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Science Fiction Film Case Study

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Institution
Production and Production Values Plus Issues of Regulation
In terms of production values, Star Trek Into Darkness is a sequel built
on the commercial and critical success of Star Trek (2009) but in reality
is the 12th film in a Paramount franchise that is over 40 years old. As a
result, it had a higher production budget of $185 million compared to the
$160 million of Star Trek both figures however signify that the film can be
categorised as a global blockbuster in terms of production values with a
useful comparison being the second best box office film of 2012, Skyfall
with a $180 million production budget and the no. 1 of that year The
Avengers at $220 million. Once production budget figures go over $150
million, the film enters the realm of the blockbuster movie and needs to have
a successful box office to evidence commercial success. Star Trek Into
Darkness is in many ways just another Hollywood blockbuster in this regard,
a global brand which suggests the homogenisation of American film
culture according to Terhi Rantanen.

Checkpoint
Write a clear explanation of the
following key words and concepts
this will make sure you understand
some of the more complex meanings
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Homogenisation
Commercial success
Critical Success
Global blockbuster
Franchise

The film was produced by the Director JJ Abrams own company, Bad Robot
Productions who also make, and have made iconic science fiction television
programmes such as Lost, Fringe and Almost Human and science fiction
films like Cloverfield and Star Trek. The distributors, Paramount brought
in JJ Abrams to direct the first Star Trek film, and also to reboot the franchise
because of his pedigree in working with supreme high production values
within the genre of science fiction but also his ability to encode emotive
representations to appeal to broad demographic (see under Audience
Targeting and Positioning). JJ Abrams is currently rebooting the Star Wars
franchise as Director (also Bad Robot Productions) with Star Wars Episode
VII set to be released at Christmas 2015.

Star marketing would have been responsible for a significant proportion of


the production budget with JJ Abrams alone commanding a large pay cheque
but also established actors from Star Trek (2009) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto,
Zoe Saldana and Simon Pegg and English actor Benedict Cumberbatch
playing a genetically engineered terrorist superhuman. Set design, Location
Filming, Editing, CGI and Special Effects, Costume Design, Sound Design,
Cast and Crew and the often ignored length of time shooting that can take a
film over production budget were the main reasons for the high production
budget. It was filmed in 2D to allow for the conversion to 3D in postproduction although 30 minutes was shot in IMAX format for higher audiovisual impact. Filmed on 35mm an anamorphic ratio (widescreen) was
used to give the film its visually epic connotations. 16 months filming
added considerably to the production budget with shooting complete in May

2012. Less and less films are being shot in and around Hollywood with the
east coast of the US becoming an increasing popular location but Star Trek
into Darkness was filmed there location shooting in and around Los Angeles
with sets built at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, Sony Pictures in Culver
City but also some shots in Iceland making for complicated, time consuming
and expensive filming.

Checkpoint
Write a clear explanation of the
following key words and concepts
this will make sure you understand
some of the more complex meanings

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Iconic
Encode emotive representations
Demographic
Star marketing
Epic connotations

In terms of regulation the film passed uncut by the BBFC with a 12A rating.
This reflects issues of desensitisation and deregulation up to a point as
the film contains violent battles scenes and implied death but not graphically
realised on screen. This is the debate for regulators and audiences in how
much should be taken into consideration in terms of implied violence e.g. the
death of Kirk at the end of the film that had more emotional impact than
graphic. The BBFC stated the film contained moderate violence and threat
which is common for science fiction, action adventure films targeting a
mainstream audience. Themes of terrorism also had to be taken into

consideration with Captain Kirk leading a manhunt to a war zone to capture a


one-man weapon of mass destruction.
12 is the bottom end of the most popular cinema going age and most high
production value action/sci fi films like Star Trek Into Darkness would seek to
promote the film to this demographic, and work to achieve an MPAA (US)
and BBFC classification that achieves this. In the film there are many scenes
of moderate violence where alien characters are shot and killed but the work
is filmed in an escapist, non realist format (science fiction and fantasy)
which makes it less likely to passively affect a young audience (there is no
sight of blood or injury). To illustrate this, low lighting is used during stabbing
scene so no wound detail is visible while the comedic value of the film dumbs
down what could be shocking scenes such as arrow-firing warriors, erupting
volcanoes, crashing spaceships and collapsing buildings. In the same way,
the BBFC considered the mild bad language as reasonable as did they the
mild sex references.

