

    While you are right that both actors were of European ancestry (which is a real world thing; and why do you get to use the real world and I don't? :)), Khan Noonien Singh, as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry was likely not. As you pointed out, they even darkened Montalban's skin in "Space Seed" to highlight that he wasn't a white guy. And if we are to believe that the alternate universe timeline was largely unaffected until Nero's incursion Khan should still look like the Khan of "Space Seed". Even the fairer skinned Khan of TWOK had more tint to his skin than Cumberbatch's did. I'm guessing-hoping-that the upcoming Harrison comic book will explain he was surgically altered, which would make sense within the context of this story, though I wish they had just cast an actor of color.

    Colorblind casting:

    Regarding Into Darkness I don't know how exhausting the casting search was. I only read about Del Toro, which I said was a good thing previously. I don't know if they did even look at South Asian actors. It would've been great if they had even corrected Roddenberry's faux pas with Khan initially, but they didn't. They took a character of color and hired a white guy to play him. That's whitewashing.

    I disagree with your description that 'plenty' of films have gone the route of casting blacks or other nonwhites into 'white' roles. I don't think there is an equivalence between whitewashing and nonwhites being cast in some white roles, and especially when you factor in the entire history of Hollywood.

    There have been some and some very prominent casting choices. Part of the reason for that I feel is a continuing lack of support for films with nonwhite subject matter or films centering on specifically nonwhite characters. Further I think the idea of whites as default human beings have in a way made many white characters indistinct enough to be played by anyone. There remain a dearth of roles for people of color and characters of color so when one as iconic as Khan goes to a white guy that's one less opportunity gone and that affects both actors and fans.

    For some of your examples, Samuel L. Jackson played the Ultimate Nick Fury. While regular Marvel Universe Nick Fury is white, the re-imagined Ultimate Fury was based on Samuel L. Jackson. So he's playing a character that is based on him.

    Regarding Kristin Kreuk as Lana. Kreuk is half-white and I wouldn't have known she was half-Asian unless someone told me. She could easily pass for white so I don't think that's as much of an issue here. Sam Jones as Pete Ross would be a better example for Smallville. Though I do think it's good that her Asian heritage is being acknowledged.
     
  4. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    In no way would I EVER, EVER claim there was an exact equivalence there. That's an argument I despise. Any fair and honest person will acknowledge that there is a long history of inequality in casting that needs to be corrected, and it will be a long time before that balance is corrected enough for there to be any kind of equivalence. What I meant to say is that things do seem to be getting better than they were, that there is enough casting of nonwhite actors in traditionally white roles to give us hope that the imbalance is on its way to being corrected. I'm not saying it's proof that the problem is solved; I'm saying it's an example that needs to be emulated and encouraged if we're going to solve the problem.

    However, recent developments have made me less forgiving about the casting of Cumberbatch as Khan. In isolation, it could be defended or at least forgiven, but looking at the big picture, it feels like part of an unfortunate pattern in the industry. First we had the leads in The Last Airbender. Then we had Khan. Coming up, we've got the Lone Ranger remake with Johnny Depp as the first live-action screen Tonto in history who hasn't been played by a genuine Native American/First Nations actor (Depp's claims of partial native heritage are unconfirmed). And now I've heard that Michael Bay, who has a history of questionable racial portrayals in his films, has cast the decidedly non-Japanese William Fichtner to play the Shredder in his upcoming Ninja Turtles movie, which is just incomprehensible. At this point it's starting to become a disturbing trend, and it's most unfortunate that a Star Trek movie of all things is a contributor to that trend, even unintentionally. I don't want to accuse STID's filmmakers of deliberately contributing to the exclusion of nonwhite actors; I don't believe that was their intent. But it doesn't seem they tried hard enough to buck the trend.
     
  5. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Christopher,

    To a large extent I agree with what you said about the trend as well as Star Trek's current creators.

