Trek footage seen!
I don't know much about STAR TREK. OK, let's be clear, I know nothing about STAR TREK. I don't know a Klingon from a Vulcan from a Romulan. I've never watched a full episode of any of the TV series and I've never seen more than 10 minutes of any of the movies. I just never connected with it in any way. Strangely enough that makes me just like the guy who directed the biggest STAR TREK movie in history, JJ Abrams.
You wouldn't think that the guy who would be relaunching the STAR TREK series would be someone as wholly unfamiliar with the universe as Abrams claims to have been. He freely admits that he was never a fan of the TREK universe and never "got it." It certainly wasn't for a lack of trying as he had friends growing up who were major fans and had long tried to convince him to climb aboard. So when Paramount came to Abrams and asked if he was interested in developing a new STAR TREK film, he agreed to help produce the film but wasn't interested in directing (that, he rationalized, should go to someone who's a fan).
But as Abrams began to work on the film with his brain trust (writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman & producers Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk) he found himself slowly falling in love with the story. It had everything he loves in movies. "Adventure, action, sexiness, thrills, chills..." Yet he still couldn't bring himself to direct it because, as he told himself, "...it's STAR TREK..."
Eventually though as he continued to fine tune the project he found it too compelling to pass up. He got into directing to make good movies and this script was as good as anything else he had ever read. Who cares if it's STAR TREK. So Abrams decided he'd give the TREK universe another shot and, lo and behold, he loved it. He's a full-fledged "Trekker."
So if this story, a telling of the early years of Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Bones, Uhura and the gang, could convert Abrams into a Trekker, could it do the same for me?
Luckily Abrams was kind enough to show me four extended scenes from the movie recently in New York City.
SCENE #1 - Introduction to Kirk
Abrams set this clip up by saying it's our first introduction to Kirk in the film. It starts in a bar on Earth that looks moderately futuristic but is more like a bar you and I would go into than something out of the STAR WARS cantina. Hell, they still serve Budweiser. Uhura is making her way through the crowd and looking hot doing it. As she orders her drinks from the bar (including an Abrams easter egg order for a "Slusho"), a voice from the other end starts flirting. It's James Kirk.
He asks her name, she ignores him and he tells her that if she doesn't tell him her name, he's going to make one up. She tells him it's "Uhura" and he asks what her last name is. She says that is her last name. She's just about to leave when Kirk is able to impress her with his knowledge of her studies in alien linguistics. She calls him a "dumb hick" who likes to "have sex with farm animals," a joke that seemed oddly out of place.
At this point, some of Uhura's friends/classmates come up behind Kirk and basically tell him to take a hike. The guy says, "There's four of us and one of you," trying to intimidate him. So Kirk says, "Then go out and get four more guys so it'll be an even fight." Oh snap!
Kirk and the guys get into a pretty rowdy bar fight and despite Kirk's tough talk, he pretty much gets the shit kicked out of him until Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) comes in to break it up. After the crowd disperses, Pike sits at a table with Kirk who's nursing his many wounds (he's got two wads up tissue stuffed up his bloody nose). Pike is trying to convince Kirk to join the Starfleet but Kirk's not buying it. Turns out Kirk's father was a big hero and Pike says that if Kirk is even half the man his father was, they'd love to have him. He can be the captain of his own ship in four years, Pike tells him. This isn't working so Pike tries to tug at his heartstrings by saying that his father saved over 800 lives, including a baby Kirk and his mom. Kirk's not budging so eventually Pike leaves him to think about it.
Later we see Kirk riding through the plains on his motorcycle and he sees a large military installation where they're building the Enterprise. He stops, thinks, half-smiles and pulls his bike into the shipyard (no security?). A guy compliments him on his bike and Kirk throws him the keys saying he can have it. Kirk looks at Pike and says "Four years? I'll do it in three."
SCENE #2 - Romulan Invasion
Abrams explains this clip by saying that Kirk, in his usual Kirk-y way, gets into trouble almost immediately at the Academy. While the others are getting assigned to ships, Kirk does not and is left behind. But he figures out a loophole where a doctor can bring a sick patient on board a ship. So he has Bones (Karl Urban) give him a vaccine that will show symptoms of illness so he can get onboard the Enterprise.
As the scene begins we see Bones leading a sickly Kirk through the ship. He lays him down on a bed and gives Kirk a sedative. Kirk asks how long it'll take to kick in but before he finishes his sentence, he passes out.
Now we start to meet some of the other members of the crew including Chekov (Anton Yelchin) who is trying to voice activate commands on the ship despite his thick Russian accent (think Yakov Smirnoff). Eventually he gets it going and he comes over the ship's speakers to alert the crew to a lightning storm. This snaps Kirk out of his sleep who snaps up hearing about the lightning storm. He's clearly in a panic but his body is having a reaction to the vaccine (his hands and tongue have swollen up).
Bones is trying to subdue Kirk with classic lines like "Good god, man!" and "Damn it, Jim!" (Sadly no, "I'm a doctor, not a....." line.) Kirk is running through the corridors of the ship with Bones chasing him with medicine. Kirk bursts into the bridge of the ship and tries to convince Uhura and crew that it's not a lightning storm but in fact a Romulan attack on the planet Vulcan.
We know see our first glimpse at the ship of the villainous Nero, a long, sharp and slender vessel that is beaming some kind of fire/blast down to the planet. On the planet below we see a woman walk out onto her balcony to survey the damage and after a quick pan-in, we realize it's Spock's mother (Winona Ryder).
