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Hero Complex

Abrams' 'Trek' quite an enterprise

Director J.J. Abrams reflects on renewing the film franchise.

February 02, 2009|Geoff Boucher

"Star Trek" will be back in May with the 11th film in a pop culture franchise that has inspired one of the most impassioned fan followings imaginable. TV whiz J.J. Abrams ("Lost," "Fringe") is the director, but some fans have questioned the choice. After all, he was 2 months old when "Trek" launched its first mission in 1966, grew up loving that other universe, "Star Wars," and despite his newfound passion for this Enterprise says "Trek" is "clearly in the shadow" of the George Lucas epic. Abrams recently talked about his deep-space mission.

As franchises move into new eras, it's interesting to watch how they change -- or don't change. With "Star Trek," you seem to be pursuing a revival like we've seen with Batman and James Bond, which holds on to core mythology but recalibrates the tone.

I think I benefited because I came into this movie as someone who appreciated "Star Trek" but wasn't an insane fanatic about it.

The disadvantage is, I didn't know everything I needed to know immediately at the beginning and had to learn it. The advantage, though, is I could look at "Star Trek" as a whole a little bit more like a typical moviegoer would see it; it allowed me to seize the things that I felt were truly the most iconic and important aspects of the original series and yet not be serving the master and trying to be true to every arcane detail. It let me look at the things I knew were critical.

What are some of the things that made that "critical" list?

The characters were the most important thing in it. We needed to be true to the spirit of those characters. There were certain iconic things -- if you're going to do "Star Trek," you've got to do the Enterprise and it has to look like the Enterprise. . . . You have to do costumes that feel like the costumes people know. You have to be able to glance at it and know what that is. Even the text, the font of "Star Trek" has to look like what you know.

The phasers, the communicators, the Starfleet logo -- there are all these things that are the touchstones, the tenets of what makes "Star Trek" "Star Trek." If you're going to do this series, those are things you don't mess with.

And yet they need to withstand a resolution that "Star Trek" has never had to withstand before. And I don't just mean Imax -- though it will have to work there too -- but what I mean is that audiences are so savvy now and they've seen every iteration of "Star Trek," "Star Wars," two separate versions of "Battlestar Galactica," they've seen "Alien" and "Aliens," they've seen countless science-fiction movies. And even worse, they've seen a movie such as "Galaxy Quest" that completely mocks the paradigm.

You know that no matter what you do, you'll get an earful from hard-core fans.

The key is to appreciate that there are purists and fans of "Star Trek" who are going to be very vocal if they see things that aren't what they want. But I can't make this movie for readers of Nacelles Monthly who are only concerned with what the ship's engines look like. They're going to find something they hate no matter what I do.

And yet, the movie at its core is not only inspired by what has come before, it's deeply true to what's come before. The bottom line is we have different actors playing these parts and from that point on it's literally not what they've seen before.

It will be evident when people see this movie that it is true to what [Gene] Roddenberry created and what those amazing actors did in the 1960s. At the same time, I think, it's going to blow people's minds because it's a completely different experience.

In the footage you showed at the Paramount lot, I was really struck by the comedic touches.

Yeah, among the kind of anecdotal critiques I read online, some people said, "Oh, look at this, they're trying to sex it up" by having Kirk in bed with a girl or Uhura undressing, and they said, "Oh, that's not 'Star Trek.' " Other people wrote, "Oh, there's comedy in it, that's not 'Star Trek' I know."

Look, if you actually watch the show, that show was always pushing buttons all the time and was considered very sexy for its time. It had [a landmark] interracial kiss on television, and it was a show that was sexually adventurous. And it was very funny.

One of my favorite things about "Star Trek" wasn't just the overt banter but the humor in that show about the relationships between the main characters and their reactions to the situations they would face .

Last time I saw you, you mentioned there would be a tribble in the movie. That's fun.

Yes! There is a tribble in there. But you have to look for it. And there's that other surprise I told you about, but please don't write about that.

I won't, I won't, I promised. There's plenty of other stuff to talk about. I'm fascinated by the challenge facing your captain. Chris Pine has the biggest acting dilemma of 2009: How do you play James T. Kirk without imitating William Shatner?

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