Trekonomicon




Last Friday the title of the 2013 sequel to J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek movie was announced. The site at the preceding link and other news outlets report it as Star Trek Into Darkness [sic].

Um... Okay.

I hope that, if the title sticks, someone at Bad Robot or Paramount realizes that it either has to be Star Trek: Into Darkness or Star Trek into Darkness, with the preposition uncapitalized.

My own mind's not quite made up on how I like the title, nitpick aside, but I do think that it's interesting to at least consider springboarding from the concept of "star trek" as a noun phrase that describes the action being undertaken in the movie — and to elaborate upon where, literally or metaphorically, such a trek amongst the stars is taking our protagonists. Although we're all used to the name Star Trek now, this is a good reminder that it's never been an "in-story" thing. The ship is called Enterprise; its crew belongs to Starfleet; Starfleet is the exploratory/diplomatic/military arm of the United Federation of Planets, or just "the Federation" for short.

Star Trek into Darkness isn't entirely, to reverse the title's imagery, out of the blue. The second sequel in the Die Hard franchise, after Die Hard II: Die Harder, was Die Hard with a Vengeance.

Part of the concern for me is that recontextualizing the Star Trek name, removing
it from its status as a familiar pop-culture label and taking it on its own merits, sheds light on the fact that it sounds a bit, well, dippy and bland. So does Star Wars, frankly, but then there are those who will argue that the Star Wars prequel trilogy is likewise dippy and bland. When Gene Roddenberry was pitching Star Trek to Paramount's antecedent, Desilu, he emphasized the frontier aspect of space — what the series' opening would famously proclaim to be "the final frontier" — and referenced the 1957-65 TV Western Wagon Train, framing his show as Wagon Train to the Stars. It's a piece of Star Trek lore known to even casual fans, and I suspect all of us are glad that Wagon Train to the Stars was not the show's actual title; for me, Star Trek into Darkness recalls that awkward name perhaps a bit too closely.

I see that co-writer/producer Damon Lindelof has discussed a desire on the part of
the creative team, if not Paramount, to differentiate this run of Star Trek films from the previous one (or two, depending on how you count them) by doing away with the colon. The five Original Crew sequels to the very first, 1979 Star Trek movie all had roman numerals and colons — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and so on, up through Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. And the four Next Generation films — Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis — used colons too. Intriguing as it may be for this next movie, and perhaps further sequels, to incorporate the franchise's name as a phrase in the titles, I don't get why a colon per se is anathema; then again, I am now rather used to disagreeing with Damon Lindelof.

Doing away with numerals, Arabic or Roman, is something that I endorse whole-heartedly. I much prefer subtitles or extended titles for film series. The Harry Potter and Indiana Jones franchises only needed a single conjunction, "and" (well, after George Lucas retroactively declared Raiders of the Lost Ark to be Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, anyway). Planet of the Apes went above and beyond, almost literally, first with Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and then with Escape from, Conquest of, and Battle for, not counting last year's reboot prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The James Bond franchise, by contrast to not only numbering but brand-name repetition of any kind, has managed to last for 50 years, since 1962's Dr. No, without the lead character's name or even his "007" designation appearing in any title at all. The Pink Panther went down that road with its first sequel, A Shot in the Dark, which made sense since the actual star was Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau and not the Pink Panther diamond, but marketing of both the film series and the animated cartoon panther that spun out of the opening sequence triumphed a decade later and The Return of the Pink Panther launched a string of titles along that line. For that matter, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were originally released under those titles alone, although most posters incorporated the Star Wars name into the logos. Marvel's Avengers mega-franchise has taken three separate tacks — Iron Man spawned a pair of simply numbered sequels, Thor is being followed by Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The First Avenger, a rare case of the initial movie in a series carrying a subtitle, paved the way not just for the ensemble piece The Avengers but for the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Lindelof expressed admiration for how the latter-day Batman film series did without numbers or colons, yet those waters are muddied both on their own terms and in relation to the relaunched Star Trek. Batman Begins was called Batman Begins largely because there'd already been a Batman in 1989 (never mind the earlier money-grab related to the TV series in 1966, or the 1943 film serial). While I don't love that title, I don't hate it, either; what I do kind-of hate is the jump to The Dark Knight midstream, apropos as the title might have been, and especially the grammatical bait-and-switch we got with The Dark Knight Rises. Much like Batman and Batman Returns, but more painfully obviously to my eyes, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises juxtapose a noun phrase in the first instance with an active subject-verb sentence in the second instance, which could have been avoided by using Dark Knight Rising instead. The 2009 Star Trek did not go a similar route, in any event, by couching the franchise's title in a sentiment like Batman Begins — which it really couldn't do without a colon, say, I don't know, Star Trek: Mission Zero, unless you take the Star Trek into Darkness tack and really strain patience with, oh, I really don't know, The Star Trek Begins. Neither did it or its sequel go the route of The Dark Knight and next year's new Superman movie The Man of Steel by foregoing the actual character/series name with an associated phrase, although I hear that titles picking up on bits of the Star Trek lore were considered in lieu of something that included the name Star Trek itself. Enterprise and The Final Frontier had already been used for a TV sequel/prequel and an Original Crew movie, respectively, so it would've been down to slim pickings, probably Where No Man Has Gone Before, leaving little option for further installments.

