JJ Abrams: Star Trek 2009 Was “Dream Project” + Plus Talks Alternate v Prime Timelines

In a new podcast interview, Star Trek producer/director JJ Abrams talks about why he took on the Trek project and how his views on the franchise changed during the process. JJ also dove into the thorny issue of the alternative timeline and what it means for the original "prime" timeline of Star Trek lore. See excerpts below.

 

JJ Abrams on Star Trek becoming ‘dream project’

Star Trek producer/director JJ Abrams was the guest on this Nerdist podcast. Abrams and host Chris Hardwick covered a lot of topics from Lost to Abrams love of The Twilight Zone. There was also some talk about Star Trek. JJ didn’t get into the sequel, but did talk about his experiences with the first film.  

Abrams on taking on Star Trek and growing to appreciate the original series:

I was never really a fan. I never really got it. Most of my friends who loved it were, without question, smarter than I was. I couldn’t get it. It felt stilted. It is ironic because a lot tone and techniques and some of the writers were from the Twilight Zone. When you watch it there is that same kind of melodramatic vibe. You think that someone who loved the Twilight Zone as much as I did would find a kinship to [Star Trek], but I couldn’t do it. I enjoyed the movies and the early films, but I never really looked forward to them. So when I was mixing Mission: Impossible: III…I was asked if I was interested in producing a Star Trek movie. When I said yes – I had never thought of it – but what occurred to me was that there was a version of it that I could see getting interested in. I couldn’t tell you what it was, but I knew that if Star Trek were done in a certain way – with an approach that let me in more. I was being given the opportunity to attempt what I wished had existed as a kid trying to get into it, which is an emotional way in. It wasn’t about the Enterprise or Starfleet or the Prime Directive or any of that stuff, but was completely emotional. If that had existed, I would have probably found a way in. Maybe I had seen the wrong episodes, maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind as a kid. I have since watched them and actually have come to really appreciate the show.

…on why he directed Star Trek.

The reason I wanted to direct [Star Trek], was because I thought "when in the world ever am I going to get a chance to do a space movie…that’s cool." And I loved the script that Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob [Orci] wrote. I thought "there is a version of this movie that is surprising intimate and emotional and about these two men who are displaced and kind of orphans in a way and they find a family." And I thought that is kind of a cool story. It happens to be called "Star Trek" and it happens to be Kirk and Spock, but it’s cool. The whole experience was kind of bizarre – working on something that I never thought in a million years I would be working on and doing it with people I would love to work with in any capacity. Getting to things that as a kid filmmaker cliché you want to do – spaceships and planets exploding. Stuff you could only dream of doing. It became a dream project.


JJ Abrams directing the 2009 "Star Trek" movie – says it became a "dream project"

Abrams on his connection to Star Trek II/Star Trek VI director Nicolas Meyer:

The weirdest thing was that as a kid my parents knew Nick Meyer, who directed the best one – Wrath of Khan. And at my bar mitzvah, Nick Meyer came and I remember he came over for dinner. I used to make radio shows as a kid and Nick came to my room and did the show with me and he was the sweetest guy and I still have the annotated Sherlock Holmes book he gave me as a kid. Years later he directed a Star Trek movie and so did I. It is strange to see that movie and have this kind of sense "oh god, that was that guy." The connection to me for Star Trek was always through appreciating that my friends loved it and knowing someone who had been involved in it, but never thinking of being involved in it.

Abrams on the alternate timeline.

The notion that when this one character arrived – Nero – that basically the timeline is altered at that moment. So everything forward is essentially an alternative timeline. That is not to say that everything that happened in the original series doesn’t exist. I think as a fan the movies and shows, if someone told me that as a beloved thing for me was gone, I would be upset. But we didn’t do that.  We are not saying that what happened in that original series wasn’t good, true, valid, righteous and real. We are not rejecting that. That to me would have been a big mistake. We are simply saying that from this moment in the opening scene of the movie, that everything people knew of Star Trek splits off into another timeline.


Abrams says that Narada only split Star Trek’s timelines – didn’t erase anything

You can listen to the full podcast at nerdist.com.

 

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MikeTen
December 22, 2011 8:30 pm

Now if only Mr. Abrams will give us a real engine room I will be happy.

J_randomuser
December 22, 2011 8:32 pm

Truth be told, JJ probably has the best mindset towards this Trek. I know there are fans out there who scream bloody murder (…still) over this new take on the Trek franchise, but in the end this was a needed step to keep Start Trek from becoming an obsolete relic (see “Lost in Space” ).

I for one am totally stoked for anything these guys do at this point. Speaking as a fan for the last 24 years, nothing makes me happier then to have Kirk and Spock back on the screen instead of another half-baked, tepid TNG movie.

