Justin Lin On 'Star Trek Beyond' Criticisms: "We Are Trying To Be Bold And Take Risks"

The first teaser trailer for Star Trek Beyond hit the internet yesterday, exciting a lot of people but also pissing off some long-time Trekkies. The complaint is that the movie presented didn't feel like a Star Trek movie, but instead a modern in-your-face blockbuster. But if you ask director Justin Lin, he'll quickly remind you it's just a minute and a half of the movie.

After the jump I present to you excerpts from my hourlong roundtable conversation with Justin Lin, in which he responds to fan criticisms, talks about his personal relationship to Star Trek, the origins of the film's title, the music choice, the inspiration of the original TV series, what he gave up to direct Trek, his idea for the film, whether it will continue plot lines from Into Darkness, the screenwriting credits, working on a Trek movie with a producer who is directing Star Wars, whether he plans to return to do another Trek movie, and much more.

Sitting at a table on the Paramount lot with a few of my colleagues, Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin explained the idea behind the first teaser trailer:

Well, its a minute and a half, you know... And again, there were other versions that were much more traditional and I can see where maybe the hardcore fans could probably see that as, "Oh." But with trailers you're putting a two-hour movie into a minute and a half, and the one thing I wanted to make sure is that it hopefully represents that we are trying to be bold and take risks, whether we are successful or not, I don't know. That was something I was excited to do and with collaborators like Simon [Pegg] and Doug [Jung], passion for the franchise will be there regardless.  So however it's presented, yeah it's a minute and a half, and my challenge to everyone making the trailer is about saying "let's not go off course, I'm not afraid to share — share it, I feel like we have the goods in a two-hour run and you really do get to know the characters and hopefully the journey is great. I love it and the cast did an amazing job and the crew... and the inside baseball version of the creation of this Trek was pretty condensed in how you usually make a movie of this size. And I wanted us to be bold, I wanted us to take chances and hopefully in a minute and a half we are able to convey that.

As for those fans who think Lin might have made a Fast & Furious movie set in the Trek universe, Lin understands where the criticism is coming from:

Yeah, and I don't know if that's the case here. When I saw the teaser, I'm like, aw shit.  You really have to put the motorcycle in there? So I get it, I get it, I get it.

When someone else brings up the shot that looks very reminiscent of Letty-Dom flying through the air from the Fast & Furious films, Justin smiles and smirks, "Yeah, well I'm who I am."

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The Music Choice

The Beastie Boys song "Sabotage" was featured in J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek, with young James T. Kirk listening to the music while taking a car for a joy ride on Earth. But the new teaser trailer uses the song prominently, which registers almost like a statement. Lin assures us that the song is in the film ("I wanted to make sure we didn't do anything that was just trying to pump something else in") and explains his reason for using the track in the teaser:

It's in the DNA of this canon. It was in the '09 Trek, and we went through different iterations of the teaser and I wanted to make sure whatever here is using all the elements from the film. It's been a part of this Kirk's journey and so I felt it was very organic, and it will ultimately be in the finished film.

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Justin Lin's Relationship/History With Star Trek

And while Lin might not be as huge of a Trekkie as his co-writer Simon Pegg, he was a huge fan of the series growing up.

The one thing that was when I came on this [film project], I didn't even realize how emotional my level of engagement with Trek was until the first day of preproduction when I walked into the hallway of the Enterprise and it hit me. It's part of me but my level of engagement with Trek was really from 8 to 18, when I would watch Trek at 11 PM on channel 13 with my dad. He worked all day, closed shop at 9 PM and dinner at 10 and watched Trek. And so a lot of that is trying to create something that embraces the essence of Trek for me. Simon has a very different level of engagement, and Doug also has a very different... so it's awesome to get in there and have those collaborators and have that discourse about how we were going to craft this movie. 'Cause Simon, he knows EVERYTHING about Trek and it's great to have those guys with me the whole way.

Origins of the Star Trek Beyond Title

Lin reveals the title Star Trek Beyond was crafted by Pegg and was inspired by his initial conversation with Abrams.

He kind of tracked me down and we're talking and I didn't know what to expect. I thought maybe he was offering to go shoot a script that existed and he said, no, it's yours. Go and be bold. And just take it. Be bold and make it what you think you would do to Star Trek. And the more we talked about it, the more we kept saying, well let's keep pushing. Let's keep pushing. And that's when Simon kind of said, well it should be Star Trek Beyond. And it was his idea. And it was kind of came from all our conversations. And we looked at each other and like oh, that sounds like the title of this film.

After the jump, Justin talks about the inspiration of the original TV series, having to pay a price to direct Trek, his idea for the film, whether it will continue plot lines from Into Darkness, the screenwriting credits, working on a Trek movie with a producer who is directing Star Wars, and whether he plans to return to do another Trek movie.

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Inspired By the Television Series

The big blockbuster action movie framing aside, the story presented in the trailer almost looked like an old-school Trek episode with a contained story, although Lin warns it isn't too contained: "even if it's a planet, it's a big planet." But if you also get that vibe, it might be because Lin's connection to Star Trek was through the TV show, not the movies:

We were a working-class family, so we didn't really go to movies until I was older. To me Trek was just this element of exploration, every night there was another adventure. And kind of having that relationship throughout my life and when I went off to college and as an adult. That's kind of where my relationship with Trek is. And what I really love is in the TV format you kind of get to know the characters regardless, they kind of become part of your family. And that's something that's always been with me, as a filmmaker, especially in ensembles. But you only have so much real estate, you only have two hours just like everybody else.

