You know how it went: in 2009 JJ Abrams – creator of Lost, director of Mission: Impossible 3 – exhumed the rotting corpse of Star Trek, not only bringing a dying franchise back to life but making it cool.
He achieved this without giving it a radical spin, without going dark and gritty, as is the way these days. He just made it really, really good, rescuing Star Trek from sweaty convention halls, making its niche universe universal.
A key factor was his non-allegiance to Star Trek. He wasn't a fan, thus went to work purely as a storyteller, without having to deal with any emotional baggage or nostalgic attachment. It paid off – the film took $385m at the box office and gave the galactic horn to fans and non-fans alike. But the shock of the new is so 2009, and with this week's sequel, Abrams was not dealing with a reboot but just another Star Trek film. Once again he assembled his crew, blockbuster brainiacs who are constantly in high demand. The good news is that, once again, the film delivers; it's as beautiful as it is breathtaking. We spoke to some of the key players to discuss how they did it.
'The band's getting back together'
Neville Page (creature designer) I got the call from the producers saying, "The band's getting back together." I was so excited. JJ puts together such a great team that it's a family reunion like few other films I've ever had. For that alone you just knew it was gonna be a great experience.
Scott Chambliss (production designer) Since the first film all of us had done different projects, and we all came back with this tremendous appreciation for JJ and collaborating with each other. The first Trek was an experience; it was tough, we had no idea how it was gonna turn out. So it was amazing that we came back with this spirit of, "I just wanna hug you and kiss you and work with you for the rest of my life, I'm so happy to be back!"
NP When I read the script I was so thrilled, because it was all the things the first one had, with the volume turned up to 11.
SC It definitely had a different tone. It had the potential for exciting environmental contrasts and really different story and action beats like the first one did, but new ones; new worlds to define and play off of each other.
'We didn't want to mess with the Enterprise'
Dan Mindel (director of photography) The Enterprise's look and feel has been established, and we didn't want to mess with it. The primary colours in the Enterprise, the uniforms, the healthy look of the actors: it's important. JJ said to me early on that Star Trek was all about positivity and people finding the best in bad situations. He's very driven by that, and we tried to keep that in the movie.
Michael Kaplan (costume designer) In the original TV show they would get beamed up, travel, do everything in those uniforms. In this film there are a lot of high-powered meetings with Kirk and officers, and I wanted to add a level of sophistication, where – like any military service uniform – there would be different parts. So they now have dress uniforms, and shuttle suits, which they travel in.
Mary L Mastro (hair department head) Because it's set in the future, I wanted to give it a little futuristic twist. You can't have a futuristic movie and have period hair, it can be distracting. If you look at old westerns, they have hairstyles from the period they were shooting. JJ's very particular about that sort of thing.
MK The wetsuits the crew wear at one point were really difficult to make. I wanted all custom colours, but we looked and they just didn't exist, so we ended up dyeing them, and through a lot of trial and error we found dyes that would work. Zoe Saldana looked pretty stunning in her red wetsuit, JJ's favourite costume. It was a big success putting her in a red wetsuit.
Jack White (food stylist) We did drinks for a bar scene that light up and glow. We used a lot of nice reds, and one black drink. Propmaster Andy Siegel and his crew found some floating light bulbs that glow then go off and come back on again. You drop them in the glass and the glass lights up. A fun thing we found was an ice cube ball, a round ice cube that fits perfectly into the cocktail glass. They're found in traditional Japanese restaurants, a good-luck thing they serve with desserts.
'We built a piece of the red planet in California'
SC Everybody wanted to do some blissful tropical island planet, but nobody wanted it to look like a standard blissful tropical environment we're familiar with here on Earth, because that doesn't feel like you're going any place special, it just feels like vacation. So I thought, "Well, we don't want it to be green." I constantly go to Hawaii, and one of the things I love there is lipstick bamboo. Portions of the trunks are this beautiful magenta. I took a photograph of timber bamboo, a beautiful jungle of it, and played with it in Photoshop and turned it really deep ruby red, and it was beautiful. I thought, "My God, if we put that with the turquoise water of Fiji and then pure white sand, what does that feel like?" That's when the ball started rolling.
DM JJ loves to use as much real set and world as possible. We built a piece of the red planet, including the volcano, outside in Marina del Rey [in California]. We shot it all at night so we could control the lights and manipulate it so that the steam that we were making would block out the sun and give us a lot of texture. All the sparks and fire is real.
MK Spock's suit is to protect him from the heat of the volcano. I'd never seen a space suit in copper, and I think copper's very beautiful. I went for the look more than the correct reasoning. Copper is probably the worst material to use when you're trying to protect yourself against heat. There needed to be ventilation in the helmet so that it didn't fog up, so that Zachary Quinto wasn't perspiring. It's a little bit scary because you have to be screwed into it, and if an actor's claustrophobic he could really start to panic, so I think you have to keep your mind away from those thoughts.
NP The Nibirans are an indigenous culture of people, and the thing that really drove it was the find of a particular guy to play our main Nibiran. His physical state is so interesting and unique that it allowed us to do very little makeup work to create a really unique creature.