    I too have had issues with Tonto and when I heard about Shredder. As for Trek one of the things regarding Khan which made me scratch my head was that up to this point Abrams-relatively speaking-has been okay with me with the casting of nonwhites in many of his films and TV shows. To be honest my expectations for Hollywood aren't that high when it comes to the development of nonwhite characters, main or supporting, but there are times when Abrams has exceeded my expectations.

    Many of the black characters on Alias, for example, were more than one-note and I will always have a soft spot for Undercovers. And he has arguably elevated Uhura to third pillar status, even if I don't care for how he did it, in the Trek films. And he has given Sulu some badass moments-though not enough. It doesn't mean that Abrams is perfect or beyond criticism or could not do better, but I do think he gets it a lot more than some of his Hollywood contemporaries.
     
  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    ^As I've said, I really, really do not think their motive in casting Cumberbatch was to favor white actors over nonwhite ones. In fact, Orci has pretty much confirmed that they were trying to avoid the racial stereotype of the dark-skinned terrorist. So I think that in trying to avoid racial discrimination in that sense, they accidentally stepped into a different kind of discrimination quagmire. Good intentions leading to an unfortunate result.

    I think part of the problem is that they're hamstrung in casting a lot of roles due to the conceit of this being an alternate timeline rather than a pure continuity reboot. Comic-book movies are free to change characters' ethnicity and correct the white dominance of the past (or replace Jimmy Olsen with Jenny as Man of Steel did), but these guys are stuck when casting roles like Christopher Pike, Carol Marcus and her father, and the like, because the alternate-timeline premise demands that they bear a resemblance to the originals. If that weren't the case, then maybe the casting of a white Khan/Harrison could've been offset by casting the Marcuses differently, or casting Pike differently in both movies. Heck, with a wholesale reboot we maybe could've had, say, a black McCoy, a female Sulu or Chekov, maybe an Indian Scotty (there are lots of people of South Asian ancestry in the UK). But as it is, they're kind of stuck with the racial and gender biases of the original series' casting, and thus can't be as progressive as Bad Robot has been in several of its other productions.
     
  7. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    ^^ Just my two cents on the Khan/Cumberbatch issue....

    I'm less inclined to view the original casting of Khan as much of a progressive victory. To me, watching "Space Seed," Montalban's Khan, with his artificially darkened skin and noticeable Mexican accent (in spite of the character being from the Indian subcontinent), embodies (whether intentionally or not) a lot of paranoid white stereotypes about Latinos -- that they are "exotic," that their sexuality is more pronounced and overpowering, that they are a temptation to white women and sexual rivals to white men. Khan's seduction of Marlina is perfectly in line with these stereotypes. He is the threatening Other with dark skin who wants to steal "our" women and take over "our" land.

    Meanwhile, one of the STID filmmakers' goals was to use the familiar character of Khan to explore the role of a rogue terrorist, as understood in our modern society, and to explore the question of how society should react to the threat of terrorism. This necessarily involves using some of the iconography of terrorism from our modern society, up to and including vessels crashing into sky scrapers and destroying them. Had Khan been depicted as a person of color, this would have played into more modern stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims -- the scary brown man come to kill our military and blow up our buildings.

    So while I completely understand being upset at a white actor playing a character who is supposed to be a person of color, I'm also a bit more forgiving of it in this particular instance. This version of Khan having white skin lets the filmmakers use the character without playing into some very vile, racist tropes against Latinos and Arabs.

    I absolutely don't support the whitewashing of characters of color that, as Christopher notes, has become so prevalent. (Casting a white man to play Tonto is particularly offensive, as Tonto is a good guy, so why can't a Native American play a hero in a major motion picture?) But in this particular instance, I can forgive it.
     
  8. Nob Akimoto

    Nob Akimoto Captain Captain

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    Well it's not as if they HAD to make the character Khan, which I think is actually part of the disappointing aspect. The story itself could've worked with it being some different augment, given that the importance of it being a super soldier genocidaire from the distant past was...just about zero.
     