As the Shat said in STIII: “Young minds, fresh ideas”.

And no, my grandmother does NOT have wheels… nor is she a wagon.

Tony Todd's Tears
December 22, 2011 8:33 pm

J.J. didn’t like star trek? I’m going to cry… My dishonor as a Klingon is Complete.

December 22, 2011 8:38 pm

J.J. Abram says, ” We are simply saying that from this moment in the opening scene of the movie, that everything people knew of Star Trek splits off into another timeline.”

Um, J.J. not another timeline but another universe, a parallel universe or as Uhura would say, “alternate reality.” Yeah, I had to read Bob Orci’s interview in December of 2008 to get that time travel was being treated differently from “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

December 22, 2011 8:47 pm

J.J. Abrams says above that he may not have seen the right episodes. Okay, J..J. Since Bob Orci lurks around here, please show J.J. the following TOS episodes.

10. The Enterprise Incident.

9. The Menagerie.

8. Mirror, Mirror.

7. Arena.

6. Balance of Terror.

5. Amok Time.

4. The Doomsday Machine.

3. Journey to Babel.

2. The Trouble with Tribbles.

1. The City on the Edge of Forever.

There are more, so if J.J. wants to talk to me, I’m happy to suggest more. :-) :-) . And I haven’t included TNG shows. By the way, this fall I finished seasons three and four of Enterprise. It was great. So even Trekkers don’t see all of Trek. And J.J. and Bob, Fringe is smart science fiction. Love John Noble.

John from Cincinnati
December 22, 2011 8:50 pm

5.

They will have opportunities going forward to make it crystal clear if they choose so.

jrandomuser
December 22, 2011 8:58 pm

6.

No “Space Seed”?

December 22, 2011 9:11 pm

@ 8

Forgive me but Space Seed was not one of my favorites. I’m not saying it’s bad. Though Wrath of Khan was fantastic.

December 22, 2011 9:12 pm

5. “That being said, I think they could have made that clearer in the film.”

Well, if they had made it clearer, much of the frenzied debate about it on your site would not have occurred, and fans would not have had the same occasion to think it through on their own.

I actually like it that they weren’t clearer. I liked the surprise of having to exercise to “get” it.

December 22, 2011 9:14 pm

@ 5

Not doing a better job of exposition is not confined to Star Trek 2009. I loved “Source Code” but I can see how a person can get confused while watching that film. If it weren’t for Star Trek 2009, and my research into parallel universes, i might have accused that movie of not making any sense. But once a character said the source code was about quantum mechanics, I got it. Unfortunately, that’s all they did to explain how the source code worked.

J.C. England
December 22, 2011 9:22 pm

I did not think (upon hearing that Abrams was
going to direct Trek ’09) it was going to be any good
at all. Upon seeing it – it became somewhat
obvious that it was it was just what Paramount
and CBS needed to keep Trek alive…IMHO… and
my favorite of them all.

Red Dead Ryan
December 22, 2011 9:26 pm

It has never bothered me that the “alternate timeline” idea wasn’t absolutely specific. I understood what it meant the first time I saw the movie.

As for J.J Abrams, I get the sense that he’s still not a fan of the actual TOS series as a whole, just more a fan of the characters. And as a director, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He can see the strengths (and flaws) of the characters with more objectivity than most hardcore fans. He has also brought some new ideas to the franchise without worrying about whether the new sets should match the TOS sets.

Bob and Alex are the resident Trekkies, so J.J Abrams doesn’t need to be an expert, and so his “outsider” status as a director comes in handy without clashing with the writers. Its a perfect situation, I think.

Ivory
December 22, 2011 9:26 pm

#6

In my humble opinion “The Trouble with Tribbles” is the most overrated episode in the history of ST. I would substitute Space Seed.

December 22, 2011 9:57 pm

@ 14

RDR, it’s great you got it when Uhura said “altenate reality” once. You obviously have knowledge of parallel universes. But if I may do my McCoy, here, ” I’m a blogger not a physicist”, there were many Trekkers who used the old time travel theories that came out of “The City on the Edge of Forever.” See TrekMovie story where Anthony asked Trekkers if the got the parallel universe aspect and he found that a number of them did not get it.

Some Trekkers did not get the parallel universe aspect of Star Trek 2009.
http://trekmovie.com/2010/08/21/video-trekmovie-star-trek-fan-panel-at-trek-las-vegas-con/

moauvian waoul - aka: seymour hiney
December 22, 2011 9:57 pm

Perhaps JJ can recapture a bit of that Twilight Zone vibe in this next installment. I miss that.

