J.J. Abrams will tell you honestly: He was never a Star Trek fan. Growing up he didn't identify with Kirk or Spock, and he didn't even know there were 10 previous movies when he signed on to reboot the franchise. But all it took was a little work on the screenplay to become a convert; "This was why I wanted to make movies," he said about the Star Trek script he and four other writers cooked up. "I've become a Trekker."
Introducing four clips from his take on Star Trek, Abrams seemed thrilled but prepared to take the stage in New York, for an audience who both cheered the mention of James Tiberius Kirk and needed an explanation about what it means to beam someone up. He and Paramount exec John Lesher started off by introducing the trailer that debuted this weekend, which looks awesome on the big screen, by the way. Then they got into the meat of the presentation-- four clips from throughout the film that introduce Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Scotty, Ahora, Pike, Nero, McCoy, Chekov, and yes, a redshirt or two.
I'm going to refer you to Den of Geek for a detailed recap of the footage; they saw everything I did in the U.K., and include the essential Star Trek knowledge that I sorely lack. They also included a detailed description of the production art that was on display before the start of the show; again, I did my best to take notes, but you would all just yell at me for getting the details wrong.
So what can I tell you that the bona fide Star Trek geeks can't? That I'm completely convinced it will work as a movie, a funny and fast-paced and thrilling adventure that happens to feature Vulcans and time warps and all the other lingo I don't yet understand. I'm still not entirely clear on the plot, which involves Romulans attacking Vulcan and what seems to be a lot of character development for Kirk. And I still haven't warmed up to the character of Spock, whose cold exterior seems likely to change over the course of the movie, but who still seems a little too sci-fi to the Trek averse among us.
But, to take it scene by scene, there's a whole lot to get excited about.
Scene 1: Kirk gets in a bar fight.
Starting with Kirk's bar fight with Starfleet cadets, I love the design of the bar, all futuristic but still serving Budweiser. I love that when Kirk flirts with Uhura, there is a Hellboy/elephant-looking alien sitting between them. I love pretty much everything about Chris Pine as Kirk, who is sexy and rogue-ish and as far from the stereotypical sci-fi hero as you can get. In the opening scene he's riding a motorcycle, for Christ's sake.
Scene 2: Kirk sneaks onto the Enterprise.
The second scene is also the first trip inside the Enterprise, when Kirk is snuck in by McCoy under the guise of being deathly ill. There are remarkable amounts of humor thrown in with the dramatic moment, Kirk's realization that the Romulans are setting a trap for the Enterprise. (This seems to be the setup for the main conflict of the film, but it's hard to tell based on what I've seen) The humor starts with Chekov, whom Anton Yelchin plays with the overdone Russian accent and goofy intensity that (I'm told) was present in the original series. Kirk, injected with an illness, has hands blown up to foam finger proportions, which makes for plenty of hilarity when he finds Uhura to tell her about the Romulan's plot-- and that's before his tongue freezes up. Abrams, as he's indicated in earlier work, has a great touch for comedy that doesn't oversell itself; you can tell he's taking the world of Star Trek very, very seriously while not being afraid to poke fun at the beloved characters.
Scene 3: Kirk meets Old Spock, Scotty, and a silent alien.
The third scene, in which Kirk meets Scotty and future Mr. Spock on an exile planet, is also the funniest, mostly thanks to Simon Pegg's Scotty. The exaggerated Scottish accent, the irritability and the mute alien sidekick who has apparently kept Scotty company all these months make the very concept of an exile planet seem completely welcome. The scene was also the introduction to two Trek standards even newbies like me know-- "Beam me up, Scotty" and "Live long and prosper." The latter, the farewell that Old Spock gives to Kirk and Scotty as they beam back up to the Enterprise, is presented with a bit of a wink to history, complete with the splayed finger Vulcan greeting. But the latter, a mathematical formula that Old Spock provides Scotty with so that he and Kirk can go back to the Enterprise and save the world, feels like just another plot point rather than something shoved in from an ancient TV series.
Scene 4: Kirk and Sulu kick some Romulan ass.
The final scene is the most action-packed, and also what seems to be the best evidence of what the movie will be like as a whole. Kirk, Sulu and that poor redshirt are dropping onto Vulcan to stop the drill that's aiming to turn the whole planet into a black hole. In the meantime we see Nero (a completely unrecognizable Eric Bana) and his minions figuring out what to do about this new threat, and back on the Enterprise, Spock has left Chekov in charge while he rushes to warn his family on Vulcan about the disaster that's about to befall them. It's a lot of action in a really short period of time, and that's before we even get to Sulu and Kirk's fight with the Romulan goons on the drilling platform. The best thing about the fight, despite all the crazy CGI going on around it, is the resolution comes down to two simple things: Kirk outsmarting a goon, and then Sulu stabbing him. It's clean, old-fashioned, and something George Lucas, with all his whiz-bang CGI, would never, ever have done.
So what should you take away from my layman's opinion? Basically, J.J. Abrams seems to have made a genuine populist adventure movie, a little concerned with satisfying the fans but mostly hell-bent on entertaining as many people as possible. That's exactly what he needed to do to draw in the skeptics like me, and if the action sequences are at all similar to that fight scene on the drilling platforms, no amounts of Vulcans or Klingons will keep moviegoers away. But just in case, I'll go ahead and learn the difference between them before the movie comes out.