STAR TREK BEYOND
Set phasers to stun! The Enterprise crew face their most dangerous adventure ever
FIVE HUNDRED Star Trek fans are crammed into Stage 31 on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles, a space that’s been gussied up to look like part of the U.S.S. Enterprise. They’re visibly excited, showing off tattoos of obscure quotes in a variety of languages (both Earthly and alien), comparing vintage Trek T-shirts and clutching each other for selfies. Some have travelled more than 5,000 miles to be here. Tonight — 20 May, 2016 — is a big deal. Two months ahead of the release of
Star Trek Beyond, Paramount has brought them together to watch a selection of footage, meet cast and crew, and hopefully disseminate hype. The fans are thrilled, but nervous. A man next to
Empire lists all his disappointments with the last movie, Into Darkness — “It was just a messed-up retread” — but asked how he’s feeling about its follow-up he offers crossed fingers. Their nerves, though, are nothing compared to those of the man piloting Beyond.
A few hours before the event, Empire is sitting with Justin Lin, Beyond’s director, in an editing suite in Pasadena, where he’s trying to finish his movie. His office is scattered with paraphernalia: an equal mix of Star Trek and his other passion, basketball. An enormous, size 16 pair of Adidas hi-tops signed by Kareem Abdul-jabbar sit on a shelf above Lin’s head. A maquette of a Star Trek alien stares benevolently at Empire from a coffee table. His first love and his new love, both represented. Lin shows us a 20-minute sequence from
Beyond, in which the Enterprise is destroyed by a locust-like swarm of alien ships, led by mysterious alien baddie Krall (Idris Elba), who is after some glowing green artefact and rips the Enterprise apart to get it. During the final seconds, what’s left of the Enterprise crashes into a planet, some of the crew escaping, others snatched as prisoners by Krall. It’s a spectacular set-piece, a truncated version of which will be shown that night. Lin paces skittishly behind us as it plays.
“The fans are expecting a lot,” Lin sighs, flopping down onto a sofa, “I’ve never had engagement like this… It’s…” He tries to find the right words to explain. “It’s not surprising, and I really appreciate the passion, but I hope that tonight will be the start of a relationship between me and [the fans]… They can assume I’m just the Fast And Furious guy coming in, and I get that, but I hope that we can have a great relationship and they can see that this, Star Trek, is a part of me.” LET’S WARP BACK
three years, a time before Lin. Star Trek is in stasis. Into
Darkness, the second instalment of the rebooted series, while a solid box-office hit with $467 million worldwide, has not gone down well with the core fans, both lifting too much from the original saga and taking too many revisionist liberties. At a Las Vegas Star Trek convention it has been named the worst Star
Trek movie ever (they should probably re-watch some of the Next Generation entries). J.J. Abrams, director of both of the movies in the reboot series, has announced he will not be returning for a third. He’s setting course for another movie: Star Wars.
Initially all seems sorted when, in May 2014, Roberto Orci, the screenwriter of Abrams’ two movies, is promoted to the director’s seat. He barely gets a chance to warm it. By December, Orci is officially off the project, due to that
great Hollywood vaguery “creative differences”, taking his script with him. The next Trek cannot move its date, because failing to release a film in 2016, Star Trek’s 50th anniversary year, is unthinkable. It will still come out in July 2016, but nobody knows who is going to actually make it, or what story they’ll tell. It’s an odd time for the Enterprise crew, who have no idea if or when they’ll be reforming.
“You feel like a child caught between two parents who are trying to figure some shit out and you’re just like, ‘Call me when you’re ready. Let me know what’s up,’” says Zoe Saldana, who plays Uhura. “I think that’s the most respectful thing we could do because what was going on really had nothing to do with us.” Not all of the crew were, at the time, even set on returning, feeling as stung by Star Trek Into Darkness as some of the fans. “I was actually on the fence about committing to this movie,” says Karl Urban, aka Bones. “Unless I had a function and purpose in this film, what’s the point of me being there? Mccoy’s relationship with Kirk was completely inferred in Into Darkness. There wasn’t anything for me to do.”
Producer Bryan Burke did the only thing that really made sense. He looked for help within the existing Star Trek family.
IN AUGUST 2015,
on the Vancouver set of Beyond, Simon Pegg is dashing about a lot, because he has two jobs now: being Scotty, the Enterprise’s chief engineer, and writing the script. If he’s not in front of the camera, he’s behind it with a laptop. “I was working on
Mission: Impossible [— Rogue Nation] with Bryan Burke, who was the producer on the first two Star Trek films [and Mission: Impossible; he also
remains a named producer on Beyond],” Pegg says, briefly liberated from his computer. “Just before Christmas, Bryan started talking about the possibility of going in a different direction with the script [for Beyond]. We were chatting
about it in a hypothetical way and I think one day he just said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I said yes, because it seemed like a fantastic opportunity.” Pegg has always been the one true Trekker of the cast, the one who could be relied upon to know any detail the others don’t. John Cho, who plays Sulu, says, “You can go to him with pretty much anything — ‘Exactly how fast is warp?’ — and he’ll tell you.” As co-screenwriter of Spaced and Shaun Of The Dead, among others, Pegg also came with impeccable broader geek credentials.
