Quint has a post-TREK release chat with JJ Abrams!!!
Published at: May 21, 2009, 1:05 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. If you’ve been following closely I’m sure you’ve noticed that I was quite taken with JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK. I’ve been seeing a bit of a backlash in the talkbacks (strangely enough I’ve never run into it in the flesh), but for all its faults I felt that Abrams’ resurrection of the Trek iconography was a stellar success.
There’s certainly room for improvement in further sequels, but the key elements are now in place. The cast works and works well together and I love the visual style Abrams employs. Yes, that means I love the lens flares. I had that on the list of questions, actually, a breakdown of how he uses different lens flares almost as visual keys into certain characters and situations, but the chat was short.
And no, I wasn’t late with this. I was locked in to interview Abrams during the press rush in the weeks leading up to the picture’s release and I figured I just feel through the cracks when the flick came out and no Abrams interview had surfaced. But apparently, not. Late last week I heard I’d have some time with the man. I actually think this kind of thing should be more commonplace, actually. The movie’s out and that gives us more freedom to discuss specifics without spoiling.
I’m not ashamed to say I’m a fan of his work. I am addicted to LOST and have stuck with it through the good times and the bad. I thought his work on M:I3 was really damn impressive for a first time feature director and he took it to the next level in TREK. He also has his mitts on something very close to my heart, Stephen King’s DARK TOWER series… so he better be at the top of his game when he gets to that!
Anyway, here’s the chat. Hope you enjoy!
JJ Abrams: Hey man.
Quint: How’s it going?
JJ Abrams: Great, how are you?
Quint: I’m doing very well. Thanks so much for taking the time for talking to me. It’s not very common to do these things after the movie has been out, so I think it’s kind of neat to look back on the movie and talk openly about it.
JJ Abrams: I’m thrilled to do it.
Quint: So the first thing I want to bring up: Did you see The Onion video made about STAR TREK?
Quint: It’s kind of like the Shatner “Get a Life” thing from SNL a while back.
JJ Abrams: They do amazing stuff. Did you ever see the ones they did on the new Macbook with the turn wheel?
Quint: Yep and the “Sony Cocksucking Piece of Shit That Doesn’t Do The Goddamn Thing It’s Supposed to.”
JJ Abrams: Those were so funny. My God.
Quint: I don’t know how the hell you did it, but you kind of hit that middle ground perfectly where you were able to reach fans and non-fans alike.
JJ Abrams: Well, thank you.
Quint: It’s not even an opinion at this point. Look at the success of the film so far, both critically and monetarily. I think it’s pretty clear that you guys have hit that sweet spot, which, I still don’t know how you guys were able to do that.
JJ Abrams: I think that part of it was that Alex (Kurtzman) and Bob (Orci) and Damon (Lindelof) are so well versed in TREK and yet they’ve got a great perspective on how TREK is perceived outside of that fanbase. And then you’ve got myself and Bryan Burk even more so, who were less familiar and so we had to this sort of range of experience with STAR TREK and a range of knowledge of it. And so you had the inside out and the outside in working together to make the movie and it really was the litmus test for us, which was “What is the story and the narrative of the story that we would all appreciate?” Once we got to that, we felt like we might be on to something.
Quint: Well, you seem to inject a lot of the adventure of a STAR WARS into the STAR TREK universe and you are also able to figure out the one way to reboot it where you kind of take away any arguments you have about bastardizing or going off canon. You were able to find a way to give yourself freedom to have fun with the movie and not be so tied.
JJ Abrams: I think that the convention of breaking away from the timeline, which just obviously gave us the freedom to tell a story that wasn’t constrained by canon, but at the same time… and the weird part is that we also had to embrace it, because that’s what we were inspired by and we had to honor it and make sure that we weren’t insulting, as much as we could, the fans of TREK.
