When Chris Pine, Captain James Tiberius Kirk himself, was asked by a fan on Twitter whether Star Trek Beyond would be fun or if it would be dark, Pine emphatically stated that their goal was to create a film that was just as much fun for audiences to watch as it was for them to make. This was the theme of last night’s Star Trek Beyond fan event, held at the Paramount Pictures lot in Los Angeles, California. Everyone there wanted you to know that this new movie, positioned as a celebration of Star Trek‘s big 50th anniversary, is going to be a good time, that it’s going to be fun. The subtext to all of this being ‘don’t worry, we’re not making another Into Darkness.’
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The evening began as I along with roughly 500 other Star Trek fans were ushered into Stage 31 and onto the U.S.S. Enterprise. As we took our seats in the heart of the very same soundstage where the original series filmed five decades ago, we were treated to a short video of various celebrities and personalities talking about what Star Trek has meant to them over the years. Idris Elba reenacting the way the Enterprise crew would flaid about as the ship took damage, Zoe Saldana recalling her earliest memories of seeing a spanish dubbed broadcast of the original series, and Simon Pegg confessing to being terrified by the visage of Balok that appeared under the Desilu Productions logo at the end of so many of the original Trek episodes.
With that, Star Trek fan and former MythBuster, Adam Savage took the stage to set the tone for the upcoming proceedings. He first invited producer J.J. Abrams on stage to talk about the film and its relation to the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Abrams once again admits that he came into Star Trek as an outsider, never having been a fan of the series prior and only discovering the richness and wonder of that universe while preparing to make his 2009 reboot. When it comes to giving a gift to fans for the 50th anniversary, though, Abrams agrees that it only makes sense to have someone at the helm who grew up on Trek, who knows it backwards and forwards because it was such a part of their life for so long. Justin Lin is that person.
Walking on stage in a pair of Marty McFly sneakers, Justin Lin talks about how much Star Trek meant to him as a kid and how doing this movie was something of a dream come true for him. Things like walking on set into the turbolift or the transporter room were surreal experiences, a validation of years of playing pretend. He says the thing that makes Star Trek so special is that it’s an ever expanding world where each new person who takes a crack at it brings something new to the table, and that was his goal for the film. He wanted to create a film that was diverse and personal, but also very much in the spirit of the original series – a grand space adventure anchored by the interpersonal dynamics of this crew in the midst of a five-year voyage in the far reaches of outer space.
J.J. Abrams also notes that Justin Lin was not happy with Paramount’s lawsuit against the Axanar fan film. He argued that for the studio to rain fire down upon the people who love this stuff the most sends the exact wrong message, and that they should be helping to provide an outlet for this creativity and passion, not stifling it. Because of this, Abrams was happy to announce that Paramount had agreed to drop the Axanar lawsuit.
Abrams also announced that Star Trek Beyond‘s world premiere will be held July 20 in San Diego featuring a live orchestra and the first ever outdoor IMAX presentation. Not only that, but everyone in attendance at the fan event would be given credentials to attend the premiere.
With that, Abrams and Lin left the stage and we were treated to a behind the scenes video that focused primarily on the extensive practical sets and effects work employed by the upcoming film. While it doesn’t give any indication of how the story and characters will be handled, all of this was exciting to see – an alien village nestled in the valley of a blue-tinted canyon and a wide variety of gonzo creature puppets and makeup effects. While the two previous Trek films had one foot firmly planted on Earth, it looks like Beyond really is going boldly where no man has gone before. This stuff looks weird in the best possible way, and I’m excited to see all of it realized in the finished film.
After the video, Adam Savage invited Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban out to talk about the character dynamics at play in the new film. Chris Pine talks about how this movie is largely about Kirk’s journey to find his place in the galaxy. Unlike the Kirk we knew in the original series, this Kirk’s whole life has been defined by the shadow of his father and the specter of his death. Now that Kirk is out in the depths of space, commanding a crew, he’s struggling to understand who he is as his own man. I’ll get into this more in a minute, because the clips we were shown later in the presentation very much play into this theme, but for now I’ll just say that this is a really great place to start from a story standpoint on this new film.
What’s also great is that we will be getting a lot more of Bones this time around. There are many reasons why I love the original series with all of my heart, but the one fundamental thing that makes the show so special is the central relationship between Kirk, Spock, and Bones. It’s such a rich dynamic – Bones’ down-to-earth instinct bristling against Spock’s cold, calculating logic, while Kirk with his fierce wits, intense passions, and unyielding loyalty strikes the balance between them. These are people who could not be more different from each other and their disagreements are a huge part of that dynamic, but in the end, there’s a warmth and an intimacy in this trio that characterizes the entirety of what Star Trek is: different people with different beliefs and backgrounds coming together to accomplish something greater. Unfortunately, for any of their other strengths, the J.J. Abrams films sort of nudged Bones out of that central dynamic, replacing him instead with Uhura. On one level, I appreciate that because giving Uhura more to do than simply talk to the computer is always a good thing, but if you leave Bones out of that equation, you weaken the foundation upon which this entire thing is built. Justin Lin, it seems, understands that, and McCoy will be front-and-center this time around. Not only that, but he will be paired up with Spock as the crew is separated from each other following the Enterprise’s destruction, which is perfect.
