[The following is a review/analysis of the 20 minutes of new 'Star Trek' movie footage previewed for the press on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. It was attended by new Screen Rant contributor Brian Kettler - unfortunately I was not able to make it out to LA to render my own opinion on the footage. - Vic Holtreman]
Space… The Final Frontier. These are the words preceding many of my favorite works of fiction. From the weekly adventures of Captain Picard and his Next Generation crew, to the grand & epic storyline of Captain Benjamin Sisko and his allies on Deep Space Nine , I’ve considered myself a Star Trek fan for many years. While their successors, Voyager and Enterprise, left me cold and led me to stray to find solace in other fictional universes, there was one Trek that has always held pleasant memories for me: The Original Series. Also known as “Classic” Trek (or “TOS”) for good reason, the initial voyages starring Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Doctor McCoy, and the rest of the cast are arguably the most popular among Trek enthusiasts.
I was one of a lucky few invited to Paramount Studios in Hollywood to watch 20 minutes of footage from the upcoming new Star Trek movie. Unlike the New York presentation earlier this week, there were several of the actors in attendance for this viewing. Present were director J.J. Abrams and actors John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, and Zachary Quinto.
The footage was presented by J.J. Abrams, who spoke before each of the four different scenes that were presented. Abrams states:
“My dream in life is to make movies. My father was a producer on this lot, and so I saw the first screening of ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ on this lot. This film was a joy to do for so many reasons. I wasn’t yet a fan, but the script was so good. It was an adventure, it was funny, romantic, sexy, scary, epic. I’m grateful I didn’t pass it up!”
So I guess what J.J. was trying to say is that he does have some prior Trek cred, and he is now a fan.
In regards to casting, Kirk: “Couldn’t fall back on the pointy ears like the other guy”, but he was very happy with Chris Pine’s performance. The audience was thrilled with it, myself included.
On Spock: “casting Spock was going to be impossible”, but Zach was the first person they cast. After viewing the footage, it was most definitely the logical decision. I’m eager to see more. I believed he was Spock, and hope to see how he grows the character. This was the younger, slightly less reserved Vulcan than Nimoy presented. Of what was shown, I think his performance ties very well into what Nimoy had established.
Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine in the new Star Trek movie
SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to focus on my feelings about the footage, so while I’ll attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum, there are going to be a few. Okay, you’ve been warned. From here on out, There Be Spoilers Here!!!! (BTW, the most uber-detailed description of the footage online can be found here at Coming Soon.)
Overall the footage had a very J.J. Abrams signature style to it. The tight focus on the faces during emotional scenes gives the relationships a very real feeling to them. There’s tension, there’s real drama there. There is some fast-paced cutting during the hand-to-hand fights, which flowed very quickly. This is certainly more of a hip, sexy Star Trek than what we’re used to with these classic characters. I really enjoyed the musical score, it had me on the edge of my seat in a few places. The technobabble, ever-present in all of the modern Star Trek‘s, was kept to a minimum here. There is a real dichotomy between the sterile Starship sets and the large-scale industrial locations. The Earth-based shipyards had a very blue-collar feel to them. There were few exterior shots of the Enterprise in space, but the few brief angles shown worked very well for me. Many, many nods to the fans were noted, and all of them worked without requiring a 40-plus year familiarity with Trek lore. Everyone can understand the concept of the planet Vulcan, but hard-core Trekkies can enjoy seeing the CGI-enhanced Vasquez Rocks (The location where Arena was filmed, along with many other Trek episodes). The communicator “chirp” had a nice touch to it. And the new Transporter effect was…different. I liked what I saw, it just had this kind of splatter-effect to it at the end that I think I need another viewing to let it sink in.
The new Transporter effect
The first scene takes place in a bar in Iowa. Kirk shows off his prowess as a ladies’ man (Wow, they really have that character down!). This scene had a lot of well played humor along with a brutal fight scene (by Trek standards). Bruce Greenwood brings real gravitas to the role of Captain Pike, a real father-figure for the aimless, drifter-like Kirk.
Karl Urban as Dr. “Bones” McCoy
The second scene featured Karl Urban as Dr McCoy as he manages to get Cadet Kirk onboard the Enterprise. Urban really embodies the soul of Deforest Kelly, a very inspired casting choice! Like his predecessor, his nurses all wear short skirts. Unlike in classic Trek however, the nurses all wear white. Anton Yelchin is perfect as Chekov. He’s given a great bit of material to work with and performs admirably. More on him later. Urban does a great rendition of “Good God man!” The humor does seem a little forced with the “numb tongue” bit falling a little flat, but overall it’s still solid work. And for the detail oriented nitpickers, the black shirt Cadet Kirk is wearing seems to be the same type everyone else wears under their colored tunics. He’s not an actual member of the crew at this point, so no yellow tunic for him.
I was not too impressed with the designs of the Romulans however. They seemed like gothic, pointy-eared pirates here. They were all bald, to differentiate them from the Vulcans, which worked for me. But their dress and facial hair just kept screaming vampire-pirates to me. I guess I just miss the Nosferatu style brows featured in the modern TV shows. The few lines shown by Eric Bana worked for me, I just wish his minions had a different feel to them. As Abrams states about Bana, his character is “so relatably mostly evil”, so I can’t wait to see what he means.
Simon Pegg as the new “Scotty”
The third scene, as set up by Abrams, features an acting-Captain Spock “trying to get Kirk the f**k off his ship” (Abrams’ quote). It also features the return of Leonard Nimoy to the role he made famous. On directing Nimoy, Abrams said “what do I say to HIM on how to play Spock?” Indeed. The scene shown did not show how Spock first appears on screen, but rather after his reveal. It was rather jarring to miss that introduction, and that is the part I most anticipate next year. That being said, Simon Pegg as Scotty completely steals every scene he has with Nimoy! Pegg was the cast member I was the most worried about, simply due to my baggage of thinking of him as Shaun from Shaun of the Dead. But he was so incredible in his scenes, that to even take focus away from Nimoy was impressive. Pegg won me over as Scotty! Nimoy of course had some very wonderful, touching lines that are sure to please the fans. I won’t spoil them here, but he does consistently refer to Kirk as “Jim”. Very nice!
