Faithful readers of DHD know I don’t do geek. Nor does this site review movies. Instead, it does the biz of the Biz. So, with that in mind, I asked my Comic-Con correspondent Luke Y Thompson to attend today’s unveiling by J.J. Abrams of 25 minutes of Star Trek XI footage. (New trailer here.) Here are his thoughts on whether the stale franchise can be freshened to add to Paramount’s bottom line. SPOILER ALERT. SPOILER ALERT. SPOILER ALERT. SPOILER ALERT:
I have, like many fans, been very skeptical about the idea of this new TREK. It’s one thing to do a straight up remake, like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, where you take the basic idea and character names, then do your own thing — but to do that and then claim that it’s actually still within existing continuity, by having Leonard Nimoy appear as a time-traveling elder Spock, just made me wonder, why? STAR TREK’s future chronology is so convoluted and mapped out already that anything you do is bound to contradict something pre-established, and if there are any fans in the world who absolutely defined the concept of the nit-picking continuity geek, it’s Trekkers.
So upon seeing the trailer, which was shown again to kick off Paramount’s presentation today, my geek brain kicks in and says, “Wait a minute, Shatner’s Kirk didn’t know how to drive a vintage car, so how come he knew as a kid? Nobody in Kirk’s time ever saw a Romulan face to face, so what are they doing here? Why doesn’t the Enterprise interior look anything like it did on TV? Etc.”
But by the end of the presentation, I can say this: I was enjoying what I was seeing so much that the nitpicker in me shut the hell up, at least momentarily. Besides, even if J.J. Abrams utterly screws this up, he can’t do worse than the last couple of STAR TREK movies. And I don’t think he’s going to screw it up. Though he did say that when he started the project he didn’t care much for Kirk and Spock as characters, but now he does — that worried me, because Sam Raimi said the same about Venom, the villain he completely ruined in SPIDER-MAN 3.
Abrams came out to introduce four clips — the same clips that I gather have been shown in England and New York already, but he said it was special for him to do it on the Paramount lot, as his dad, who used to work there, had taken him to the first studio screening of Robert Wise’s original movie.
Abrams, on casting Chris Pine: “To play a character like Kirk, he couldn’t fall back on the pointy ears like the other guy!” Abrams’ speaking manner reminds me of Woody Allen, which isn’t what I expected.
Please note — these clips contained significant spoilers, and I’m not holding back.
SCENE 1: Our first glimpse of Kirk as a young man
A vast Iowa cornfield, the same one Kirk is driving through in the trailer on his motorbike, but at night. There’s a bar, and we follow Uhura (Zoe Saldana) into it, as she orders drinks — a “Cardassian Sunrise (geek alert — the Cardassians never appeared till the Next Generation), a Budweiser Classic, and a Slusho (Abrams in-joke — the fictional Japanese drink featured in CLOVERFIELD). There’s an alien at the bar with a really long face, looking like a cross between a human and baboon.
Then there’s Kirk, one of the few civilians in a bar full of Starfleet cadets. He hits on Uhura, upon hearing that she’s a linguist he says “You’ve got a talented tongue.” Her fellow cadets get defensive, and start a fight; Kirk gets pushed into Uhura in such a way that his hands hit her chest just right. She kicks him hard, and he starts to get whupped until Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) shows up and sends his cadets out.
Cut to later in the evening. The bar’s empty, and it’s just Kirk and Pike. Kirk ahs a bloody nose; Pike is trying to get him to join Starfleet. Says “Your dad didn’t believe in no-win scenarios.” Tells Kirk he could be an officer in four years, captain in 8. “Your father was captain of a ship for 12 minutes — Saved 800 lives, including your mother’s, and yours. I dare you to do better.”
Cut to the next day. Kirk drives his motorbike to the shipyard where Enterprise is being built, and approaches Pike’s shuttle.
Worker on the lot goes “Nice ride, man!” Kirk tosses him the keys. “It’s yours.” Walks up into Pike’s shuttle, tells him he’ll be a captain in three years.
SCENE 2: An emergency space lightning storm is occurring on Vulcan. All cadets are assigned to rescue ships except Kirk, but there’s a technicality — a cadet who is sick can come onboard a ship if his assigned doctor is on its crew. So Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) has injected Kirk with a mild virus to get him on the Enterprise.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, which is a lot whiter and more digital-display heavy than any prior iteration, we meet ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin). I’m a bit nervous about this portrayal, because he does the Russian accent so broadly — and also because he doesn’t have Chekov’s trademark Davy Jones wig, which in the original series was supposed to make him appeal to girls. Instead, he has curly hair, that might be inspired by the young Justin Timberlake, I suppose. Anyway, we get a joke at the expense of his accent, when he has trouble saying “Victor” so the computer doesn’t recognize his voice code.