December 22, 2011 10:02 pm

@ 15

What we like is obviously subjective. You may say “The Trouble With Tribbles’ is overrated. Okay. But it’s considered a classic. So much so, that DS9 did a whole show based upon that episode. “Trials and Tribble-ations.” (1996) By the way, when CBS put out the DVD with best of TOS, “The Trouble with Tribbles” was on it.

Red Dead Ryan
December 22, 2011 10:06 pm

The trouble with “The Trouble With Tribbles” is that some people find tribbles very troublesome, and thus, develop quibbles with tribbles!

CoolPT
December 22, 2011 10:08 pm

Just put the time line back together and lets see how things play out as they did here now. Star Wars is 33 years old now, imagine if they remade those first 3 movies how great they would be now. Just set things right and tell the tales that all fans want.

Daoud
December 22, 2011 10:11 pm

Well, then just put the whole kit and kaboodle in the Klingon engine room, where they’ll be no tribble at all!

OtterVomit
December 22, 2011 10:17 pm

“Most of my friends who loved it were, without question, smarter than I was.”

“I was asked if I was interested in producing a Star Trek movie. When I said yes – I had never thought of it – but what occurred to me was that there was a version of it that I could see getting interested in.”

“Getting to things that as a kid filmmaker cliché you want to do – spaceships and planets exploding.”

What a narrative. Speaks volumes.

Odkin
December 22, 2011 10:31 pm

Space Seed was honestly not a great episode. For the propsed Abrams viewing list I’d add “Miri” or maybe “Charlie X”.

Keachick - rose pinenut
December 22, 2011 10:44 pm

“Most of my friends who loved it were, without question, smarter than I was.”

Could this be JJ Abrams complementing not only his friends but long time Star Trek fans in general as well?

Vultan
December 22, 2011 11:02 pm

#5

Let’s not get pedantic here?
Yeah, that’s like going to Vegas and saying “let’s not gamble here!”

:D

DeShonn Steinblatt
December 22, 2011 11:11 pm

Star Trek should be about people standing around talking about bits of canon, which in turn, are based on previous bits of canon.

Only then can we truly lay Star Trek to rest.

Phil
December 22, 2011 11:34 pm

Every single Trek engine room is fake. The current version is fine.

Now that would be interesting – create a “Twilight Zone” type story in the Trek universe. That has possibilities….

December 22, 2011 11:37 pm

A couple of years after its release, I find myself thinking less and less about the 2009 film. I loved it when it came out but my enthusiasm has waned. Part of this shift is because it is an alternate version– disposable, inconsequential in terms of continuity. If anything, it plays like the old Marvel Comics “What If?” series. I’m happy to see Abrams is back for the sequel but if they could find a way to make this series more vital in relation to the established Trek universe then this timeline would become more engaging.

Phil
December 22, 2011 11:41 pm

@ 6. Someone show JJ Spocks Brain and space hippies….please…

December 22, 2011 11:52 pm

“The notion that when this one character arrived – Nero – that basically the timeline is altered at that moment. So everything forward is essentially an alternative timeline.”

Great precedent for this in Trek:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52KFUdU1jaQ&t=0m19s until about 22 seconds or so.
Enterprise C arrives, reality changes.

In Trek ’09; Narada arrives, reality changes. The whole film (and the upcoming sequel, etc) can then be placed in that bubble. They just changed the execution slightly.

Buzz Cagney
December 23, 2011 12:04 am

I also find it strange that JJ never got the emotional aspect of Trek. Its very clearly there. Never mind, he get’s it now.

Bart
December 23, 2011 12:07 am

@13

Now you’re making a big mistake here Anthony!

“I agree that movies dont need to explain everything. Nick Meyer is a big fan of not doing too much exposition as well. He would say “why does Khan wear one glove?…you figure it out” And lets face it, the Onion parody of Trek fans was right in how we wanted more long boring scenes sitting around a conference table. Past Trek has kind of tought us that everything has to be explained. When you look at other franchises, that is not the case. How do ships move in Star Wars? Again, who cares?”

This is exactly one big difference between Star Trek and Star Wars is that people DO care about these things. There have been Technical Manuals, Blueprints, science of star trek, Stephen Hawking gueststarring… Many people became scientist because of this. We want to know how warp drive works.

If Star Trek loses this, it loses a big deal of what makes Star Trek unique!

I'm Dead Jim!
December 23, 2011 12:11 am

I have no problem with this alternate Trek timeline, just would like to see more of it more often!

