J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek movies reinvigorated not just the Star Trek films, but science fiction films as a whole. They brought sci-fi boldly into the mainstream and they operate as purely action films just as much as they do hardcore geek spectacles. These movies were nerdy, geeky, and fun, but also approachable enough to attract newbies and make millions. Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t just the most expensive Star Trek to date, it’s also the most profitable, and for good reason.
The first film was simply named, Star Trek (no numbers, no subtitle), to imply you didn’t need to see the others to enjoy it (but if you were already a fan there was plenty to be excited about). They impressed the masses by introducing a new storyline and a new cast of actors (that actually worked) as a sort of alternate timeline to the originals. They created a prequel/sequel/reboot and most remakes have been trying to replicate that, most unsuccessfully, ever since.
The Star Trek movies managed to sneak in nerdy inside jokes and so many deep geek easter eggs that we thought they deserve to be brought to light. Special care went into making these movies and that needs to be appreciated. These are the coolest facts you may not know about the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films.
Simon Pegg Never Even Auditioned
Simon Pegg didn’t audition for his part – he simply received an email from J.J. Abrams asking if he’d like to play Scotty. Pegg said he would have done it for free, or even paid Abrams to be in the movie if he wasn’t offered a part.
The Original Star Trek Creator’s Wife Played Multiple Roles
Majel Barrett, the wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, is the voice of the Enterprise computer. She was also the computer voice in Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 1993 and Star Trek: Voyager in 1995. She also played Pike’s first officer in Star Trek: The Cage (1986).
She completed her voiceover work from her home, two weeks before her death on December 18, 2008.
The Attention to Detail Is Spot On
For example: the crew on the U.S.S. Kelvin use communicators that were of the same style used on the original series. You can see this when the engineer comes into frame and when Kirk’s wife is contacting him during the evacuation of the Kelvin.
But then after Nero changes the time line and starts the alternate universe the communicators change drastically.
Uhura Is Finally, Officially, Given Her First On-Screen First Name
While most Trekkies will have known this detail for decades, this is the first time that Uhura has been given a first name on screen: Nyota. Gene Roddenberry never came up with a first name for her while Star Trek (1966) was in production. A few years later, someone pointed out to him that Nyota is the Swahili word for star, and the name Nyota Uhura is often used in printed Star Trek literature, including the DC Comics publication “Who’s Who in Star Trek”.
John Cho Was Almost Too Scared to Play Sulu
The Korean-American actor John Cho was initially uncertain about being cast as the Japanese-American officer Hikaru Sulu, but George Takei, who played Sulu in the original Star Trek, encouraged him to take the role, as Sulu was a character who represented all of Asia.
Chris Pine Based Captain James Kirk on a Variety of Classic Film Heroes
To prepare for his role as Captain James Kirk, Chris Pine watched classic episodes and read encyclopedias about the Star Trek (1966) universe. However, his research was rudimentary, as he wanted his performance to be original and not an imitation of William Shatner.
He based his performance on Tom Cruise’s Maverick (Top Gun) and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo (Star Wars: A New Hope) and Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark), heroes who Pine felt possessed the archetypal hero qualities Kirk has (humor, arrogance, decisiveness).
Thor Was Totally Kirk’s Dad
Not many people remember that Kirk’s dad is played by none other than the God of Thunder himself. The first Star Trek marked Chris Hemsworth’s feature film debut.
The First Star Trek Pays Homage to The Jetsons
The sound made by the “motorcycle” that Kirk rides to the shuttle departing to the Star Fleet Academy is the same sound used in The Jetsons for the “cars” they fly.
Zachary Quinto Truly Channeled His Inner Spock
To prepare for his role as Spock, Zachary Quinto grew his hair longer, dyed it, and shaved his eyebrows. He claimed that the change in appearance cemented his performance: “I just felt like a nerd. I felt like I was 12 again, you look back at those pictures and you see the bowl cut. I was sporting that look for a good 4 or 5 years. There’s no question I was born to play Spock.”
Abrams Wanted Cumberbatch to Channel Only the Best Villains
Just as Pine referenced many onscreen heroes for Kirk, Abrams pitched many iconic on-screen villains to Benedict Cumberbatch for his portrayal of Khan. Abrams pitched Khan to him as a combination of The Joker (as portrayed by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight), Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs), and Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson in The Shining).
Shatner Accepted the Scream Award (Despite Being Utterly Uninvolved)
At the Spike TV 2009 Scream Awards, Star Trek won for best movie. William Shatner accepted the award, despite having absolutely nothing to do with the movie. In the acceptance speech, he jokingly accepted it as director of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (widely regarded as the worst Star Trek movie).
