Far into the future, in the year 2233, a spaceship in the far reaches of the galaxy, named USS Kelvin, is ambushed by a giant mining ship that is seemingly invincible and far advanced than anything ever seen at the time. The occupants of this advanced ship, Romulans who seemingly have no idea what time it is, kills the captain of the USS Kelvin after he fails to give the location of Ambassador Spock.
The USS Kelvin is attacked.
After a frantic evacuation of the USS Kelvin, James T. Kirk is born, not in Iowa, but in the middle of a battlefield in outer space, creating a brand new timeline for the series.
During this time, a young Spock, still a child, faces discrimination on his home planet for being half-human and half-Vulcan. After he turns down a place in the High Council due to an insulting remark of an elder, he vows to join Starfleet, where equality is better promoted.
As Kirk grows up, now a reckless rebel with plenty of enemies, is approached by someone who knew of his late father, who died on the USS Kelvin, and vows for him to join starfleet. After time to think over it, he accepts, but quickly finds himself at odds against Spock at the academy.
Chris Pine as James Kirk, and Zachary Quinto as Spock, make friends on the Enterprise.
However, in the far reaches of space, the alien spaceship, now realizing they are not when they left and still searching for Spock, heads towards Vulcan, and prepares to make sure the future does not happen....
Planning and Development
Teaser poster for the then mysterious project.
In 2005, Paramount Pictures secretly contacted Roberto Orci to help revive the Star Trek franchise, which at the time was considered a dead property, after the cancellation of Star Trek Enterprise on UPN. They decided to reboot the series from page one, and asked good friend J.J. Abrams to make it a reality.
J.J. Abrams planned to make the movie revolve around Kirk and Spock during their days at the Starfleet Academy, but after a leak of the plans by the Daily Variety, he had to denounce it to preserve the privacy of the movie. He did not plan to direct the movie, originally planning to have Sam Raimi do the honors, but announced he was going to do it on February 23, 2007.
He created a teaser poster himself showing the Enterprise crew uniform insignia against a half gold, half blue background. The poster got fans excited, as it hinted it being about the original Star Trek TV series. The movie was announced to be released on December 25, 2008 (it was eventually delayed to the summer of the following year).
The studio had high hopes for J.J. Abrams' movie, and gave it the highest budget ever given to any Star Trek movie. Scott Chambliss, the production designer, already started working on planning the film, and the sound stage construction began in September.
J.J. Abrams wanted the movie to have a 'Star Wars' feel, instead of a 'Star Trek' one.
Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman took four months to write the script of the movie, ending up with a 128 page manuscript. They designed the story to be enjoyable by those who never saw or knew anything about Star Trek before, which was the whole point of the movie. The title was always intended to simply be Star Trek, without any number or subtitle.
The script, making Star Trek the first Star Trek movie since Generations to feature the original characters, drew inspiration from Wrath of Khan, the novels Prime Directive and Spock's World, and the TV episodes Balance of Terror and Yesteday's Enterprise. J.J. Abrams also made sure to make sure the movie feels more like a Star Wars movie than a Star Trek one, since he was a bigger fan of Star Wars, and those movies are a lot more audience friendly.
The final version of the movie removed a couple of deleted scenes and plot points to make the movie faster paced and less meddling into unnecessary dialog. Roberto Orci has said that he the most difficulty writing Kirk and Nero, and the writers had to resort to using the fan written Star Trek Wiki to make sure they got the characters right. Harlan Ellison, when hearing rumors that the story would have inspirations from his Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever, demanded compensation, but it turned out the movie never had those story elements.
During writing the movie, they realized that simply rebooting the whole canon would end up with negative fan reaction from the fanbase, so they decided to come up with a time travel plot device to create an alternative universe, essentially making the movie a sequel instead of a reboot. This allowed the movie to work like a reboot, but while also letting the fans know that 40 years of storylines were not just sent down the drain.
Ryan Church was hired to create the new USS Enterprise and other spaceships, and John Eaves was hired to design the shuttlecrafts. Because the technology of the original TV show was already outdated by today's real-life standards, J.J. Abrams asked the production design to make the technology featured in the original TV show to look and feel more modern.
The movie used as many practical sets as they possibly could to make it feel realistic.