MK We tried lots of different things to come up with the right feeling for the natives, and in the end it was draped and dyed fabric. We wanted something that was not too sophisticated, so that it would be very recognisable as a primitive race. The planet is all red, so I chose saffron gold, because it pops out.
'Some actors dwant to be action stars on't want to put in the work. Benedict was the opposite'
MLM Benedict Cumberbatch was one of the last to be cast. He's our bad guy, and we wanted him to have dark hair, the opposite of our blond Captain Kirk. The day he flew in, JJ called a meeting with the creators involved in what he was going to look like and he walks into the room with super-short blond hair. My mouth dropped open, like, "Oh, great." We had two weeks before we started shooting, so we had to darken and lengthen his hair. I think they changed the schedule a little to give us more time. There was so much for him to work out for his character; having the look helped him to figure that out.
Martin De Boer (Cumberbatch's stunt double) I trained one-on-one with him. We did basic martial arts training, showing him how to punch, how to move. He's very receptive to learning. I've had actors who want to be an action star but don't want to put in the work, and he was the opposite, he said, "I want to train as much as I can." He was very committed. Besides working with us, he was working with his personal trainer five, six days a week; he really got in shape.
MK For the most part he wears civilian clothes, and I wanted him to be pretty dapper. He wears a number of very long, elegant coats. It's nice, even in the distance, to be able to recognise a character right away. He's pretty high fashion-looking.
MDB I had to train him in the movements we'd come up with, to make sure we were compatible. Everyone moves differently, so we have to translate those moves, maybe change them so he can get comfortable. A lot of stunt performers make the mistake of trying to put the fight on to the actors, but you want them to make the fight their own. His character is very strong and powerful so he wanted to have more static and powerful movements. That strength changes the rules of the martial arts we use. You don't have to do five punches, you just have to use a couple of moves and he takes out the guy already.
MLM Alice Eve plays Carol Marcus, who was in a previous Star Trek. Alice doesn't look anything like the person who originally played that role, but we wanted to give her a sensibility that was similar, yet not have it be that period.
MK Last time, Zoe needed to wear underwear, and this time it was Alice Eve's turn. You know, it's a rather large male fanbase, and JJ wanted to appeal to that.
'I tried to make the Klingons sexy: an ugly-beautiful group of men'
NP Of all the characters in Star Trek lore, the fanbase for Klingons is ginormous. Not even fanbase: a culture of people that live, breathe, eat and conduct themselves as Klingons for real. With that in mind, that design had to be dealt with with a great deal of consciousness. Otherwise, JJ gets serious bad press because he's "destroyed" the Klingons. As much as we wanna bring something fresh to the table, we also want to make sure that it is respectful to the culture. I studied Klingon quite a bit, and spoke to a lot of people, the Klingon people at Comic-Con, people who role-play that world. There was this one treatment, a piercing element that the Klingons have, and few would recognise it, but those who are serious fans will catch it.
MK The helmets address a lot of the features the Klingons have without having to show them. You kind of know they're Klingons because they have those foreheads … even when they're wearing their helmets you can tell.
NP One thing I tried to do with the Klingons, which was a tough one, is make them sexy: a beautiful-ugly group of men. I think we got it. Not that the previous actors were ugly, but it was a very conscious choice of who we cast, a very conscious sculpting of the Klingon form to make them look sexy. In a way.
MLM The Klingon costumes have very high collars, but the hair helps to distinguish between one from another. I took human and synthetic hair and made it into dreadlocks, matted, all different textures. Because they were so laden with costumes and helmets and makeup, I just attached it to the back of their helmets, it's more of an adornment. There was no way we were going to put wigs on them, it was already hotter than Hades on the set.
MDB Benedict wanted to do a lot of stunts himself, but there are some liabilities and risks the studio will not allow. If something happens to him we're all screwed. That's why I'd be on the wire, not him. There's a big fight on Kronos where his character is fighting Klingons. There was a lot of jumping involved, he's flying through the air, and we couldn't do that with him. JJ likes to shoot in one take. We'd start the sequence with the wirework and go straight into a whole fight, which makes it more challenging; we can't do one move, cut and pick up again. We jump off a bridge, up about 30ft, fly through the air, land, go immediately into fighting with weapons, knife-throwing, cutting each other open, then we cut. It's not just one person's timing, it's a team, and everyone has to be exactly in tune with the camera moves, movements, reactions. And that is challenging. The result is that it looks cool.
SC Kronos has quite a classical influence. The quadrant of the city where the action takes place is sort of an interpretation of the Roman Colosseum, the warrens below the Colosseum floor.
'On the last day I though: this might actually be a good movie'
SC On the last day we were shooting, and I've never had this experience before, I was thinking, "Wow, this might actually be a good movie." I've never in my entire career felt that way at the end of a project.
MK It's so great to work on a JJ film. The crews go to great lengths that they wouldn't necessarily for another director.
DM I'm incredibly proud and happy to do this kind of work and work with JJ, because he's a phenomenal force. His vision is incredible, and it's a gift to be able to translate it to film.
Star Trek Into Darkness is out in the UK now
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