It’s been over a year since it was announced that J.J. Abrams, executive producer and co-creator of “Alias,” “Lost” and “Fringe,” would be taking over the reins for Paramount’s reboot of Star Trek.
Except for a teaser earlier this year, a bunch of pictures and some cool posters, not very much has been revealed about the plot except that it would feature a much younger version of the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise than we’d seen in any of the previous television shows or movies. Casting started to leak out of Comic-Con over a year ago and for every questionable choice like Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, there was excitement surrounding the dual casting of Spock, the younger version played by Zachary Quinto (Sylar from “Heroes”) and bringing back Leonard Nimoy for an appearance as the older Spock. The younger Sulu would be played by John Cho (Harold of the “Harold & Kumar” movies), Uhura by Zoe Saldana (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz) would take on the role of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott while Karl Urban would play the younger Dr. “Bones” McCoy.
With the unveiling of the film’s first full trailer over the weekendif you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here–excitement for the film has been renewed, although that trailer doesn’t give a very good impression of the characters or story, instead being a lot of quick-cut images and visuals from the movie.
The question whether this new Star Trek would stand up to the 40-plus year tradition was answered tonight as J.J. Abrams landed in New York City after a cross-Europe jaunt to show 25 minutes of footage from the movie. It was originally scheduled to come out on Christmas Day this year, but it was wisely pushed back to early next summer by Paramount.
Abrams was introduced by Paramount President of Production John Lesher after showing the trailer, and Abrams went through his normal spiel about not being a fan of “Star Trek” (“I never quite got it”) and how he assembled a team of collaborators that included everyone from diehard Trekkers like Roberto Orci to producer Bryan Burk, who knew nothing about it, having never seen a single show. At that point, Abrams still wasn’t sure if he wanted to actually direct the movie until he read the finished script by Orci and his writing and production partner Alex Kurtzman, which Abrams described as “funny, emotional, thrilling.” After working on the project for over a year, he was ready to show four nearly-completed scenes to the audience of journalists and studio reps.
SPOILER WARNING: In the following description of the footage shown, we discuss very specific scenes from the movie, including a couple of spoilers of what happens in those scenes.
Scene 1 – Introducing Kirk
The scene opens with an establishing shot of Iowa, in the future when this story is set, pretty much a rural area of cornfields and farmland except for what looks like a large futuristic city ablaze in lights in the background and a car driving through this environment towards a smaller bright oasis that looks sort of like Vegas in the foreground. We cut inside where we follow a gorgeous black woman walking through the club, who sharper viewers will immediately recognize as Zoe Saldana, giving us our first glimpse of Uhura, who looks absolutely stunning. She straddles up to the bar and puts in a big drink order, and we hear someone make the smart-ass remark, “That’s a lot of drinks for one woman.” This is our introduction to Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk, as he leans forward from behind an ugly alien who looks like Abe Vigoda. Kirk starts flirting with her and there’s some witty banter between them about who will pay for the drinks, her name (is Uhura her first or last name?) and when he asks her what she’s studying, she says “xenolinguistics” assuming that a “farmer” won’t know what that is; he quickly fires back that it’s the study of alien languages, breaking the ice with the impressed beauty. As they continue to banter, one of Uhura’s fellow cadets comes up behind them and asks if the “townie” is bothering her. Kirk takes offense to that, as well he should, and he suggests that the cadet gets four more guys to make it an even battle. Unfortunately for Kirk, there are four more cadets right behind him, kicking off a rowdy bar fight where Kirk is beaten up quite badly as one big guy slams him to the ground then lifts him onto the table and punches him repeatedly in the face, a very violent scene for sure. We hear someone whistle loudly, and we get our first glimpse of Bruce Greenwood as Pike, Captain of the U.S.S. Kelvin, dressed in a black uniform that’s striking compared to the red uniforms of the cadets.
