EXCLUSIVE: Interview with JJ Abrams

Back in 2006 JJ Abrams ignited a bidding war between Hollywood studios for his next contract. In the end he went with Paramount and when he had the pick of projects, he chose the task of reviving Star Trek. In our exclusive interview with the director we get JJ to talk about some of the big decisions he made along the way to make this film, including what he cut. We also talk about William Shatner, and may be breaking some news.
[interview contains MAJOR SPOILERS]

 

 

TrekMovie interview with JJ Abrams
 

Abrams: You know I check your site out all the time.

TrekMovie.com: Are you serious? I thought Bob [Orci] was the spy to keep an eye on all of us.

Abrams: Well I don’t get as much as he does… But I check it out. I learn stuff about Trek from your site all the time…Whenever I go one there is always something cool and interesting to see and it is a great read, I love it.

TrekMovie: Speaking of keeping up with what people are writing. How much to you pay attention to buzz and reviews? Like how you guys are on the cover of Newsweek now?

Abrams: In general I think it is a great sort of tool in the toolbox to get a sense of consensus or point of view to see what people are thinking. On a TV show there is a different value because it is an ongoing project and you can make adjustments as you go. On a movie, it comes out and that’s it!

TrekMovie: Unless you are George Lucas.

Abrams: That’s true, that’s true [laughs]

TrekMovie: Did you see the review in Nacelles Monthly…it was brutal.

Abrams: No [laughs]…that cover was so good, it was hysterical.


JJ Abrams – Nacelles Monthly fan

TrekMovie: I enjoyed your Mystery issue of Wired. As a big fan of puzzles, mysteries, the Twilight Zone, and that kind of thing, what do you see as the fundamental mystery of this Star Trek movie?

Abrams: Clearly something like Alias or Lost, which is insanely Byzantine by nature, and even Fringe has its own mythology. These are tricky things for audiences to follow sometimes. We wanted this Star Trek movie to be simultaneously fun and complex in its own way and rich in character and subtext, but we didn’t want it to be impenetrable. And so we don’t apply the same kind of mystery and misdirect plot in this movie like we would do in one of the shows we do, because we don’t want people to leave the theater feeling confounded by what they just saw. There is a complicated time-travel story if you want to analyze it, figure out what the chronology is, figure out why everyone is doing what they are doing. You can probably go a few levels deeper than the movie overtly gives you, but you don’t need to in order to understand and enjoy the movie.

What I thought the central mystery of the movie, as opposed to a plot device, had to do with the baggage we had inherited. People know when they go to see this movie, even if they have never seen Star Trek — the majority of the audience knows that Kirk is Captain Kirk and you are somehow born genetically understanding that Spock is a pointy-eared Vulcan that is logical. So what I loved was meeting this kid, not just as a newborn, but as a young man and seeing that here is a guy that could not be less of a captain. And he may have all the potential in the world, but he is not a captain. And here is Spock, who doesn’t know Kirk, and he is in conflict with his Vulcan nature. And how do you reconcile being half-human and half-vulcan when the choice to become logical requires you to forego your humanity. So there were these two characters that were messed up and a little bit broken and certainly not who we know them to be and not even knowing each other, and when they do know each other, they hate each other and are at odds. So the mystery for me is kind of using what people expect — to me that was the fun of the movie. The mystery is: how do these two characters become those characters that I believe is going to be inevitable..

CLIP: Answer Me

Clip from Star Trek showing that Kirk and Spock don’t start off as friends


TrekMovie:
You talk about how people do not need to know a lot to enjoy this film. One thing that I do think may be an issue and have some people at least asking the question: What was Nero doing for 25 years? We know, because you talked about removing the whole Rura Penthe prison sequence [see article]. Talk me through the decision to remove that. The one thing I would like to see in this film was more Nero.

