When J.J. Abrams opens his door to the media, he doesn't hold back: On December 10, the director hosted a full-day preview of "Star Trek Into Darkness" at the Bad Robot offices in Santa Monica, where we were treated to makeup, costume and visual FX demonstrations, as well as a sit-down with composer Michael Giacchino and some secret footage which Abrams made us swear not to reveal. Most of the cast was also on hand to chat informally about the much-anticipated sequel to the 2009 reboot, which opens on May 17, 2013.
The night before, we watched the first nine minutes of the film, which introduces the villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch, whom we now know as John Harrison (the nine-minute preview is set to play before IMAX screenings of "The Hobbit" this Friday). The opening of the movie also lands us right back in the action with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and McCoy (Karl Urban) running for their lives as they attempt to save a doomed race from extinction -- a scenario that finds Spock (Zachary Quinto) in a life-or-death mission inside an erupting volcano.
Costume designers showed us the helmeted copper suit that Quinto wears to shield himself from the molten rock, and visual FX artists discussed in detail the cutting-edge CGI that allowed them to create the explosive lake of lava. Later, over cocktails, Quinto pointed out that not everything was make believe. The suit Quinto used weighed around 70 lbs., and he had to wear it for a grueling four days for the volcano scene. There were also live embers being blown at him, some of which unfortunately made their way under the helmet of the costume. Then there was that time his skin was caught in the helmet's closure. Unfortunately, no one could hear him, so he simply had to soldier through.
Pine had his own costume issues with a tight wet suit he wears in one scene, calling the form-fitting outfit "mortifying." He was also embarrassed when a fan at the party told him she'd forced her husband to watch him in "The Princess Diaries 2" -- but not the Lindsay Lohan movie "Just My Luck" -- and he apologized sincerely for both. However, the process works both ways: He told me that several women have admitted to never being a fan of "Star Trek" until their boyfriends dragged them to the 2009 film.
Turning to Cumberbatch's character John Harrison, everyone is speculating whether he will end up being a well-known "Trek" villain like Khan or Kodos. The "Sherlock" actor couldn't comment, of course, except to say that we'd get the character's full history in the film itself. "The great thing about a J.J. Abrams film is that every character has a back story, everyone has more depth to them. It's not just the 3D IMAX wraparound experience, but that you care about all the characters in peril in that landscape," he said.
We also got to speak with makeup artist David Anderson, who gave us some insight into creating Spock’s iconic eyebrows. To achieve the look, Anderson had to shave off half of Quinto's brows, because, thanks to the clarity of IMAX and 3D, simply covering them up would be painfully obvious on the big screen. He also mentioned that halfway into shooting, the 30-minute process of painstakingly applying the brows hair by hair suddenly became longer. He realized that Quinto had been shaving more and more of the brows himself (a claim that Quinto laughingly disputed). Asked whether he penciled in the rest of the brows once he left the set, Quinto replied that no, he didn't bother.
The group also sat down with the film’s composer, Michael Giacchino, who showed us a segment he scored involving Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). He then talked about judging the right moment to introduce the "Star Trek" theme, which coincides with the first reveal of the Enterprise. "Here's the moment where we can kind of let loose [and] state the theme, however, we can't forget musically, that Spock is still in danger, so," even though there's a comic moment with Scotty (Simon Pegg), "we want to keep some tension going on here as well. If you forget that, then you're misleading the audience." So far, Giacchino has only completed the first nine minutes of the film.
As for the Bad Robot offices themselves, they are geek heaven: there are toy robots in just about every corner, classic movie posters from "Halloween" and "Star Wars," and all sorts of sci-fi collectibles, including “Star Trek” bobbleheads, a Rod Serling doll and even a vintage box of "Sun-In" with Nick Nolte.
Another fun tidbit: the entrance to the building doesn't say "Bad Robot." Instead, there’s just a plaque with the message "Are you ready?" stamped on it. It's a question millions of "Star Trek" fans would no doubt answer "Yes" to. Just bring on May 17 already.
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