Sunday, 31 May 2009
Rejuvenating Star Trek Feature
“In Spaced there is a line where I’m talking about things that are sure in life, and one of them is that every odd numbered Star Trek movie is shit. That’s not true anymore!” –Simon Pegg
Back on the big screen for the first time since 1989, Star Trek has already gained a five-star review with us (and The Times) and looks set to take care of movie fans looking for quality sci-fi adventure this summer.
We spoke to director JJ Abrams and his cast about the challenges they faced; in taking on the Starship Enterprise and a franchise which has had a fanatical fan base since the 1960s.
Abrams, who made his name bending genre conventions on TV shows like Alias and Lost, and with a decent Mission Impossible III under his belt, recognised the dimensions of the project early on:
“It’s so much bigger than anything I have worked on before; the scope of it is just crazy. Despite it being Star Trek and being a fantasy, our goal was to make it feel real and alive. It’s a strange one because it’s dealing with a lot of over the top science fiction but I really wanted to make sure people believed it and the only way to do that is with the characters.”
On this eleventh movie iteration of the series, those characters are the original crew of the Starship Enterprise, legends from TV and box-set that almost seem quaint now: Captain James T Kirk, Mr Spock, Bones, Uhura, Chekov and Scotty. Reset to their Starfleet academy years, Uhura still has great legs, Kirk is still a maverick and Mr Spock is as inscrutable as ever with his logic and his Vulcan grip. Only now they have youth and of course a brand new set of actors embodying them.
Chris Pine (a relative unknown until now) stepped in William Shatner’s famous space brogues. Did he get set for the role by studying Shatner?
“I went home and started my preparation by watching the original, remastered series and found that by mid way through the first season, despite the positives, I found myself paying more attention to how I could perfect the idea of William Shatner as James T Kirk and that was not the mandate that JJ [Abrams] had given me! It was more: to pay homage to what had come before to create a sense of continuity.”
The actor talks about nuances and that’s exactly what he delivers on screen, with a few Shatner tics here and there but his Kirk is his own man, albeit a plausible young buck version of the womanising Captain we came to know.
And that’s the trick with this revamp; the new cast don’t do impersonations but they do a great job of getting across the spirit of their predecessors. That said, New Zealand born actor Karl Urban (who’s been seen in Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Supremacy) offers an uncannily close portrayal of Dr Leonard “Bones” McCoy compared to the actor who went before, with his scowling cynicism intact. How did he get so eerily close to (the now deceased) DeForest Kelley’s characterisation?
“For me the challenge was to identify the essence and spirit of what DeForest did so wonderfully well for all those years. I have to be honest, I found it quite a scary experience because I was never quite sure where the line was but comforted in the fact that JJ was there to keep me on track. I have an eight year old son and two years before shooting I watched the entire box-set with him which helped when it came time to do the screentest, I didn’t have to review the material, I felt like I knew the character already.”
Unlike Karl Urban, Zachary Quinto as Mr Spock, on the radar of course from Heroes, not only had his counterpart around him on set but actually shares scenes with him. He’s already spoken about how inspirational it was to have Leonard Nimoy around, as the veteran actor plays Ambassador Spock once again and oversaw Quinto in the production. The younger performer (who already looks a better actor) almost inadvertently campaigned to play Spock, when a hometown newspaper asked him if there were any roles he hankered after and he mentioned the famous Vulcan.
One man who almost turned down his role, as Scotty, in an email exchange with the director is Gloucester’s own Simon Pegg. The British comic actor has been steadily making his name internationally after hit movies Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Having started in Spaced, the slacker TV comedy that was basically driven by pop cultural references, we were keen to ask him just how he feels now that he’s part of pop culture himself in Star Trek?
“In Spaced there is a line where I’m talking about things that are sure in life, and one of them is that every odd numbered Star Trek is shit. That was a widely held geek’s eye view of Star Trek, that’s not true anymore! That’s most certainly been disproved by this movie and it’s lovely to be part of it. I am a self professed fan of this stuff-I’m a geek. And to go from doing a sitcom about a guy whose life ends when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace comes out, I think if I was still doing Spaced now there would be an entire episode dedicated to how Tim Bisley [his character] would be orgasmic about this movie—because it was everything he wanted that film to be.”
He added, “The irony of me being in it is not lost on me, I can assure you.”