Abrams: Well you are not wrong. Not only would it have been nice, but I thought it was nice to have that stuff in there. But I don’t think the majority of the audience has the patience and the willingness to do the kind of work that deep-routed fans of genre, and certainly of Trek,  are willing to do and in fact live to do. I have found on Lost and on Fringe that the casual viewer may be confounded by a plot turn that I love. What I love about this is not just mystery, but sometimes these diversions that take you into a really weird place, then kind of get back on track and continue. That sequence took the audience off track into a whole new place that I thought was really cool, really weird, beautifully designed and had great mood. I loved the visual effects and the whole thing. It broke my heart to cut it. But when we showed the movie to the audience with that sequence it really threw them. Because we had a bad guy who is suddenly imprisoned by other bad guys. You didn’t know who was who. There was exposition that I really enjoyed, that people felt was confusing and distracting. And it threw the audience off and took them on this diversion and the truth is, not unlike Richard Donner’s Superman, the movie really begins in earnest about half an hour into the movie, when in that film Christopher Reeve is flying away from the Fortress of Solitude as Superman. Everything that preceded it was critical to emotionally connect to the story, but now the story begins. In our movie it just felt like a five minute diversion that people were like ‘what?’

TrekMovie: Will we see it on the DVD and Blu-ray as a deleted scene or possibly an extended cut?

Abrams: I think it will only be deleted scene, which will be fine. People will see the scene and chose whether or not it is — there may be a version where we could put it in sequentially too.


Abrams heart ‘broke’ over cutting Nero’s time at Rura Penthe

TrekMovie: Most Trek fans got into Trek at a very early age, some very early. Your goal for this film was to bring in a new audience, but you decided to shoot for PG-13. Did you feel that maybe you paid a price for that as opposed to being PG?

Abrams: Honestly that was not a concern of mine making this movie. I was not approaching this thinking ‘how do I make it match to what has come before.’ What I needed to do was respect this story and this movie and try to make the best version of this movie and know that I had Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof who were to me the people I trusted the most to make sure of the concerns of Trek fans. If I had heard from them early on that doing a version that is PG-13 is going to be sacrilege, that might have been something I would have considered, but it never came up.

TrekMovie: Way before you decided to direct this movie you told me you wouldn’t make the decision to direct until you saw the script. I know it is presumptuous, but let’s assume a sequel happens. What will be your decision process will be to direct that one?

Abrams: I think that the dream version of any job is to chose the job because you love the job. And for me I have only directed two films and they are both films that are sequels to TV shows that Leonard Nimoy starred in. I would love to try and do something else. That is not to say that can’t do something else first and maybe come back and do the sequel to this. But I do honestly think that it is insane to think about a sequel when the first one hasn’t come out it. I pray people see the movie and I pray they like the film. And if there desire for another one, not only am I thrilled to produce that movie and help realize it, but I am wide open to the possibility of directing it. It is something I need to decide when we have discussions about the story, which we have not had yet. We have literally not had one discussion about what the sequel will be. Not one meeting, there is no outline, not one.


Abrams on set directing "Star Trek" – has yet to decide if he will direct potential sequel

TrekMovie: You and the rest of guys are often described as Trek’s new ‘Supreme Court’. What would you say was the hardest decision that the court had to make with regards to this movie?

Abrams: I think I would have a different answer than Bob or Damon would, because I didn’t come to this feeling like it was sacred text as much as they did. I was more excited by the opportunity and possibility of what we can do here. They were more the living and breathing Star Trek fans, so they had more at stake. For them things like the fate of Vulcan I am sure. I certainly wasn’t blind to that being a massive choice, but I also felt that as a filmmaker, if we don’t do something f–king mind-blowing, then the movie is just tepid. We had to go there to make the movie and push buttons and make it feel like a substantial story and that losses were felt and it was palpable.

I think the hardest decision that I felt was not having William Shatner in the movie. And that really was because, as a non-fan, you feel like ‘you got to have Shatner in the movie – come on!’ And then I realized he had died in [Star Trek: Generations], which I had not seen before I was working on the film, that getting him back in the movie would literally mean starting from scratch and coming up with a new story. And the decision to move forward, despite the necessity given our story, and to exclude the guy that everybody associates with the series – that bothered me. And yet I felt like we had to do this for this movie. Talk about the wrath. I thought we are going to eat it, fans are going to kill us. And yet the reason why I felt it might ultimately work for us is it felt like the righteous decision. It felt like we need to do it for the story, but the righteous decision is not always the easiest.

