Published at: June 26, 2008, 11:03 p.m. CST by headgeek
I suppose you could call me a lapsed Trekkie.
Ain’t It Cool News is 12 years old. There hasn’t been much we could say, positive, about STAR TREK in that time. I liked some of DS9, but honestly preferred BABYLON 5. I never cared an ounce for STAR TREK VOYAGER or ENTERPRISE. On the film side, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT was fun. So was STAR TREK: INSURRECTION, but STAR TREK: NEMESIS was ass…
I’m the sort of STAR TREK fan that has felt that STAR TREK has always been sold short. The one time that STAR TREK was given an A+ Budget was when Robert Wise made STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE on $35 million - 1970’s dollars. No other STAR TREK movie looks anything like it, but nearly all of them took notes. The Enterprise finally had a sense of scale. They had spacesuits – they dealt with a threat on an awesome scale. However, the film never really had a sense of urgency and took its time telling the story. As a result, the movie was less successful than the studio wanted – and STAR TREK’s budget was affected accordingly.
When they brought in Nicholas Meyer, the budget went to $11 million – and while STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN made less Worldwide than Wise’s… it set the economic model. Roddenberry created STAR TREK to be a Western in Space – and by giving Star Trek a B-movie budget – and by having modest economic expectations… STAR TREK was set on a path towards a decaying sense of scale.
Right now – we’re all waiting with held breath as J.J. Abrams attempts to relaunch the STAR TREK franchise. He’s been given a budget that is at least 3 times the highest previous STAR TREK budget. But he’s also been saddled with the absolute toughest task.
Re-Casting the ICONS.
How do you do that? For Classic STAR TREK fans – it is absolutely unthinkable. How on Earth can Chris Pine step in and be William Shatner’s James T Kirk? What about all those others? My god – how do you go about recasting those characters which are burnt so indelibly into the collective pop-consciousness of the entire world?
Well, that’s just one of the tricks that JJ Abrams is playing with in this new STAR TREK film. Another – and perhaps the tallest task… How do you make STAR TREK cool again for many millions of folks that have become Lapsed Trekkies… or even more importantly… people that have never ever given the franchise a look?
That’s the tough part. For this film to be successful, it has to attract a vast audience that has never been a part of the Franchise. Because at the Budget this film has… it will need to make at least $400 million worldwide… and even that might be a disappointment.
Why am I bringing this all up? What got me thinking about JJ’s STAR TREK?
Well, recently I went out to Los Angeles – there was business and personal things that were calling me out – and since I was going to be in L.A. I decided to see what sort of trouble I could get myself into.
JJ had given me an open invitation to visit him if I found myself in Los Angeles, so I decided to take him up on it. And secretly – I was nervous as hell. There’s about a billion different ways a reboot of STAR TREK could suck – and I wasn’t real sure there was a way for it to rule again.
JJ is working on assembling his first cut of STAR TREK. I’ve never visited an editing room before – it’s actually one of the very few aspects of filmmaking that I’ve never been a party to before. It was a bit of a challenge to get to his editing room, you see… This was just 6 days after surgery and because the editing room is in one of Paramount’s older buildings – it was only accessible via a complicated array of staircases and a narrow bridge. Well… it was certainly a test for my post-op condition – but like Pei Mei’s steps all those years ago in China… I wasn’t about not going to get my ass where it needed to be to see the first images from STAR TREK.
As Yoko and I met JJ – it was interesting… he was all at once nervous and giddy. He wasn’t sure what he was going to show me, but he gathered us up to run into the editing room to see… well… whatever I was being shown.
Apparently – nobody had seen anything yet. Not even the execs at Paramount. JJ has a strict policy about not letting folks see anything till he’s ready to show it – and I was a bit puzzled as to why he was letting me see something. You see, JJ likes his secrets… you may not know that about him (Click Here To See His TED Talk)
Once in the tiny editing room – where there was nothing of note – just that original STAR TREK teaser poster with the Holiday 2008 date. Speaking of, I asked JJ what he thought of the decision to move the film from X-Mas to the “Iron Man” spot in May – and I could tell it annoyed him. He felt that the film would have ruled this Christmas Season and dominated the box office. However, others at the studio felt that it would play stronger in the Summer… and that it would give them longer to build the campaign to sell the world on STAR TREK.
The first 10-15 minutes in the editing room was watching JJ do a dance, in some ways it reminded me of Woody Allen contemplating how to approach a girl, or a young man purchasing condoms… He genuinely seemed to be deciding right then, whether or not he was actually going to show me something. One of his dilemmas was that JJ doesn’t put the film together in order. He works with his editor to assemble sequences of the movie. Working on all the pieces, before putting it together. So it isn’t like he just push play, he had to show me things that were most assembled in his mind. But his mind solves jigsaw puzzles by putting like pieces together without assembling the border first. Which is exactly the opposite of how my brain works, so it confounded me a bit.
SO – WHAT DID YOU SEE HARRY?
Not much. Maybe 7 minutes in all. He showed me a scene of Ben Cross (Sarek) & Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson) cradling a baby Spock on the surface of Vulcan. A baby with Spock ears is kind of amazing to look at. But there was no dialogue here, and Vulcan wasn’t really there yet – what was there was a great rock formation that kinda reminded me of that wonky mountain/cliff thing from ARENA / BILL & TED. That said, it wasn’t the ARENA formation – and JJ said that zero effects had been done on this yet – so the lighting wasn’t right, the sky wasn’t right and there were no angry volcano type things or structures in the background, but he assured me… it’ll all look very Vulcan when it is done.
