The filmmaker JJ Abrams seemed to have achieved the impossible when his reboot of one of the most popular sci-fi series ever, Star Trek, beamed into cinemas in 2009. As well as being adored by the franchise's notoriously exacting fans, it also managed to attract moviegoers who might once have been embarrassed to buy a ticket for a Star Trek movie.
But despite the film's critical and commercial success, progress on its inevitable follow-up seemed to be moving at less than warp speed and the sequel's anticipated release date was eventually pushed back an entire year, to May 2013.
In recent days, however, details of the USS Enterprise's next voyage have begun to emerge, as the cameras finally started rolling on the as-yet-untitled adventure. As well as Abrams returning to the director's chair, Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty) and the rest of 2009's fresh-faced crew are officially back on board.
Causing the greatest excitement was the news that the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch has joined the cast in a role that is expected to be that of the film's chief villain. The casting decision is a departure from the last Trek outing, which saw A-list Hollywood star Eric Bana drafted in to play baddie Nero. By contrast, Cumberbatch's best-known turn has been as the lead in the BBC TV series Sherlock, although he also makes an appearance in Steven Spielberg's latest film War Horse.
The actor was particularly cagey when asked about his involvement in the blockbuster franchise while addressing the Television Critics Association in the US over a satellite link from London: "There's a lawyer standing here saying that I can't say anything. I'm very, very excited, but obviously I'm not here to talk about that. I will, in the future, I'm sure. I'm just getting my head around the fact that it's happened. If you'll forgive me, I'll pass on that. But, my headline is that I'm over the moon."
Unconfirmed reports have suggested that Cumberbatch could play superhuman megalomaniac Khan, who was the antagonist in the 1982 movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The mysterious role was first offered to Puerto Rican star Benicio Del Toro (The Usual Suspects) who turned it down in December. The original Khan was portrayed by another Latin American actor, Mexico's Ricardo Montalban.
After the successful rebooting of Star Trek in 2009 with a young cast in the iconic 1960s roles, it had long been rumoured that future outings would revisit some of the best-loved adventures in the saga's more than 40-year history. With Wrath of Khan considered by many fans to be the quintessential Trek movie, it would be of little surprise if screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and Roberto Orci mined parts of the story for the forthcoming film.
"I think the job of the first movie was just to establish [Star Trek] again," Abrams told the entertainment website Collider. "I don't want to give anything away, but I would say that the burden we had in the first movie was just existing at all. With this movie, instead of having to stand on the shoulders of the original series, we built a little bit of a platform for us, with the last movie, to tell this story."
Unlike the 2009 film, which featured a cameo from long-time Spock actor Leonard Nimoy, Abrams has confirmed that the sequel will not contain any original cast-members. A number of actors new to the series have been announced, however, including Noel Clarke (Doctor Who), Peter Weller (RoboCop) and Nazneen Contractor (24).
The director has also announced that the movie will appear in cinemas in 3D. Rather than filming in digital 3D, it will be converted in post-production - a controversial technique that has drawn criticism when used in films such as 2010's Clash of the Titans. But opponents of 3D should not fear, Abrams says, because a 2D print of the movie will also be made available.
"I did not fight for the 3D. It was something that the studio wanted to do, and I didn't want to do it," he said. "And then, when I saw the first movie converted in sections, I thought that it actually looked really cool. So, I was OK with their doing it."
Star Trek was created in 1966 by the former Los Angeles police officer Gene Roddenberry and the original series starring William Shatner as James T Kirk ran for three years. Four spin-off shows followed as well as 10 big-screen outings, prior to Abrams's reboot. The final TV series, Enterprise, left the airwaves in 2005.