Meanwhile, Kirk is having an allergic reaction to McCoy’s vaccine, making his hands swell up like a Garbage Pail Kid. When he hears that the emergency is a lightning storm he runs to the bridge — it seems that when he was a kid, a similar storm masked a Romulan attack that killed his father (this jibes with what we’ve heard that the plot involves Romulans time-traveling to kill young Kirk).
Kirk makes it to the bridge, and Uhura backs him up, but Spock and Pike are skeptical. Still, Uhura speaks “all three dialects” of Romulan, so she’s assigned to communications. There’s no response from ships near Vulcan, so they warp over there and land in the middle of a big debris field of smashed ships.
Now, everyone’s been saying Zachary Quinto is the perfect Spock, but I remain a little skeptical — his voice is too high, for one thing, and his sideburns look fake. Kirk, however, is the challenging role, and Pine really brings it. It’s not like Kirk is just some character any actor can play — his mannerisms and character are defined by those of William Shatner in real life. And while Pine, in what we saw, doesn’t go quite to the level of sudden hand gestures and dramatic pauses, he gets the headstrong essence of the original captain.
SCENE 3: Abrams tells us that at a certain point, Spock becomes captain, and his first order of business is “get Kirk the fuck off his ship.” Kirk is left on a snowy planet, where he encounters Future Spock (Leonard Nimoy).
We see them led into a Federation outpost by a gnome-like critter that looks like a cross between an Ugnaught and one of the fish-dudes in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. Kirk and Old Spock enter and are greeted by Scotty (Simon Pegg, nailing it way better than I thought he would), who has been there for 6 months, punishment for testing out his transporter theories on “Admiral Archer’s dog.” Yes, Scott Bakula’s cute beagle from ENTERPRISE…so what happened to him? “I’ll let you know when it reappears,” Scotty says.
Spock show shim what he’s been doing wrong with his theories — a nod to the fourth movie, where Scotty did the same for another inventor. Then he tells Kirk how to take command of Enterprise, via “regulation 619.” If an officer is emotionally compromised, he can be removed. Spock says he is compromised, and Kirk must get him to show it, but must not mention he talked to future Spock.
Kirk: “Changing history — it’s cheating.”
Spock: “A trick I learned from an old friend.”
Then he does that hand gesture. “Live long and prosper.”
SCENE 4: The Romulan ship is a giant, spiny, tentacled Matrixy looking thing, running a power line all the way down from space into the Vulcan atmosphere, where it culminates in an air platform that shoots down a beam of fire, drilling into the planet core.
Enterprise’s transporters are disabled, so a small team must do a parachute jump from the upper atmosphere, in space suits. The team are Kirk, Sulu (John Cho), and “Engineer Olson,” who’s wearing red. I suspect even the casual fans know what that means as far as his imminent fate goes.
Onboard the shuttle to the upper atmosphere, Kirk asks Sulu what kind of combat training he has.
“Fencing” replies Sulu.
They make the jump. As expected, Olson opens his chute too late and meets a nasty death. Kirk lands on the platform first, and pushes a button that sucks his chute back up into his backpack. He is then accosted by Romulans, who aren’t exactly the classic or Next Gen kind. These Romulans are burly, bald, have facial tattoos, dress dirtily, and their leader Nero (Eric Bana) also has scarification bumps. Kirk brawls with a Romulan whose gun emits stray far, shooting holes in the chute of the still-falling Sulu. When Sulu finally lands, he draws a sword, and goes into swashbuckling mode, which is less cheesy than it may sound. He saves Kirk by stabbing Kirk’s assailant through the heart, and I hope that somewhere, George Takei is happy that Sulu finally got to save the day for the captain he never liked much.
Without explosive charges (Olson had them), Kirk and Sulu simply grab the Romulan guns and start shooting the platform to bits. But the damage is done; the drill already got to the center, and the Romulans drop a depth charge that will create a black hole inside the planet and destroy it. Meanwhile, Sulu falls off the platform, and Kirk pulls a Keanu-in-POINT-BREAK move, jumping off in freefall. He grabs Sulu, but then the chute doesn’t open.
Up on the bridge, Spock prepares to evacuate Vulcan and save his parents. Meanwhile, nobody can get a transporter lock on Kirk and Sulu, because they’re moving too fast. Except Chekov, who has a radical new theory of some sort. He runs to the transporter room, takes control, and right as Kirk and Sulu are about to hit ground and die, they beam into the transporter room and hit the floor. The action pacing of this sequence was excellent.
That was it for the clips, but I should add that in the lobby, there were a few production designs, and I caught a glimpse of the classic Klingon cruiser…
Overall, I suspect this movie will play very well if the rest of it is up to these scenes. Casual fans will have no problems whatsoever; continuity geeks will probably do like me and find themselves turning off their internal critic during stuff like the freefall sequence. Whether they turn it back on after remains to be seen. One thing I do like quite a bit is the sense of scale and size — this is easily the biggest budget TREK yet, and it finally has an epic feel to it.
So far, anyway. (By Luke Y Thompson)