Leonard Nimoy Accepted J.J. Abrams’s Script Over Every Other Spock Offer
Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and J.J. Abrams personally visited Leonard Nimoy’s home to request he accept a role in the film. According to Orci, the actor gave off an aloof vibe before being told how important he was to them. He was silent, and Nimoy’s wife, Susan Bay, told the creative team that after their conversation he had remained in his chair, emotionally overwhelmed by his decision to return as Spock after turning down many opportunities to revisit the role.
He decided to act in this film as he was intrigued by the script’s scope and its detailing of the characters’ histories: “We have dealt with Spock being half-human/half-Vulcan, but never with quite the overview that this script has of the character’s entire history, his character growth, his beginnings, and his arrival into the Enterprise crew.”
The Film’s Teaser Trailer Was Personally Directed by J.J. Abrams
The film’s teaser trailer (welders working on the half-built Enterprise starship, with narration from U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock) was personally directed by J.J. Abrams.
Real welders were brought in to film the trailer. The words of Spock and Kennedy were taken from the 1960s (the decade during which Star Trek began) and thus linked past and present, enhancing the film (as well as hinting at the time travel elements). According to Roberto Orci, Kennedy’s words were also chosen as he was the one who started the “space race,” and so would be appropriate for a space film: “If we’re going to have a Federation, it makes sense for Kennedy and his words to be in there.”
Edgar Wright Secretly Directed the Klingons in Star Trek Into Darkness
Edgar Wright, a friend of Simon Pegg, has said that he directed a single shot during the scene featuring the Klingons on Kronos. He was intentionally uncredited.
Apples Are the Cockiest Fruit and References Are Simply Accidents
In the scene where Kirk is taking the Kobayashi Maru test, he is eating an apple, which is also what he is eating while recounting his tale of taking the Kobayashi Maru test in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
But according to Director J.J. Abrams in the commentary for the DVD, this was not intended to be a reference to The Wrath of Khan. He was simply told at one point that lead actors seem cocky eating apples.
Even Benedict Cumberbatch Didn’t Know Which Character He Got
Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was not revealed to the actor until a week after he was cast. A studio representative flew to London from Los Angeles with the script handcuffed to his wrist.
Simon Pegg Inadvertently Bashed Star Trek Before He Was Cast
There is a supposed “odd-numbered movie curse” associated with the Star Trek films in which the odd-numbered films tend to be weak and the even-numbered ones tend to be the stronger installments. This curse was supposedly proved false with the poor reception of film ten, Star Trek: Nemesis. Abrams’s Star Trek (2009) was the eleventh film.
Years before, Simon Pegg’s character in Spaced joked that every odd-numbered Star Trek film being “sh*t” was a fact of life. Pegg noted, “Fate put me in the movie to show me I was talking out of my ass.”
There Is a Great Hidden Red Shirt Joke in Into Darkness
There is an inside joke among Trekkies about Chekov being asked to put on a red shirt by Kirk, and Chekov having a less than enthusiastic reaction. In a famous interview, Walter Koenig stated that being a part of Star Trek all of these years was fantastic, as long as you didn’t wear a red shirt, since most of those who wore the red shirts in the original series were almost always killed.
The Warp Core Used in the Film Is the World’s Largest LASER System
The warp core pictured in the film is actually Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s largest and most energetic laser system. Real-life scientists are attempting to create nuclear fusion. In 2012, with the approval of the Department of Energy, NIF was utilized for the first time as a film set during a normal maintenance cycle for the facility. All additive costs were completely reimbursed by the film company so as to have no impact on NIF’s experimental plan.
Spock’s Mother Isn’t That Much Older than Zachary Quinto in Real Life
Winona Ryder, who plays Spock’s mother, Amanda, is only six years older than Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock, and is 24 years younger than Ben Cross, who plays her husband. Ryder was cast in the role (instead of an actress who was actually old enough to be Quinto’s mother) because the movie originally was to start with a scene of Amanda giving birth to Spock, but that scene was cut.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Audition Was Off-the-Cuff
Benedict Cumberbatch recorded his screen test in his best friend’s kitchen using an iPhone.
He was recommended to J.J. Abrams by his Super 8 co-producer Steven Spielberg, who directed the actor in the film War Horse.
Life Imitating Art Was a Game Changer for the New Star Trek
According to J.J. Abrams, the difficulty of depicting the future in the film had much to do with modern technology. It was inspired by the original Star Trek and made it seem outdated, therefore the production design had to be consistent with the original series, but also feel more advanced than the real world technology developed after it: “We all have the iPhone that does more than the communicator. I feel there’s a certain thing that you can’t really hold onto, which is kind of the kitschy quality. That must go if it’s going to be something that you believe is real.”
Leonard Nimoy Requested Coffee Ice Cream on Set (At All Times)
One of the conditions for Leonard Nimoy to make an appearance as Spock in Into Darkness was for J.J. Abrams to make sure coffee ice cream was available at all times on the set. Leonard Nimoy loved coffee ice cream.
Sadly, Into Darkness was Leonard Nimoy’s final acting role. He passed away on February 27, 2015, at the age of 83.