  9. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Sci,

    Part of some of the anxieties felt at the making of Khan as the main villain of Into Darkness are self-inflicted. I agree with Nob that the villain didn't have to be Khan. Harrison worked just fine, or heck, he could've been one of the other crew of the Botany Bay (McPherson perhaps?) and cast Cumberbatch easily, no problem. But since they went the Khan route I think they should've cast a nonwhite actor. I think Khan is popular enough name/brand/character, if not his actual story, that it trumps him being a run of the mill brown skinned terrorist.

    Plus Khan being a villain with some positive traits might have also undermined the dehumanized stereotype. Perhaps having a person of color back as Khan might dredge up those kind of vile feelings, but it might also present an intelligent, formidable brown skinned person that fans can possibly admire and understand. That might have changed perceptions in a way of turning Khan into a white guy, which avoids the issue, have not done. Taking on and confronting thorny issues is something Trek has a reputation for. Granted it is a reputation not always deserved, or as laudable as many of us wish it to be, but there's still a tradition there. Into Darkness did address some contemporary issues but dropped the ball in the casting of Khan.

    I can understand your concerns about the casting of Khan back in the day. The skin darkening thing reminded me a bit too much of blackface and I have to wonder if Nicholas Meyer and/or Ricardo Montalban, etc. didn't think skin darkening would fly so easily by the 1980s as it did in the '60s.

    I don't mind the idea of Khan being a challenge to white male dominance. I would rather that than for him to be a doormat or wall paper. And I think the idea of him being a kind of dangerous Other threat is somewhat offset by his intelligence, charm, charisma, concern for his crew, and enlightened despotism that even some of the Enterprise crew can sort of admire. As for McGivers it isn't a situation where he forces himself on her, he seduces her in part because she wants to be seduced. And his love for her and grief drive help drive him to madness in TWOK. So she was more than a plaything for him.
     
  10. Nob Akimoto

    Nob Akimoto Captain Captain

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    I think the problem with Khan as the villain in <i>Into Darkness</i> is actually the opposite of the humanizing, though. The casting issue is one, but I actually thought making the character into Khan turned 'Harrison' from "man victimized while being the victimizer" into "monster from earth's history" and detracted from the ambiguity of his role.

    And that the significance of the name would only apply to people who knew the character's background (and him being an evil dictator superman from the past)
     
  11. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Even though I thought the alternate universe idea was and is a brilliant way to tell new stories while not completely eschewing the Prime Universe that I grew up in so to speak, I think that a complete reboot would help avoid some of the problems that this new iteration of Trek has run into.

    As for Khan if this had been a complete reboot, I likely would've still grumbled about Cumberbatch being Khan but would've found it more tolerable since he isn't supposed to be the same guy that Montalban played. And I do think the idea of mixing up the races/ethnicities of various characters as offsets could've been intriguing to see. Who knows if I would've agreed with all of the changes but I would've been willing to see how it all came together.
     
  12. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I see where you are going. And if you base him solely off TWOK, which I'm sure most people do, the monster label fits better, IMO. But if you take it back to Space Seed, Khan was certainly a villain but he wasn't portrayed as a monster per se. He certainly was capable of doing monstrous things but he wasn't genocidal like he was portrayed in Into Darkness. However the perhaps widespread but maybe vague notion of Khan as villain perhaps does inform the audience this guy is evil or beyond redemption, that he doesn't have a point of view that should be seriously entertained.

    I also think turning Harrison into Khan was a mistake for other reasons. It made it too easy for the filmmakers to do a soft remake of TWOK and it required some fore knowledge of who Khan was for the reveal to really have any impact. So I think it lessened the possibilities for Harrison as a character and took him and the story into more predictable waters.
     
  13. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Indeed. Damon Lindelof insisted on doing Khan, over Orci's objections. Orci convinced them to break the story as a self-contained piece with an original antagonist before deciding whether to make the character Khan, because he wanted to be sure the story could stand on its own for new viewers without depending on prior knowledge. Once they'd done that, they decided they could make the story work with Khan in the role.


