'Star Trek' director J.J. Abrams sets his phasers on fun
05:00 AM, May 15, 2013
Nobody is as big a fan of J.J. Abrams’ movies as the director’s inner 12-year-old.
Abrams grew up on the works of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and the filmmaker and TV producer is carving out a résumé that one day may will probably stand alongside those of his childhood icons.
There are his creations for TV, such as Lost and Fringe, for sure, but it’s Abrams’ big-screen sci-fi fare that has captured the attention of pop culture. Opening Wednesday on IMAX screens and Thursday nationwide is his Star Trek Into Darkness, a sequel to 2009’s popular Star Trek, which reinvigorated the franchise launched by Gene Roddenberry 1966.
Abrams has another galaxy on his mind, too one that’s far, far away. He’ll jump into hyperspeed soon as the director of Star Wars: Episode VII, a movie that continues the legacy created by Lucas and is due in 2015.
What might be geek overload for some is just right for Abrams, 46, says Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the Trek movies.
“The thing about J.J. is that he works best when he’s multitasking,” the British actor says. “I’ve never known J.J. not to be working on, say, three things at once.”
Now that he’s in the captain’s chair of two huge franchises, Abrams is feeling luckier every day. “I felt that way before Star Trek came along, I felt that way before Star Wars came along, and it makes me even more incredulous that these are projects I get to be associated with.”
Abrams makes sure to create a familial atmosphere among his casts and crews, and he focused on doing it with Star Trek’s on-screen characters, too. The young crew of the USS Enterprise including James Kirk (Chris Pine), Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) came together as a unit, but their bond was not truly tested.
That comes into play in Into Darkness as the emergence of a galactic terrorist from within Starfleet, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), reveals strains in the family dynamic and puts Kirk’s self-doubt and leadership abilities under a microscope.
The previous film gave Abrams “the glorious firsts” that come with jumping into a mythology, he says. “But when it comes to doing a sequel, the key is, first of all, don’t treat it like a sequel you can’t assume anyone cares. You can’t assume that anyone is going to remember it.”
In a space full of alien races, starships and even furry Tribbles, it’s the core Star Trek characters particularly Kirk and Spock who matter most to Abrams and franchise fans.
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy performed together in those roles from the ’60s TV show through the 1991 film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Nimoy reprises his famous Vulcan again in Star Trek Into Darkness, and Pine and Quinto (playing a version of Spock in a different era) are still relevant as characters today because of their strong and opposite archetypes.
“Kirk shoots from the hip and is a much more emotional character, and Spock is a much more logical and rule-oriented guy,” Abrams says. “These two represent the vast majority of people, whether it’s a husband and a wife one of whom has a more emotional way to go and the other is a little bit more careful and controlled or whether it’s siblings or friends.”
Adds Pine: “The struggle between the mind and the body is one that we all go through as human beings within our own bodies. And in many ways, Spock and Kirk represent two halves of the same person trying to find this balance.”
Abrams concedes that Star Wars’ world of lightsabers influenced him more than Star Trek’s phasers while growing up, but in doing the Star Trek movies, he found aspects he loved. That was evident in the indefatigable energy he brought to the set, says Alice Eve, who plays new Enterprise science officer Carol Marcus.
“I’ve never seen anyone who is able to maintain a sense of decorum and joviality in the face of relentless adversity,” she says. “He’s working 18 hours a day, and he’s still smiling, even when his eyes are half closed.”
Saldana agrees. “He’s been moving at that warp speed I think since the moment he was born. He doesn’t ever stop.”
The support he has enjoyed from his Star Trek team seems likely to follow him to his next big project bringing Star Wars back to the big screen. Pegg, a fellow Star Wars fan, called him when he found out about Abrams’ new job. “My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh, (shoot), what about us?!’ ” Pegg says.
The actor says he would join Abrams in the land of Han Solo faster than a quick zip in the Millennium Falcon, but “in a way, that’s more because it’s J.J. and less because it’s Star Wars. Whether he’s remaking Battle Beyond the Stars or Star Wars, I’m still going to be interested in what he has to say.”
While he’s disappointed at the notion of not having Abrams as director of a third Trek, Quinto can’t imagine a better person for the Star Wars gig. “It’s audacious and bold, and it makes a lot of sense. It will all unfold as it’s meant to.”
The Force may be with Abrams for Star Wars, but it’s up for discussion as to whether he’ll live long and prosper in terms of the Star Trek franchise. He will at the very least act as producer on a third movie, along with writers Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.
“We desperately love it, and we love the characters, and we love the world,” Abrams says. “I am a late-to-the-party admirer of what Gene Roddenberry created. I feel like, while we are leasing this home that he built, I’m proud to have been a tenant and want to make sure the house is not demolished or refurbished, but upheld and treated well.”