Cumberbatch Wasn’t Always Khan
Benicio del Toro was in early talks for the role of John Harrison/Khan, but eventually declined due to monetary issues. Demian Bichir, Edgar Ramirez, and Jordi Molla were considered afterwards, before Benedict Cumberbatch was finally cast.
Dermot Mulroney Plays the Cello in the Film’s Orchestra
Dermot Mulroney played cello in the scoring orchestra. Mulroney, who is better-known as an actor (Shameless, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Insidious 3), is also a classical cellist who occasionally plays in recording sessions for soundtracks.
Abrams Honored Minor Subplots and Jokes
For example, Chekov’s temporary posting to Chief Engineer is based on a long-running backstory and fan joke. When he was recognized in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan from a supposed encounter in Star Trek: Space Seed, it was explained Chekov was assigned in security department. During the Space Seed incident, Chekov attempted to seal off engineering (as Walter Koenig had not yet joined the cast). Kirk was so impressed by his bravery, he moved him to bridge navigation.
Then there’s also the “in joke” reference that’s made to Simon Pegg when he is trying to open the bay doors during Kirk and Khan’s boarding attempt. The security guard asks Scotty to “show his other hand.” It is common knowledge to Star Trek fans that James Doohan never revealed both hands in any of the original series because of the loss of one of his fingers while storming the beach during the D-Day invasion.
Acclaimed Author Ray Bradbury Received a Nod in Star Trek Into Darkness
There’s mention of the ship the U.S.S. Bradbury. This is in tribute to science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who passed away in June 2012.
Star Trek Into Darkness Is the Very First Trek Film to Shoot Internationally
2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness marked the first time a Star Trek film has shot outside the United States. They shot some special effects sequences in Iceland.
Simon Pegg Took Scotty’s Scottish Heritage Very Seriously
Simon Pegg described Scotty as a Scottish stereotype, but a positive one (“Scots are the first people to laugh at the fact that they drink and fight a bit”). He has also noted that Scotty comes from a long line of Scotsmen with technical expertise, like John Logie Baird and Alexander Graham Bell.
To perform Scotty’s accent, he was assisted by his wife Maureen Pegg, who is from Glasgow. However, later Pegg said Scotty was from Linlithgow and wanted to bring a more East Coast sound to his accent, so his resulting performance is a mix of both accents that leans towards the West sound. He was also aided by Tommy Gormley, the film’s Glaswegian first assistant director.
Star Trek Into Darkness Makes Connections with Sherlock Holmes and The Hobbit
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for playing the title character on BBC’s Sherlock. Leonard Nimoy played Sherlock Holmes on stage in the 1970s, and even makes reference to this fact in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, citing Holmes’s logic that “when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Star Trek VI cast member Christopher Plummer also played Holmes, and also speaks a trademark line, “The game’s afoot.” Nimoy also recorded a song in the 1970s, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”, inspired by J.R.R. Tolkiens’s The Hobbit. Cumberbatch voices the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, in which his Sherlock cast mate (Watson) Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins.
Zachary Quinto Glued His Fingers Together for the Vulcan Salute
To perfect the Vulcan salute, Zachary Quinto had his fingers glued together by J.J. Abrams. Now that’s what you call commitment.
Abrams Gave the Cast the Sweetest, Most Thoughtful, Wrap Gifts
According to John Cho (Sulu), after filming ended, J.J. Abrams gave the cast small boxes containing little telescopes, which allowed them to read the name of each constellation it was pointed at, “I think he just wanted each of us to look at the stars a little differently.”
Abrams and the Studio Compromised on 3D and IMAX Cameras
Paramount Pictures requested that director, J.J. Abrams make the film in 3D. However, Abrams wanted to shoot it two-dimensionally, on film, using IMAX cameras. The two compromised, making this the first feature film to be shot in IMAX and converted to 3D in post-production.
Mendel’s Love of Lens Flare Prevails
The film was shot in 2.35:1 anamorphic Panavision, which is director of photography Daniel Mindel’s preferred format (he shot J.J. Abrams’s previous film, Mission: Impossible III, in Panavision as well). To take full advantage of the format, Mindel caught as many lens flares as possible (a photographic effect where light sparkles everywhere), to create a sense of wonder that enhanced the film.
“There’s something about these flares, especially in a movie that potentially could be incredibly sterile and overly controlled by CGI, that’s just incredibly unpredictable and gorgeous” Mindel explains. He would create flares by shining a flashlight or pointing a mirror at the camera lens, or using two cameras (and therefore two lighting set-ups) simultaneously.
Chris Pine Wasn’t Always Cast as James T. Kirk
The role of James T. Kirk came down to Mike Vogel and Chris Pine. Vogel (pictured) was reported as being the frontrunner for the part but J.J. Abrams decided to cast Pine in the end. Joshua Jackson also auditioned for the role.