    You could well be right. After all, Harrison/Khan wasn't the real terrorist here; Marcus was. At least until the climax, he was a relatively sympathetic antagonist, acting to defend his people from the real monster, Marcus, who was trying to use them to start a war. That could've been a nice way of subverting terrorist stereotypes -- to show us a dark-skinned guy who seems to be a terrorist and then turn it around. Although that would've worked better if they'd left out the massive urban destruction in the climax -- but then, they should've done so anyway, because it really didn't contribute anything to the story.


    Actually, aside from the gratuitous death-scene references, I didn't feel it was a remake of TWOK in any way. On the contrary, I felt it was a wholly new take on Khan and (casting aside) a much better Khan story than TWOK gave us. I mean, TWOK pretty much ignored everything that defined Khan as an interesting antagonist and reduced him to a cookie-cutter revenge-obsessed maniac. This movie used Khan's intelligence, his cunning, his compassion and loyalty to his fellow Augments, and the potentials of his nature and backstory in ways that TWOK didn't even try to do. And it actually let Khan interact closely with Kirk and establish an onscreen relationship with him, rather than going the whole movie without ever letting the hero and villain meet face-to-face. That's the whole reason I'm okay with the villain being Khan after hoping for years that it wouldn't be.
     
  14. Charles Phipps

    Charles Phipps Captain Captain

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    I think the issue is further complicated by the fact Khan's ethnicity in "Space Seed" is a pun. Albeit, one you have to think about.

    Specifically, Khan is an Aryan.

    *rimshot*

    I'm fairly sure that would go over audiences heads today.
     
  15. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Christopher,

    I did say it was a soft remake :). But I think you make a good point. I don't think Into Darkness is a total remake of TWOK but it does take some lines verbatim from the film-perhaps as an homage-and it does its own version of the engineering chamber death scene-as well as the infamous Khan yell. I felt all of those things felt like pale imitations that were largely unearned. To be fair, where Khan is concerned I think Into Darkness uses both Space Seed and TWOK.

    It seems to me that ID Khan is a mixture of the two. As for TWOK I think Khan as a vengeance fueled maniac works just fine. I saw TWOK years before I saw Space Seed. It works even better for me after I saw Space Seed and saw more fully Khan's character arc, of how this smart, charismatic guy had descended into an embittered, hollowed out vengeful shell of himself.

    But not taking Space Seed into account, TWOK Khan was a compelling villain who also used his intelligence and showed just a hint of his super strength. His fanaticism made him formidable and terrifying. He actually beat Kirk when he left him on the Genesis station, but his ego and his need for revenge blinded him. Similar flaws also plagued ID Khan. ID Khan did show more concern for his crew but TWOK Khan did lament his wife as well as the fallen condition of his people and that helped fuel his desire for vengeance similar to how the belief that his crew had been murdered by Spock drove ID Khan to make a suicide run at San Francisco/Starfleet HQ.

    I didn't mind Kirk and Khan not meeting in TWOK. It actually made the movie stand out and it seems quaint now in this age of mega confrontations and beat downs. I think the structure of TWOK made the characters focus more on their wits and made the final starship battle tense and exciting in a way that Kirk facing down against Kruge or Soran were not. Not having the two face off was also a good thing for Kirk because as we saw in ID and in the Enterprise Augment arc an aging Kirk probably wouldn't have stood much of a chance against a Khan hellbent on killing him.

    Keeping it on starships made it more of an equal footing for Kirk and it forced the writers to not rely on Khan's brute strength or some inexplicable reason for that failing (like it did in Space Seed) for Kirk to get the win. The final battle helped expose how far Khan had fallen, which made him even more tragic for me.

    I don't want to say that Cumberbatch didn't do a fine job. I thought he did, though his take on the character was a little too cold and some of his emotions were overwrought. Some of that was the direction and musical score. I mean the music introducing him practically told you he was from the Legion of Doom. In Space Seed and TWOK I felt Khan's assertiveness, charisma, and arrogance more.
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    But that's far from a remake. Those are a few moments stuck into a story that, overall, is completely unlike that of TWOK. And I think it was a mistake to include them, partly because they preoccupy people's attention discommensurately to their actual importance in the story.


