Interview: JJ Abrams talks Star Trek


JJ Abrams, director, executive producer and co-creator of Lost, Alias and Mission: Impossible III, unveiled 25 minutes of explosive and never-before-seen footage from his upcoming movie Star Trek last week in London for a select audience.  We were lucky enough to sit down with the director afterwards and talk about his Trek vision, which he describes as more of a “re-invigoration” than a re-boot.

“The idea is really to re-introduce these characters in a different way, but they are the characters from the original Star Trek.  It’s not a complete re-imagining… I figure if you re-imagine something you should just imagine something else”

The latest Trek movie certainly doesn’t drift too far from its roots. That’s not to say this is for Trekkers only (The term Trekkies is no longer P.C) With Abrams at the helm and an all-new younger cast, there are hopes that the movie will have an appeal beyond its niche fanbase, pushing it towards more mainstream cinema-goers.

“I think the idea was really to show this movie as an origin story and be as connected to reality as possible, not just this inside joke that people who have seen the other ten movies will get”

But bringing Star Trek to the masses and turning it into a blockbuster is no easy task. Aside from the 1986 movie, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, no Star Trek film has ever achieved that elusive mainstream appeal.  Perhaps the other movies were perceived as too geeky, or perhaps they seemed to lack action…too much lengthy dialogue and not a lot going on?  Well, rest assured, judging from the 30 mins of footage recently screened in London, action is something this picture won’t be lacking!

“I do think that there is a level of action and excitement that will be unusual and unexpected to a lot of people’’ the director explains. On first impressions, this seems to be no understatement on Abrams’ part.  Blazing set pieces, pulsating action and gigantic space battles have given Star Trek 09 an almost, dare we say, Star Wars-esque quality.  Abrams doesn’t deny his love for the other sci-fi franchise “I was actually more of a Star Wars kid than a Star Trek kid”

The new trailer for Trek begins on Earth, with a daredevil boy racing a classic car towards the precipice of a cliff – not very Star Trek at all, in fact, cinema goers in the US have already become quite shocked when they finally realised that they’re watching a trailer for the latest Star Trek movie.   The young boy drags himself off the side of a cliff and reveals his name to a futuristic cop “My name is James Tiberius Kirk”

Explaining the thought process behind the trailer, Abrams comments, “I wanted to begin the trailer in a way that was earthbound and fun, relatable and real, and not necessarily Star Trek at all.  Just something that was curious.  And hopefully draw people in not because of the spaceship flying across the camera but because there’s this young boy crashing a classic car with a futuristic cop pulling him over”

“All you have to be is a fan of movies- of action, adventure, comedy, romance -  and you’ll like this movie.”

Trekkers needn’t worry that Abrams vision might alienate them, On the contrary, the movie is full of homages to past-Trek glories and folklore.  Explains Abrams,   “Hopefully without it  being a distraction, there are definitely countless moments in the movie that Star Trek fans will appreciate that non fans won’t necessarily get, but that’s irrelevant because the movie is such that even if you’ve never seen Star Trek, you’ll completely get the movie, you won’t be behind, you won’t feel lost.  But if you do know the world of Trek, we’ve done a lot of little things for you.”

Abrams counts himself as one of “the geeky community” despite the fact he was never a Trekker, “I wasn’t when I started this project!”

Continues Abrams, “I’m one of those people who loves genre story telling, loves science fiction, loves horror and fantasy.  Going to Comic Con, for example, years and years and years ago, it was like, it felt strangely, almost unhealthily – like home.  It was just one of those things that I felt I had always been a part of it.”

Fans won’t be surprised to hear that Abrams’ favourite of the original Trek movies is Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan – “I think it has to be the one that I’ve always liked the most.  It stayed with me even when I was a kid and it first came out.  There are moments that were just kind of indelible.”

Following the recent trend for the aforementioned re-boots, it almost seems inevitable that Star Trek 09 will take heed of recent successes like Bond and Batman and position itself as a darker, more brooding epic… right? Wrong.

Abrams insists that Star Trek offers a hopeful and optimistic view of the future “The Dark Knight is undeniably entertaining and wonderfully made, but it, and many films before it, are incredibly cynical, dark, not quite post-apocalyptic, but pre-apocalyptic movies and I feel like the thing about Star Trek, which is kind of a relief in a way, is that it completely embraces optimism.  It is undeniably, just intrinsically, the very root of optimism.

“That humans will not only survive but actually thrive and collaborate with other species.  The notion of the final frontier in space exploration is so silly and clichéd in so many people’s minds, but when you actually stop to consider that Star Trek is, whilst a fantasy, our future.

“I love what Roddenberry was doing and I’m proud to continue that spirit as opposed to doing Star Trek: The Dark Years. Which, by the way, I’m sure would be hugely entertaining and wildly profitable.”

Star Trek is released May 2009

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