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'Star Trek' Movie Traces Origins of First Characters

A landmark science fiction show that began on American television in the 1960's and became a part of world culture is back on the big screen in a new take on the origins of its well-known characters as they '...boldly go where no one has gone before.' Here's a look at Star Trek.

It began in the turbulent 1960's. With the Vietnam War escalating and the Cold War dividing the planet, the late Gene Roddenberry gave TV audiences a glimpse into the a positive future: a united planet sending the multicultural crew of the Starship Enterprise on a mission '…to seek out new worlds and civilizations.' Leonard Nimoy - Mr. Spock on the original TV series - says the futuristic adventures in space were actually about what was happening back then right here on Earth.

Several other TV series and 10 movies followed, all building on that 1966 original; but director J.J. Abrams, whose work includes the popular TV series Lost and the action movie Mission Impossible III, says this new film goes back to trace the origins of those first Star Trek characters.

"We all realized we wanted to embrace certain tenets of Star Trek and maintain the spirit of the original, but make it relevant for today," Abrams explains. "The most exciting thing was that even though this thing was created almost 50 years ago, the ideas were as relevant today. It didn't take a lot to make it relevant, but we knew that if you're doing Star Trek, do Star Trek. The silhouette of the Enterprise has to be the Enterprise."

Chris Pine plays the rebellious young James T. Kirk (trying to impress beautiful Uhura there in a crowded cantina). William Shatner created Kirk, captain of the Enterprise, and Pine says that showed him what his character would become.

"I started watching the original series pretty feverishly just to acquaint myself with the dynamic between the characters, the aesthetic and all of that; but I found myself, if anything, trying to create the perfect William Shatner impression of doing Captain Kirk. I felt that was not the best move for me and really went against the mandate that [director] J.J. [Abrams] put forth in the beginning of the project, which was to re-imagine these characters and to bring as unique and specific a take on them as our predecessors had done," Pine says.

Star Trek fans know that the highly logical Mr. Spock is from the planet Vulcan where the culture frowns upon displays of emotion. Zachary Quinto plays young Spock and admits it was all new to him.

"I was not a 'trekkie' growing up," says Quinto. "I came of age in the Star Wars generation so I was more enamored of those characters because they were more accessible to me. Star Trek came a little before my time.

Fortunately, he had the perfect resource with Leonard Nimoy in the cast as 'Spock Prime.'

"I had put Star Trek behind me quite comfortably," admits Nimoy. "I had come to terms with the fact that there were whole sets of new people making the Star Trek product; but when these people came along and told me their feelings about Star Trek and specifically the Spock character I felt validated. I felt that they 'got it.' They were on the same page that I was with Star Trek and the character.

There is a rip-roaring adventure plot, which puts the unseasoned new crew of the just-launched Enterprise on a course to save Earth from total annihilation - it is Star Trek after all - but John Cho, who plays helmsman Sulu, says it also preserves a central theme on the bridge of the Enterprise.

"It's a group of people who are of different nationalities and ethnicities and even species who are working towards a common peaceful mission," Cho says. "I think that's a sentiment that is always cool, decade after decade. It seems particularly pertinent today."

Star Trek features Bruce Greenwood as the veteran Captain Pike. Eric Bana is the evil Romulan menace bent on the destruction of Earth. Back onboard the Enterprise, Zoe Saldana plays communications officer Uhura; Anton Yelchin is helmsman Chekov; Simon Pegg plays ship's engineer Scotty; and Karl Urban is chief medical officer 'Bones' McCoy. The screenplay is by director J.J. Abrams' frequent collaborators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman; and the musical score is by Michael Giacchino with strains of the original TV theme by Alexander Courage.