Admiral Grand
December 23, 2011 12:15 am

You guys make me proud to be a Trekkie. Who else would have a detailed discussion over what constitutes an alternate/parallel/universe/timeline, all while ranking each episode of TOS for its emotional and philosophical weight with intelligent facts to back up ones point and still have cajones enough to point and laugh at the Twilight fans for being nerds :) Live Long and Prosper folks!

Jason S.
December 23, 2011 12:32 am
Part of me wants to just let this rest. I hate JJ’s “Trek Wars” and feel that REAL “Star Trek” is dead. But how many times can you rehash the same argument before it’s time to move on? Live keep going after all and we do have 40ish years worth of the real thing to enjoy forever. On the other hand, I love a good debate. So I’ll share a few specific things I wish Paramount had done and that they might yet do (but know they won’t!). Going really far back, I wish the studio had let DS9 go it alone after TNG had gone off the air and not “milked the money cow” as much as they did. The studio killed “Star Trek” and they just keep doing it. But regardless of that, I wish they had let “Enterprise” go one more year and been told from the start that this was it instead of finding out just about at the last minute, that season four was it so they had no real time to end it right. I wish that Brent Spiner had be allowed to do his “Justice League of Star Trek” film before someone like JJ came in to do a 2009 style film. One of the big complaints I’ve heard folks say about “Nemesis” and the death of Data was that the fans didn’t have time to grieve. But you know what? The studio never gave original “Trek” timeline fans time to grieve over… Read more »
Spock/Uhura Fan
December 23, 2011 12:33 am

@#33 I’m dead Jim

I agree. :-)

Harry Ballz
December 23, 2011 12:34 am

34.

I consider that to be a grand statement!

Bart
December 23, 2011 12:46 am

@ 13 Therefore it is do useless to compare Star Trek to Star Wars because it is something DIFFERENT. In a tv series it is possible to explsin all those details.

Star Trek is science fiction (think 2001), Star Wars is a modern fairytale set in space. And yes, in a fairytale you don’t have to explain everything.

We want Star TREK, not Star WARS!

December 23, 2011 12:48 am

@35
“So far as the film itself, I have a really hard time with the idea that visitors from the future changed the past and created a new time line. BS that the Kelvin was ever part of the Prime Timeline, or at least what we saw on film. Nothing about that ship or it’s crew felt like the Prime Universe for the time period they were in.”

As I posted earlier, but you were probably too busy typing (j/k!):
“The notion that when this one character arrived – Nero – that basically the timeline is altered at that moment. So everything forward is essentially an alternative timeline.”

Great precedent for this in Trek:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52KFUdU1jaQ&t=0m19s until about 22 seconds or so.
Enterprise C arrives, reality changes.

In Trek ‘09; Narada arrives, reality changes. The whole film (and the upcoming sequel, etc) can then be placed in that bubble. They just changed the execution slightly.

MJ
December 23, 2011 1:15 am

If it was such a dream project, then why is the guy so aloof with the fans? It’s like JJ is George Bush, and Orci is Dick Cheney down in the White House bunker doing all the real stuff, and taking all the flak as well.

Peter Jackson — now there is a guy who knows how to run a franchise!

Captain_Irving
December 23, 2011 2:51 am
I feel there are plenty of references to different parallel times in trek(Beatlejwol ref, and what about episode when Worf visited several various parallel timelines) which makes it plausible for the new trek timeline. Basically I’ll take a tree diagram to show the way it works. There is one main time line that runs straight through. Then a different choice or idea or circumstance creates a new branch just like in Worf’s episode. Also a Voyager episode shows what happens when a ship comes into the past speeding and changing our present thus creating a new branch at that point in time. One more example is the Enterprise series changing the prime timeline by having xindi attack that wasn’t supposed to happen. So now we have a new time line where this happened. The end result is we have so many timelines in forms of branches tiny or long depending on what cause and effect happened. Heck in some timeline I the titanic didn’t sink(supernatural series ref). I could go on and on but it shows that there can be many timelines we can explore in the trek universe without destroying the prime timeline. It’s a win win scenario. Our main prime timeline is safe and Data is alive according to the comics using the prime timeline yet we can explore jj’s timeline and have fun and enjoy the ride. Hopefully down the road the powers that be will reopen the prime timeline and have new adventures in it too.… Read more »
CmdrR
December 23, 2011 3:15 am

Make it clearer about parrallel universeseses??

Kirk whines about a daddy he wishes loved him.
Spock drones on about timelines.

It was clear. Just because the old guard (including me) wishes JJ hadn’t gone this route doesn’t mean it’s not clear.

Of course, JJ, you realize that by stressing this now… you open the door to the possibility of some Pine-on-Shat Kirking in the sequel.

Hmmmmmmm????