    I don't care about who would win in a fight. Part of the reason we watch movies and TV shows is to watch actors perform. And when actors perform together, when they're exchanging dialogue face to face and can play off and reinforce one another's energy, it can be a lot more interesting to watch than two entirely separate performances filmed weeks apart and cut together by the editor. I would've liked to see Shatner and Montalban play a scene together, to see the chemistry between two talented actors.
     
  17. Therin of Andor

    Therin of Andor Admiral Admiral

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    Which was essentially Nick Meyer's take on it when the production of ST II hired blond Judson Scott - and Deney Terrio's peroxided Chippendale strippers - as Khan's men.

    In his "To Reign in Hell" novel, Greg Cox even explains how the babies born to Khan's multiracial "Space Seed" followers all end up resembling blond Aryans.
     
  18. DarKush

    DarKush Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Christopher,

    The things they took from TWOK for Into Darkness did pull me out of the film and came off as less honoring the other film than another attempt to bask in its glow, which is something also arguably done with Star Trek 2009.

    I can understand your desire to see Shatner and Montalban interact and I wouldn't have minded seeing that myself, though I think the movie works the way it was constructed. And I don't think there could've been an interaction between the two without an altercation. I don't see how the story could be played any differently since Khan was so far gone.

    TWOK Khan wanted to hurt Kirk. And being smart enough to not fall for Kirk's challenge to beam down to the Genesis station, Khan decided the best way was to strike at Kirk's friends and ship while he was helpless to do anything about it. I thought Shatner captured the rage of his impotence pretty well, even if his shout was ripe for parody. It was a very powerful moment back then even if it made me chuckle. As for Quinto my eyes just rolled at his homage.
     
  19. Charles Phipps

    Charles Phipps Captain Captain

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    For me, I just assumed the genetically engineered superbeings had DNA taken from all races on Earth. Which is a nice jab at Hitler's ideology and given how DNA *ACTUALLY* works would be closer to how you'd make a superbeing.

    But yea, for me, I hope any future novels just say Khan underwent cosmetic surgery.

    From a Doylist perspective, "race-lifting" Khan nicely prevents the brown-terrorist archetype and I agree with the producers it was better than having an explicit 9/11 parallel involve a ethnic actor defeated by the very white Spock and Kirk.
     
  20. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I think you're missing his point. The use of "Aryan" to refer to blond Nordic types was an error, or a lie, on the Nazis' part. "Aryan" literally means "Iranian" -- the two words are cognates of each other. What happened was that the Nazis mistook a theory of linguistic development -- that the languages of Europe and India branched out from a language spoken by an ancestral population that lived in Iran -- for a theory of racial descent in which a "pure" original race spawned various "degenerated" branches. And they wanted to portray themselves as the pure race, so they called themselves "Aryan" after the name of the ancestral language family even though they were a different ethnic group.

    What Charles is pointing out is that the actual Aryan or Indo-Iranian peoples migrated into northern India and their descendants are now the dominant ethnic and linguistic group there; thus, as a presumably Indian Sikh, Khan would be Aryan in a legitimate ethnic or linguistic sense, as opposed to the completely BS sense in which the Nazis used it.


    I didn't say I didn't want an altercation, I just said it's beside the point of what I did want to see. There are many ways a face-to-face confrontation could've been written. There could've been a fight that Kirk lost. There could've been a fight that Kirk cleverly found a way to win. There could've been a confrontation with one or the other of them captured and confined, like several of the Kirk-Khan scenes in STID. Or they could've chosen to make Khan not be so far gone, so that a calmer exchange between them would've been possible. Just something. Giving actors an opportunity to play off each other is important enough that a way could've been found. (Nemesis managed to give Patrick Stewart and Tom Hardy several scenes together even after their open confrontation began: a scene where Picard was helplessly confined and Shinzon taunted him, a scene where Shinzon projected a solid-seeming hologram into Picard's ready room so Hardy could actually be on the set with Stewart, and a climactic fight scene where Picard was at a definite physical disadvantage. You can find a way if you're sufficiently motivated.)


    But you just said that Khan would surely win any fight with the aging Kirk. So why not beam down to face him directly?