“You can whistle really loud,” Kirk cracks, and in the next scene, the two of them are sitting at a table talking, Pike commenting on how James has the same “leap before you look” mentality of his father. In their exchange, we learn that Kirk’s father was a member of the Starfleet who died on the job, Pike telling Kirk that his father was a captain only for a short time, but that he saved hundreds of people before he died. Pike really is going the extra mile to try and recruit James into the Federation, a peace-keeping armada, saying that the young man is wasting his time being a “genius-level repeat offender” and that he was meant for something better. Pike tells Kirk that he could be an officer in four years and have his own ship in eight, but more importantly, he dares Kirk to do better than his father, which is exactly what it takes to get the cocky young man interested.
In the next scene, we see Kirk riding his motorbike through the same Iowa landscape we saw earlier, but now its early morning, presumably the next day. He stops and looks at what seemed like a city in the opening shot but is actually an enormous docking bay for Federation starships. There are a number of ships there, all trussed up with rigging and scaffolding. Kirk walks through the docks looking for Pike and the Kelvin and when he finds them, Kirk brazenly states to Pike, “Four years? I’ll do it in three.”
So essentially, this is our introduction to Kirk as we see him recruited to join the Federation, which really is where “Star Trek” should begin. We also get to see Pine show off Kirk’s smooth-talking ability to win over the ladies starting with Uhura, and presumably, we’ll see more of that later in the movie.
Scene 2 – Kirk Stows Away and Saves the Day
Abrams quickly set up the next scene, saying that it was three years later and Kirk was still getting into so much trouble that he hadn’t become an officer. When there’s an emergency on the planet Vulcan, all the Starfleet cadets are assigned to starships except for Kirk, but apparently, there is a stipulation where doctors can bring patients with them when they’re assigned to a ship, so Kirk’s good friend “Bones” McCoy hatches a plan to inject Kirk with a virus to get him on board the brand new starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise.
The scene opens with Kirk and “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban, who looks shockingly like DeForrest Kelley with his trademark hair) as McCoy carries Kirk into the medical bay and injects Kirk with the virus as Abrams described and he starts to react to it. We then cut to the command deck of the Enterprise with Captain Pike at the helm, and this is our first glimpse of John Cho’s Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov, the ship’s navigator and communications officer. Even though Yelchin actually comes from a Russian lineage, his accent was the only thing that really seemed jarringly false in his scenes. It’s used to somewhat comic effect as Chekov tries to speak the coordinates into the ship’s computer but his inability to say the word “Vulcan” (pronounced “Wulcan”) makes it difficult. Chekov communicates to the rest of the ship that they’ll be warping to the Vulcan region in three seconds to investigate a “lightning storm.” As Kirk awakes in the sick bay and hears Chekov’s announcement, he realizes something is wrong, because he has experienced a similar event on earth years earlier; this isn’t a natural disaster but it has the makings of a Romulan attack. We cut down to Vulcan where an enormous needle-like construct is hovering above the planet shooting fire towards the ground as a Vulcan woman watches horrified in the foreground, and we get a brief glimpse of Eric Bana as Romulan leader Nero.
As a side effect of Bones’ injection, Kirk’s hands have ballooned up to pudgy mittens which makes it difficult as he frantically tries to type a warning message to stop the ship from warping to Vulcan. Desperate, the still ailing Kirk starts running through the ship before finding Uhura, who is surprised to see him, and he drags her to the command deck where he confronts Pike and his second-in-command, Zachary Quinto’s Commander Spock, neither of them happy about Kirk sneaking onto the ship. He tells them that they’re heading for a trap as the Romulans have attacked Vulcan, much like they’ve done in the past, when they destroyed the U.S.S. Kelvin, Pike’s prior ship, at the edge of Klingon space, as well as a number of Klingon warbirds. Obviously, these Romulans are a dangerous adversary not to be trifled with. They use Uhura’s previously mentioned skills–she speaks three dialects of Romulan–to try and discover the truth about what is happening on Vulcan and that seems to be enough to convince them. “The cadet’s analysis is sound,” Spock decides pompously, giving us a glimpse of the tenuous relationship between Kirk and Spock, which Abrams will confirm shortly after. The two of them just don’t get along at all. The Enterprise bursts out of the warp to an enormous fleet of battle ships that looks like something out of the “Star Wars” saga, showing Abrams’ clear love of the other major SF film franchise.
