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Captain Kirk takes aim

It is, says Chris Pine, an absolute joy to play James T. Kirk, captain of the Starship Enterprise and a genuinely iconic character of contemporary pop culture.

Pine first played the bold, brash Kirk in J.J. Abrams’s highly-acclaimed Star Trek in 2009 and was delighted to reprise the role in the eagerly awaited sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, which finds the captain facing a terrifying foe, a terrorist called John Harrison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) who strikes from within Star Fleet.

“I love playing Kirk. I think he’s great fun. He is lustful for life, for experience, adventure, violence and romance. He’s almost poetic in a way and I love him for that. What Kirk has is a tremendous spirit of adventure.”

GOOD VS EVIL

Abrams’s first film was an origins story, reinvigorating the franchise that started with the late Gene Roddenberry’s TV series back in the 1960s, for a new generation. In Star Trek, Abrams and his writing team skilfully wove a story of how a young, ambitious crew assembled on board the Enterprise as they faced a deadly adversary, Nero (played by Eric Bana), who, we discovered, had killed Kirk’s father.

Now, into Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk and his crew face a very different threat with a strong contemporary theme — terrorism. John Harrison is motivated by a need for revenge. It’s personal.

Harrison is a highly intelligent antagonist who wages psychological warfare on Kirk and his crew and causes terrible destruction back on earth.

“Kirk has to face his own demons on this journey. In the first story we established Kirk as a confident, brash young man whose greatest gift was his gut instinct, his heart and his ability to fight with everything he has, not only for himself but for others, for what he believes is right. But all the confidence that he has in the first film is flipped around and Benedict’s character shows all the cracks in his armour that seemed so secure. And very soon Kirk is brought to his knees and faced with his own self-doubt: am I worthy of being a leader?”

CLASSIC AMERICAN VS CLASSIC BRIT

Fast-rising British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, best known for his starring role in the BBC series Sherlock, plays John Harrison and Pine clearly enjoyed working with him.

“J.J., Damon (Lindelof), Bob (Orci) and Alex (Kurtzman) are great at creating timeless stories; they work with archetypes really well and I think that they realise that a great bad guy brings out the worst and best in their hero and hopefully the hero becomes a better person. And our bad guy is a really dynamic, complicated, nuanced character. Benedict’s work is clear, precise, his character is methodical and he brings almost a scalpel-like precision to his voice and his movement and his actions.

“Kirk is a bit messier. There is something of the classic American vs the classic Brit — Kirk is like a cowboy and Harrison is this very measured, controlled weapon. Kirk is impulsive. It’s his curse and his blessing and it’s what necessitates the presence of somebody like Spock (played by Zachary Quinto) in his life to counter the fire he has with Spock’s ice.

“As a character, John Harrison is the perfect antagonist to Kirk; he is a master manipulator. It’s always fun to do the physical scenes and the action scenes. But there’s a real pleasure too, doing a scene where psychological warfare is just as big and dangerous as the explosions themselves.”

He’s impressed, too, with Abrams who, once again, directs a huge production with flair and good humour and, says Pine, sets a positive creative atmosphere that allows his cast to do their very best work. “J.J. is an incredible multitasker. I remember when we shot the volcano scene. We had a huge tunnel on one stage and outside was the volcano and there was a third unit shooting a space jump sequence. And each one had multi-cameras and there were explosions going off, there were two helicopters (with camera crews) and he was popping from one set to the next directing every unit in between making decisions about costumes and goodness knows what else — nothing was out of his range. I’ve never seen anything like that. And he did it all without anxiety, without any dramatics — he just arrived, figured it out and shot it.”

Star Trek Into Darkness was shot using the very latest 3D and IMAX technology. The result, says Pine, is spectacular and enhances the spectacle for its audience. “J.J wasn’t a fan of 3D but he relented and when he did he essentially said, ‘I’m going to make the best 3D I possibly can. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it the best way I know how.’ So all those action sequences were specifically designed to make it as visceral, as immersive as possible. You literally go over the edge of a cliff with these guys. Even at the script stage I remember him saying that he wanted the camera to come down over us and then down around us. I think people will be really taken with how J.J. uses 3D. He was already a lover of technology and I think when he did embrace it, he wanted to push the boundaries with it.”

Captain James T. Kirk

William Shatner: As the captain of the USS Enterprise, Kirk leads his crew as they explore “where no man has gone before”. Shatner was first cast for the second pilot of Star Trek, titled Where No Man Has Gone Before (1966). He went on to play the iconic character in the first six Star Trek films The Motion Picture (1979) to Generations (1994) in which he meets his death.

Chris Pine: After Pine landed the role of Kirk in J. J. Abrams’s first Star Trek direction, he sent Shatner a letter in 2008 and received a reply