And we knew no matter what we did, that there would be some percentage of STAR TREK fans that would hate it. We just knew that there was no way to make everyone happy and yet it was important that we try and so that was the approach. The other weird balancing act is that it was simultaneously its own thing, but it was also adhering to what has come before. It was a vision of the future that needs to work in a way that was relevant for today, but also was a vision of the future from fifty years ago, so there was a lot of bouncing back and forth. There was a brand new cast and yet it also had a character played by one of the original actors, so it was a strange backwards/forwards original piece that was also trying to adhere to what came before, so there was always this bizarre dance going on between trying to make something that was just purely its own piece and also something that was honoring and… what’s another word for it? Just being true to what had come before and that was, I guess, the biggest challenge of the movie.
Quint: Well, yeah, because you can’t have Kirk not being Kirk. You can’t have Spock not being Spock, but what I think is what’s interesting about the way you guys approached it was that you were able to see… It’s not like the STAR WARS prequels where everything has to so rigidly fall into place, so by the end you feel like you already know what’s going to happen. I also have to say that I really like that you got rid of the time travel device, the red matter, at the end of the movie, because I think one of the big worries about the time travel aspect is that once you do it, it’s a way to write yourself out of corners. I kind of like that you guys took that away from yourselves at the end, so everything matters. It’s not like you got to go back and save Vulcan. Do you know what I mean?
JJ Abrams: Yeah, I think it was important that as much as we could, that the story… within the context of what we were doing, that it not feel like we were either trying to wrap things up too sweetly and too perfectly and we also wanted to, in a way, close the door that we opened, so that at the end of the film it felt like we had sort of gotten back on track and now the adventures that these characters are going on will be their own. This was really the bridge between what you knew or what you thought you knew of how their lives were and given the convention of the alternate universe, that reset becomes sort of pure at the end.
Quint: Yeah, where it doesn’t feel like us as an audience are waiting for the cop-out to happen.
JJ Abrams: That was definitely the goal.
Quint: Was there a particular moment were you knew that this was going to work? Like when you got all of your cast together? Saw a specific scene? Was there a specific moment where you were like “This is going to work out.” A “Wipe the sweat off of your brow” type moment.
JJ Abrams: I think it’s when I read your review.
Quint: (laughs) Okay.
JJ Abrams: The truth is the whole process was such a big pill to swallow that, in a way, the only way to approach it was sort of looking at every decision and doing the best we could to try and answer or decide and make the choice in that moment. So whether it was what the approach should be… doing STAR TREK and all, going back to Kirk and Spock, figuring out what the story would be like, what the premise would be, whether it was lines of dialogue or casting… whether it was production design, costume, props, wardrobe, obviously the casting was a massively important process, whether it was shooting with a camera how to stage a scene, choreography, production of the visual effects, whether it was editorial…
Literally, like with any movie, you just have countless decisions and I think that rather there being one moment where I would be like “Aha, it’s going to work” or not, and I really don’t remember having that moment, but I do remember having a bunch of smaller epiphanies where I felt like “Thank God that didn’t suck.”
I remember we started working with Zachary [Quinto] first and he was terrific and it was clear that he was going to be incredibly affecting and effecting in the role and he was very, very talented and working really hard and we had about a week working with him and I thought “Holy shit, Chris better be good.” I knew he was great in the audition and he’s awesome, but it was a different thing, like “Wait a minute, Zachary is really good. Chris better be great!” Then Chris started working and he was awesome and I thought “Zach better up his game” and it was this fun thing were they were all so good that it was like watching great tennis players where you think “Oh my God, that was such an amazing serve, there’s no way that can be returned” and then you see an amazing return and you think “Oh my God, that’s impossible.”
That really, for me, was the key, which was “Are the characters working?” and “Are the actors doing their job?” and I’ve never been more grateful for a cast of actors than this cast. They not only had the burden of having to make a space adventure feel real and emotional and funny and scary and legitimate, but they had to do it in the shadow of these incredible actors playing iconic roles that were shoes that intellectually I realize how daunting it must have been, more in retrospect than anything do I sort of feel what that challenge was for them and I think that all of them did it not with fear or hesitation or self doubt, but they did it with fun exuberance.
