With Star Trek: Into Darkness only a short three weeks away here in the states, several TV spots have been popping up around the interwebs with Benedict Cumberbatch’s character John Harrison giving his own bit of exposition and perspective regarding the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The most recent video centered on Lt. Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), however, gave us the briefest glimpse of the Klingons as depicted in the Abrams Trek ‘Verse.
Here’s the video:
And here’s a still frame:
So, yeah, there ya have it. As interpretations go, I’m not all that hung up about the changes. Technically, this isn’t even the first time we’ve seen Klingons in the new Trek. Though briefly mentioned by Nero in Star Trek (2009) that he and his crew had been captured by Klingons, which explains why it took them 25 years to put their plan into action, we only get a look at the Klingons in the deleted scenes. Taking place in the prison camp of Rura Penthe, we see the Klingons, but all of them are wearing helmets with distinctive ridges on the forehead. We never see the men beneath the masks probably because Abrams didn’t quite know how he wanted them to look just yet. It’s similar to Peter Jackson’s very brief glimpse of Gollum in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Though Andy Serkis was or had already finished portraying the character in the motion capture suit, Jackson still wasn’t certain about Gollum’s final look, which is why you can see some differences in how he looks in Fellowship versus when we see him completely rendered and in full view in The Two Towers.
In the case of the Klingons in Star Trek: Into Darkness, I know some people might be upset over the new look, but I think it’s an interesting interpretation that harkens back to the previous form. The guy featured in the picture still has the forehead ridges and brown skin in line with the Klingons we’ve known since Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and beyond. For the past 30 years Klingons have looked like this:
But any Trek fan worth their weight in Tribbles knows that Klingons used to look like this:
Take a good, long look. Due to budget restraints on make-up and effects, the 1960s series production staff and effects artists did everything they could to make the Klingons distinctive, but it wasn’t until the first movie that the Klingons underwent a complete redesign. In fact, the Klingons continued to evolve even within the first six Star Trek films and well into Star Trek: The Next Generation, not just in their design, but their culture as well.
The redesign, however, left a giant hole in Trek canon that continues to be debated. How exactly did the Klingons go from their 60s design to the more familiar (and badass) ridged forehead, snarl-toothed, über militaristic version? Popular theories included that 1) the original Trek Klingons were actually humans raised as Klingons 2) their ridges were removed for cosmetic reasons or 3) that the original Trek Klingons were humanoid hybrids. The in-canon explanation came from, of all places, Star Trek: Enterprise – the prequel to the original Star Trek series that ran from 2001-2005. In the episodes “Affliction” and “Divergence”, the Klingons steal the genetic material of the Augments and attempt to use their DNA to make themselves smarter and stronger. The experiments, however, create a plague that spreads throughout the Klingon Empire resulting in the smooth-skinned Klingons Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise meet in the original series. But since there are plenty of Trekkers that have some less than flattering things to say about Star Trek: Enterprise, your mileage may vary on whether or not this explanation is satisfactory or completely blasphemous.
The point is that the Klingons have undergone more redesigns and evolutions, probably more than any other species in Star Trek canon, over the last fifty years. So what’s one more? J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film made a decided effort to pay homage to the original series, but also forged its own path by shaking up the timeline and amping up the action. It’s not the same Trek, just a different one, so why can’t the Klingons get a makeover in the process? In the end, we’ll probably judge them more for their motivations and their actions in the film than how many ridges are on their foreheads.