Rob Carnevale does the time warp again as Star Trek beams down to the big screen, going more boldly than it has ever gone before
There’s an old Star Trek salutation – to live long and prosper. But not even original series creator Gene Roddenberry could have imagined just how long and prosperous Star Trek would be. Since airing on American TV in 1966, the show has spawned six incarnations of the series and 11 movies, the latest of which is about to boldly go into cinemas worldwide.
Since its world premiere in Sydney at the start of April, the film has attracted overwhelmingly positive reaction. A prequel of sorts, it takes viewers back to the maiden voyage of the Starship Enterprise when Kirk, Spock, Bones et al became acquainted with each other. It is funny, spectacular and loaded with references for Trekkies to relish. It appeals to newcomers as well, breathing new life into a franchise that had been showing severe signs of fatigue following the TV departure of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005 and the lacklustre big screen performance of Star Trek Nemesis in 2002.
It’s a fantastic achievement for JJ Abrams, creator of Lost, a director who admits he was not a fan of the original series when he embarked on this latest enterprise. ‘I felt like there had not been a version of Star Trek that was as appealing to me as I would have liked,’ he says. ‘The Twilight Zone was my favourite show growing up. I would never want even to try to do a Twilight Zone movie because I feel like it had been done in a way I could never outdo. But our goal with Star Trek was to make the best possible version ever.’
Rather than introduce a new crew, as The Next Generation had done, Abrams went back to the original and focused on the friendship between Kirk and Spock – a bedrock of the series and several of the movies – as well as the sense of multi-cultural togetherness that accompanies the Enterprise and its efforts to bring peace to the galaxy.
As part of the journey, Abrams inadvertently became a fan of the show. ‘It’s out of examining these characters and getting under their skin,’ he says. ‘I never knew why I should care about Kirk. Now I do and it’s not because I directed it; it’s because I appreciate now what Gene Roddenberry created. We didn’t change the dynamic of the characters, we just brought them back to life by casting amazing actors.’
The casting is indeed inspired, even though there was initial disappointment that William Shatner hadn’t been included (mostly from the actor himself) and bewilderment at the presence of unknown quantities such as Chris Pine, as James T Kirk, and Simon Pegg as the affable Scotty. Abrams’ bravery won out. He opted at an early stage not to pander to impossible fan-boy demands. Instead, he placed his faith in emerging actors, as well as one important well-known face from the past.
Heroes star Zachary Quinto is a natural fit for Spock and even die-hard Star Trek fans have commented on the uncanny similarity between Karl Urban and DeForest Kelley’s Bones. Simon Pegg, while seeming an odd choice for Scotty, is a self-confessed sci-fi geek and Star Trek obsessive who was always going to be careful not to parody James Doohan. Even Chris Pine as Kirk doesn’t look a million miles removed from William Shatner – although he opts to play the young Tiberius with a little more bravado and physicality.
And then there’s Leonard Nimoy who, after decades of turning down requests for Star Trek guest appearances, opted to revive his own character for a pivotal extended cameo. As these details emerged trepidation and scepticism turned to eager anticipation.
Pegg felt there was something in the air as soon as he joined his fellow cast members. ‘I came slightly later to the shoot because it was a long one and everyone had already met each other,’ says the Shaun of the Dead star. ‘But when I joined the crew and I finally came on board, it felt so right. In a weird kind of hippyish way, we already knew each other and immediately clicked. It was a great feeling and the spirit of togetherness that pervades Star Trek was very much there on the set.’
Abrams, too, had several pinch-me moments en route to bringing his cast together. When Urban walked in for his audition, for instance, the director was ‘blown away’. ‘It wasn’t an impersonation, it was like channelling the soul of that character,’ says the director.
Having Nimoy on side lending support to Quinto, was also a joy. ‘He was so supportive – not just of what we were all doing, but specifically of Zachary. Here’s a guy who has played this role for almost half a century and here’s this young, handsome actor coming in and taking over that character. I just think it could have been a lot of things, but what it was was the definition of grace.’
It was Nimoy who shared the delights of Star Trek for the first time with fans in Texas where, in April, the excitement surrounding the film went into hyperdrive. Viewers expecting to see a screening of former fan favourite, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were shocked when the film reel appeared to melt after ten minutes and then Nimoy – who coined the ‘live long and prosper’ greeting – appeared to ask them: ‘Wouldn’t you rather see the new movie?’
The delighted reaction suggests that maybe, just maybe, Abrams’ Star Trek reboot is the best in the series yet; one that boldly goes where no fan had ever dared to guess it could.
Star Trek is on general release from Wed 8 May.