‘Star Trek’ latest in series of franchise reboots

Joe Cramer

Between the negative stereotype assigned to its fans, referred to as “Trekkies,” and the lackluster quality of the last few movies in the franchise, it is easy to forget that “Star Trek” was one of the most revolutionary and innovative science-fiction shows of the 20th century, spawning almost 40 years worth of movies, spin-off television shows and countless other merchandise. Somewhere along the line, it seems that people just stopped caring.

Come May 8, however, chances are that’s all going to change.

Following in the footsteps of successful franchise reinventions such as “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” director J.J. Abrams’ vision of the “Star Trek” universe is carving its way into theaters this summer.

Abrams, best known as a co-creator of “Lost” and director of “Mission: Impossible III,” has effectively started from scratch, bringing new, young actors into the iconic roles of the original series and telling the story of their first mission as a team.

Early trailers promise a more character-oriented story than previous “Treks,” while intensifying and modernizing the action sequences with cutting-edge special effects and cinematography.

As opposed to previous entries, which merely maintained the status quo and took very few narrative risks, this new film chronicles the rise of Captain James T. Kirk, from his rebellious youth to his eventual position as commander of the Starship Enterprise. It also establishes his crew, original characters played by fresh new faces.

Most importantly, the film is set to focus on how this crew learns to come together to face their first major threat, in the form of the villainous Nero (played by Eric Bana).

All in all, “Star Trek” represents as radical a reboot as one is likely to see in Hollywood these days.

Two of the young actors whom Abrams hand-picked for their roles are Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, who play the main characters of Kirk and Spock, respectively.

Pine is a relative unknown (aside from a delightfully psychotic turn in 2007’s “Smokin’ Aces”), while Quinto has garnered a cult following for his portrayal of the villain Sylar on the television show “Heroes.”

While untested in leading roles, these two represent the exact kind of youthful energy the franchise desperately needed in its relaunch.

Pine and Quinto recently spoke to The Villanovan about their performances as such established and iconic characters, acting in the first Hollywood blockbuster and working with Abrams.

Arguably the most important aspect of reinterpreting an established character is adding a new dimension to the performance while still staying true to the character’s essential nature. With this in mind, the question of how they crafted their performances was posed to the two actors.

Pine discussed his desire to “do his own thing” with the character of Kirk. In his mind, “this version of Kirk is … conflicted. We get to see this character before he becomes the confident commander of the later years, where he’s dealing with what he’s going to do with his life, whether or not he wants to face up to this challenge that’s presented to him by Captain Pike of joining Starfleet, whether he’s going to face his fears or be a victim to it.”

Just from listening to him discuss his vision of the character, it is clear that Pine intends to take the character of Kirk, previously the famous stoic portrayed by the oft-ridiculed William Shatner, to whole new depths of character development and complexity.

Quinto, on the other hand, tried to maintain a more tangible connection with his role as Spock.

“I was in a little bit of a different situation because I feel like there are aspects of the character of Spock that are just inextricable,” Quinto said. “You can’t really separate, you know, an actor from the character.”

“In certain ways, he is defined by his cultural makeup and so I had to really connect to his circumstances personally so that I could make them my own,” Quinto said while describing his vision of the character, a half-human half-alien who struggles to find his place in the world throughout the film.

If he isn’t making any radical changes to Spock, as his co-star did, he is effectively exploring and deepening what makes him tick.

Playing characters who find themselves at odds at several points throughout the movie, Pine and Quinto needed to make sure they had the necessary chemistry together. Quinto attributed this to his and Pine’s similar backgrounds in theatre, as well as to being comfortable with each other both on and off camera.

Much of what makes this relaunch feel so fresh and exciting as its release approaches is that the talent involved is so unlikely.

Pine and Quinto, while physically resembling their characters, have never acted in high-octane summer fare such as this. Yet this didn’t pose a problem to Quinto, who claimed that “the way it was approached … it didn’t really ever really feel like an effects film.”

Quinto praised Abrams’ skill as a director, saying, “I just feel like this was a movie about connection and one of the strengths of [Abrams’] approach to it was that it was always about what was going on between the characters in any given moment.”

Between the uniquely suited talent of Abrams at the helm of the picture, and the potential for new levels of character depth promised by the performances of Pine and Quinto, “Star Trek” sits poised at the head of an already full slate of tentpole films this summer.

Early reports seem to confirm this, as it has already received rave reviews from publications such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter that praise its fully recognized vision and exhilarating action sequences.

Furthermore, early reports indicate that its pre-release tickets sales have more than tripled those of “Iron Man,” last year’s second-highest grossing film.

If these early reports hold strong through its opening window, it seems as though the stylistic and narrative risks of Abrams and the character-richening turns of Pine and Quinto will pay off in spades for the floundering “Star Trek” franchise.