ABOVE AND BE­YOND

The man steer­ing Star Trek on its 50th birth­day must bal­ance the needs of a mul­ti­plex au­di­ence and a posses­sive fan base,

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - writes Stephen Brook

For Justin Lin, Star Trek al­ways meant fam­ily. Be­fore Lin be­came Hol­ly­wood’s $US1.96 bil­lion di­rec­tor — courtesy of the Fast and Fu­ri­ous fran­chise — he was just an im­mi­grant kid grow­ing up in the 1980s, when his fam­ily would gather in their mod­est Cal­i­for­nian home at the end of a long day to watch TV re-runs of the voy­ages of the star­ship En­ter­prise. “I started watch­ing it with my par­ents when I was eight years old. Un­til I went to col­lege at 18,” Lin re­calls down the phone from Los An­ge­les, the day af­ter he fin­ished edit­ing the $US150 mil­lion ($203m) Star Trek Be­yond, the lat­est it­er­a­tion of the sci­ence fic­tion fran­chise.

“They had a fish and chip restau­rant and they closed at 9pm, so even at eight years old we would have fam­ily din­ners at 10pm. And then we would talk our way into stay­ing up and hang­ing out so we could have some fam­ily time and then there was Star Trek at 11pm.

“It was def­i­nitely a big part of our fam­ily. We had just em­i­grated from Tai­wan so it re­ally in­formed me of the no­tion of what a fam­ily could be in an un­tra­di­tional man­ner.”

Star Trek, orig­i­nally pitched as a west­ern in outer space, ran from 1966 to 1969 be­fore decades of re-runs touched mil­lions of fans world­wide. Some tuned in as the Lins did, for the ca­ma­raderie of Cap­tain Kirk and his crew, no­tably wise­crack­ing med­i­cal of­fi­cer Dr McCoy and coolly log­i­cal alien sci­ence of­fi­cer Spock. Oth­ers watched for the phaser bat­tles, still oth­ers for the tan­ta­lis­ing ideas of what so­ci­ety in the dis­tant fu­ture could be­come.

It taught the Lins about fam­ily but also about Amer­ica. “That’s quite true in the orig­i­nal se­ries,” says Lin. “And since then the world has con­nected more and more. I wanted to em­brace that be­cause now Star Trek can hold up a mir­ror to us as a world.”

Which brings us to Star Trek Be­yond — the block­buster of 2016 no one is talk­ing about. While mul­ti­plexes were thick this year with su­per­hero out­ings Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Justice, Cap­tain Amer­ica: The Winter Soldier and Dead­pool (which gen­er­ated mas­sive buzz and even big­ger box-of­fice tak­ings) in con­trast the ad­vance buzz on Be­yond is desul­tory.

I would like to tell you more about this film, but I can’t. Sim­ply be­cause just like seem­ingly ev­ery­one else, I haven’t seen it. All any­one has to go on are three brief trail­ers, in which the En­ter­prise is at­tacked by a swarm of in­ter­ga­lac­tic pi­ra­nhas, Scotty falls in with an al­bino fe­male kick-ass alien who tough­ens him up, Kirk chan­nels Evel Knievel on a mo­tor­cy­cle, pres­tige Bri­tish ac­tor Idris Elba, to­tally un­recog­nis­able as su­per bad­die Krall, men­aces de­fi­ant com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Uhura. And Spock and McCoy face a dan­ger­ous peril to­gether un­til Spock is un­sport­ingly whisked away via a trans­porter beam.

Might the film, which opens on July 21, suf­fer the fate that be­fell 2002’s Star Trek: Neme­sis. In the face of more ex­cit­ing al­ter­na­tives, in­clud­ing Star Wars: Episode II — At­tack of the Clones, cin­ema­go­ers over­looked the film, prompt­ing Paramount Stu­dios to put the se­ries into hi­ber­na­tion be­fore re­boot­ing the fran­chise very suc­cess­fully in 2009 un­der JJ Abrams, who has since moved on to Star Wars. Pub­lic­ity is still low key. The re­cent death in a car ac­ci­dent of cast mem­ber An­ton Yelchin, who won fans with his hu­mor­ous por­trayal of ju­nior Rus­sian helms­man Chekov, caused the can­cel­la­tion of some pub­lic­ity events.

All that changes on Thurs­day when Lin strolls the red car­pet with cast mem­bers Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock) and Karl Ur­ban (McCoy) for the Aus­tralian pre­miere.

So why is Lin, film-school grad­u­ate with a $US1.96bn box-of­fice pedi­gree, thanks to mak­ing four films in the cars-and-crime Fast and Fu­ri­ous fran­chise, keep­ing so quiet? Not even the In­ter­net Movie Data Base web­site has any Star Trek Be­yond plot de­tails. Lin men­tions the cor­ro­sive ef­fect of social me­dia, which he be­lieves can de­stroy the ex­cite­ment of moviego­ing. “Plot is only there to ser­vice what we are try­ing to ac­com­plish the­mat­i­cally. That’s some­thing you can hope­fully en­joy on a first run and hope­fully some­thing I can pre­serve.”