The fourth and final scene shown was part of the final battle where Kirk and Sulu (and an unfortunate Red Shirt) battle the Romulans. Again, some great lines during this sequence, especially Spock’s line about pranks. The scale for what was shown was really epic!
John Cho as Sulu in the new Star Trek movie
Diehard fans might notice that the Enterprise computer voice is NOT Majel Rodenberry’s this time. The angle shown of the Enterprise as the shuttles launch from the rear of the ship was very impressive. As for Anton Yelchin as Chekov? At one point, I could have sworn he said “Quirk” instead of Kirk. And when he ran through the ship, his body language was very reminiscent of Walter Koening’s Chekov. Not sure if that was intentional or not, but I had no doubt after that that he is Chekov! John Cho didn’t have as many scenes featured during these twenty minutes as the other characters. This is no slight against Cho. While he did fence and sword-fight in the final scene, I’m looking forward to the full movie to see what he can do. His scenes were more action-oriented than dramatic, and there’s only so much you can see in twenty minutes. As for the Red Shirt? He dies pretty spectacularly. Nice to see that tradition continue!
There are many reasons why the Classic Star Trek stories still endure, chief among them is due to the actors who played the roles. From Deforest Kelly’s professionally mischievous Dr McCoy, to George Takei’s stalwart Mr. Sulu, to James Doohan’s Scotty (the frequently exasperated ship’s engineer), the actors playing these roles are forever locked in the hearts and minds of the fans. But no two people are more synonymous with Star Trek than William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Shatner, as the legendary James T. Kirk, and Nimoy, as the ever-logical Mr. Spock, went on to establish Star Trek as a world-wide phenomenon.
Throughout Cinema history, iconic roles have frequently been recast. James Bond, Dracula, Robin Hood, Superman, and Batman, for example, have all featured different actors playing these roles. But for over an unprecedented 28 years, from his 1966 debut to his big-screen final curtain in 1994′s Star Trek Generations, only one man had ever portrayed Captain Kirk. Likewise for Mr. Spock, who was ably portrayed by Nimoy for 25 years until 1991′s Star Trek VI: Undiscovered Country ( if you don’t count the four actors who Leonard Nimoy himself chose to play the roles of the aging Genesis Planet Spock in Star Trek III The Search For Spock). For the May 8, 2009 release of Star Trek, the entire original seven cast members have been recast. In this production, the featured roles of Kirk and Spock are played by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, respectively, and are the only two over whom the original actors, Shatner and Nimoy, had “final approval” in regards to their casting.
So overall how did I feel about the footage? I believed that Chris Pine was James T. Kirk! Zachary Quinto is Mr. Spock! I’m dying to see how all of these relationships play out when this movie comes out next year. I firmly believe that this will positively re-establish the Star Trek franchise. My hopes are for a continuing storyline in the inevitable sequels to come. What I saw tonight had a real sense of drama, pathos, comedy, tension, and urgency to it. This may upset a few of you out there, but I’m anticipating this movie more than Watchmen! This movie comes out 2 days after my birthday, and J.J. Abrams now has me looking forward to turning another year older! While this may not quite be your father’s Star Trek, it is the most logical progression of the franchise. Star Trek as a concept should not stay dormant forever. Many fans have cried out that Trek should “take a break” for a while after the last disappointing TV series before returning. And now, like a powerful phoenix, this universe is about to rise again from its ashes, in what I believe will be the most powerful form we’ve seen in over a decade. To any of the fans who doubted Abrams’ dedication to bringing you the best Star Trek, you have nothing to fear!
The Enterprise from the new Star Trek movie
And now as a bonus here are my very brief interviews with a couple of the cast members who will be taking on those iconic roles as modern day replacements. Please Note: This was not a formal interview setting. These are the results of brief handshakes and quick conversations. There were plenty of executives all angling to talk to the stars, and I didn’t see any press types talking to them before I left. I didn’t even see J.J. Abrams after the screening, so no questions from me. They were all fantastic and everyone I spoke to was gracious enough to sign an autograph for me. I won’t bore everyone with the exchange of pleasantries, but John, if you’re reading this, my girlfriend was thrilled I brought home your personalized autograph to her. Thanks!
First, Zachary Quinto, the new Mr. Spock:
Screen Rant: How do you feel about the release date being pushed back to May of next year?
Zachary Quinto: It means another six months to wait but it’s definitely worth it.
SR: It looks like the studio is positioning this to be their summer blockbuster. Are you signed up to do more?
Quinto: We’ll have to wait to see how well this one does.
SR: How does it feel to be taking on the role of Spock?
SR: Great work! I can’t wait to see this film.
And then I moved on to speak with Chris Pine, the new James T. Kirk:
SR: So what did you think of the new footage?
Chris Pine: I’m still shaking. That [footage] was fantastic! Those special effects look great!
SR: do you think they’ll keep the music that was just used?
Chris Pine: I hope so. It was pretty good, wasn’t it?
SR: How does it feel to take on the role of Kirk?
Chris Pine: Challenging.
SR: So are you signed up for more?
Chris Pine: It’s a standard three picture deal. But it depends on how well this one does, if there’ll be more.
Three picture deal, baby.
So what do you think? Does this make you feel better about the film or are you a Trek fan who doesn’t want to see any deviation from Star Trek “canon?”
Star Trek opens on May 8, 2009.