Forget space. Forget spaceships. Forget ‘warp factor 5’ and ‘phasers to stun’. Forget Klingon warbirds and Vulcan mind-probes. Forget all that noble fluff about seeking out new worlds and new civilisations. This is a love story.
Classically, the lovers are mismatched: one’s a street-tough, risk-taking bad boy; the other a cool, hyper-focused calculator. Both are natural leaders carrying parental pain and issues with authority. And, to really complicate things, they’re in love/lust with the same woman...
Star Trek is a film made by a director with a rare flair for action and intimacy. For his new-generation regeneration, JJ Abrams has turned in both space and soap opera – sci-fi with soul.
As Abrams admits in the ‘New Vision’ featurette, his two first thoughts on being offered the gig were, “How do we make it cool?” and “How do we make it for everyone?” “I was always frustrated by how the TV Star Trek didn’t have the resources its ideas required,” says Abrams.
But, despite having the full thrust of Paramount behind him – a near-bottomless well of access, money and star potential – he’s been smart enough to realise that spraying money at something doesn’t magically morph it into fine art.
It’s this wisdom at wielding studio power that makes the movie sparkle. Star Trek is a film fuelled by a singular vision that’s inspired by its source but not so reverent that it collapses under the weight of legacy. Like the theme of the (largely nonsensical) plot, it’s all about timing, propulsion, energy... “We always thought of Star Trek as beautiful classical music and Star Wars as rock’n’roll,” says Abrams. “We wanted to impose a little more rock’n’roll on Star Trek.”
For audiences tranquillised by weightless CGI, Abrams – brilliantly – insists on using as little green-screen as possible, to root the story in reality and “not just use visual effects for their own sake”. He’s taken a fictional world notorious for its sterile swish and frowny correctness and roughed it up a bit – a lot.
Rather than build sets from scratch, he uses modified real-world locations. His editing is thrillingly loose and organic. He’s cast a relative unknown as his major star and a rack of known but underexposed actors as support. He sneaks in old-school tricks like using child doubles to make location detail more looming, spurns vogueish digital video for warmer anamorphic film – with all its imperfections, overexposures and sumptuous lens-flare.
“For everyone”, then? Impossibly tasked with re-introducing characters who’ve been at the fore of pop culture for over 40 years, Abrams reaches for emotion – birth, death, loss, revenge and, yes, love. By blending freshened characters with familiar traditions and emerging actors with established, he pulls the most potent nostalgia trick: a baton rich with history and symbolism being passed from old to new. “We never thought Leonard Nimoy would put on the ears again,” says producer Damon Lindelof. “He certainly didn’t.”
But it’s not all dewy eyes and group hugs. There’s death, destruction, fist fights and moon-sized explosions. Eric Bana’s Romulan space thug is more than just an interplanetary Bond villain – he’s dark, volatile, driven by rage.
Can the new crew of the Enterprise stop him before he completes his dastardly plan? (No less, it would seem, than destroying the whole universe by drilling into planets and blowing them up with an evil future-liquid.)
It’s all down to those lovers... Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk (Chris Pine), drawn together by uneasy similarities, interlocked by a crazed mutual respect/mistrust. “Whatever aspect of the story we were talking about,” says Abrams, “we were always thinking, ‘How does it relate back to the Kirk and Spock thing?’”
Pine plays it cocky and coltish – with just enough Shatnerisms to embellish rather than irritate. Quinto, though, is a candidate for performance of the year – internal, watchful, pulsing with intent and intellect. Together, their simmering man-love/hate is the emotional core that fuels Abrams’ palpable passion for the story and characters.
It’s not perfect: see Pegg’s ropey Scotty accent, the silly snow planet bit, Anton Yelchin’s gratingly nasal Chekhov, obvious and over-familiar musical choices (the urban clamour of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ for a rural car chase? Nah). Wrinkles to iron, then. So where next?
Co-writer Roberto Orci has confirmed the sequel will “deal with modern issues”. Having already taken his cues from the Battlestar Galactica TV rework (good-looking space folk wrestling with flaws to a backdrop of current affairs riffs), Abrams himself is keen to take Star Trek 2 into more blatant allegorical territory.
Here’s hoping he follows the Nolan model – a deeper, richer, Dark Knight-style progression – and doesn’t get distracted by whispers insisting that now he’s pleased the masses, he has to throw the geeks a bone (Klingons! Tribbles! Khan!).
All we’re saying is, if we must have a second one (Captain’s Log gag approaching...), just don’t make it a number two.
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