You may have seen the nine full minutes of the prologue sequence from next summer’s Star Trek sequel – in 3D, and in IMAX – that appeared in front of The Hobbit’s debut on Dec. 14, if you saw The Hobbit in IMAX 3D or IMAX HFR 3D. Timed to that debut, Abrams recently previewed the footage (politely asking that journalists avoid a blow-by-blow recap) and gave a super-secret not-to-be-discussed taste of even more Enterprise action to media invited to his Santa Monica-based production company Bad Robot. (Hint: It's even more awesome than the footage shown in theaters.)
And as for that pre-Hobbit teaser, just like before the footage looks and feels like authentic Star Trek – on steroids and in fast-forward. In the prologue deftly shows off Abrams’ skill at accelerating the Trek aesthetic into a more propulsive context than the previous TV and film iterations.
The 9 Minutes
First, we get a glimpse of very human, everyday activity set against a backdrop that feels both futuristic and lived-in: a mother and father go through the painful routine of getting up and going to visit their hospitalized and comatose young daughter, victim of an unrevealed ailment that apparently even 23rd century medicine can’t address. The mother’s eyes brim with loss and fear, the father’s burn with anger – until a mysterious stranger suggests that he may have a cure.
Next we're thrust into the middle of classic Star Trek scenario with Raiders of the Lost Ark-style adrenaline: Kirk and McCoy are on the run after a mission to save the inhabitants of the planet they’re visiting seems to have taken a drastic, Prime Directive-testing turn, while elsewhere Spock embarks on a dangerous journey to complete the second portion of the Enterprise’s assignment with the now seemingly well-oiled crewmembers doing their parts in support.
All the slam-bang elements of what promises to be a high-octane adventure are here– including a never-before-seen glimpse of underwater starship action. But there are also deeper, more character-driven plots brewing, too, like when Kirk and Spock are caught in a life-and-death conundrum that, for old-school Trekkies especially, will evoke the no-win scenarios and philosophical premises that permeated 1982’s beloved Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It's clearly intentional on Abrams' part.
The Behind-the-Scenes Action
As the reigning cinematic wizard in residence, Abrams stayed (mostly) behind the curtain other than a quick appearance in the screening room and some casual conversation at post-visit rooftop cocktail party with the cast and crew. But Abrams did show off props, costumes and makeup samples from the new film and brought in key crew members to shed a glimmer of starlight on the still-mysterious plotlines: Cumberbatch’s enigmatic, seemingly antagonistic character is shrouded in secrecy, though his name – John Harrison, apparently – hit the web during the media visit; and a costume display revealed that Eve would be playing Carol Marcus, a youthful version of James T. Kirk’s paramour/baby mama – also from Wrath of Khan.
Prop master Andy Siegel and assistant costume designer Anne Foley conducted a tour of items appearing in the nine-minute teaser – including a heat-resistant volcanic suit worn by Spock and sleek Starfleet wetsuit donned by Uhura – as well as a number of items from as-yet-unseen sequences in the film, like the new-look Klingon armor (with old-school-looking bat’leth), a series of Starfleet spacesuits and dress uniforms with a Pan Am flair to them – including pilot hats, which Foley says was a little nod to the '60s– and intriguing costumes apparently intended for Cumberbatch’s character, not to mention an assortment of new model phasers, tricorders and other familiar Federation trappings.
"They've already reinvented a lot of that stuff in the last movie, which I didn't work on, so you don't want to go too far afield of that because they did a great job," said Siegel of the minor tweaks to the props. "The reinvention of the phaser was really terrific. We just tried to do what I would do if I had a second chance at any product. In the communicators, I put the mesh pad on because that's sort of a nod to the old communicator. The tricorders, we took some of the little bits, that little rounded metal part that I really liked in the original tricorder, and we reincorporated it into this one."
"We just updated the insignia," added Foley, indicating how the familiar boomerang-shaped Starfleet logo had been subtly refined for various rank pins. "We wanted to really stay true to the previous film, and also to the series, but we just gave it a little update."
Siegel said that while the props and costumes need to serve their function on the film set, they also end up as the studio’s archival and auction items. "The security level is pretty high, and I'm pretty much the devil when it comes to keeping that stuff on track. Not much got broken." Then he notices a large, gleaming Starfleet phaser rifle nearby and grins. "We had one of the ‘hero’ rifles get tossed down and that shattered into a bunch of different parts. That was unfortunate."
Makeup effects designer David LeRoy Anderson displayed an impressive series of life-cast heads, including a molded bust of Quinto, ready for makeup refinement, as well as various fully executed exotic extraterrestrials – including a Klingon aesthetic that offers a slight alteration from the familiar look of the various second-generation Trek TV series of the past 25 years.
Mr. Spock’s Vulcan ears and eyebrows are still the Mercedes-Benz of the franchise’s makeup effects, and Anderson – who like many Hollywood makeup artists started his career on a Star Trek series – dedicated himself to providing Quinto with a level of comfort while also solving some lingering problems. "They’re not simple," Anderson said. "Anything that you put on the nose in the middle of the screen, in the middle of the movie, is highly scrutinized and those ears – everyone’s looking at them." Asked how he didn’t go mad hand-gluing each individual hair of Spock’s upswept eyebrows onto Quinto’s brow each day over 45 minutes, Anderson answered simply: "I don’t know that I didn’t."
Composer Michael Giacchino, a veteran of scoring Abrams’ film and television productions, said his goal was to incorporate the [original] Alexander Courage theme, and it was a difficult process. "I was so concerned about what other people would think of it and what it should be, and I went through 18, 20 versions of a theme that never felt right. Damon Lindelof said, ‘Why don’t you just forget all that space stuff – It's not a space movie. It's just a movie about two guys who meet and become the best of friends. Why don't we start from there?’"
Visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett, who oversaw the previous Trek film’s eye-popping FX, and his army of technicians had to handle rendering some of the immersive 23rd century environments featured in the film, including a red-hued alien forest, a hellish volcanic planetary core, a water-filled decompression chamber and even a futuristic take on London, England.
Guyett took photographs and shot aerial footage of London to capture recognizable qualities, including incorporating landmarks like a still-standing St. Paul’s Cathedral, into the evolved cityscape. A traditional brick-and-mortar children’s hospital was given a futuristic spin with levitating gurneys.
"If you’re into visual effects, doing a space movie is just an awesome thing to be involved with. There’s maybe something in my DNA that, whether it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars or Star Trek, I still get off on just seeing the Enterprise lit – the scale and the quality of it. J.J. once said to me ‘It’s like space-porn.’"