“JJ said, ‘I don’t want you just to make a movie’”
Nature, as a certain Vulcan once observed, abhors a vacuum.
So does Paramount Pictures. So when JJ Abrams – who rebooted the voyages of the starship Enterprise with 2009’s Star Trek and its 2013 sequel Into Darkness – warped to another franchise galaxy to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he needed to appoint a successor. When he ultimately chose Justin Lin, longtime Trek fans scratched their heads. Lin, they cried, was an action helmer, best known for the high-octane thrills he brought to four Fast & Furious movies. Sure, he could tell a well-paced story with an ensemble cast. But would he have what it takes to imbue the 50th anniversary adventure with Trek’s essential philosophical side? Could he offer food for thought as well as the eyes? Would Lin’s Star Trek go, well, beyond?
When SFX sits down to speak with Lin in a posh Beverly Hills hotel room, the morning after he’s finished editing Star Trek Beyond, any concerns we may have had slowly start to dissipate. Despite having just birthed a new cinematic baby, Lin – who is, unlike Abrams, a lifelong Trekker – immediately begins discussing his delivery, starting with the day he received a phone call from Abrams, asking him if he’d like to chart a new course for the Enterprise.
“It was a part of my life,” says Lin, “but I never thought I’d be making Star Trek. All these feelings were coming back. I was actually ready to go shoot another movie, and that call was a really fantastic detour. It was probably the best detour of my life. Because it took me back to when I was a kid, watching Star Trek with my parents. So I just called my parents and said, ‘Can I have dinner with you?’ I went to their house and we hung out, and that’s when I thought, ‘I wanna see if I can contribute to the legacy of this franchise. It’s been around for 50 years and I want to see if I can help in hopefully building it for another 50 years.’
“I sat down with JJ and he said, ‘Look, I don’t want you just to make a movie. I want you to be bold and I want you to take this and make it your own.’ That meant a lot to me. It was
This job took me back to when I was a kid watching Star Trek
kind of the perfect fuel, to be able to have that kind of set up and that kind of respect.”
Lin met with Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, the film’s newly appointed writers who Abrams had enlisted to replace Roberto Orci, originally slated to write and direct Star Trek Beyond. The three were given only three and a half months to prep a script and enter pre-production before shooting began in Vancouver in June of 2015. Lin, Pegg, and Jung thought back to what made them first fall in love with the 23rd century, and decided the best way to honour Star Trek on its golden anniversary was to boldly go where no Trek film had gone before – into deconstruction.
“I felt like, ‘Okay, on the 50th anniversary, let’s really try to deconstruct Star Trek. On whatever level. And hopefully by the end of the movie it will reaffirm why we love it… What was so great about Star Trek in the last 50 years was not only the characters, the sense of exploration, and these themes that connect to us as human beings, it also had the ultimate mission statement – which is to try new things. I think sometimes that gets lost. Let’s sometimes go to places where we’re not that comfortable. If anything, this is the one franchise where you can do that.
“Part of the deconstruction was that we needed to take the security blanket away, which is the Enterprise,” Lin continues. “That’s always been there and I felt like we should just take it away pretty early on. Not in a disrespectful way, but let’s find a way of
Hopefully by the end of the movie it will reaffirm why we love Trek
doing it so that it launches our characters into their most uncomfortable places, without their ship.”
Though the tight schedule prevented the cast from seeing a finished script until two weeks before shooting, their relationships with their characters and each other allowed them to hit the ground running.
“One of the gifts from JJ was this all-star cast. By the time I got there, Zack had already crafted an amazing Spock with Leonard [Nimoy]. Chris [Pine] had Kirk… On a personal note, with Karl [Urban] I had so much fun. Because Bones was my favourite growing up. So to be able to re-engineer Bones, and to see where he is today but then at the same time how he would interact with new challenges and how that would shape who he is and evolve him… That was part of the joy.”
The two significant additions to the cast are
Kingsman: The Secret Service femme fatale Sofia Boutella as Jaylah – Kirk and co’s new alien ally – and the uber-hot Idris Elba as principal antagonist Krall. Each character belongs to an alien race heretofore unseen in Star Trek, just two of the 50 included in the film; one for each year of
Trek’s existence. Though Lin can’t divulge the details of Boutella’s character, he refers to Jaylah when explaining the improvisation Pegg and Jung afforded the production.
“The scene in the trailer where Sofia sits in the Captain’s chair – that happened during rehearsal. It was not scripted. We hadn’t rehearsed it. The camera was set up, she came in and sat down, and she said, ‘This is my house.’ I looked at Simon and said, ‘This has to be the scene. Simon and Doug, let’s go.’ So we re-crafted it. But the cast was so great we were able to play it and we didn’t lose a beat, and now it’s one of my favourite moments in the movie.
“It was about creating an environment and embracing what we had,” says Lin of the spirit that permeated the film’s set. “In a perfect world we would have had more time. We had a script fully done and rehearsed, but we didn’t have that. So we could either complain about it or say, ‘Hey, man, let’s go.’ I know everybody’s talented and they all are passionate. It’s my job to make sure that we play and we create the right environment for play.”
As for the film’s Big Bad, Lin explains why Elba was the perfect choice for Krall…
“When I talk about deconstructing the Federation, obviously a big part of that is to have an opposing view. So I wanted to create an antagonist that had not only that view but a valid view. Idris was my top choice by far. Because a lot of times antagonists don’t really have a lot of screen time. So you need someone who can command a presence and be able to fully commit and carry that through very surgically. We had a great first conversation. But at the very end he paused. I was like, ‘Aw, shit.’ He goes, ‘It’s gonna be four hours of make-up every morning, right?’ I said, ‘Yup…’ It was four hours every morning, and he was awesome. He’s delivering a 100% every time.”
Brain and Brawn
As to the challenge of balancing the cerebral spirit of Trek with the demands of today’s blockbuster filmmaking, Lin says, “I knew why they came to me. They know I can make big-budget movies. But at the same time I had to find the appropriate journey for this movie. So yeah, there is a lot of action. But it can’t be action for action’s sake. In a very short amount of time I had to make sure that they understood that I know that that’s where commerce and art collide. But it’s my job to make sure that the action is appropriate, it’s organic, it’s something that can be embraced by people who like Star Trek. “Star Trek is, I think, the only franchise that’s been able to cross over from TV with a limited budget to mega-franchise. That’s part of the
DNA of Star Trek. So for Simon and Doug and I, our challenge was to bring that. We know this is a big-budget movie, but at the same time let’s not forget that we can have two characters in a room talking, and if we do our job right it’s equally compelling. That’s something that we definitely took to heart.”
While a 50-year legacy might weigh heavily on the shoulders of most filmmakers, Lin says his time on Universal’s Fast & Furious franchise prepared him for the demands of hardcore fans.
“I didn’t know cars when I signed up for it,” admits the director, “and I still don’t know cars. I might know a little bit more. But one thing I wanted to make sure when I made those movies was that I was respecting people’s passion. I have friends who are diehard Trek fans. If they saw the movie that I made and it wasn’t up to their standards, they would let me know. I appreciate that.
“I had Simon and I had Doug and I had JJ,” adds Lin. “It was a great team. But when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, if you watch a movie and you hate it, it’s on me.”
Star Trek Beyond opens on 22 July.
Idris had four hours’ make-up every morning, and he was awesome
Now that’s cheeky!
Idris Elba’s Krall is a real pain in the neck. The big question: will Simon Pegg give himself all the best lines?
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