This was a great sequence to introduce us to the younger crew on the maiden voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise, plus we got to see a lot of the inner workings of this brand new Enterprise, as well as the roles and relationships of some of the ship’s crew.
Scene 3 – Old Friends
Abrams set up the third scene by explaining how Spock had been made acting Captain of the Enterprise and because he didn’t like Kirk, he’s been jettisoned from the ship to Vulcan where he encounters a familiar face, the older Spock, played of course by Leonard Nimoy. Abrams shared an anecdote about going up to Nimoy on the first day of shooting about to give him notes on his performance before stopping himself realizing that it was Leonard Nimoy. In turn, Nimoy was pleasant about it and insisted on getting Abrams’ thoughts on playing the scene.
This sequence will definitely prove to be the most intriguing one for diehard Trek fans, not only because we see Nimoy as Spock for the first time since Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country over fifteen years ago, but also because it gets into the history of the technology of “Trek,” specifically the invention of Trans Warp technology, the classic Trek teleporters that beamed the Enterprise crew to and from planets the ship was orbiting. It also establishes that the movie does take place in regular “Trek” continuity, taking place before the original “Star Trek” television series and referring to events from both the show and the movies.
We see Nimoy as Spock (a sight for sore eyes) and the young Kirk walking through a remote outpost behind a short Yoda-like alien until they reach Simon Pegg sitting at a console. It’s the one and only Montgomery Scott or “Scotty” who has been exiled to that location after an experiment gone wrong. They talk to him about the Trans Warp theories he’d been working on that would allow one to transmit a person or object to an orbiting spaceship, but Scotty admits his experiments hadn’t gone well after he teleported the Admiral’s pet beagle to who knows where. This scene gives a good idea of the humor that Pegg will be bringing to the character, even when sporting a heavy Scottish accent. Spock convinces Scotty that his theories will eventually lead to the invention of teleporters, and they need to use that technology to beam Kirk back up to the ship. The general idea is that Kirk needs to get back to the ship to prevent the younger Spock from making a potentially fatal mistake while running the ship by losing control of his emotions. This exchange seems to hint that the emotionless Spock we’ve come to know over the years might have been far more emotional when put under the stressful position of captaining the Enterprise, but might have mellowed after the incidents shown in this movie. Kirk argues with the older Spock about him going back up to the ship with them but Spock says that it’s not his destiny, and when Kirk suggests that Spock going back in time to help him is “cheating,” Spock says he learned that from an old friend. (Pat Lee at Sci-Fi Wire, a true Star Trek fan, was nice enough to let us know that this was actually a reference to Kirk cheating in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” to defeat an opponent.) As Spock and Scotty teleport away, older Spock puts up the trademark “V” sign and says “Live Long and Prosper” and any Trekker in the audience probably creamed their pants at that point in the presentation.
Scene 4 – Vulcan Rescue Mission
Abrams set up the final sequence (which possibly took place before the third oneit wasn’t very clear) by talking about the movie’s bad guy, Nero, the leader of the Romulans played by Eric Bana, who really is quite unrecognizable under all the make-up. Basically, this is a reconnaissance mission between the Enterprise and the Romulans where Kirk and Sulu would go down to a drilling platform hovering 10,000 feet above Vulcan and boring a hole into the planet into which something quite fatal will be dropped. Abrams added that Kirk and Sulu would be accompanied on this dangerous mission by a “red shirt,” hinting at what most Star Trek fans will immediately realize about that secondary character’s fate. This would turn out to be the best example of the scope of action that Abrams would be bringing to Star Trek as we watched this extended sequence presumably from the film’s climax.
As the scene opens, Pike is walking through the Enterprise with Spock at his side and Kirk, Sulu and the aforementioned “red shirt,” one Olsen, a brash and arrogant cadet played by Greg Ellis, following behind. Pike explains to them that they have to travel down to planetside to meet with the Romulans, and he puts Spock in command and makes Kirk his first officer, which doesn’t make Spock too happy. (See, he’s an emotionless Vulcan, so is he ever really happy?) In the scene that follows, Pike, Kirk, Sulu and Olsen are aboard a smaller ship that’s exiting the Enterprise to go down to the drilling platform above Vulcanwe learn later that they’ve jammed all teleporter frequencies, one of the reasons they need to go by ship. As the small ship launches, Kirk asks Sulu about his battle training to which Sulu responds “fencing” which doesn’t exactly put Kirk’s mind at ease that he has suitable back-up, and Olsen doesn’t give either of them much confidence in their mission. They can’t exactly get the ship very close to the planet, so Kirk, Sulu and Olsen have to base dive from the ship down to the drilling platform, a dangerous freefall that will give them only one chance to hit the platform as Chekov monitors their progress from the ship.