"There was a strong, sleek, modernist vision at play in the 1960s when the television series began, that was something we wanted to infuse in our look."
- Scott Chambliss, production designer
To make sure the different designs of different species remained different, different art directors were used for each planet. Dennis Bradford designed the sets for the Federation starships, Gary Kosko did the Vulcan sets, and Curt Beech designed the shuttlecrafts.
The insides of the ship, although it's layout is identical to the original, is now a lot busier and sleek, with plenty of shiny transparent surfaces, brighter lights and colors, and more modern computer displays. More railings were also added, to make it feel safer (due to the proud Star Trek tradition of characters dying on the ship due to being tossed around the bridge). The viewscreen was turned into an actual window, and the whole set was constructed on gimbals, to simulate the rocking motions of the ship.
The Narada, by contrast, was designed to be less appealing and more foreboding and dangerous. The machinery of the ship was always exposed to the viewer, and the colors were always dark and green with envy. It was heavily influenced by Antoni Gaudi, an architect that designed buildings as if they were inside out. Taking a page of the book of Robert Rodriguez, the Narada set's background was made of individual pieces that could be moved around to make the set appear bigger.
Props, Makeup, and Costumes
Russell Bobbitt redesigned the classic props from the original show to be fit for a modern view of the future. He and the engineers at Nokia created a $50,000 prototype of the communicator to be used in the movie. The tricorder was redesigned to be a lot smaller than the original, he created a version of it that could be used when filming action scenes, with the help of technical advisor Doug Brody. The phaser was the most faithful to the original, but were redesigned so that the audience could see how it switches between the 'stun' and 'kill' modes.
Eric Bana as Nero. The makeup work for this film won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Makeup.
A tribble, a small fuzzy alien creature from the original TV show, made a cameo on Scotty's desk, and the Aptera Typ-1, a real life prototype electric vehicle, also made a cameo on the Starfleet Academy.
Joel Harlow and Barney Burman created the makeup for the humanoid and alien characters, respectively. Instead of using CGI makeup like in the Star Wars films, they opted to use all real life makeup techniques, without the aid of digital effects. Their work caused them to win the Best Makeup award at the Academy Awards.
During production, they were on a rush to design all the alien species, due to J.J. Abrams dropping the bombshell on the amount of aliens in the film so late in production, due to the original plan, having all the aliens appear in a bar, would be too similar to the cantina scene in Star Wars.
To separate Romulans and Vulcans, they decided to have the Romulans completely bald and covered in tattoos. Their designs are less extreme than those on previous Star Trek works, however. It took two and half to four hours to get their makeup done, with Eric Bana's character Nero requiring the most prosthetic work.
In the original TV show, the colors of the costumes showed the rank of the character's jobs, with Kirk having a gold costume showing he is the commander, and Spock using a blue costume showing he is a science officer.
The costumes remain their original 1960's retro futuristic design, but altered to seem more believable to the modern viewer.
"The costumes were a microcosm of the entire project, which was how to take something that's kind of silly and make it feel real. But how do you make legitimate those near-primary color costumes?"
-J.J. Abrams, director and producer
J.J. Abrams hired Michael Kaplan as the costume designer. Kaplan has never seen anything Star Trek before, so Abrams hoped he would approach the costumes from a new angle. Kaplan decided to continue using the color motifs of the original series, but made them more sophisticated and seem less cartoon-like. Similar to Superman's costume in Superman Returns, he had the logo patterned on the costumes to give them texture.
For the villains, Kaplan had them dress in old raggy fabrics he found at a flea market, due to their mining backgrounds. He liked the look so much that he commissioned the makers of those fabrics, who were in Bali, to create more costumes for the villains. As for the Vulcans, he designed an eloquent design for the costumes, to bring the point that the Vulcans were about dignity and appearance.
Before this movie was known to be a reboot, fans were expecting William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy to regain their roles. However, only Leonard Nimoy, Wil Wheaton, and Majel Barrett are the only actors in the movie to ever have been in a previous Star Trek work, much to the dismay of William Shatner.
The protagonists of the movie, from left to right: Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Chris Pine as Kirk, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Karl Urban as McCoy, John Cho as Sulu, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura.