NCC-73515
December 23, 2011 3:40 am

Those who don’t get it should simply watch TNG’s “Parallels” ;)
Concerning top TOS episodes, “Devil in the Dark” is one of the most important ones!

captain_neill
December 23, 2011 3:58 am

No matter what happens the prime universe will always remain the true Trek universe as it is the one I grew up loving.

42

Agreed, Abrams and Orci need to be clearer that the new movie was a parallel universe as the dialogue conflicted on this intention, no wonder some fans felt otherwise. I accepted it as a parallel universe simply because I refused to accept Abrams taking away the universe I grew up loving to make his more mainstreamed vision.

Stil a cool movie and I look forward to Star Trek XII but I stil feel sad that the Trek I loved has gone.

Rob
December 23, 2011 3:59 am

@35 Jason S-

Where can I find information about Brent Spiner’s proposed “Justice League of Star Trek” project? This is the first I’ve heard of it. Does the premise mean that it would feature the “heavy hitters” of the 24th century, or would it feature characters from all eras?

(Additionally, I’m curious just who Brent Spiner would have picked to be in his “heavy hitters” movie. I suspect Tim “Safe Negro” Russ would have been pretty high on the list?)

Personally, I’d rather see a “Godfather II”of Star Trek”, split across three generations (Archer, Sulu, Picard) and starring Whoppi Goldberg as Guinan, but that’s just me…

Sounds as interesting as any of the other films that starred Data (i.e. Generations-Nemesis)…

Anthony Thompson
December 23, 2011 4:00 am

40. MJ

I’m sure Bob will be *thrilled* to be compared to Cheney! ; )

abc
December 23, 2011 4:17 am

Personally, I would have preferred if they had started over with a true reboot that allowed them to break with established canon and get over the idiosyncrasies that trying to sticky tape the continuity together brings. A Battlestar Galactica approach to reimagining TOS could probably work on TV or in film, more Star Trek in the 90s style would just be tired. The new film was solidly entertaining, but it really felt a lot like a generic hero’s arc that could come from any of the big franchises these days.

Also, wasn’t the original vision of Star Trek meant to be a vision of a future for our world? That doesn’t really make sense when it is parallel to an existing canon that was meant to be a vision of our future rather than being a new vision in the same spirit which stands on its own.

Rob
December 23, 2011 4:19 am

Okay, a little research reveals that Spiner and John Logan (!) had come up with an idea for a film that would utilize “All the great villains of Star Trek, from Khan to Shinzon (!)” and would have Picard traveling back in time (cough-three months back in time…) to pick up Data before he is destroyed, and then further back to pick up Spock and Archer, possibly others…

I suppose the obvious appeal to this concept is that it suggests some killer Data/B-4/Arik Soong splitscreen comedy!

newman
December 23, 2011 4:44 am

The interview explains a lot.

Escpecially why JJ created such an INSIGNIFICANT movie with sooo many cliches. He never really got Star Trek. That’s why.
And ST2009 never was THAT emotional. Never made me cry.

ST2009 was very short-living. It was great in the movie, but the more time passed the less impact did it have. Good movies get better the more time passes, bad movies just have impact during the realease.
2013 non-Trekkies (which were the target-audience) will not even remember that there was a ST2009. It was a summer-blockbuster among many. Didn’t create new long-time fans. Because it was trivial. Not SMART enough!

Cervantes
December 23, 2011 4:52 am
@ #16 Basement Blogger – thanks for linking to that ‘conference’ article, as it was one I’d missed for some reason at the time. …anyway, here’s a very relevant answer that I came across in the comments on it… #7. Holo J – August 21, 2010 said “Surely all parallel universes are just realities where the timeline has been altered somehow from the Prime timeline? So this alternative timeline the movie has created is indeed now a parallel universe, no?” …which then got this response… #22 boborci – 21, 2010 replied “Yes.” Here’s my own take on this – Depending on your point of view, the ‘parallel universe’ seen in the movie (that only comes into being at the point that NERO gets involved) is either an EQUALLY relevant TREK ‘universe’ to the ‘Prime’ TREK ‘universe’ which it’s ‘splintered off’ from at this point…or it’s NOT as relevant to you as a viewer – just as #28 Adam Cohen suggests in his post. It’s pretty obvious these days that J.J. Abrams didn’t ‘get’ a lot of what made the TOS series such a hit with a lot of us, and was more of a fan of the NEXT GEN series sensibilities, which were very different in a lot of ways. Also, he wanted to do something more akin to STAR WARS – style dynamics for his movie, when it came to a lot of his designs and effects. Therefore an ‘alternate timeline’/or ‘parallel universe’ construct devised by the writers suited… Read more »
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