They did it with this kind of excitement and that was a really wonderful thing to see. They were embracing these roles in the only way you can do it and that to me, every day on the set and seeing how wonderful the cast was and what a wonderful job they were doing, that was the thing for me that felt like “It’s going to work,” because I was never worried that the story wasn’t good. I think they wrote a great script. I was never worried about the visual effects or that the action sequences weren’t going to be good, because I knew we were working with amazing stunt people, I knew that ILM is the best in the business, so my insanely long answer is really just to say that the actors were the keys for me even remotely feeling like we had a shot, that what they were doing was so good.
Quint: I think one of my favorite moments was seeing Chris Pine actually kind of throw on a little of the Shatner bravado during the Kobayashi Maru…
JJ Abrams: Yeah.
Quint: Where you have that kind of moment to acknowledge that aspect of Kirk as a character and it makes complete sense that that’s how he would approach that scene. He would kind of play up the theatricality of it. You pepper enough in there for the fans and then you have Leonard Nimoy… not only is he Ambassador Spock in the movie, he’s kind of Ambassador Leonard in real life, bridging the old and the new.
JJ Abrams: That was the key. If Leonard would have said “No,” we would have been completely screwed if he didn’t want to do the movie. We knew there was a shot that he would and he was interested in the story and then we also knew that he had said “No” for decades, so we were nervous.
But there was only one moment in the movie where I actually asked Chris to do a little bit of the Kirk we know and it was literally just one, silly little thing, but it’s this moment later in the movie where Spock is telling Kirk the statistics of how unlikely it is for their plan to succeed and it’s the first time in the movie that Spock calls Kirk Jim. Young Spock calls him Jim.
And then the response that Kirk has is he says “Spock, it’ll work.” And I actually asked him to give that reading of just “Spock” a little bit of the Kirk we know, because it was the first time that it felt like… “Jim” and the first time that Jim said “Spock” in that way, it just felt familiar and it’s a subtle little thing, but again Chris did a great job.
Quint: I think also, just as a testament to the cast that you were able to draw, we haven’t really touched on Karl Urban or Simon Pegg and those guys bring so much to the movie, but as a testament to everybody, at the end of the movie all I wanted to do was see the next adventure of that crew. It seems like they are finally in the places they need to be and all is right in the world and they are about to go on their real adventures. So is that something that you purposefully set up, so you have…
JJ Abrams: The idea was that there were all of these disparate pieces and in a way, they are all sort of orphans and then by the end of the movie, they all click into place, they have all sort of come together as a family.
When Karl Urban came in, quite frankly I felt that it would be unlikely that that guy from BOURNE or the hunk from LORD OF THE RINGS was going to be Bones. I knew he was from New Zealand. I just didn’t see the connection, even though I liked his work very much, but I thought “Well, he doesn’t seem right for this, but I’m a fan.” He came in and blew my mind so fast. It was one of those great things where it’s a great lesson to not be so closed minded, but God he was amazing. He just channeled DeForest Kelley, it was eerie.
Quint: Right, well they are shooing us off here, but again I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me and as a life long DARK TOWER fan, I think you have quite a road ahead of you. As difficult as STAR TREK was to adapt, I think you are going to be looking at an even harder world to create.
JJ Abrams: Yeah, we’ll see what happens with that, but I’m really grateful for all of the stuff that you do and all you do on Ain’t It Cool. I’m obviously such a fan of the site, so I really appreciate all of your work and talking to you has been fun.
I had hoped to grill him a bit on Dark Tower, but the publicist cut in saying time was up without a warning, so that is not to be. Not that Abrams gives up details of any sort this far out on anything, but still the effort was intended.
I hope you guys enjoyed the chat!
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