This film was Leonard Nimoy's first time playing the role of Spock since 1991, coming out of retirement just to play this role again. He said that the only reasons he decided to come out of retirement was because he thought the role he played in this movie was very important and iconic, as well as being a J.J. Abrams fanboy. J.J. Abrams loved that he was able to cast Nimoy in the film, and managed to keep him as a guest star on his TV show, Fringe.
"To make this a great film, it must both please the fans and those who have never seen Star Trek... having Leonard in the film shows that this film exists in a continuum of Trek history, as opposed to an absolute, page 1 reinvention. "
-J.J. Abrams, director and producer
The first actor to be announced on the movie was Zachary Quinto, who became famous for his role as Sylar on the TV show Heroes, as young Spock. He will also be portraying Spock in any future Star Trek movies. Matt Damon wanted to be cast as Kirk, going as far as asking William Shatner to hook him up, but the filmmakers wanted a younger actor to play him. Instead, they chose Chris Pine to play Kirk. The rehearsals for the roles were held on the week of October 19, 2007.
Eight days before she passed away, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry reprised her role as the voice of the Enterprise computer. On the open casting call for extras on November 10, hundreds of people came in asking to be in the movie, the highest since the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Wil Wheaton provided the voices for the non-Nero Romulans on the movie. His voice was digitally altered each line to make it sound like individual actors.
Although Abrams approached both Shatner and Nimoy to play a part on the movie, Shatner didn't learn he was not going to be in the movie until he was talking over a phone call with Nimoy discussing the script. After the media reported that Shatner was 'furious' (he claims this was not true), the writers desperately tried to find a place to put him in, and wrote a scene in which he would have appeared as a hologram near the end of the movie.
But J.J. Abrams felt the scene 'didn't feel right', and decided to scrap it. Although Shatner was reported as being 'furious', in reality, it was most of the fans on message boards doing the complaining.
George Lucas' special effects studio, Industrial Light and Magic, created the special effects for the movie. Although originally intended to use 1,000 visual effects shots, the number increased to over 1,300 in the final film. Although the shots were fully CGI, using no real-life models, they had to create realistic lens flare to match J.J. Abrams art style, using a special technique to create real non-CGI lens flare into digital images.
The special effects of Star Trek showcased the latest in traditional CGI technology.
The movie spent almost nine months in post production, the second longest in the franchise. Ben Burtt, famous for his work on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Wall-E, created the special effects for the movie, using new sound effects specifically for the film.
Michael Giacchino, who also worked with J.J. Abrams on Lost and Mission Impossible III, as well as becoming famous for his work on The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Up, composed the music for this film. He created a brand new version of the original theme by Alexander Courage called Enterprising Young Men that became a Youtube sensation.
A triumphant version of Enterprising Young Men plays as the Enterprise rises from the clouds of Titan.
"I grew up listening to all of that great [Trek] music, and that's part of what inspired me to do what I'm doing... You just go in scared. You just hope you do your best. It's one of those things where the film will tell me what to do."
-Michael Giacchino, composer
Giacchino liked the music for the original Star Trek to be like classical music, while Star Wars' music was rock and roll. He consciously made the decision to fit the score for the movie to be more rock and roll. Enterprising Young Men is a more intense and musical version of the broader and simpler original Star Trek theme.
The score was performed by a 107-piece orchestra and a 40 person choir. An ehru was used to perform the musical theme for Spock, and was digitally distorted to perform the theme for Nero and the Romulans. The soundtrack is the most popular Star Trek soundtrack ever made, debuting at the Billboard 200 chart at #58, and rising to #49 the following week.
Originally intended to come out in the Winter of 2008, it was pushed back to the Summer of 2009 to have it become a summer blockbuster, taking advantage of the larger movie going audience. A premiere for the movie would have been at the Sydney Opera House, but the first public showing of the film was entirely by surprise in Austin, Texas.
The movie received a great deal of praise upon it's release.
The writers were going to have a special showing of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan along with a ten minute preview of the new movie, but to the surprise of the audience, Leonard Nimoy appeared on stage asking them if they would like to see the new movie instead.
The movie came out on theaters on May 8, 2009, quickly becoming the most successful movie in the series, as well as becoming the 4th highest grossing film of the year. The movie also got extreme critical acclaim, achieving a rare 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, and getting a perfect score from Screened.