Pegg was paired up with Doug Jung, whose writing credits were previously all for TV (Big
Love, Banshee, Dark Blue), and tasked with giving the series a new direction. “I’ve never seen Bob Orci’s script and I don’t know much about it. They kept it from us so we could have a clear run,” says Pegg. “We were sent off to Bad Robot
[Abrams’ production company] and surrounded by empty whiteboards.”
Pegg and Jung had problems to solve, but they couldn’t fix them until they knew exactly what the puzzle was. They needed a director. The man Paramount brought in was a surprise to everyone. If you know the name Justin Lin at all, it will be for directing four films in the Fast And Furious franchise. Starting with
Tokyo Drift (number three), then Fast And Furious (number four), Fast Five and finally Fast
& Furious 6, he turned Universal’s second-tier cash cow into a golden goose. Tokyo Drift made $158 million worldwide; Fast & Furious 6 made $788 million. Furious 7, directed by James Wan but cruising in Lin’s slipstream, made $1.5 billion. It’s easy to see why a studio would want him. But the fans were thrown. Comments on the announcement story on Deadline.com included “RIP Star Trek” and, also, “Terrible news that Jonathan Frakes [Commander Riker
from The Next Generation] won’t be directing.” How would this guy, whose primary skill was
making cars outrace the laws of physics, make a Star Trek movie that reflected the cerebral, utopian nature of Gene Roddenberry’s series?
In fact, it’s not Star Trek that’s the unusual fit for Lin, so much as Fast And Furious. LIN DID NOT
start out in action cinema. He comes from cheapo indies, what he calls “credit card movies” because he maxed out his plastic to make them. He made his debut co-directing Shopping For Fangs, a tale of sexual confusion and lycanthropy, then went solo for the first time with the well-received crime movie Better Luck Tomorrow.
“I actually had exactly the same thing [as now] when I started making the Fast movies,” laughs Lin on set, “except then people were like, ‘What’s he doing making this? He’s the indie guy.’ Then I make a few Fast movies and I’m the Fast guy.” Truth is, he knows a lot more about Star Trek than he does about cars.
“It’s been a big chunk of my career, making
[Fast And Furious] movies, and I’m proud of it and I love it. But I also know that wasn’t why I wanted to make movies. That’s just been part of my journey… I’m really not a car guy. Trek is probably the closest to me.”
Lin’s relationship with Star Trek began a little over 35 years ago. His family moved to Anaheim, California, from Taiwan when he was eight, and opened a fish and chip shop. He barely spoke English and was in a completely alien culture. He found his way in through two things: basketball (which, despite being only 5’4”, he proved surprisingly good at) and Star
Trek. Every night, when his dad finally closed the shop, the pair would watch re-runs of Star Trek on TV. “All my friends were into Star Wars,” he says, “But I couldn’t afford to go to the movies as a kid. I think the only things I’d seen at the movies until I was in junior high were E.T. and Rocky III… So it was Star Trek for me.” Though he claims not to be as knowledgeable as the fans he’ll meet later that night, or indeed set-trekker Pegg, as soon as he gets on the subject Lin becomes excited and, well, a little geeky. He can discuss his love for the episode
The City On The Edge Of Forever at length, or his childhood confusion at the Kirk-free pilot.
“When I was eight I didn’t understand a lot of stuff,” he says. “You’re just kind of jumping around going, ‘Wow, this is cool! Aliens! Exploration! Spock!...’ But it repeated so much — there are only three seasons — that you come to see new things in every episode, to understand it more deeply. When my family emigrated here it was just my parents and my two brothers. There was no other family. I think the idea of
Star Trek, of having this non-traditional structure of a family, that was kind of a connection.” Given this passion, when Abrams called him to offer him the gig, it was a nobrainer, but for one thing. They would have to start filming, without a letter of the script yet written, in six months. SIMON PEGG LAUGHS
darkly when he remembers his first story meeting on
Star Trek Beyond. “As soon as Justin was on board, me, Doug, Justin and Lindsey Weber, the producer, locked ourselves in a room in Soho Hotel in London for 16 hours, to thrash out what the story would be. That was the longest day of my life.”
That story started with a desire to set the new film apart from the previous two, which had taken place before the Enterprise mission to discover unknown frontiers. All assembled wanted to go to the heart of the 50 year-old series, to dissect the idea of what the Federation, an organisation dedicated to discovery for discovery’s sake, was, and what being in space for five years would do to people. So they set the story two years into the mission, far from home.
“That was the thing, really, to push them out into the depths of the unknown,” says Pegg.