Checkpoint
Write a clear explanation of the
following key words and concepts
this will make sure you understand
some of the more complex meanings
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

De sensitisation
Deregulation
Mainstream audience
Escapist
Non realist format

Marketing and Distribution, Globalisation and Digital Technology

The film, it terms of its primary marketing used the concept of the sequel to
attract a primary target audience in the hope that the box office would
increase from Star Treks impressive performance (7th biggest film in 2009)
in part because of encoded narrative enigmas particularly in trailers and
also supreme production values as a selling point. The film earned $13.5
million in its opening day in North America but surpassed the international
earnings of Star Trek making it a global success. Globalisation was a key to
the success of Star Trek Into Darkness with the marketing campaign
releasing trailers and posters for the North American market but also for
European markets, particularly the UK where it was extremely successful.
The beginning of the marketing campaign was linked with a World Wildlife
Fund Event and was performed by Ars Electronica Futurelab from Austria and
also Ascending Technologies from Germany.
JJ Abrams name was used again in the marketing as a Director who is able to
tug at the heartstrings of the audience through stereotypically emotive
representations e.g. Spock crying because he thinks Kirk is dead a female
demographic was targeted as much as a male moving away from the
cultural stereotypes associated with science fiction (Paramount, the
Distributors and original creators of the 1960s TV Series and who paid for the
marketing campaign said they wanted to move away from geeks and Dads
as sci fi fans). As with Star Trek (2009) a direct link, in terms of marketing
and cultural capital was made with the characters from the 1960s series,
but played by much younger actors ensuring the male and female gaze
were selling points.

The release date of the film was used in the marketing (May 16, 2013)
making it an Event Movie. Just like the previous film it used a range of
innovative, interactive techniques to reach a wider audience walk-on roles
for two people were won through a series of questions after the release of
Abrams 2011 film Super 8 and he also debuted three frames of the film in his
next production Conan in 2012 showing Spock in a volcano wearing a
strange suit, generating again narrative enigmas. Nine minutes of the film
was also shown at the start of the IMAX presentation of The Hobbit: An
Unexpected Journey. Teaser posters also encoded narrative enigmas
showing a mysterious figure standing over a pile of burning rubble in a
damaged London (which also served to attract UK audiences through
cultural representations in the same way the Fox TV series 24: Live
Another Day is set in London but also targeting American audiences who
buy into Britains cultural heritage).
As a global film it sold the idea of the American Dream to international
audiences through stereotypical Hollywood representations, using star
marketing, high production values and a stereotypical three act structure
it had a lower domestic box office but an extremely successful global one,
with a saturated release in over 20 European countries, Asia, Latin
America and to a lesser extent the Middle East and Africa. The idea of the
saturated global release of the film conforms to Michael Salwens theories on
cultural imperialism being one of the effects of globalisation the film
sells a pro American ideology to audiences not just in part because of its
clear linking to the war on terror (Khan and Harewood are represented as
terrorists who are non Americans) but also in the predominance of American
actors, American accents and American references. Chris Pine as Kirk is the
stereotypical emotional, American all action hero who saves the day, a
common thread in Hollywood action films while the USS Enterprise is replete
with American connotations.

Checkpoint
Write a clear explanation of the
following key words and concepts
this will make sure you understand
some of the more complex meanings

1.
2.
3.
4.

American connotations
Critical Success
Global blockbuster
Franchise

E media and digital technology was also utilised to appeal to a younger


demographic a two minute teaser trailer was released in iTunes Movie
Trailers which started an extensive viral marketing campaign with hidden
links directing fans to a website. Apps were released for Android, iPhone and

Windows Phone which enabled users to unlock tickets for film times two days
before the films release. The official above the line trailer (there were also
a number of trailers seeded on YouTube) had an embedded URL which
revealed an international only poster. The idea of science fiction and the
associated complex, time consuming and high production value CGI
appealed to a younger audience with the film also being shown in 3D, IMAX
format even though there was significant narrative content to the film it
was suggested that the film could be marketed using the cinema as the
spectacle concept.
The traditional marketing campaign focused on star marketing and character
with only some posters featuring the USS Enterprise Cumberbatchs
character was used alongside Kirk, Spock, Uhura and Harrison in individual
posters while high production value television and cinema trailers pushed the
distribution budget to well over $100 million including a 30 second teaser
during the stadium black out of Super Bowl 2013. Intertextual references
were also made to Batman with the Star Trek logo being projected over
London which is where the film begins.
Audiences - Targeting, Positioning, Responses and Appeals Including Star
Marketing
Using Jeremy Tunstalls theory, Star Trek Into Darkness had a primary,
secondary and tertiary target audience its primary audience was
action and science fiction fans (hybrid genre), mainstreamers with a C1,
C2, D, 12-35 male skew. They are highly likely to have seen the previous
film and are fans of high production value, Hollywood blockbusters that are
fast paced and use a lot of technology and CGI, e.g. the Transformers
audience. The secondary target audience were older, female, 25-45 C1,
C2, D mainstreamers who were targeted using character, narrative and in
particular the emotive nature of the narrative. Notions of the star marketing
and the female gaze would also apply to actors such as Benedict
Cumberbatch and Chris Pine while young male audiences may be attracted
to Zoe Saldana in terms of the female gaze (star marketing would also relate
to the Director, JJ Abrams). The tertiary target audience were fans of the
franchise with significant cultural capital e.g. Trekkies or Geeks aged 3555, with a male skew, individualists again C1, C2, and D.

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The primary target audience using Stuart Halls theory positioned into
passively accepting the preferred reading of the American Dream
with the USS Enterprise representing Starfleet but in reality, the US (JJ
Abrams actually dedicated the film to post 9/11 veterans). They were also
positioned using the concept of the high production value spectacle as
linking with the Diversion element (escapism) of the Uses and Gratifications
Model. The secondary target audience could, and more likely would form a
personal identity with characters, particularly Kirk but also the idea that
Spock and Uhura were now in a personal and professional relationship. All
three elements of the audience would respond in some way to the text via
interactivity but it would be the tertiary audience who virally would
communicate using social networking and film blogs the most
evidencing the development of personal relationships outside of the films
diegesis.

