By GEORGE HADLEY-GARCIA
Special to The Japan Times
The new “Star Trek” movie, with its tagline “The Future Begins,” may indeed begin a new phase in the careers of two of its stars, Winona Ryder and Chris Pine.
Pine is a fast-rising actor of 28 with solid stage and screen experience behind him. Playing Captain James T. Kirk, he is stepping into William Shatner’s large shoes â€” large in terms of fan following and Shatner’s notorious ego.
“I could be laughed off the screen or have my career blown seriously off course for this,” says Pine, a son of actors, whose grandmother Anne Gwynne was a noted character actress during Hollywood’s golden age.
Also, this “Star Trek” film, which offers audiences the beginnings of Kirk, Spock and company, will no doubt be compared to another franchise-origins picture that did well with audiences and critics, “The Dark Knight,” about early Batman (it won a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Heath Ledger as The Joker).
Winona Ryder, who made her screen debut in 1986 (in “Lucas”), but has, since 2001, been haunted by the often-jokey shadow of her arrest for shoplifting, is also taking something of a risk. That’s because the former box-office star, who’s in need of a hit, is playing one Amanda Grayson: the mother of Mr. Spock!
“I think the ‘Star Trek’ phenomenon is very interesting, even though I’m not myself a Trekkie,” she admits. “But what grabbed my interest when this was proposed to me is that it’s a whole new concept. This is a rethinking of these characters and the (spaceship) Enterprise. I mean, it’s all new. It’s a fresh start. To me, that shows courage, because they’re not following the tried and true formula, they’re trying to give it new life and reach beyond the usual Trekkie audience.”
“J.J. (Abrams, the film’s director-producer) says it’s a reboot. I just think it’s so cool.”
As for playing a grown man’s mother, Winona says, “I always felt somewhat hampered by my image of being a girl. I haven’t been allowed to be a woman on-screen until fairly recently. Plus these guys â€” Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk â€” they’re kids, they’re young men here. We get to see them develop from sort of teens . . . You know, boys will be boys; well, maybe not my son, he’s a perfect gentleman, but Kirk, he’s a wild guy!”
Indeed, Pine portrays young Kirk as a motorcycle-riding, hell-raising bar brawler who may offend more traditional Trekkies. Shatner rarely showed a violent side, and he and Leonard Nimoy at their youngest in the TV series were older than the actors depicting them here. Pine opines, “It’s not that we’re aiming for a teen audience or abandoning anyone who’s into ‘Star Trek,’ as has long been rumored. It’s that this is, what, the 11th ‘Star Trek’ movie â€” and yet it’s the first one. It literally is the first one. Instead of moving pointlessly into the future and creating new stories and characters; you know, situations that may or may not please the fans â€” all the fans â€” J.J. Abrams chose to take it back, to explain it and let audiences discover all of us in a way they’ve never seen us. Who wouldn’t want to know where these guys came from? What made them who they became? What they were like in their youth? What molded, formed them?
“It’s like we go back to school with them, and then we do move on and have an exciting, action-packed story, with a terrific new villain.
The movie’s scenes at the space academy are said to be somewhat inspired â€” box-office-wise, especially â€” by Hogwarts, the training and stomping ground of Harry Potter. The new villain, reportedly partly inspired by Ricardo Montalban’s memorable turn as Khan (from “The Wrath of Khan”) is named Captain Nero â€” another Roman emperor, like Tiberius, Kirk’s middle name â€” and enacted by Australian Eric Bana (“The Incredible Hulk”).
Pine says, “This movie could be the biggest ‘Star Trek’ because of the curiosity factor alone. No, we don’t have the usual, the famous actors in their famous roles. But you know something? Time does move on and unfortunately audiences sometimes don’t want to see actors in their 70s, say, playing the roles they played at 30 or something.”
Japanese-American George Takei, who created the role of helmsman Sulu on TV and carried him through several movies, is now replaced by Korean-American John Cho, who, however, reveres Takei, a role model to many Americans of East Asian descent, and also to gay people, for Takei, now in his 70s, is openly gay (and has written about his experiences in a forced detention camp for U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II).
At age 78, Leonard Nimoy does return as a version â€” via time travel â€” of Mr. Spock, providing an important (to most Trekkies) thread of continuity for this film installment. Nimoy directed, wrote and/or executive produced various of the “Star Trek” movies. Winona Ryder offers, “Mr. Nimoy (directed) my favorite ‘Star Trek’ movie,” which is “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” which featured the rescue of humpback whales and was financially the most successful film in the franchise.
Ryder, who is involved in animal and other charities, has since her arrest and trial for shoplifting and mutilating store merchandise voluntarily devoted considerable time to service projects. She’s also been seen in roles that seek to establish her as a more mature actress, for instance in, “The Informers,” based on Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, as “an over-the-hill has-been newscaster” â€” according to movie critic Rex Reed.
She says her intellectual parents “instilled in me an interest in the whole wide world and a sort of need to serve, not just to reap the rewards of fame and fortune.”
Pine says of the new “Star Trek,” “It’s a gamble. No question. It could be a huge hit, the start of a whole new young franchise. Or it could flop, major. I don’t think it will. I do think some few people will dislike it, maybe even hate it, and most people will like it, and lots of people will love it!”
Winona Ryder concludes: “This may be the most female-friendly movie in the series. Although,” she semiwhispers, “we’re not supposed to call it a series, and this is the beginning of the story and the personalities. But anyway, my character is part of that. The studio (Paramount) wants to make ‘Star Trek’ more interesting to women, and if they come up with a good female villain in a future movie, I’m willing and I’m able.
“But for now, this is one ‘Star Trek’ movie I think is accessible even to people who’ve never seen the different TV series or any of the movies!”