[4 May 2009]
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
Faran Tahir was just a boy when it happened, but he distinctly remembers that his younger brother was born on a Thursday.
“My big fear was that he would be born on Thursday,” Tahir, now 46, recalls with a laugh. “That’s when ‘Star Trek’ was on. Naturally, Mom went into labor on Thursday. So then my hope was that he’d be born at 4 so I could be home to watch Star Trek at 8. But he was born at 6:30, so I ran into mom’s hospital room and said ‘Yup. Got a brother. Can we go home now?’”
Karl Urban, 36, experienced that same devotion half a world away in New Zealand, “watching the show, religiously, on Saturday mornings. The science fiction was great, but this eclectic collection of people who had to learn to work together in the face of common adversity is what drew me in.”
It’s not surprising that the same elements of compelling, action-packed stories, indelible characters and a future of tolerance and human cooperation appealed to a Pakistani-American and a New Zealander, says filmmaker J.J. Abrams. As he sets out to revive the Star Trek franchise and “boldly go” ethos with “Star Trek,” a new film prequel (opening Friday) to the TV series that begat the movie series that has dominated the science fiction universe since 1966, he’s had to give some thought to why “Star Trek” endures.
“The idea that the future is one of cooperation across cultural, ethnic and religious lines, that we will survive and thrive by working together, is a powerful and cool idea,” Abrams says.
“You realize that however big or small our differences might be now, we can find ways to co-exist.”
Abrams emphasizes that with the opening moments of his film. The first recognizable face to pop on the screen isn’t a “Star Trek” regular, but a Starship captain named Robau, played by an actor best known for playing terrorists in everything from “Sleeper Cell” to “Iron Man.”
“A Middle Eastern-South Asian starship captain?” Tahir marvels. “The blogs have gone crazy!”
Indeed they have. Early notices on Web sites such as Ain’t it Cool News have been ecstatic. The fan universe has been abuzz ever since Abrams, the man with the magic sci-fi touch (ABC’s “Lost” is his series, he wrote “Armageddon” and produced “Cloverfield”) announced he would follow his blockbuster “Mission: Impossible III” by reviving the Trek franchise, seemingly DOA after six different series and 10 movies, the last of which (“Nemesis” in 2002) bombed. Actor fans of “Trek” such as Urban and Tahir lined up to be in the cast (Tyler Perry, too - he plays an admiral).
“To me, ‘Star Trek’ was an interesting science fiction TV show that I never got into,” Abrams confesses.
But he hastens to flatter those who were, the Trekkies and Trekkers who may make or break his movie. “I had friends, often smarter kids than I was, who loved the show. I just couldn’t get on board. My obsession was ‘Twilight Zone.’”
But the director saw reviving “Trek” as “an opportunity to do something that felt like one of those action movies I loved when I was a kid - a thrilling story, great characters, great characters, great emotion.”
Abrams had to navigate the treacherous waters of the well-established “Star Trek” history and character biographies and come up with a plot device “that would allow us the freedom to tell the story we wanted to tell.” And along the way, Abrams became a fan.
“I’m late to the party, but I finally get what my friends got out of it,” he says with a chuckle. “The optimism in ‘Star Trek’ endures. We may be called Pollyannaish or naive, but there’s a wonder and a sense of adventure to ‘Star Trek’ fans. ‘To boldly go where no one has gone before.’ It’s a cliche, but it’s about curiosity and hope, too. That’s what the ‘Star Trek’ universe is all about.”