In Love With Star Trek - My Full Reaction to J.J. Abrams' Presentation!
by Alex Billington
November 20, 2008
Live long and prosper. Those few words, unlike the lack of "Bond, James Bond" in Quantum of Solace, are uttered by Leonard Nimoy himself in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. Their inclusion is only one of so many elements that keeps this newest Star Trek true to its roots. Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend Paramount's final Star Trek special presentation in Los Angeles. Abrams himself was on hand to introduce 20 minutes of footage, comprised within 4 scenes, to a large audience of fans and filmmakers alike on the Paramount lot. By this point, everyone knows exactly what was shown (you can find good write-ups online), so I'm not going to provide an additional breakdown. Instead, I thought I'd look at some of the reasons why I think Star Trek looks absolutely amazing and why Abrams was the right guy to reboot this franchise.
Before I begin, let me just say that the footage was outstanding. It felt like they took everything that's great about the Star Trek universe and re-imagined into one of the most epic and exciting reboots I've seen in a long time. To give everyone an idea of how important this presentation was, directly in front of me sat Zachary Quinto (who plays Spock), John Cho (who plays Sulu), and Bruce Greenwood (who plays Captain Pike), while directly behind me sat Kevin Feige, Marvel's president of production. It was an exciting presentation that I couldn't wait to see and didn't want to end. Abrams introduced the 4 scenes and from there we were quickly pulled into his vision of Star Trek and damn was it unbelievably incredible.
J.J. Abrams has become an increasing controversial choice for director since the trailer hit. However, I have complete faith in him, even though he isn't the biggest Trekkie (or Trekker) out there. He explained that he grew up a bigger fan of series like Planet of the Apes and The Twilight Zone than Star Trek. At first he wasn't initially that interested in directing this, but it was the great script (written by Transformers writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) that sold him. What little glimpse we got of the full film did have some great writing. Or at least made me realize this wasn't just a glossy throwaway summer movie - it had a lot of substance and a lot of extensive and exhilarating storytelling. When Abrams took over, he wanted it to be epic but intimate and encompass "everything", from romance to adventure and so much more.
After seeing this footage, I was finally able to interpret what the plot is actually about. As we all know, it's essentially about how all of the entire USS Enterprise crew get to their current positions, with a focus on Captain James T. Kirk. However, it's also about the maiden voyage of the Enterprise as well. By the time it leaves (on an emergency mission to assist with a lightning storm at planet Vulcan) with Captain Pike at the helm, every crew member that eventually comes to run the ship is on it, in various ways. One comical scene shows us how Kirk gets his friend Bones McCoy (played by Karl Urban) to inject him with a virus, making him sick and allowing him to get on board via a technicality since he is in his care. It may be a little off-putting at first, but that kind of quirky comedy is what makes the Star Trek universe so fun.
From there the ship gets to Vulcan only to realize that the lightning storm was a trap set by a mysterious Romulan ship. Through various extreme circumstances, we get to see Bones become the head medical officer, Uhura become the head communications officer, and Spock eventually be given command of the ship before Kirk challenges him for it (in a scene we didn't get to see). For a mild fan of Star Trek, it was very exciting to see all this happening, all set amidst an emergency mission that the Enterprise was sent out on. How's that for intensity? And if you think that plot is intense, just wait until you see some of the "extreme" scenes, like the free fall from space that Kirk and Sulu do to get down to Vulcan.
What I really loved about Abrams' casting choices are that the biggest actors are in the smaller roles. For example, Karl Urban and Eric Bana seem to be the biggest names, and both do have big roles, but Abrams' choices for Kirk, Spock, and even Chekov, are all lesser-known actors but some of the best in the whole movie. For example, Anton Yelchin, who plays the Russian engineer Chekov, has a thick accent that I was shocked to hear in one of the scenes. But by the end of it, I was more than impressed. This kid could really pull it off and I was amazed that it didn't sound tacky or cheesy, it felt like it fit but also had that quirky nature to it, just like the original show. I don't think I even need to begin talking about Chris Pine or Zachary Quinto - because they had the biggest shoes to fill and pulled it off without question.
My favorite scene (seen below), and the one that really convinced me that Abrams was the right guy, was the last one we were shown. Everyone got a glimpse of it in the trailer: it involves the giant beam of energy that is being shot from space down onto the planet. Without giving away too much, that beam is a drill that is extending down from the Romulan ship. Captain Pike sends Kirk and Sulu down to the planet to the edge of the drilling platform to blow it up and disrupt the beam. Pike heads out in a transporter and the two of them (along with a "red shirt") dive out of it in futuristic suits and free fall all the way down to the planet. Eventually they encounter some Romulans on the platform and must fight to live, but the effects, the beautiful futuristic look, the action, the intensity - all of it was all utterly unbelievable.
Or at least unbelievable in a sense that someone was actually making this all real. I've been a big fan of Abrams ever since Mission: Impossible III. I think the reason why I loved that movie so much was that he took a great script and turned it into something as thrilling and exciting as the first movie. The action scenes in M:I:III were a huge step up from anything in the series previously. Abrams put that same level of energy in Star Trek and took its action up a notch, too - this ain't you dad's Trek anymore. It's not just that the last scene where they free fall looked completely and utterly real, but the intensity, the way it was shot, and everything about it was something that I felt like only Abrams could genuinely pull off.
Other journalist out there might try to dissuade you about Abrams' vision of this franchise and claim that he's taking something classic and turning it a pile of glossy Hollywood crap, but I couldn't disagree more. What Abrams is doing is taking a franchise that has progressively lost its magic over the years and is pumping it full of modern-day energy and excitement - which is exactly what it needs. It's not only fun, but it's intense, it looks great, and it's a true Star Trek film at its core with massive space battles and epic fight scenes. If you're curious to delve into more details from the Star Trek presentation, our good friend Peter at SlashFilm has a great write-up on the footage, too. And now that I've seen nearly 20 minutes from both movies, I'll make a confession - I'm more excited for Star Trek than I am Watchmen.