Pre­serv­ing sur­prises is a grow­ing pre­oc­cu­pa­tion for those who serve up block­buster en- ter­tain­ment, par­tic­u­larly in the ob­ses­sive world of sci-fi. Steven Mof­fat, show run­ner, writer and pro­ducer of Doc­tor Who and Sher­lock, works hard to keep those fran­chises un­der wraps.

The tac­tic cer­tainly worked for Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens, which made $US2bn even though vir­tu­ally noth­ing was known about it un­til it hit the cine­mas. But Star Trek, cul­tural phe­nom­e­non that it is, is rather a more mod­est com­mer­cial ven­ture for Paramount. Af­ter the orig­i­nal se­ries, there fol­lowed a car­toon ver­sion, four more TV spin-offs and an in­ter­mit­tent se­ries of fea­ture films, of which Be­yond is the 13th (and the third since the re­boot).

So what’s it about? “We are hit­ting 50 years of Star Trek on this film and it felt like it was im­por­tant to find a jour­ney for our char­ac­ters so that we not only get to know them bet­ter hope­fully as an en­sem­ble but at the same time hope­fully in many ways de­con­struct Star Trek and the Fed­er­a­tion,” Lin says.

“And hope­fully by the end of the movie we get to reaf­firm why it’s been around for 50 years why there is so much love and pas­sion for it.”

It’s a nice an­swer, although we are no fur­ther in our quest to un­cover the plot. How­ever, thanks to a thrilling se­quence in the trailer, we know Lin is talk­ing lit­er­ally when he men­tions de­con­struc­tion: the En­ter­prise is de­stroyed and the crew must fend for them­selves (as hap­pened in the se­ries’ orig­i­nal third film).

“That’s a very lit­eral ex­am­ple, we are do­ing that in other ways too,” he says. “Through the years the crews and cast might have changed but the En­ter­prise has al­ways been there. I felt like part of the jour­ney on this one was maybe to take that el­e­ment away.”

In an act of des­per­a­tion I ask him for some words to de­scribe the film if he won’t go into de­tails. He laughs, be­fore of­fer­ing up three: “I would say mir­ror, evo­lu­tion and re­spect.”

To la­bel Lin an un­think­ing ac­tion di­rec­tor would be sim­plis­tic. In some ways he was an un­usual choice to di­rect 2006’s The Fast and the Fu­ri­ous: Tokyo Drift but it taught him to be at­tuned to the needs of both a mul­ti­plex au­di­ence and a posses­sive fan base. “I have a lit­tle bit of ex­pe­ri­ence of that. When I first did the Fast and Fu­ri­ous movies I wasn’t an ac­tion di­rec­tor and I didn’t have any love for cars. But it was im­por­tant to un­der­stand and re­spect that there was a pas­sion out there for cars.

“Star Trek’s fans, it goes be­yond the TV show and the movies; it be­comes a way of life for a lot of peo­ple. I ac­tu­ally have a lot of friends who are like that. They know ev­ery­thing. My job is not to pan­der, but to un­der­stand some­body’s pas­sion and hope­fully re­spect that.”

The first trailer, ac­tion-fo­cused to the ex­clu­sion of all else and with a rock sound­track, has drawn a sharp re­ac­tion. Some fans are wor­ried the film di­als down the cere­bral and ups the ac­tion. (In fact, both el­e­ments have al­ways been cru­cial to Star Trek.) Does such neg­a­tiv­ity sting, even a lit­tle? “I think as a hu­man be­ing you do a lit­tle bit but it doesn’t sur­prise me. When I saw the teaser I had the same re­ac­tion. I knew that was go­ing to be the case.”

Lin says the film was a “bril­liant de­tour of his ca­reer”, but one he didn’t seek. Rather, he was ap­proached by Abrams af­ter the stu­dio dumped the work of an ear­lier team. Just like with Tokyo Drift, Lin was called upon to take a well-es­tab­lished fran­chise and give it new life.

“We went from noth­ing when I came on. I ac­tu­ally don’t know what came be­fore me. All I knew once I signed on was that I was go­ing to be work­ing with Si­mon [Pegg, who plays Scotty and also wrote the script] and Doug [Jung, cowriter]. Ev­ery­thing in this film was built from the ground up and I think that’s the only way I would ac­cept the job.”

So he was brought in to fix things? “Hmmm. No. There’s noth­ing to fix when there is noth­ing. It’s about build­ing.” (In fact, writ­ers from the aban­doned ver­sion are cred­ited.)

“This is and will be the most in­tense and re­lent­less ex­pe­ri­ence I have had in my ca­reer in the great­est way. I am very for­tu­nate in my ca­reer right now. I have a lot of op­tions. I am re­ally ex­cited to fin­ish this film strong, and very ex­cited for July 21 to see where it takes me.”

Star Trek Be­yond opens on July 21.

Justin Lin, above; An­ton Yelchin as Chekov and Zachary Quinto (Spock) in Star Trek Be­yond, top; Chris Pine (Kirk) and Sofia Boutella (Jay­lah), left

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