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Giving Up LA Riots for Trek

But Lin didn't plan to make a Star Trek movie. The opportunity presented itself at a point in his career where he had all the choices in the world. He explained that he gave up a dream project to do this movie. It was not a choice without sacrifice:

I always thought if I had the chance to do a Star Trek, and in a way when J.J. called me, it was kind of that question I had to answer for myself. I didn't plan on doing a Star Trek movie... There was a big price to pay for me doing Trek. I was getting ready to do my LA Riots movie and for me to kind of walk away from that was a big deal. I had to look within myself and say: this is an opportunity, what would that even be?

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The Idea: To Deconstruct Star Trek

It was Lin's idea was to deconstruct the series on a deeper level:

It's fifty years... It was around before I was born so for me at its core I felt like on this chapter if we can kind of deconstruct Trek on different levels and hopefully reconfirm that it's great, we can send it off and it can have a long run after this. And for me that was on a more cerebral level, that was the mission here on this one.

And to deconstruct this team, he did so literally by tearing the USS Enterprise apart and splitting the dream team up on a faraway planet.

But it's also about going on that journey that J.J. did with putting all these people together, but I wanted to hopefully create an opportunity or a situation where we can really see how they react to things and to each other. Those are things in all the years of watching Trek, we had hundreds of hours with the movies and stuff, in this timeline, I wanted to hopefully create something where we can be on the five-year mission, we can hopefully explore and introduce new species and put them in situations where it hopefully then mirrors back on the exploration of humanity — I think that's important.

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Will Beyond Address Into Darkness Plot Lines and Characters?

But what about Star Trek Into Darkness? The film introduces the idea that death can be cured which many feel completely removes the stakes in future adventures. But it seems like Lin will be moving on, almost pretending it never happened:

I don't know if we're leaving it behind. And Simon and Doug and I definitely have had some, spent some time on that. But at the same time I feel like this, Star Trek's been around 50 years. And I'm excited to be a part of it, but I'm also excited to be a participant, but hopefully to see where it's gonna go. And I think every filmmaker comes on has a different point of view. And it's a big universe that could support many different points of views and journeys and adventures. And so I totally embrace kind of what J.J. brought ahead of me because he put, without him, this whole group wouldn't have been together. So I'm always very kind of, I'm definitely very appreciative of that. And to have the opportunity to be able to kind of build on that, I think it's something that we, it's definitely now exists. I think the people that really care, you can't ignore that. But at the same time, do we address that? I don't discount it. Like we don't sit there and say it doesn't exist. It's part of this universe now.

As for the fates of Alice Eve's character Carol Marcus (who joined the crew at the end of Into Darkness but is absent from this adventure) and Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan, don't expect any answers in this story:

We pick [the crew] up about two and a half years after the end of Into Darkness. But there was many iterations where we did go and explore. At the end of the day, I just felt like we're two and a half years in. What we shot and what's gonna be in theaters, quantity wise it's quite a bit. But then to be honest, I actually had even more beyond that. So that's something that we definitely talked about and worked on. In the presentation of this film, it didn't quite fit in.

After the jump, Justin talks about the screenwriting credits, working on a Trek movie with a producer who is directing Star Wars, and whether he plans to return to do another Trek movie.


About That Screenwriting Credit

And while the trailer credits the previous writing team on the project, Lin has no idea why their names were onscreen:

I don't know. Yeah, WGA's gotta figure it out because I never met the, I don't even know who the writers are. I never met them.  ... I came on and I had an idea and then they came on and then it was January and we were shooting in June. ... And I talked to Orci. One conversation after I came on. And that was it.

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Working on Trek For a Star Wars Filmmaker

And I wondered if he encountered any crossover while working for producer J.J. Abrams who was also off making a Star Wars film. Lin smiled.

Well it's funny because like we'll be like writing in a room and I'll hear Chewbacca coming from the editing suite. And you're like whoa. And but it is one of those things where I felt like we'll be working together and J.J.'s been very, nothing but respectful. But it wasn't anything big, but I'm always trying to milk him for plots for Star Wars. So I can be cool to my son. But there was a couple instances where he's like yeah, we kind of have this in the new Star Wars. And I was like okay. And then it was never saying, hey, you gotta take this out or not. Just okay, well they have it and we have it too.

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Planning for the Future

With all the talk in Hollywood about creating universes and trilogies, Lin says that his goal was to make a great movie and tell a standalone story:

I kept kind of telling everybody we're doing the Gattaca thing where we'll just swim as hard as we can to the buoy and figure out how to swim back later.

As for what Lin has planned next, he admits he is "very fortunate" to have "a great group of people" with some developed projects.

I, as a filmmaker I'm always looking to grow. And I have a nice slate of stuff that I've been working on. But sometimes you get these calls out of nowhere. And you decide if you wanna be a part of it or not. And there's a price to it. And so that was the price for this. But yeah, again, high class problems. I don't wanna sound like I'm complaining too much.

As for if he'll return for another Star Trek adventure, Lin seems unsure.

I'll never say never, but I've had a great time. I'm also getting older and there's a lot of stuff I wanna do. I didn't plan on doing this. But I also feel like that's the right way to enter something, is to not be strategic and like oh this'll be good for me or this or it was just because I love it. ... So I've been very lucky to kind of have that journey. And I'm not looking for anything else. I feel fortunate to be part of this. But I am itching, I have a lot of things I wanna do. And I'm not getting any younger, so...