Kirk and Sulu pull their chutes and slow their descent as they aim for the platform while Olsen continues to fall, laughing as he tries to wait until the very last minute before pulling his chute. We won’t give away exactly what happens, but let’s just say that Olsen dies in glorious fashion, paving the way for “red shirts” for decades to come. Kirk almost suffers a similar fate as he lands on the platform and his chute starts to drag him towards the edge, but he’s able to release it at the last minute. As he arises to his feet, a Romulan comes out from a trapdoor in the drilling platform; Kirk charges him and the two start fighting while Sulu continues to float around in his chute, trying to land on the platform to help Kirk. He does eventually hit the platform and he immediately pulls out his sword, but then another Romulan has shown up, this one pulling out a pole that’s actually a retractable axe (imagine a switchblade with axe blades). What follows is an extended fight sequence between Kirk, Sulu and the two Romulan guards, as they all try to avoid a panel on the platform that every couple of seconds sends a burst of flame skywards. At one point, Kirk is knocked over the edge of the platform and he grabs the edge as the Romulan stamps on his hands trying to send him falling to his death. Before he succeeds, we see Sulu’s sword pierce the chest of Kirk’s attacker, Sulu having already dealt with his Romulan in a way that’s been telegraphed by that fiery panel.
After they take out the two Romulan guards, Kirk and Sulu realize Olsen had the charges they needed to blow up the control panel that’s jamming their ability to teleport, so instead, they start shooting at the panel to take it out. On the Romulan ship, Bana’s Nero realizes they have little time to accomplish their mission, so he commands them to “launch the red letter” (or at least that’s what it sounds like) and a cylindrical object shoots downwards past Sulu and Kirk from the Romulan ship towards the center of Vulcan. Back on the ship, Chekov has deduced what that object was, a bomb that will cause a singularity that will devour the planet, essentially creating a black hole where Vulcan once was. Chekov suggests they declare an immediate planet-wide evacuation, but Spock isn’t too happy to hear this (seriously, I can use that joke over and over), and he realizes that he must travel down to the planet personally to evacuate the Vulcan high council, which includes his mother and father.
Meanwhile, the drilling platform starts to shake, ready to return to the ship after fulfilling its objective. Sulu gets knocked over the edge and starts falling, so Kirk dives after him and twists his body through the air to grab Sulu as the two of them start freefalling towards the earth. Kirk frantically shouts at Chekov to beam them up, but back on the Enterprise, Chekov is having a hard time locking on them because they’re moving so fast. We’ll let you figure out whether Kirk and Sulu survive or whether they go splat, but this was a great sequence that not only further develops the relationship between Kirk, Spock and Sulu, but also showed an extended action sequence that gives one the impression this will be a much faster-paced “Star Trek” movie under Abrams’ guidance.
Without being a diehard “Star Trek” fan, it’s hard to determine whether Trekkers will accept what Abrams is doing with this prequel, because that’s really what this is, a prequel to the original television show. He certainly has kept most of the characters and traditions of the original “Trek” series and movies intact, using that history to establish the characters, their relationships and the technology. Frankly, I was amazed by how much footage Abrams showed at this presentation, because it really sets up the entire story of what the movie is about, clearly a new beginning for the franchise similar to Batman Begins or Casino Royale, which may be exactly what the “Trek” series needs right now. Besides Yelchin’s annoying accent, the cast really seems up to the task of reinventing and redefining the crew of the Starship Enterprise and if the action and FX we saw in this footage is anything to go by, this is going to be the biggest “Star Trek” movie yet. Who knows? Maybe spending all that time making this movie has finally helped Abrams to “get it.”
Star Trek is scheduled to open May 8, 2009.