"The audience is any moviegoer," says the director JJ Abrams. "People who want to go on an adventure." He's talking about Star Trek into Darkness, his much-anticipated sequel to his 2009 cinematic reboot of the classic Gene Roddenberry television sci-fi series. If this sounds like he's casting his net wide, it should be noted that the 46-year-old boyish New Yorker knows a thing or two about franchises. Before he took on Star Trek, he delivered MI:3 - one of the best entries in the Mission: Impossible film series.
Yet Star Trek is a different beast, with numerous spin-off shows, 10 movies and generations of rabid fans. If Abrams admits he was never a major Star Trek nut, his writers certainly are. Damon Lindelof, Abrams's co-creator of the TV show Lost and a scribe on Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus, remembers when he first heard about a mooted reboot. "My heart started racing and my palms got all sweaty," he grins. "I knew it was something special."
He wasn't the only one. "For me, Star Trek is why I wanted to be a writer, why I wanted to be in this business," says the co-writer Roberto Orci, who first worked with Abrams on the TV show Alias. "The rest of the franchises can go and die as far as I'm concerned." Strong words - particularly for one who has just written the forthcoming The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - but that's the level of feeling evoked by Star Trek. "I think we all feel that the spirit of Roddenberry is with us," he adds.
Even so, with a four-year gap between films, Abrams was cautious about going back for a second journey on the Starship Enterprise with Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and the others. "Sequels often make the mistake in assuming that you care and that you know that world and the characters," he says. Fortunately, Into Darkness bucks that trend - as the crew are forced to confront a new villain in the shape of agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who wages a campaign of terror against Starfleet.
The character of Kirk
According to Chris Pine, who returns as Kirk, this provided his character with a new stage of his development. "The first film was about a rebellious young man whose strengths were flouting orders. We see in the second film that all that self-assuredness, he believes is very selfless and the mark of a good leader. But it's a selfish way to go about business. His journey is one towards humility and Benedict's character, John Harrison, is the one who is able to break him down to the point of not knowing if he's good enough to do anything."
While Pine has recently completed work on another franchise reboot, playing the lead in Jack Ryan - the CIA analyst played in the past by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck - he clearly holds Star Trek dear to his heart. "I love playing Jim Kirk because there's not a lot of second guessing that goes with Jim. If he's going to cry, he cries. If he's going to race after someone, he does it, full steam ahead. I appreciate his impulsiveness."
An elementary choice
To play Kirk's nemesis Harrison, it was Lindelof who first suggested to Abrams the idea of casting Cumberbatch after he saw him in the BBC show Sherlock. "I watched Sherlock and my jaw hit the floor," says Abrams. "I couldn't believe this guy." Soon to be seen as the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Cumberbatch is well aware of his screen image. "I'm sometimes perceived as being cerebral rather than corporeal." Yet he resolved to turn Harrison into a fighting machine. "It was very important to me that he had an incredibly strong physical presence." Every day, Cumberbatch ate 4,000 calories and exercised for two hours - going "up four suit sizes at one point" - to help turn Harrison into a "one-man weapon of mass destruction". But it's not just about that, he says. "I also wanted him to appear to be more human than his strengths and abilities necessarily would distinguish him as being. I wanted him to be a part of the human race and have that emotional intensity as well as a physical presence, so there wasn't anything abnormal about him to the eye, but in action he was extraordinary."
To boldly go
With the return of numerous stars from the first film - Simon Pegg as Scotty, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as McCoy and Zoe Saldana as Uhura - there's even room for the addition of a new crew member, Dr Carol Marcus (Alice Eve). Their humanity and humour is what gives the film its lifeblood. "In a way, the title - Star Trek into Darkness - may be misleading," Abrams notes. "It seems like this is going to turn it into something grim. But there is no darkness without light."
Even the threat of Harrison's terrorism campaign is not meant to be a political metaphor for any current real-life situation.
While Abrams is now leaping onto another major-league franchise - directing Star Wars: Episode VII - he hasn't ruled about the possibility of a third Star Trek film. "There have been no formal discussions," he says. "But I could certainly imagine it." And with his imagination, why not?
Star Trek into Darkness is out in UAE cinemas from May 16.
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