Posted on Thursday, November 20th, 2008 by Peter Sciretta
On Wednesday, I flew down to Los Angeles to attend a special screening of 20 minutes of footage from JJ Abrams‘ Star Trek. Everyone was packed into a large theater on the Paramount lot. And by everyone, I mean EVERYONE.
Marvel head Kevin Feige was sitting behind me, Free Enterprise director Robert Burnett was a couple rows in front of me. Who knows how many other execs and filmmakers might have been in attendance. Trek stars John Cho, Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine and Bruce Greenwood were also at the presentation to see the footage.
Director JJ Abrams introduced four clips. I could recount the events second by second, but it’s the same footage that was previously screened in London and New York. Check ComingSoon for the blow by blow. I thought it would be better to post just my observations. But before I do so let me say:
This is not the Star Trek film that Trekkies are looking for,
…but that might not be a bad thing.
Much has been made of the opening sequence of the new movie trailer. A young kid jumps out of a moving car as it zooms off the edge of a cliff. The reveal is that the kid is the future Captain of the USS Enterprise, James T Kirk. The sequence is constructed to get a specific reaction: “This doesn’t look like any Star Trek movie I’ve ever seen before.” But I think many people are missing the possible metaphor. Kirk could have been driving a car from any decade in history — the 2000’s, the 1990’s, the 1980’s, or the 1970’s, but for one reason or another, Abrams chose a 1960s Corvette.
Could it be that the corvette represents something more than just a fast car? Is it just a coincidence that the car was released during the same decade that the original Star Trek television series premiered? I believe that by throwing the 1960’s era car off a cliff, Abrams was making a statement – “this is not your father’s Star Trek movie – we’re throwing all that stuff away, off a cliff no less. This is the new Star Trek.” Okay, now onto my observations.
A More Expansive Enterprise: This film will make you believe that the USS Enterprise actually exists. The majority of the show and films were shot on a Bridge set and a small series of hallways that were always reused to create different areas within the ship. In the few short sequences I screened, I was amazed at how exactly how much of the Enterprise you get to see. I would compare it to the many areas of James Cameron’s the Titanic. You travel through so many diverse sections of the ship that it not only feels authentic, but it feels HUGE. JJ Abrams said before the presentation that one of the underlying ideas was to legitimize the idea of space travel. And from what I can tell, the Enterprise feels very real.
Action Packed: One of the sequences involved Sulu, Kirk and a Red Shirt (guess what happens to him) making a space jump onto a Romulan drill, hovering above the planet Vulcan. You see a few split seconds of this jump in the trailer. Remember the sequence with the three men in uniforms are seen free falling face first through the air? Well they land on the drill and an intense fight ensues between the Enterprise crew and the Romulans. Sulu has a sword battle that is on level with some of the cooler lightsaber duels from the Star Wars prequels. The whole sequence happens on this drill platform a couple miles above the planet. I can’t describe how very cool this scene is.
Comedy: This is a much funnier film than any of the previous Star Trek movies. In one sequence, Kirk and Old Spock (Leonard Nemoy) enter a federation outpost on a snowy planet, where they find Scotty (Simon Pegg). In addition to Pegg’s trademark humor (Scotty admits that he was exiled to the location after he teleported the Admiral’s pet beagle, who was never seen from again), Scotty is joined by this Star Wars looking alien sidekick who he belittles from time to time. In another sequence, James Kirk is snuck onto the Enterprise under the guise that he is sick. McCoy has injected him with a temporary virus but Kirk has an allergic reaction, causing his hands to swell up like balloons. The scene involves Kirk running around the ship trying to warn the Captain not to warp to Vulcan, waving his huge hands in the air, while Uhura looks at him strange. McCoy gives him a shot to fix the allergic side effect, which results in another side effect where Kirk loses feeling in his mouth, causing him to slur his words, and if I remember correctly, his head also begins to swell. The introduction of such a sight gag was oft putting at first. I’m not saying it wasn’t funny, but it just wasn’t expected, especially in a Trek film. I would compare it to the scene in Transformers where Optimus Prime and crew are hiding outside Sam’s house. This scene was part of a package of scenes screened to press months before the release of the film. Many were critical of the comic direction of the film at the time, but that sequence ended up being a favorite of most of the general public.
Lens Flares: During the trailer you may have noticed a few moments when the camera lens flared up from the reflection of light. This seems to be a cinematic choice that is used throughout the film, and especially within the Enterprise itself. I’ve included a screenshot from the trailer above, which shows a lens flare across a shot of Captain Christopher Pike. I wish I could elaborate on this more, but it’s rather odd to explain. But trust me, it isn’t something that happens just a few times. It is very noticeable and consistent, and gives the film a more realistic vibe.
Joker Cam: In the old Batman television series, they use to tilt the camera sideways whenever The Joker showed up on screen in an attempt to create an off-putting visual. While this effect is thankfully not employed during the 20 minutes of Star Trek I was witness to, I did notice that Abrams likes to shoot the scenes within the enterprise with the gliding steadicam-like movements, which sometimes become unbalanced and lean to the left or the right. From what I can tell, it really gives you a feeling of being on a ship, if not a starship, at least a cruise ship.
Performances: Most of the performances were spot on. Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin in particular, both of whom were able to employ authentic sounding accents. On the other hand, Karl Urban looked like he was doing an imitation of DeForest Kelley’s Bones, in the same way some of the supporting characters in Oliver Stone’s W. felt more like imitations rather than authentic performances. To be completely fair, he was only on screen for a few lines, so it might not be fair to judge just yet.
Leonard Nimoy: Seeing Nimoy back as Spock for the first time since 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was nothing short of awesome.
The Origins of the Enterprise Crew: After watching 20 minutes of this film, it has quickly become clear that the core story of the new Trek film is to show how the crew of the Starship Enterprise came together. And no, it doesn’t happen exactly how you might expect.
The Bar: In one scene, a pre-Academy James T Kirk enters an Iowa bar. Most directors would be tempted to fill the bar with lots of extras, cool looking creatures, and have all sorts of flashy looking futuristic technology spread throughout. Abrams does none of that. The bar actually doesn’t look to much different from a bar you would enter today. Sure, there is a LED wall with a changing light pattern in the background. And yes, the bar menu has animated graphics, comparable to the newspapers in the Harry Potter series. But for the most part, the bar just feels and looks like a real bar.
Inside References: During the bar sequence, a character recommends a Slusho alcoholic drink. Slusho is of course a fictional frozen drink that Abrams invented for Alias, and later used in the viral marketing for Cloverfield. And we mentioned before that the USS Kelvin is named after Abrams grandfather who famously got him interested in the art of mystery (see the “Magic Box” ted talk). I’m sure there will be a ton of other inside references, especially pointing back to Trek history, throughout.
Bottom line: I was extremely impressed with most of the footage, but I find myself a little skeptical of the use of broad comedy and sight gags. Either way, I have a feeling that mainstream audiences will probably dig it. I’m also pretty confident that the hardcore Trekkies won’t care for this movie. It is clearly a much different type of film than the franchise has ever given us before. But truth is, it might also be a much better film than they have ever gotten before. And most certainly, the most accessible Star Trek film to date. If I had to compare the footage I screened to any other film, I would say that it has shades of the better moments from Return of The Jedi mixed with new generation Battlestar Galactica.