Reinventing this franchise without alienating the Trek faithful – easier said than done?
J.J. Abrams: It was a weird conundrum to do a movie with a vision of the future from today, based on a vision of the future from 50 years ago. But there were certain things that we all decided we wanted to maintain. As someone who was not a huge Trek fan to begin with, I had my instincts about things that I thought were important, but really [screenwriters] Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman [and producers] Bryan Burk and Damon Lindelof were much bigger Star Trek fans than I was, and they knew that there were things that needed to be maintained and details I never would have even been able to speak to.
For example? Were there places where couldn’t you get radical when re-imagining?
JA: I just knew that the shape and silhouette of the Enterprise needed to be maintained. You don’t want to change everything. If you’re a fan, you go “Oh, wow, it’s different,” but the casual fan or the non-fan will just say, “Oh, wow, it’s a cool design.” That was important. The prism through which everything had to be seen through was “How do you take the spirit of what was created nearly half a century ago, whether it’s character, prop design, ship design, the world of it or anything, and make it feel relevant for today?” And that was just one of a billion small decisions.
How hard was it to nail the proper “voices” of Kirk, Spock, etc. and have it all feel both new and familiar at the same time?
JA: The script was so good that all you needed to do was give these actors – who were young actors that were eerily accomplished and naturally wonderful – direction that was fairly clear because the characters were written so clearly… It really speaks to the great paradigm that [Gene] Roddenberry created in ‘66. These characters were so strong. They were archetypes, but they were also very specific. They weren’t just archetypical.
Finding actors to fill the boots of genuine sci-fi icons – who’ve embodied the characters for over four decades – couldn’t have been easy.
JA: Casting the movie was a huge challenge and we were incredibly lucky to find these actors…I’ve never had to cast something that had something that pre-existed it, where the actors have to take over these iconic roles. The key to each of these actors, and the one or two similarities, is that beyond just being incredibly talented, they’re all funny. They all have a great sense of humor, and that was incredibly important, because I knew Star Trek had been parodied so many times that it had to be funny from the inside out.
How did your stars walk the fine line of evoking the spirit of the originals without drifting into caricature?
JA: What was cool was that it didn’t take much machination, even in the writing of the script, because the characters live. You read the script and you go “Oh – these are those characters.” As someone who was not a big fan, of course I did my homework before directing and when I read the script, it’s not like these are scenes and moments cut from other episodes or movies, but you felt them live and they were recognizable. You could read a line and go, “Oh, that’s Bones.” You’d just know it was Bones. …And I said to all the actors, “Please do not do impersonations of any of these actors. This is all about you owning it, and the only way it’s gonna to work is if you are free to do your thing.” But, the parameters were so clearly defined in Alex and Bob’s script that it wasn’t like you had to push them to be more like those actors. We just did what was on the page.
You also populated the supporting cast with a few familiar faces, like Eric Bana, Winona Ryder and Tyler Perry.
JA: One of the models that we had for this movie was Superman – the Dick Donner film. The way that he cast that film, all the lead roles were essentially unknowns and many of the supporting roles were people that you had seen before and knew, to some degree – and obviously with Marlon Brando, knew very well. I just thought it would be nice, given that we had a cast that was for the most part unknown, that we give roles that we could to actors that were known. Eric Bana is essentially hidden in disguise in this movie. You can’t really recognize him. For the role of [Spock’s mother] Amanda, to get Winona Ryder was just one of those things where I thought it would be great to have an actress who people would recognize. And hopefully not get pulled out of the movie, but feel like there was some support for the younger, fresher faces.
By necessity, the reboot focuses on plot, character and big-screen spectacle. Was it difficult to also fit in the classic Roddenberry big ideas – the “human adventure,” as he said?
JA: No, no. That's what Alex and Bob did so great. In the script it was just so clearly that sense of the time directive, that sense of optimism for the future and obviously the characters. It was just built in. so I felt like I had that to rely on and I could add stuff knowing that we had a solid foundation.
You pay on screen props to “The Great Bird of the Galaxy” as well – and to Mrs. Roddenberry, Majel Barrett, who passed away last December.
JA: The dedication was always intended for Gene because none of us would be here doing any of this, if it weren’t for what he created. Sadly, when Majel passed away, we added her name to the card. We already had the card for Gene, so we added her name as well.
But no room onboard this time around for the O.G. captain himself, William Shatner?
JA: Nothing would have made us happier than to have William Shatner in this movie. His character died on screen in one of the films. When we tried figure out a way to put him in, and every time we did it, it was a gimmick. Every time we figured out a way that we thought it could work, it ended up being a gimmick – unless the whole story was about bringing him back, and that would have changed the entire story that we wanted to tell. So it was either change everything or do it without him. But we definitely love Mr. Shatner. Working with him is something that we would obviously be thrilled to do, and wanted to do. It just literally didn’t work for our story, and he didn’t want to just do a cameo.
So…Star Trek II…um, Star Trek XII… Star Trek 2.0? Let’s just say “sequel?”
JA: Obviously it was a dream to work with the whole cast and crew, and it would be incredible fun to get to do it again. It is also insanely presumptuous to assume that it will work when it’s out there, that people will like it and that there will be a need for another one. If there is, the good news is that there’s a deal for the writers and a deal for the actors. It’s in place. We have not had one meeting. We have not had one discussion. There’s no outline. There’s no script. There’s nothing. We’re fishing for ideas.
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