They have Leonard Nimoy, and they have all the trappings, gadgets and crew members of the starship Enterprise.
Yet even for a franchise that grew to six TV series and 10 previous movies, J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” is the wildest makeover ever to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a future where humans have overcome their own squabbles and set out to make new enemies among the stars.
Everything that came before in the “Trek” universe used Roddenberry’s 1960s series as a launch point, so subsequent movies and shows formed a generally consistent history of the 21st to 24th centuries.
Using a tried-and-true “Trek” trick – the alternate reality – Abrams and company found a way to give Capt. James Kirk, First Officer Spock and their pals a new beginning and wide-open future.
“The key to this movie was to be inspired by, embrace and honor everything that’s come before, but with the first scene in the movie, we say we are going somewhere else,” Abrams said.
“It eliminates that prequel dilemma of having it be just exposition because you know who lives and dies and how it plays out. This history has not been written, so it is beginning anew, and it is existing concurrent with the ‘Trek’ that fans love.”
The filmmakers have sleekly updated the sets, costumes, props and effects. But fans will recognize the overall look, from the silhouette of the Enterprise to the gold, blue and red uniforms that are a throwback to the quaint outfits Nimoy, William Shatner and their ‘60s co-stars wore.
Among the new faces, including Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, fans will recognize a key player from the classic “Trek.” Nimoy returns as the older Spock, pursued through time by a vengeful Romulan (Eric Bana) aiming to wipe out the human-led Federation.
Abrams, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and their collaborators hit on an intelligent design to resuscitate the franchise, Nimoy said. The last movie, 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis,” was a flop, and the prequel series “Enterprise” was canceled in 2005 amid dwindling ratings.
Yet Nimoy thinks the franchise is back where it was in 1982, when “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” provided a creative makeover after “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” proved visually dazzling but dramatically sterile.
“After the first film, I felt that ‘Star Trek’ was a beached whale, and the second movie put it back in the water,” Nimoy said. “This film hopefully will do the same thing.”
Many key players, among them Abrams, Pine and Quinto, were not “Trek” fans growing up.
They hope the movie might have success similar to “Iron Man” and “Transformers” – sci-fi adventures with a devoted core of fans whose audiences swelled to blockbuster numbers.
“I never wanted to watch ‘Star Trek’ because I always felt alienated from ‘Star Trek,’ ” said Pine. “I always felt it was not my world. It was the fans’ world. The fans had built this kind of impenetrable wall around their beloved series.
“J.J.’s come in and broken that wall down a little bit, and I’m hopeful ‘Star Trek’ will be open to a whole new generation of fans. Different types of people who never felt they would be fans.”
A day after he saw the new movie, the son of “Star Trek” creator Roddenberry said it did what it should do: broaden the appeal while staying true to his father’s vision.
Hard-core fans might object, but “they are a slice of the pie,” said Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, whose mother, Majel Barrett, had recurring roles in several “Trek” installments.
“If you look at it from a business point of view, you want to bring in that whole new audience,” he said. “You have to strike a balance, and I think J.J. did a damn good job at that.”
What would the elder Roddenberry, who died in 1991, think of it?
“He would have probably said to J.J., ‘You did it right. You brought it into 2009 the way it should be done.’ ”
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