The next scene was a really nicely completed visual effects pass of a pre-Enterprise Federation ship from about 25 years before the Enterprise. I’ve no idea how this fits into the larger story, same with the Spock baby stuff. But this effects shot had a completely different space feel than anything I’ve seen before from STAR TREK or STAR WARS. The shot began on a small part of the ship, then craned back and over to reveal the ship coming into a larger shot of the ship seemingly orbiting a really angry sun. The shot was absolutely dynamic as the star was seemingly raging – and we cut to the interior of the ship – it was very shadowy and very much like that of an old diesel submarine – JJ told me that the look was an evolving look for Star Fleet – so that you could get a sense of the passage of decades here. Once again though – I didn’t see the end of the scene or really get a sense for what was going on.
I really like the dynamics and tone of this Space shot – very much not like something I’d seen before – although it was Star Trek, because the ship was a saucer, with a nacelle above and below the saucer. It just felt aggressive and frankly… badass.
After that – He reiterated that the effects were nowhere near done, blah blah blah – but it looked damn good.
After that shot, JJ wrestled with what else he had that he could show. Talking with his partners in the room – he didn’t know quite what to show. Yoko and I just looked at each other – we were kinda like deer in the headlights – just waiting to absorb whatever was shown. At this point I was a bit anxious because while I liked the first two clips – they didn’t really show anything recognizable to the timeline of Trek that I knew.
That’s when JJ had his “EUREKA” moment – he didn’t actually say “EUREKA” – but he knew what he wanted to show. He went over to the big Editing computer thingamabob and was trying to get something up, he pulled up a scene that looked like it was shot in an enormous hanger – There looked to be well over a hundred Starfleet graduates standing in the center of the room – with a couple of shuttlecrafts (old school) that looked like they were ready for boarding… the voice over was basically assigning cadets to the ship they would be serving on. The shot was huge, but oddly sparse… that’s when the editor said they had a newer version of the scene and then worked with JJ to pull it up.
The newer version was much much grander. It feels as though some Intergalactic Pearl Harbor has happened and all the cadets are anxious to get underway. You’d see cadets running to meet their shuttles – and as shuttles filled up, they took off to take their crews to their respective starships. They hold on the long shot – we hear Leonard McCoy being assigned to the Enterprise – You catch Uhura being assigned to a place… not the Enterprise. You see Chris Pine as Kirk demanding to know why his name wasn’t called out – apparently Kirk is in trouble. You remember that Kobayashi Maru thing he got a commendation for creative thinking for? Well, he isn’t smiling about it here. It seems his entire future career in Starfleet is in jeopardy – and he might miss out on whatever is going on. In a way it plays like the reality of legend. The truth behind the mythology of Kirk’s youth. How is Chris Pine? He’s young. The scene I saw wasn’t a strong KIRK scene, but a proto-KIRK scene. To see a character called Kirk that isn’t comfortably calling all the shots is a bit strange, but welcomed at the same time. I can’t wait to see how JJ takes the character and thrusts him into “greatness” – which has to happen in this film.
But then there’s McCoy – when you see McCoy… you’ll realize how metaphysically perfect Karl Urban was for the casting of the character. He’s got that right cantankerous, best buddy, ethical, but anything for his friend type of doc attitude – and he has it down pat. He’s helping Jim to get onto a ship, but in a million years I wouldn’t spoil that. It’s funny, without being ridiculous. And it begins to exhibit the early kernels of a classic Bones/Kirk interaction. Best friends with a history – and perhaps this moment is a key moment of that history. The favor that launched a career? Perhaps that is what I saw.
We see Uhura confront Spock regarding her assignment to NOT the Enterprise. Zoe Saldana doesn’t look like the Uhura we knew – she looks young and hungry, confident and determined. And Spock… perfect.
It all ended with characters arriving on the bridge, under the command of Captain Pike. Sulu was at the helm – and the bridge. And the uniforms… Classic Trek. Nice. Then for the first time in the history of Star Trek, it looked amazingly functional. It echoes that classic Trek look – but imagine if you handed that design to the folks at APPLE and said… Make it really work. I instantly believed in the functionality of everything. That’s hard to quantify, but it is true. Remember when you saw the war room underground on Hoth in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK? How it just felt functional – that’s what this looked. And it looked Star Trek, without looking as cheap as Star Trek. It was a tech-fetishists wet dream.
I will say this – I’ve no idea of what this is going to be, but I got a sense of what JJ is up to. He’s very much reinventing it – the way Robert Wise did – and at the same time – he’s directing the actors with an energy and an aliveness that we haven’t seen. This was exciting, yet strange and it felt somehow… real.
We’ve got FOREVER till we see this, but it is looking pretty sharp, even in these incredibly premature days. JJ and crew have so much work to do on the film – this isn’t like regular Trek where the set moments had very little post work, here – with a grander scope to the Trek Universe – every moment is enhanced to take us into the future. And it’s a future based on where our current technology is – and a leap forward from here. I think that’s the greatest reason for this. Since STAR TREK, the technology of man has taken some pretty amazing leaps. This is a Trek future more in tune with the present we have and the future that would come from where we are now. That said, I can’t wait to see more.