TrekMovie: So when you said at Comic Con 2007 that you were working hard to find a way, you really meant that.

Abrams: No question. Why in a million years would we not want him in the movie. It would only be better to have him in the film. But even before everyone was talking about ‘Trek canon’. Everyone was like ‘we want you to follow canon’. Now I know, in fact the first sequence of the movie, veers hard left from Trek canon, but that is the point. As much as we could we wanted to be consistent with the thread that had been established. A lot of the same people who were saying ‘you must follow canon!’ were saying ‘Shatner has got to be in the movie!’ Dude, how do you do both of these things!? We could have created some sort of time travel detour thing, but literally when you start going down that path, especially with Mr. Shatner saying he did not want to do a cameo, it became this whole thing that would literally be a reinvention of our reinvention. It is just too hard.

TrekMovie: I would have to agree after seeing the film that it wouldn’t work with this film, unless you wanted to bring up the word ‘Nexus’

Abrams: Exactly [laughs] which we were not going to do.

TrekMovie: But hey, you got the sequel…

Abrams: That’s actually a possibility.


William Shatner in 1994’s Generations – Abrams toughest call was not bringing him back

 

Up Next – Anton Yelchin
Our week long series of interviews is not over yet. On Friday TrekMovie talks to Anton Yelchin about that Russian accent, being a boy genius and more. And we will finish off the week-long series with a couple of Romulans, Eric Bana and Clifton Collins, Jr.

Other final pre-movie exclusive interviews at TrekMovie:

 

More JJ:
Here is some ‘b roll’ of JJ on the set of Star Trek (not some sections have no audio)

 

 

Sort by:   newest | oldest
Andrew F
May 7, 2009 4:26 pm

first!!!! Sitting in theater filled with Trekkies! T-35 minutes and counting!!!!!!

David (Flaming Wings Forever)
May 7, 2009 4:28 pm

Great Interview Anthony

DJT
May 7, 2009 4:29 pm

T-minus 2.5 hours and counting in Cali. En route to the promised land.

Benjamin Adams
May 7, 2009 4:29 pm

Fantastic. The franchise in in the best hands possible.

Donn
May 7, 2009 4:34 pm

Wow, spoilers, no kidding. Whoops.

Not that I didn’t sort of know, from reading comments, but I also sort of thought people were just nuts and reading in to things in the trailers that weren’t really there.

Oh well, that’s what warning are for, and I’m already in it so deep, one more plot point won’t make me not enjoy seeing it all put together on the wide screen tomorrow freaking night!

Enjoy, all you all who are seeing it tonight!

Donn
May 7, 2009 4:35 pm

3. May the wind be at your backs!

Captain Dunsel
May 7, 2009 4:36 pm

Enjoy it, #1.

I’m 2.5 hours away from the opening here on West Coast time. Can’t wait!

mikeypikey (Ireland)
May 7, 2009 4:38 pm

Not long back after seeing the first screening here!! ahhh amazing!! :-)) Everything a star trek, or any blockbuster movie should have and more! Star Trek is real at least :-))

mikeypikey (Ireland)
May 7, 2009 4:39 pm

lol- not a least–AT LAST!

lukas
May 7, 2009 4:40 pm

Great!

Andrew F
May 7, 2009 4:44 pm

4 burger king glasses, 2 playmates toys, 3 BK kids meals toys, 2nd place in Esurance Biggest Trekkie contest, and T-20 minutes To ST09 in IMAX! “The Kobayashi Maru has set sail for the Promised Land!”

jamesmctrek
May 7, 2009 4:48 pm

just back from the film and being from glasgow scottys accent was really good and the film surpassed my high expectations:)

Janeways Knickers
May 7, 2009 4:49 pm

I’m glad Shatner isn’t in it. Pine is fine by himself. Raaaarrrrr!

Janeways Knickers
May 7, 2009 4:51 pm

DJT enjoy!