Back on the ship, Pike isn't buying what Kirk is selling (that he can't talk with his swollen tongue isn't helping). Eventually he's able to explain himself (a similar Romulan attack is what killed his father) and Uhura backs him up. Pike looks at Spock who says "his reasoning is sound" and eventually Pike believes him. He asks to open up communications with Vulcan but it's too late. They're already under attack.
SCENE #3 - Old Spock and Scotty
Abrams explains that Kirk and Spock don't get along quite well on the ship and at some point Spock warps him out to another planet. As it just so happens an older version of Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is there to assist Kirk. It is there that Kirk meets his future friend Scotty.
It must be cold wherever young Spock sent Kirk because old Spock and Kirk come into the scene wearing winter gear and Spock's grey hair sprinkled with snow. Inside this large industrial type building is Scotty (Simon Pegg), also dressed rather warmly (he's also there with some type of alien friend).
Turns out that Scotty has also been banished to this area to trying to transport an admiral's dog only to have the test go terribly (the dog never rematerialized). Spock has brought Kirk here because in the future Scotty has perfected the technology to warp an object onto a vessel moving at lightspeed. Except present day Scotty hasn't figured this out yet. Spock gives him the future specs and Scotty is fascinated at his own future genius ("I never stopped to think it was space that was moving").
Kirk thinks Spock is coming with them but he tells that he is staying and that young Spock cannot see him not can he ever know that Kirk encountered him. Spock tells Kirk that he needs to become captain of the Enterprise and gives him the loophole to do that (there is apparently some bylaw that states that anyone who is emotionally compromised cannot lead the ship).
As Scotty and Kirk are about to be beamed back to the Enterprise, Kirk asks him why they're changing history. "Isn't that cheating?," he asks. "It's a trick I learned from an old friend," says Spock.
SCENE #4 - Kirk and Sulu Kick Some Ass
In the last clip, Pike is headed to Nero's ship to help negotiate. But as he's doing this, Kirk, Sulu (John Cho) and another "red shirt" ship member are assigned to parachute down to the device that is blasting the hole in Vulcan. They need to shut down the drill and the signal that is blocking the Enterprise's transmissions. Before they leave Pike promotes Kirk to First Captain with Spock in full command.
Kirk, Sulu and the other guy are onboard the miniship with Pike headed toward's Nero's ship. They're looking like soldiers ready to parachute and Kirk asks Sulu what kind of training he has and he responds, "fencing."
Pike opens the bay door and the three go diving out towards the base of the drill. Kirk and Sulu pull their chutes successfully but the other guy wants to get closer for a more direct hit. He deploys too late and is sucked underneath where he's disintegrated by the beam/blast of the drill. Kirk lands and the sheer force of the blasting underneath them is pulling his parachute and dragging him off the drill. He quickly hits a button on his chest and sucks the parachute back into its case quickly. Sulu is having a similar problem but he whips out a sword (he's into fencing!) and cuts his parachute free.
Two Romulans hear the disturbance and come up from a hatch to see what's doing. Sulu and Kirk both start fighting these Romulans. Turns out Sulu is a pretty impressive fighter and he's jumping around swinging his sword and doing a fine job of fighting the Romulan. Kirk isn't doing nearly as well and is knocked off the side and he's holding on for dear life. The Romulan is trying to stomp on his feet to get him to fall. Sulu, seeing Kirk is in such dire straits, backs his opponent onto an exhaust chute where a quick burst of flame takes care of him. He then runs over and impales the other Romulan with his sword. He helps Kirk up and using the Romulan weapons, they destroy the drill device.
Inside the ship, Nero is told that the drill has been compromised. He's confident though that they've dug down far enough and he orders the bomb (not sure exactly what it is but it's bomb-like) into the hole.
Chekov now tells the crew aboard the Enterprise that Nero is attempting to create some kind of black hole at the middle of the planet that would wipe it out in a matter of minutes. Spock, realizing his family is in danger, takes off trying to save them.
Sulu meanwhile has fallen off the drill and is freefalling towards Vulcan. Kirk jumps off to save him and eventually catches him. Their parachutes fail to deploy and are now screaming at the Enterprise to beam them up. Uhura and Chekov are having difficulty warping them back because they are moving too fast. Chekov has an idea though and starts running through the ship to a different control room. Just a split second before they're going to crash into the rocks below, he is able to warp them back where they crash into the floor of the transporter room.
So am I a Trekkie? Not quite, but I'm more interested in the film than I was a few days ago. While it's a mixed back, clips #2 and #4 worked especially well for me (it shouldn't be surprising that those are the more action/suspense-based clips). Urban's Bones was spot-on and one of the favorite characters I saw. I had a problem with Yelchin's accent (it sounded too jokey) though Pegg had the Scottish brogue down perfectly.
Kirk seemed like kind of an asshole in some of the parts, which had me wondering if audiences are gonna be OK rooting for a guy who's kind of unlikable when the story starts (or at least it seems that way to me). Abrams is usually very much a "character first" kinda guy so I'm guessing "Jerk Kirk" doesn't last long and sooner, rather than later, becomes a guy you can root for.
Leonard Nimoy looked great when we saw him but honestly his presence was more distracting than anything.
I didn't see much out of Eric Bana's Nero but he wasn't over-the-top in what I did see which was what I feared out of the character. There's no moustache twirling here.
I obviously don't have the background to get into the minor discrepancies with official STAR TREK canon but as someone who's just looking to be entertained, I found myself pleased. The action scenes were crisp and tight and the FX (though Abrams claimed them unfinished) looked remarkably sharp.
I don't think I'll be lining up for opening day just yet but normally I'd have absolutely no interest in seeing a STAR TREK film but JJ Abrams has managed to intrigue me enough to actually look forward to the film. And that's no easy task.
STAR TREK hits theaters on May 9th.
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