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Star Trek Into Darkness: The Devil is in the Details


Minor, seemingly insignificant touches matter in the realm of sci-fi costume. They inspire curiosity, ignite recognition and establish a believable setting in which a story can unfold. Costume designer for Star Trek Into Darkness, Michael Kaplan, obviously grasps this concept. Returning as reboot costumer, he keeps things simple yet effective. A splash of colour here, a recognisable neckline there; again he manages to appease lifelong Star Trek fans without alienating newcomers.

Kaplan and director J.J. Abrams’ smartest move is to acknowledge but not overplay Star Trek heritage. Never be too self-referential, never try too hard not to be; it’s a balancing act. Uniforms worn by the crew of Starfleet have changed considerably since the original television series aired in 1966-69. Reflecting a swinging era, colours were bright and gaudy before evolving into moody and murky in 1990s and beyond. Kaplan took his cue for Star Trek (2009) from the first TV series, but now he moves on slightly. Into Darkness is not the nineties again, though in reflection of the film’s title and story progression, it is not a sixties cocktail party in space either.


Zachary Quinto as Commander Spock and Chris Pine as Captain Kirk. Costume designer Michael Kaplan continues the tricolour scheme established in the first season of Star Trek the TV series to distinguish branch aboard the Enterprise.

Little costume touches spark moments of “ah…” in the minds of fans while novices can get their feet wet learning Starfleet’s tricolour scheme. These colours – blue, red and yellow (or green-yellow) signify branches aboard the Starship Enterprise. Kirk (Chris Pine) wears yellow because as Captain he is in charge. Spock (Zachary Quinto) wears blue for Science, as does ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) for Medical. Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) wear red for Engineering, Command and Communications respectively. Star Trek has tinkered with this formula over the years but Kaplan now ingrains these colours – always overlaid on a pattern of Starfleet insignias – as standard. Early in the film the Starship Enterprise crew are dressed in skin tight grey mission suits, their branch indicated by narrow strips across the body. Colour is there, but if you miss it you don’t lose anything. Frankly these minor details matter precisely because you can ignore them.

With this in mind it is easy to overlook the delta print (Starfleet insignia) tunic worn by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) and his crew, Bones’ subtly light green surgical coat and the contemporary (or just plain flattering) darts on Starfleet’s dress uniforms. But to those with a passing knowledge of the Star Trek universe the neckline of John Harrison’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) black coat is surely a hat-tip by Michael Kaplan. Until Harrison’s true identity is revealed he keeps his neck covered with high upturned lapels or a scarf. However, look fast after Harrison is arrested and a wide ribbed shawl lapel is clearly visible on his coat. This is a nod to Ricardo Montalban’s pectorially revealing costume by Robert Fletcher in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) where Montalban, of course, played Khan. Kaplan and Abrams were clearly not keen to linger on meta implications as from this point on Cumberbatch’s costume is a black crew neck jersey with Starfleet insignia then Deckard-like overcoat for the finale. Incidentally Kaplan was also co-costume designer of Blade Runner (1982).


Certainly in terms of silhouette, Benedict Cumberbatch as terrorist John Harrison bears a resemblance to Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner. Both coats worn are variations on a contemporary trench.

‘Red shirts’ make more of an appearance during Into Darkness than 2009’s reboot. The informal rule from the TV series is that crew members wearing red jerseys were nameless expendables killed off every episode. This is not to imply that more people die throughout Into Darkness, more that the in-joke had already been covered for the first film so there was no need to repeat it. Instead we get a pointed and amusing exchange between Kirk and Navigator Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Kirk’s instruction to “put a red shirt on” so Chekov can take over as engineer is met with a terrified silence.

However, Kaplan is not afraid to go retro. Those mini-dresses on Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) and Uhura worn with calf length leather boots are freeze-frame sixties. The original show was influenced by contemporary trends as a means of connecting with its audience. Mini-dresses, mini-skirts and tight shirts were a commonplace sight. The closest Kaplan comes to contemporary for Into Darkness is a print t-shirt seen briefly on Uhura as she faces the Klingons. Uhura is supposed to be in disguise at this point; she certainly could have been plucked from the movie and dropped into our world without appearing out of place. This is precisely why most of Star Trek’s non-uniform costumes are just a detail or two away from our own. In other words they are not jarring.

Star Trek into Darkness_Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana dress mid_Image credit Paramount Pictures

Kaplan hints at the original Star Trek series with a 1960s style red dress and calf length boots worn by Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Note the angular shoulder on the jacket of a worried father (Noel Clarke), Uhura’s patterned silk scarf, draped necklines on passers by in 23rd century London, a doctor’s medical coat with sleeves gathered toward the elbows – these are our clothes, just not as we know them. When Scotty is drinking in a bar his ensemble has a sixties flavour; the splayed collar on his floral shirt is rounded like a pyjama top. This is attire worn in the past, referenced in the future and then adapted to meet contemporary trends, which is something of a metaphor for the film itself.

That said, one item of clothing that has not changed much in the future is female underwear. When Dr. Carol strips to her essentials for the most gratuitously PG-sexual moment in recent cinema history, she is wearing a matching black set with plunge bra. Apparently support is one area of life that technology has failed to make any significant advancements in.

Star Trek Into Darkness is on general release now in UK and released in U.S. on 16th May.

© 2013 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.