Janeways Knickers
May 7, 2009 4:52 pm

no promises…

Gregory Limardi
May 7, 2009 4:53 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong…but this alternate time line in no way guarantees that Kirk ever died on Veridian III…or was there to confront V’ger…..or met Kahn…or saved Earth in STIV!!!

JJ…you changed history…just make Kirk alive…problem solved!

Donn
May 7, 2009 4:57 pm

16. Ah, but then it wouldn’t be the Shat-Kirk that we know from the last 40 years, it would be some other Kirk whose career we haven’t seen yet, from this timeline. We see the same old Spock that we know, to start this timeline off, but I don’t think you get to double-dip in this sort of thing.

Who knows what they’ll come up with?

Charlie
May 7, 2009 5:04 pm

JJ please make an extended version of the film, with the klingon prison and those scenes with baby spock. :-)

Gwynney
May 7, 2009 5:05 pm

Went and saw the movie last night here in Australia – unbelieveable movie. Soo good!! When Kirk, Spock and McCoy start getting down to business together on the bridge, I just sat there thinking, yep these are our guys, this is awesome!!!

And when Leonard’s Spock meets Kirk, that scene is just amazing and really funny! Loved it!

The last thing I would have wanted to hear about in this movie was The Nexus. And that’s probably the only way they could have brought Kirk back. So great move not going there JJ, it just wouldn’t have worked.

Ian B
May 7, 2009 5:06 pm

As I said in another thread, I thoroughly loved the movie, but the exposition kinda roared by and I wish I could go back and watch parts again, though I got most of it.

SPOILER

Particularly, the mind meld exposition went by very fast. One thing- Nero dumped Spock on Delta Vega so he could watch Vulcan destroyed? And we saw him looking up at the sky watching the destruction of Vulcan… was this literal? Could he actually see it? Delta Vega would have to be so close to Vulcan as to be a moon to see what we saw him seeing. Or was it some kind of mental projection or something?

Also, not a spoiler, but one thing that niggled me with the dirtied down nature of the lower decks. The shuttle the Kelvin’s captain used had noticably peeling paintwork and corrosion. Wasn’t this going too far, or were we supposed to think he’s a lazy captain who doesn’t keep things “ship shape”?

spockatatic
May 7, 2009 5:11 pm

holy you guys are lucky bastards! I still have to wait for tomorrow!! Arrggh! This waiting is going to be the death of me, I swear!

Trekmatt
May 7, 2009 5:18 pm

#22 the waiting is annoying but it’s worth the wait in my opinion :)

Ryan Spooner
May 7, 2009 5:19 pm

Just got back from seeing the movie in IMAX in Birmingham in the UK. Absolutely brilliant film and I plan to see it again in a regular cinema (that’s a movie theatre, for the Americans amongst us hehe).

SPOILER ALERT

I’ve only got a couple of gripes. Firstly as Ian B said above, being able to see Vulcan from Delta Vega seems a bit of a stretch. Also the whole cliche of the spinning blades in the water tank after Scotty and Kirk beam back to the Enterprise and Scotty gets sucked around the water pipes… that reminded me of Galaxy Quest with those chompers that served no purpose. Also the pipes were full and under fairly high pressure, yet very little water came out when Kirk opened the release valve. Lastly, where on earth (not literally) did that ‘red matter’ stuff come from? Is it like protomatter?

None of that spoiled the film though, and I’ve already got my Blu-Ray pre-order in, in addition to planning to watch it a second time on Sunday :-)

Brixton
May 7, 2009 5:21 pm

JJ You’re killing me-

I love the Shat, I love Nimoy- would have been great to see the TWO old birds together, somehow…

But I love your vision, the actual inescapable logic of how you’ve gone about making this film…bravo! Taking my Dad to see it, we watched Star Trek together when I was a wee lad. He’s excited and so am I.

Oh, but saying Big Bill and an appearance in a sequel- “That’s actually a possibility.”

Too much for my poor heart to handle…make it so!

Best of luck.

This is too much for my poor

Kenneth Of Borg
May 7, 2009 5:25 pm

Thanks for the interview Trekmovie.com
Thanks Mr. Abrams for the premiere tickets through the Liberty Hill Foundation.

