J.J. Abrams previewed four scenes from his upcoming reboot of the Star Trek franchise tonight on the Paramount lot, and they were impressive. Before and between these scenes Abrams addressed the footage about to be shown, their context, and what it was like working with esteemed Trekkie alumni like Leonard Nimoy. "How do you direct Spock to be more like Spock?" he commented at one point. How, indeed. Full details (and a few minor spoilers) after the jump.
The first scene gave us a feel for James Kirk's (Chris Pine) pre-Enterprise life. A local townie in Iowa who haunts bars, hits on women, and is generally up to no good, he gets in a little over his head after making a pass at Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Four members of the Federation don't like his hitting on a fellow member of their crew and take him on -- all at once. Not surprisingly Kirk holds his own, giving as much pain as he receives. The scene is fast, funny, and brutal, as Kirk winds up sprawled across a barroom table, bleeding from every angle of his face.
Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) breaks up the fight and urges Kirk to enlist, having served with his father who died in the act of saving Kirk and his mother.
Abrams talked about how it was "insane" that he got to show Star Trek at Paramount, having viewed the first film there with his father when he was kid; Abrams' father was a TV and movies producer for Paramount. He said the script was "all the things I ever wanted to be a part of," and that it was "eerie" to meet the real Spock -- i.e., Leonard Nimoy.
The second scene shown involved Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) and Kirk. McCoy gave Kirk a vaccine to make him sick, so that Kirk would be able to board the ship. The inside of the new Enterprise (and the out, for that matter) looks incredible, and the comedic pairing of the duo was right on. Pine, the actor playing Kirk, even eerily sounds like Shatner every now and then; for those who feared a generic pretty boy was cast should have their fears allayed that Pine is up to the task. In this scene, his hands swelling to twice their size, his tongue headed the same way, Kirk convinces Captain Pike and Spock not to fall into a Romulan trap. The pacing is fast, the effects mesmerizing, and the story engaging.
In the third scene Old Spock (Nimoy) has time travelled to the past to get Kirk back on board the Enterprise. After young Spock (Zachary Quinto) temporarily becomes captain, his first order of business is, as Abrams put it, "To get Kirk the f*%k off the ship." Working against his younger self, Old Spock introduces the young Scotty (Simon Pegg) to an equation that allows him to beam Kirk aboard the Enterprise at warp speed. The scene went a little slow for me, and Nimoy seemed almost out of place, though it was nice to see Abrams has not neglected an essential element of the original Star Trek series: comedy.
The fourth and final scene has Sulu (John Cho), Kirk and a "redshirt" officer physically drop down to a huge, hovering drilling platform to disable the Romulan device. This sequence was exciting and another example of the excellent visual effects of the new Star Trek. Decked out in full-body falling armor, the redshirt doesn't make it, pulling his shoot too late and getting sucked under the platform, the drill's column of fire instantly incinerating him. Kirk and Sulu are more fortunate, and manage to both fight off a posse of baddies and shut the drill down.
But the most exciting part of the sequence comes at the end, when Sulu falls off the platform and plummets toward the planet thousands of feet below. Kirk leaps off the platform and latches onto him, but neither of their parachutes are functional. Here's where the young Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) comes in: right before Kirk and Sulu hit the rocks, Chekov manages to beam them aboard, mid-air, the Enterprise, the two men smashing the beaming platform to bits as they arrive.
Every scene shown tonight proved that Abrams likely has a blockbuster on his hands: the effects are beyond great; the casting is mostly good; and the story is fast, tight and full of action and thrills. Abrams clearly put all of the budget for this film on the screen.
My only concern was with the casting of young Spock, played by Zachary Quinto. Though he certainly looks the part, I couldn't help but feel I was seeing too much Sylar in his performance, not enough...well, Spock. Pointy ears, a bowl cut and funny eyebrows does not a Spock make. But the rest of the cast, though very young (it feels a bit odd that a team of post-pubescents are running the Enterprise), is solid, and will likely take the new Star Trek where no audience members have gone before.
Even non-Trekkies might like this one.