J.J. Abrams. Star Trek. Both are magnets for speculation. Combine them with the speculating capacity of the Interweb, and you get the conditions for a perfect space storm of supposition, conjecture, guesswork and rumour.
Consider all the wild surmising about Star Trek Into Darkness, the Abrams-helmed blockbuster that opens this spring. Online chatter has spiked again with the release of last week's teaser trailer. And yes, that's basically a trailer for a trailer. The movie itself is still light-years away.
Featuring 68 seconds of quick-cut visual images and enigmatic voiceover, the teaser still contains more than enough data to throw the Into Darkness debate into warp-drive. Fan forums and message boards are jammed with Trekkies boldly speculating where no one has speculated before.
Writer-director Abrams, who once gave a TED talk about "the potent mystery of an unopened package," has always had a penchant for secrecy, for "untitled projects" and protracted roll-outs. Cloverfield started life as a monster movie without a monster, while Super 8 was kept under wraps like some kind of covert government operation.
Abrams' notoriously opaque and convoluted TV series Lost proved he was a master at doling out just enough information to keep viewers in an almost erotic frenzy for more. Talking about Lost became as much of a thing as actually watching Lost.
Pair up Abrams' clandestine moviemaking with the obsessive decoding of Star Trek fans, and you get a highly advanced form of nerd espionage. In the absence of known facts, commentators are seizing on telling clues, searching for hidden codes. They're sifting through the Star Trek canon. They're practising spacecraft identification and factoring in time-travel paradoxes. They're bringing in the rare Russian version of the poster. They're analyzing the intel.
Abrams' long, seductive reveal started with the movie's title. (Why no sequel numbering system? asked fans. Why no punctuation? asked copy editors.) Then came the plot synopsis, relating only that the crew of the Enterprise would face "an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization." Then the first poster, a solitary figure set against apocalyptic wreckage. And now the teaser trailer.
All of these steps have been examined with nerdian levels of pedantry. Currently, the big question involves the identity of the villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch. "I have returned, to have my vengeance," he declares in the teaser trailer. But returned from where?
According to some informal web polls, the front-running favourite is scary Gary Mitchell from the original series. This view is based primarily on the hairstyle of a female science officer glimpsed for about two milliseconds.
Meanwhile, the group promoting superhuman tyrant Khan as the Big Bad is bringing in the Japanese trailer, which contains a crucial 15-second bonus that includes an image of hands (presumably Kirk's) mirroring a scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This is compelling but "by no means conclusive" evidence, as one fan testily points out, since even a Tumblr page devoted solely to the hands of the actor who plays Kirk (it's called The Chris Pine Hand Porn Spectacular, and it's awesome) can't make a definitive call on whether those are the captain's digits.
Finally, a small but dedicated group is promoting dark-horse candidate Garth of Izar, a megalomaniac from TOS. (Downside: Garth is not a really terrifying villain name. Upside: Cumberbatch would be delivering lines like, "Silence! The chatter of inferior weaklings wearies me." )
Of course, using the kind of conspiratorial thinking that's encouraged by Abrams' oeuvre, there's a chance that he's deliberately including pointers to all three baddies. Take an image of Cumberbatch wearing leather ruffles, which prompts Team Khan to make a side-by-side comparison with Ricardo Montalban, the original Khan. Then there's Cumberbatch in a Federation crewneck that seems to reference Mitchell and his all-American sportswear look. Finally, there's a flamboyantly long coat that really channels Garth's baroque sense of style.
Predictably, some fans have started anticipating this kind of mind-messing strategy. Referencing an interview in which Karl Urban (the actor who plays McCoy) name-dropped Gary Mitchell, certain skeptics claim that this is a deliberate bit of misdirection. (As in, "Hah! That's just what they want you to believe...")
Oh, there are wheels within wheels, and the nine-minute sneak look at Star Trek Into Darkness that premièred before last night's screenings of The Hobbit probably won't clear things up.
That's probably good. Dry, bounded certainty, when it finally arrives, won't be half as much fun as all this gloriously geeky Internet analysis.