My wife and I loved the film. We were criticized for donating so
much and told the Hollywood elite would shun us. Everyone was wonderful and I have the photos to prove it.

We had hoped to thank you in person at the premiere but missed you while meeting the writers and cast. The gift bag that we wanted to give you at the premiere was just shipped to the William Morris address.

I had thought it would be fun to work background on your film. I was working on Eagle Eye when the first call came. The second call was for that prison planet sequence. I do not look the part and did not make the cut. Being at the premiere made up for that disappointment. We hope you will do the sequel.

Ian B
May 7, 2009 5:26 pm

#24 I’m a huge Shatner fan, but I don’t want a sequel weighed down by shoehorning him in. This new Trekverse now needs to get on with storytelling in its own way. I have all of TOS and 7 movies to watch Shatner’s Kirk in. That character died on Veridian III or wherever it was. Nimoy has handed the story over to a new cast with a great performance. I hope the new creative team let that be that. This is new Trek for a new generation of fans, not just indulgence of us oldies, just as TNG had many fans who neither watched nor liked TOS.

Commodore Redshirt
May 7, 2009 5:26 pm

JJ…THANKS!
I’m glad you have used your energy to re-energize Trek!

KPC
May 7, 2009 5:30 pm

Have my tickets for tommorrow, I am taking my Dad as well, we have been watching Star Trek for 25 years. As much as I would have liked to see Shatner in the movie, I am glad that JJ did, for the reasons he explained in his interview, not have Shatner in it. As long as the Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the team, and capture what was done before with their character, I will watch evey movie on Star Trek the JJ does.

Thanks, Anthony for your website, and interview, I have not posted much in 2 years, but have visted every day at least three times a day. I would say that your site and this movie, has gotten me excited again about Star Trek.

ster julie
May 7, 2009 5:35 pm

!6. Absolutely! By not having Kirk Prime in THIS movie doesn’t mean that he can’t be in the sequel!

Bravo! Writing team, make it so!

Brixton
May 7, 2009 5:41 pm

#26 Ian-

Forgive me- a little tongue in cheek , OK? I’ve no illusions that the Shat will be in a sequel, but JJ (you dog) tempting us with the “possibility” is brilliantly devious.

For the record, I’m looking forward to the film immensely.

PS. Mr. Pascale, this site has been and ever shall be a lot of fun. Thank you, much.

Syrneth
May 7, 2009 5:48 pm

15 mine and counting

ALLAN ROSE
May 7, 2009 5:49 pm

Heres a spoiler for you. Shatner will be in the next Trek movie. He is going to play a comedian. A bad one!

John
May 7, 2009 5:49 pm

Anthony,

Christopher Reeve played Superman. I don’t know who Christopher Reed is. You should really fix that. It’s a glaring error in an otherwise enlightening interview.

Stewart
May 7, 2009 5:53 pm

Saw the movie last night here in New Zealand. AWESOME its the best movie ever, I’m 43 so seen a few movies. Just go and see it

Maltz
May 7, 2009 5:59 pm

My wife and I are going to see it in Dublin, CA on IMAX tomorrow at 7:00 PM PDT.

Thanks, Anthony! Thanks, James Cawley! Thanks, JJ Abrams! And thanks, Stanky McFibberich!

It has been a great 3 years waiting for this movie with you all.

RD
May 7, 2009 6:36 pm

I hear he borrowed shamelessly from the Turkish Sci-Fi hit: Turist Ömer Uzay Yolunda – Check it out yourselves:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-Krq2AnROo

Closettrekker
May 7, 2009 6:56 pm

#37—Turkish sci-fi hit? Are you serious?

LMAO!

You’re reaching tonight, RD…

Closettrekker
May 7, 2009 6:58 pm

Funny though.

Erik Parrent
May 7, 2009 7:05 pm

Star Trek II cannot happen fast enough to suit me.

For “Lost” fans:

Bring Hurley over as Harry Mudd?

Richard Alpert or Sayid as Khan?

VOODOO
May 7, 2009 7:15 pm

Just got back from the movie.

No major spoilers, but when the lines “I have been and always shall be your friend” were spoken from one character to another my audience started cheering and a lady next to me started balling her eyes.