I think my preference tends towards the usage of a colon and subtitle for Star Trek,
to keep the franchise's established title separate from the name of the individual adventure at hand, for reasons stated above. Since I have an emotional investment in the characters — however tempered by their reinvention in Abrams' newly established blank-slate timeline, as I mused upon after that film's release — and more to the point simply because I enjoyed that movie, I plan to go see the sequel next year whatever it's called. At the same time I feel more than... entitled, no pun intended, by that same emotional investment to be vocal about my feelings on any aspect of it. Star Trek is one of those things that in all but the strictest legal sense has long since ceased to belong to any single source.

What do you think?


Original poster © 2009 and Star Trek ® Paramount. Extended title © 2012 Brian Saner Lamken.

7 comments:

El Qué said...

First: I love that fake poster. Hell, I'd put it on my wall. Maybe I will.
Second: How much do I hate that nonsensical title? About as much as I love your fake poster! If they don't at least put in the colon or lowercase the "into" properly I might boycott this movie.

Teebore said...

When hearing the title, one of my friends scoffed, "they're already in space where it's dark; where are they going to go?"

To which I replied, joking and hoping I'm wrong, "they're trekking into the darkness...OF THE HUMAN SOUL!"

Later, Dr. Bitz and I were discussing this offline, and joking that, given some of Hollywood's ridiculous insertions of number into titles (ie Step Up 2 The Streets), the Star Trek franchise should have followed suit by replacing letters with the number of the sequel:

2tar Trek, Star Tr3K, St4r Trek, 5tar Trek, etc.

Or, they could have gone the "verb" route:

Star Trek, Star Treks, Star Trekking, More Star Trekking, Still Star Trekking, Star Trekked, etc

While neither of us seriously condone these options, it does make Star Trek Into Darkness seem more palatable by comparison. :)

Teebore said...

Nothing to see here, move along, move along...

Arben said...

I like your faux poster a lot more than the title. My fear is that it is an existential sort of thing, like Teebore says, and while that doesn't bother me if it's handed well it would kind-of be nice to just have a grand adventure, with fun character stuff, rather than a deep meaningful exploration of demons within, blah blah blah. It's a shame that big-budget feature films are far apart enough and such "events" that each one has to be Important in terms of Origins and Turning Points and Crises of Faith rather than just a cracking good Batman / Star Trek / whatever story.

Blam said...


Star Trek: Into Darkness really doesn't bother me as long as it's written properly either with colon or by decapitalzing the preposition. I do prefer the colon, though.

And I do expect that "the darkness... OF THE HUMAN SOUL!" is exactly what the title is supposed to imply, perhaps as a by-product of literally trekking into some uncharted region of space.

"It doesn't appear to be a black hole, but no light escapes this area. No vessel that's entered it has been known to return, either. The area has come to be known as the Miasma."

"Let's take a look!"

Oh, Enterprise.

Arben said...

Ha! Yeah, I always got a kick (an eye-roll, too, but it's part of the whole theme) over the fact that pretty much every incarnation of the Enterprise or other lead Star Trek vessel would go perhaps a little boldly into any situation — darkness surely included — no matter all the crazy stuff they'd seen in the past. Sure they were on exploratory missions, but geez.

Blam said...


i was just rereading this post after putting the Pictogag that leads it off over on my new Tumblr blog and I realized that I left out mention of the most egregiously ass-backward (or ass-diagonal, or ass-Möbius-stripped) series of film titles of all: First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II (so far so good), Rambo III, and finally... Rambo. Yeesh.