To say that “Star Trek: Into Darkness” is a thematically dark movie may be something of an understatement.
It showcases death, destruction and terrorism on a scale that its predecessors rarely attempted, and it does so with a style and edge completely unique to director J.J. Abrams’ vision.
But with such devastation changing the principles of the Federation (and Starfleet), “Into Darkness” remains a movie about human heart, human ambition and the human drive to always be better … values that can only be termed as “very Roddenberry,” as in franchise creator Gene Roddenberry.
Despite the modernization the franchise has gone through over recent years under Abrams, that vision of humanity is still very much at the core of the series and is what keeps the revitalized franchise in touch with its roots. And, according to actor Simon Pegg, those principles are why the franchise has survived for so long.
That survival is “because of its fundamental ideals,” Pegg, who plays Montgomery Scott in the latest movie, told 1701News in an exclusive interview. “If you think of Roddenberry’s original setup back there in 1966, barely two decades after the end of the second world war, you had a Japanese pilot onboard the Enterprise. You had a Russian officer — and that was at the height of the Cold War, right at the thick of the Cold War — at the height of the civil rights movement you had a black woman in a position of authority as a chief communications officer. The ethnicity of the crew was central to the whole thing and offered a place where they were getting on which each other which at that time was a long, long way away.”
There are many who believe that the cultural mix of the series may have died along with Roddenberry, as the continuing series never quite lived up to the groundbreaking attitudes of the series creator. Take for example the Captain’s chair … a position of power that took almost a decade to reach an African-American leader, and even longer to reach a woman.
“You had a real pioneer in Roddenberry and there was still a way to go,” Pegg explained. “But if you think how difficult that was to get that, and then how late those things came, it’s amazing when you look back and it was 1966. The first interracial kiss was on ‘Star Trek.’ It was a pioneering show in many ways.”
In this outing, the core of the Federation is rocked from the inside with a new terrified Starfleet aggressively arming itself for the future. With Vulcan destroyed at the hands of Nero (Eric Bana) in the 2009 movie, the brass at Starfleet are preparing for the next threat of a planetary scale whilst also keeping a close eye on the Neutral Zone. And, following a devastating attack on futuristic London, the crew of the Enterprise is sent on a top-secret military operation fueled by vengeance … hunt and kill John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch).
The problem? Starfleet is supposed to be a peaceful outfit and this mission could ignite a war with the volatile Klingon Empire.
Longtime fans of the franchise will no doubt recognize many locations (and understand the political significance they will one-day hold in the universe), but Abrams’ vision is not for the existing fans -– it is to tell an entertaining story that both fans and newcomers alike could enjoy.
And at the core of that is Montgomery Scott, a light-hearted character who serves a critical purpose … especially for those uninitiated in Trek-lore.
“I’m happy to play the serious stuff as much as anything but I’m known so much for comedy,” Pegg said. “I don’t necessarily want to be the guy that [when he] turns up, everyone goes, ‘Oh here we go.’ But obviously Scotty is a lighthearted character. Scotty and Bones provide a sort of everyman perspective to what’s going on rather than playing it cool like Kirk does or without emotion like Spock.
“Scotty and Bones tend to react very passionately like we might if we were in these bizarre situations and that is often quite funny. We often cope with stressful situations with humor, it’s a coping device and Scotty’s outlook on life is quite a light hearted one which is really nice. A lot of it was in the script. Alex [Kurtzman], Bob [Orci], Damon [Lindelof] and J.J. know me very well and what I can do and what I can bring to the thing so they kind of tailor stuff to me. The writing’s so good it’s a gift when you get it.”
Likewise, the atmosphere behind the scenes was very light-hearted thanks to Abrams’ “sense of humor and lightness of touch.” However, one thing that the movie is now infamous for is the prank involving sun-cream in a leading fusion reactor.
To give the film its authentic scientific look, part of the movie was shot in a real-life research facility.
“He’ll never forgive me for that,” Pegg said of his co-star Karl Urban.
By the time Urban and co-star John Cho had arrived to the facility, Pegg had created an elaborate joke involving this fusion facility and the need for sunscreen. Or as he calls it, “sun cream.”
“I just made up this story,” Pegg said. “I told Chris Pine in makeup one day that he had to wear sun cream because there is an ambient radiation that gives you a rash. And he believed me, and I was surprised at how quickly he believed me because he’s a smart guy.”
Pegg eventually told Pine he was kidding, but then they started going down the cast list, sharing the same prank, adding to it every time. First Anton Yelchin, then Zoe Saldana, and continuing on through Zachary Quinto and even Cumberbatch.
“And then Karl and John … were the last ones,” Pegg said. “It got more and more sophisticated and more people were in on it. And everyone that fell for it became a part of it. So by the time it got to Cho and Karl, it was so well organized. It was amazing.”
By the time the prank had come to an end, cast members were showing up on-set with dots of sunscreen around their face to ward off the stray beams of fictional radiation.
In reality, the fusion facility is run by a Belgian scientist who Pegg says someday will likely in a Nobel prize at some point for his work there — especially since it could change the geo-political face of the world.
It “is an incredible place, and of course, Star Trek takes place in a post-fusion world,” Pegg said. “The warp core as you see in the film could be the very center of that phase of human existence happening.”
So how does Pegg, an English actor, work on his Scottish accent? Well, he has a lot of inspiration … his father-in-law.
“I’ve got Scottish family, my wife is Scottish,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in Glasgow and I try to channel them. My father-in-law, George, is kind of my inspiration for Scotty a lot of the time. He gave me a book, you know that book ‘The Patter?’ I took it with me to the set. I took two things with me to the set; I took the entire five series of ‘Still Game’ and I took ‘The Patter.'”
American audiences will never have heard of the Glasgow-based sitcom “Still Game,” which features two old-age pensioners who have gone through life together as the best of friends only to see their area decline into one populated by delinquents and criminal. However it is renowned in Scotland for its Glasweigan banter … something that Pegg tried sorely to see incorporated into the script.
“I used to watch ‘Still Game’ in my trailer just to keep it real,” he laughed. “And I tried to get a few things from ‘The Patter’ in but J.J. would always say, ‘What does that mean?’ and I’m like ‘You know, it’s this…’ A lot of what I say is quite important, you know a lot of what Scotty says is information that the audience need to know about the warp core or about whatever so I have to be a little clearer. So as much as J.J. loves that kind of stuff if, it was a moment where everything had to be clear I needed to say it in understandable terms.
“I’m glad I managed to get ‘Hawd oan wee man,’ into a very tense scene which was good.”
“Star Trek: Into Darkness” opens May 16, with sneak previews popping up around North America on May 15.