Star-crossed fandoms

‘Star Trek’ benefits from the influence of a ‘Star Wars’ fan

Kira Walker/Staff

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About halfway into the surprisingly enjoyable “Star Trek Into Darkness”, there is an engine problem aboard the Starship Enterprise. Dr. Bones (Karl Urban) tries with all his might to make Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) understand how serious it is, bombarding Kirk with metaphors that prove cringe-worthy. Yet Pine saves the scene with the wittiest and sharpest retort in the film: “I got it! And stop it with all the metaphors!” Suddenly, Urban’s nonchalant line-delivery and director J.J. Abrams’ dramatic style make sense: Pine’s line could not have felt more refreshing otherwise. It was reassuring to discover that the writers had a clear sense of humor and were very aware of just how silly the intensity onscreen could get.

Actors John Cho and Simon Pegg — pilot Sulu and engineer Scotty in the story, respectively — revealed that all three screenwriters, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, were huge fans of the original films. Their enthusiasm becomes evident through their use of the idiosyncratic humor that was so enjoyable about the television series. “Star Trek” aims to both be its own unique film and also stay relatively faithful to its source material. J.J. Abrams allows this to happen, as he’s not quite the Trekkie that the writers are. “J.J. was more of a ‘Star Wars’ fan,” Pegg said. “He came into ‘Star Trek’ as an outsider.” Pegg adds that this helped Abrams avoid feeling “slavish to the source material,” thus opening the doors for more creativity. It informs his filmmaking in a way; he relaxes a little bit, especially in this second installment.

In fact, Cho and Pegg noted that they saw Abrams’s love of “Star Wars” transfer in significant ways to the “Star Trek” franchise. The “Star Trek” television series had a sleeker look, whereas “Star Wars” was somewhat more “analog and dirty.” Abrams marries the two: “Aesthetically speaking, (the marriage) formed a brilliant bridge (from) all the clean lines and the fantastically futuristic bridge to the industrial metal of the engine room, which J.J. intended to look like the guts of the ‘Titanic.’” What’s so refreshing about Abrams’ style is that he allows this sleek and majestic spaceship to become a character in the movie. So much of what tires audiences about today’s filmmakers is that many of them seem to be enamored with close-ups, a technique that places the actors more front and center but doesn’t allow other elements to breathe. Fortunately for us (specifically our eyes), Abrams relaxes the camera and allows the audience to see the actors actually occupy physical space on screen. He gives us a Starship Enterprise that breathes with its own persona.

What really elevates this movie to heights of glory is actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Cho pays his co-star a huge compliment: “If I hadn’t worked with him, I wouldn’t know his physical dimensions just based on his work. In ‘Sherlock’, he seems mortal and 5’8”. But in this, he seems like he’s 6’4” and 220 pounds. He just seems enormous and imposing. That’s a testament to how good he is.” Cumberbatch is indeed a transfixing presence, as he supplies exasperated revelations and flashes of entropic terror throughout. “He’s terrific,” Cho said, “and beautiful.” Pegg quickly agreed, “Yeah, he’s beautiful . . . He’s a great guy. Lovely man. And he turns on that villain so well, and he’s got such a beautiful voice.” So beautiful, in fact, that his voice made him pregnant, Pegg joked. Indeed, talking with the actors, it seemed as though the two were paralyzed by the genius in their midst.

Even beyond Cumberbatch’s performance, what’s so pleasing about “Star Trek” is that every element seems to click, from the lively rapport to the terrific action sequences — probably Abrams’ forte. The filmmakers’ hard work brings together a smart and enjoyable sequel. “(Abrams) is a born storyteller,” Cho said. “He approaches (his movies) with boundless enthusiasm. This movie plays like that. It’s joyful.”

Braulio Ramirez covers film. Contact him at [email protected].