Speaking of Spock, Zachary Quinto spoke a little bit about what it was like making this movie in the wake of Leonard Nimoy’s death. He claimed that while Nimoy was obviously not in the film, his presence – at least in spirit – was never stronger. Everyone on the cast and crew were affected by his passing, and the goal of making this a film that honors his legacy was at the front of everyone’s mind. And, in fact, honoring Mr. Nimoy and his memory was a big part of the event. After watching an emotional video covering Nimoy’s life and his long history with Star Trek, we all exited Stage 31 to attend a dedication ceremony, naming the street outside the stages where the original Star Trek was shot in Leonard Nimoy’s honor. In front of the assembled fans and members of Mr. Nimoy’s family, Zachary Quinto said a few words. He talked about how, on his first time visiting the labyrinthine Paramount lot, the names of the great actors and filmmakers of the past became his guides, names that let him know where he was on his journey to follow in their footsteps. Just as he got to be guided by Leonard Nimoy in the final eight years of his life, now and forevermore, future generations of actors and filmmakers would by guided by him whenever they set foot on the Paramount lot. It was an emotional moment, celebratory and mournful all at once, as we all reflected on what Leonard Nimoy’s life and work meant to us. A performer who, in his most iconic role, taught a very young David that it’s okay to be a little bit different.
After the dedication we relocated one last time, this time into the other stage frequently used on the original series: Stage 32. Once inside, we were treated to a screening of the new trailer, as well as a handful of scenes from the new film. The trailer was solid, definitely an improvement on the previous trailer (which I also liked), but the clips are what really sold me on this thing. The scenes – all of which presumably take place in the first third of the picture – focus much more on the character dynamics at the heart of this film. The first scene featured the classic “captain’s log” voice over as Kirk goes about his morning routine three years into the Enterprise’s five year mission. As we follow Kirk down the corridors of his starship, we’re treated to little moments of humanity from the crew: a couple ducking into a room with their arms wrapped around each other, another man being tossed out of a room as his shirt trails after him, Sulu working at his station on the bridge and glancing at a picture of his daughter back home on Earth. As much as I like J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film, there was nothing like this, nothing that made the Enterprise feel like a home, but Justin Lin manages to convey that feeling perfectly in just this one scene. Everyone on this ship has a life, and these lives all coming together as they sail through space for years on end creates a sort of weirdly large family. Kirk also has an absolutely spectacular coffee mug that I will buy the second it goes on sale.
The next scene is a quiet exchange between Kirk and McCoy. Bones enters to find Kirk drinking alone at the ship’s bar, and as the two men talk we learn that not only is it Kirk’s birthday, but on this particular birthday, he is one year older than his father was when he died. This is where the voiceover from the trailer comes from. “You spent all this time trying to be your father, now you’re wondering just what it means to be you.” The scene itself is great, a wonderful quiet moment of friendship between these two terrific characters, but it also underscores a theme of the film that I’m really excited by. The Kirk of the Bad Robot reboot universe is different from the Kirk of the TV series. He’s more reckless, more rash; he’s damaged goods in a way Shatner’s Kirk never was. I love the idea that this movie is explicitly dealing with that disconnect and exploring who Kirk is in this new universe where all the rules have changed, where he knows who he’s supposed to be, but he doesn’t quite know how to get there himself.
What’s more, this journey to self-actualization is tied directly to the more tangible goal of holding his crew together in spite of an opposing force that seeks to split them apart. In the last sequence we were shown, we see an extended version of the destruction of the Enterprise as a thousand tiny ships slice through its hull, severing its engines and separating the saucer from the main body. On some level it stinks that the destruction of the Enterprise has become such a common occurrence, but when it’s so explicitly tied into the themes of the film as it seems to be here, I’ll allow it. This movie is a journey not just for Kirk to find himself, but also to be pushed to the absolute limit in order to keep his crew together in the face of adversity. It’s a classic original series premise, just blown up to a massive scale, and if they do it right, this could be hands down the best Star Trek movie in decades. From a few isolated clips, there’s no way of knowing whether the story works as a coherent whole, but I can at least say with confidence that this is the best, most Star Trek-ey set-up one of these movies has had since Star Trek VI.
After the clips finished, the curtains pulled back in the soundstage to reveal the space for the after party, featuring a collection of props and costumes from the film as well as drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and, of course, Orion slave girls.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this fan event, but I left feeling very impressed by the whole experience. It was more than just the trailer premiere that I expected it to be, and the sense of enthusiasm from people both on and off the stage was electric. I’ve talked before about how weird it is that Paramount has been so quiet about this film, but I can’t understand why. What they showed last night looks terrific, and I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to see the film this July. Again, I don’t want to get too hyperbolic because it’s easy to get swept up in the razzle-dazzle of an event like this, but it really feels like they’re doing it right this time. Trek ’09 had a lousy script, but laid great groundwork with a great cast only to have Into Darkness squander all of that, becoming one of the absolute worst moments in Star Trek‘s 50 year history. But last night’s event felt like an assurance to fans that they were course correcting. No one explicitly threw Into Darkness under the bus, but the subtext of the whole night was that this movie will be very different from the last one in all the right ways – from the repeated emphasis on a sense of fun, to a return to the optimism of the original series, to the fact that in all the clips from all of the various films, Into Darkness was never once featured. Even the new poster that was unveiled last night is a direct refutation of the poster for Into Darkess featuring the Enterprise soaring to new heights against a bright, colorful backdrop instead of falling to the ground against a muted sky.
There’s still a chance that all of this could wind up being terrible, but as a lifelong Star Trek fan, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been more excited about the future of this series. After 50 years, Star Trek is still managing to conjure up a little bit of optimism, and that’s something in and of itself.
Star Trek Beyond opens July 22.