Early look at JJ Abrams’s “Star Trek”

AICN head honcho Harry Knowles got an early peek at J.J. Abrams Star Trek. The few shots he saw were without proper CG or color timing. Basically, what he saw was put together raw footage. It also goes without saying that it is impossible to take anything Knowles says without a Grand Canyon-sized piece of salt.

It’s widely known that whatever he writes usually ends with some sort of childish enthusiasm (good or bad?) and verbal diarrhea of praise. Regardless, he’s the one who gets access and has James Cameron on his speed dial and he’s the one who’s seen some scenes.

It all ended with characters arriving on the bridge, under the command of Captain Pike. Sulu was at the helm ? and the bridge. And the uniforms? Classic Trek. Nice. Then for the first time in the history of Star Trek, it looked amazingly functional. It echoes that classic Trek look ? but imagine if you handed that design to the folks at APPLE and said? Make it really work. I instantly believed in the functionality of everything. That?s hard to quantify, but it is true. Remember when you saw the war room underground on Hoth in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK? How it just felt functional ? that?s what this looked. And it looked Star Trek, without looking as cheap as Star Trek. It was a tech-fetishists wet dream.

I will say this ? I?ve no idea of what this is going to be, but I got a sense of what JJ is up to. He?s very much reinventing it ? the way Robert Wise did ? and at the same time ? he?s directing the actors with an energy and an aliveness that we haven?t seen. This was exciting, yet strange and it felt somehow? real.

He saw about seven minutes in all and came away, I guess, impressed. No surprise there. But if anyone could reboot the Star Trek universe if would have to be Abrams. Some minor spoilery scenes after the jump.

He showed me a scene of Ben Cross (Sarek) & Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson) cradling a baby Spock on the surface of Vulcan. A baby with Spock ears is kind of amazing to look at. But there was no dialogue here, and Vulcan wasn?t really there yet ? what was there was a great rock formation that kinda reminded me of that wonky mountain/cliff thing from ARENA / BILL & TED. That said, it wasn?t the ARENA formation ? and JJ said that zero effects had been done on this yet ? so the lighting wasn?t right, the sky wasn?t right and there were no angry volcano type things or structures in the background, but he assured me? it?ll all look very Vulcan when it is done.

The next scene was a really nicely completed visual effects pass of a pre-Enterprise Federation ship from about 25 years before the Enterprise. I?ve no idea how this fits into the larger story, same with the Spock baby stuff. But this effects shot had a completely different space feel than anything I?ve seen before from STAR TREK or STAR WARS. The shot began on a small part of the ship, then craned back and over to reveal the ship coming into a larger shot of the ship seemingly orbiting a really angry sun. The shot was absolutely dynamic as the star was seemingly raging ? and we cut to the interior of the ship ? it was very shadowy and very much like that of an old diesel submarine ? JJ told me that the look was an evolving look for Star Fleet ? so that you could get a sense of the passage of decades here. Once again though ? I didn?t see the end of the scene or really get a sense for what was going on.

Sounds like Abrams is trying to anchor this movie into a semblance of reality, which is a difficult thing to do. It’s going to be hard to convince non-Trek fans to come and see this, after all, there aren’t any major actors/actresses involved (but there are loads of good ones) and the Trek name or Abrams reputation might not sell this alone.

Paramount is going to have their hands full trying to sell this one. They have until May of 2009 to do so. And yet, if the movie is great, then that might sell itself. Until then, scenes like this one give me comfort that J.J. can bring Trek to the masses in a way Jean-Luc Picard never could.

It feels as though some Intergalactic Pearl Harbor has happened and all the cadets are anxious to get underway. You?d see cadets running to meet their shuttles ? and as shuttles filled up, they took off to take their crews to their respective starships. They hold on the long shot ? we hear Leonard McCoy being assigned to the Enterprise ? You catch Uhura being assigned to a place? not the Enterprise. You see Chris Pine as Kirk demanding to know why his name wasn?t called out ? apparently Kirk is in trouble. You remember that Kobayashi Maru thing he got a commendation for creative thinking for? Well, he isn?t smiling about it here. It seems his entire future career in Starfleet is in jeopardy ? and he might miss out on whatever is going on. In a way it plays like the reality of legend. The truth behind the mythology of Kirk?s youth. How is Chris Pine? He?s young. The scene I saw wasn?t a strong KIRK scene, but a proto-KIRK scene. To see a character called Kirk that isn?t comfortably calling all the shots is a bit strange, but welcomed at the same time. I can?t wait to see how JJ takes the character and thrusts him into ?greatness? ? which has to happen in this film.

But then there?s McCoy ? when you see McCoy? you?ll realize how metaphysically perfect Karl Urban was for the casting of the character. He?s got that right cantankerous, best buddy, ethical, but anything for his friend type of doc attitude ? and he has it down pat. He?s helping Jim to get onto a ship, but in a million years I wouldn?t spoil that. It?s funny, without being ridiculous. And it begins to exhibit the early kernels of a classic Bones/Kirk interaction. Best friends with a history ? and perhaps this moment is a key moment of that history. The favor that launched a career? Perhaps that is what I saw.

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