J.J. please find a way to get Shatner in part II. Mr. Nimoy added so much to this film.

RD
May 7, 2009 7:37 pm

#39 I wish I could take credit for it. It came from the brilliant Stephen Colbert’s interview with JJ Abrams a couple of days ago. Hard to believe even Turkish producers of the 70s could think they could get away with such blatant copyright infringement.

On a serious note, the worst thing they could do is try to work William Shatner into a second film. It would become a running joke with new audiences: “oh, which “Prime” old fart is going to time travel to the alternate universe in this film?” It is something only hard core fans can appreciate and one of those things people should really try to let go gracefully, like red nacelles.

May 7, 2009 7:39 pm

Hey JJ,

Let me help you do an Assignment: Earth series. If you really are reading.

JD Moores
May 7, 2009 7:43 pm

Just saw it – loved it for all the reasons it ISN’T like the old “Star Trek” so that I can appreciate both in their own rights. Thus, I really hope they don’t try to cram anything like Khan in there. He’s a great character, but not only has he been imitated on TV and film a million times, they’d be tracing the same steps as the original cast, which would run contrary to what I think this franchise’s core intentions are and should be. Unless I’m mistaken, there’s a fan series called “New Voyages” with these characters – I think it’s been rendered a moot point. THESE are the new voyages.

May 7, 2009 7:47 pm

And again Anthony,…congratulations….this has been fun.

Konar
May 7, 2009 8:00 pm

Just got back — so many great things that I will have to go see it again to get everything. So many nods to fans it was almost embarassing (in a good way). Chris Pine is really fantastic, and you will truly believe by the end of the film that he is the shat’s antecedent.

You will be surprised at how funny it is, but never fear — you are always laughing with it. You will also be surprised at how deep zachary quinto’s portrayal goes — and at how different his Spock is while being true to the character.

Couple of things I wish were better but that didn’t subtract from overall enjoyment: there was never a scene where the camera makes love to the enterprise. There could have been a line or two explaining the strange coincidences that led characters to just the right place at the right time.

Interestingly, the non- fans in my group loved the film as much or more than I did! Can’t wait to see it again.

Andrew F.
May 7, 2009 8:23 pm

Just saw it! WOW!!!! Loved every moment! Everything that trek should be and more! Thank you J.J. and Crew for bring trek back! Can’t wait for the next one, two, three or more! Thank you Anthony for keeping us all updated and helping to build the excitement! J.J. needs to stick you on the bridge of the next one!

tom
May 7, 2009 8:31 pm

Anthony saved the biggest spoiler for the last day. I jus t saw the movie and i just don”t agree with leaving the Shat out. Nimoy was aweaome. They need to be together. Sounds like jj will right the wrong in a sequel> but what about Nimoy> we want to see them together. Anyway i still think the character interactions are most appreciated by those familiar with the show. I don’t see this film as being more mainstream. Maybe faster paced bigger effects

yvaine
May 7, 2009 8:43 pm

Anthony – That was an excellent interview. I like that you didn’t ask the generic questions. I’ve been following most of the other media stuff the cast and crew did and it was mostly the same questions in each of the sessions. But I learned something new in each of the interviews you did, so kudos for doing a great job. :) I was (and still am) waiting for your interview with Chris, were you able to sit down with him?

May 7, 2009 9:02 pm

“What was Nero doing for 25 years?”

Not telling his sidekicks the plan.

[- – – MILD Spoiler – – -]

One of the biggest “MST3K” moments in the film, IMO, is when Nero’s hanging out with his boy and they’re off to go do bad-guy stuff, and the sidekick is all like “Yeah, goin’ to get some killin’ in, dude” and then Nero’s “No, actually, like, uh, we’re not going to kill him …”

And at that point, in my head is the voice of sidekick guy going “We’ve been stuck in this dismal heap for TWENTY FIVE YEARS and JUST NOW you’re mentioning the plan??? You DELIBERATELY save your exposition for when there’s a frickin’ camera crew don’t you???”

And yeah, I know I know … cut backstory. But in the movie actually on the screen, that was just boggling.

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