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Another key appeal would be the youthful, good looking representation of the
cast with the addition of humourous characters like Scotty played by Simon
Pegg (issues of audience identification). There was legacy in terms of
cultural capital for fans of the franchise, in particular the genre marketing
of science fiction but also a context which meant it wasnt just set in space
e.g. London at the start of the film appealing to broader demographic (it is
worth referencing the UK has the second highest amount of science fiction
fans). The retro element was important in attracting older audiences and on
one level the limited role of Leonard Nimoy served this purpose. Synergy
worked with the primary target audience to sell the film with the release of a
soundtrack album with the collaboration of British singer Bo Bruce and the
Snow Patrols lead singer on a song for the films soundtrack entitled The
Rage Thats In Us All.
Narrative, Genre and Representation
The film conforms to the codes and conventions of science fiction, action
and importantly action adventure as a hybrid genre the action adventure
conventions including the idea of a quest (the manhunt) as part of
Campbells monomyths and journeys, dumbed down violence and comedic
values effecting the representations in the film. Shots of underwear in the
film are as sexually implicit as action adventure films like Star Trek Into
Darkness dare explore with the primary targeting of a young, mainstream
demographic. The narrative is single stranded, linear (an action
convention in itself) and conforms to both a classic Hollywood three act
structure but also Todorovs four act structure with a new equilibrium

being evidenced during Kirks speech at the re-dedication of the Enterprise


ceremony a year later. The new equilibrium can also relate to the idea of a
sequel with the things will never be the same again narrative linked to the
fact that the re-commissioned Enterprise is departing on a new, five-year
exploratory mission which enables the possibility of Star Trek 3.
Action and science fiction codes and conventions include institutional
factors of high production values, saturated distribution by Paramount as
one of the Hollywood big six, 12 A certification and star marketing. In this
regard, Star Trek Into Darkness reinforces and does not challenge the
mainstream conventions of both genres. This is anchored by the genre
marketing which positions audiences through promotion into expecting
certain audio-visual conventions including a dramatic non-diegetic
soundtrack, more narrative action codes including fast paced editing,
explosions, chase sequences, vast machinery and technology including
lasers, spaceships, extra terrestrial activity and aliens. The idea of a
franchise means that what has gone before in terms of genre conventions
was commercially successful which is why the film played to that formula
and only tweaked the genre template. Using Steve Neales theory of
repetition and difference it offered the USP of heightened emotive
representations. Terrorism is also new to the franchise and is encoded as a
clear narrative theme in the film, targeting a more educated demographic.
Even the stereotypical representation of a cold, English villain in
Cumberbatch is a convention that has been repeated before within the genre
many times. The representation of ethnicity however has come under much
scrutiny in the film in comparison to Gene Roddenberrys multicultural vision
of the future, not least with the a casting of the white Cumberbatch as Khan
when the original Khan from the 1960s series was the iconic Ricardo
Montalban playing a character of Sikh origin. Ethnic representation in a
Paramount Hollywood film is bound to be traditional and encoded with
hegemonic ideologies. The crew of the USS Enterprise, following tradition
however still are from multi-ethnic backgrounds including Zoe Saldana and
John Cho who pay homage to the work of 60s actors Nichelle Nichols and
George Takei.

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Critics have suggested at racebending.com that villains are generally played
by people with darker skin, unless the villain is one with intelligence, depth
and complexity as in Cumberbatchs Khan (the original Khan was respected
by the Enterprise for his sophistication and dynamism). The Klingons
themselves, as arch villains have always been muscular with darker skin
tones than the caucasian heroes of the Enterprise with of course the ultimate
hegemonic construct being white pro American ideology as represented by
Kirk, the conquering hero. Dyer would argue these stereotypes legitimise the
inequalities of mainstream media representations and Star Trek Into
Darkness moves carefully into that equation thism would be in terms of
age, gender, ethnicity but even in terms of national identity with Simon Pegg
stereotyped as the eccentric, obsessive Scotty. Shots of London and
Cumbernatch as the cool, English Khan reinforce this. Stereotyping, in the
world of Hollywood films often means audience identification as Andy
Medhurst argues and this in turn often translates into commercial success.
Casting Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime, the original reincarnation of Spock
evidences this when he follows the wise, older statesman stereotype by
warning Kirk about Khan being dangerous.
Pluralistic representations are only apparent with the heightened role of
Uhura but still as framed for the male gaze and with an additional female
character in Dr. Carol Marcus. John Cho plays Sulu of Japanese heritage and
Anton Yelchin as the Russian navigator Chekov although it could be argued
their ethnicity is decorative up to a point. Spock cries when he thinks Kirk is

dead and we are again given a momentary departure from cultural


stereotypes of gender but their male dominance and camaraderie is soon
subject to narrative restoration, as arguably with other representations.