“That was exciting because everything was possible. We didn’t have to connect it in any way to what had gone before. There wasn’t a designated area where they would be in their mission at this point, so it didn’t have to be the Klingons or the Romulans or any of those. They could all be in another corner of the galaxy. It felt like a real blank slate.”
Yes, the Klingons are going to have to wait even longer for their modern reign of evil. Asked directly why the Klingons, a fan favourite who have so far only made a cameo in Into Darkness, aren’t appearing, Lin says, “I really wanted to see something new.” Rather than bend an existing villainous type to his needs he wanted to create one which could organically enter his story. Above all, he wanted Krall to have a legitimate reason to hate the Federation, rather than just be from a race of warmongers. “If we truly want to deconstruct what the Federation means,” he says, “we need to have an antagonist with a valid point of view. It can’t be just someone twirling their moustache. For the audience, when they hear [Krall’s reasons] they might not agree with them, but they have to accept it’s a valid point of view.”
Lin also wanted to explore scenarios he’d been mulling over for 35 years. “Watching it on a nightly basis, you go into a kind of fan-fiction mode,” he says. “What are these characters like [outside the missions]? Does Sulu hang out with Chekov?... You take the Enterprise away from them and you’re ripping away the security blanket. You just see them as humans.” Once Krall has destroyed the ship, the crew is separated into unusual pairings: Spock with Bones; Kirk with Chekov; Sulu with Uhura; and Scotty with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who was stranded on Krall’s deadly planet as a child, after an earlier attack by the villain.
“We’ve been very Spock and Kirk-centric for the first two films,” says Kirk himself,
Chris Pine. “Lest we forget, this is a true ensemble with a lot of interesting characters. This one gives everyone a central role in figuring how to… let’s say, save the day.” For his usual screen buddy, Zachary Quinto, aka Spock, it now meant sharing scenes with his exact opposite, Bones (incidentally, it was hearing of this pairing that made the previously reluctant Urban immediately sign on). “I kind of missed Chris a bit!” says Quinto. “But this way you get to see parts of these characters you’ve never seen before. Spock and Bones both have a very close relationship with Kirk, so it’s fun to see what happens when you take Kirk away from them.”
If there was one new pairing that jolted everyone a little, it was that of new director and old cast. The tight schedule meant little time for getting to know each other before the hard work began, and the actors were still adjusting to the absence of the man who brought them all together.
“J.J. set this incredible tone among us eight years ago,” says Quinto. “I think it took all of us a few days to recalibrate for this new energy, but Justin’s energy is also very confident. Visually he knows exactly what everything needs to be.”
Abrams was, says Pegg, “always one of the biggest characters on set. He would have a microphone and a very high energy. Justin is a lot more thoughtful. His notes are more one-on-one.”
Saldana approves. “He’s a man of very few words, but they’re precise. Justin gives you one word and you know. I think I speak good Justin.”
Yet there was one among the crew who knew Lin from way back. John Cho, who plays Sulu, appeared in both Shopping For Fangs and
Better Luck Tomorrow, so he’s got 20 years’ history with Lin. “He’s the same guy!” says Cho. “He was sweating bullets about his budget and the amount of time back then and he was sweating bullets about his budget and time on this one. He’s got more toys now and he’s more confident in his ability, but he’s still the same — quiet and confident”. BACK IN THE
Pasadena edit room, time is very much on Lin’s mind. “I will never do anything as intense as this again,” he says of the schedule. “I think we’re making history. That’s not hyperbole. To have an idea in January and start shooting in June, building worlds, getting it cut and ready in 3D IMAX by July… I don’t think anyone’s ever going to do something this big, that fast.”
It’s for this reason he gets annoyed by rumours that the delay in releasing a trailer was down to production problems. Until the night of the fan event, only one short teaser had been released. “It just comes down to math,” Lin insists, “when you have no time and everything is visual-effects heavy. I’m a stickler for really trying to get things right… It’s unacceptable to me to get something out when it’s not ready.” Even when showing
footage to Empire, Lin keeps repeating that nothing is finished. He wants this to be perfect as much as, if not more than, any of the fans do.
When the footage is screened for the fans later that night it goes down a storm, to whoops and calls to “PLAY IT AGAIN!” A woman who’s flown in from London comes bounding over to
Empire (she noticed the matching accent) and enthuses about how the 11-hour flight was “totally worth it”. They hope they’re getting back the Star Trek they love and Lin hopes he’s giving them the one he’s always loved, with a little bit of difference. “What I really like about what J.J. did is he started a new canon,” he says. “You have to understand and hopefully embrace who these characters have been for the last 50 years, but at the same time know they’re not the same. Hopefully people can see that it’s still okay. You want unknowns for these characters to tackle.”
On one of the biggest nights of his life, Lin has done much to prove to his doubters that he both wants and deserves to be here. He’s shown the Star Trek fans that even if he’s the new guy on the franchise, he’s been one of them for decades.
The Enterprise crew on their makeshift ship, two years into their five-year mission.