May 14 2013 07:09 PM

Shaun of Shaun of the Dead' explains what it means to be on the Starship Enterprise

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Simon Pegg is not James Doohan.

The summer movie season has barely arrived and already the multiplexes are stuffed with big-budget sequels. Get used to it—it's going to be like this for the next three months. Star Trek Into Darkness is the latest movie to warp its way into the fray, and it's got big shoes to fill. Not only does it need to live up to the Star Trek legacy and satisfy the franchise's supremely dedicated fans; it also has to stand up to Star Trek, J.J. Abrams' terrifically entertaining 2009 reboot. 

Abrams' Star Trek successfully straddled a fine line between being respectful of the past and brashly speeding into the future, reintroducing us to the Star Trek universe by creating an alternate Star Trek universe, complete with new versions of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban) and the rest. The movie managed to reinvent both the proverbial wheel and the Starship Enterprise. 

"It's completely rejuvenating, while leaving all the doors open," Simon Pegg tells CityBeat. Pegg, maybe best known for Shaun of the Dead, plays Scotty, the ship's engineer, and his role has been expanded to include a couple of serious action sequences. 

"These films aren't prequels. There is no future that's been played out in this universe yet," Pegg says. "The other Star Trek universe, which started in 1966, that's already happened. And that's safe. We proved that in the first film. That's all intact, so we're in a have-our-cake-and-eat-it scenario. We can use the same characters, but anything can happen."

In many ways, anything does happen in Into Darkness. Another piece of Trek history is introduced in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch (I won't explain his role—find spoilers online), and at least one character dies. The challenge is making another film that appeals to fans of the entire franchise—folks who first came aboard in 2009, as well as people who've never taken a trek. Pegg says that's where the writers come in. 

"The whole thing is surrounded by people who aren't hacks," he says. "They want to give it some depth and also invite new people in." 

Abrams wisely brought along the same writers from the 2009 film and added Damon Lindleoff, the brain behind Lost and Prometheus, projects that, even when they weren't successful, were still clever. 

Though the new film has contemporary themes, such as false-flag conspiracies and drone strikes, in many ways it feels less like a vital part of the Trek canon and more like a huge summer film that needs to make sure the myriad supporting players—like Pegg, John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov) and Zoe Saldana (Uhura)—get screen time. These are all talented, attractive people, but let's remember: Chekov didn't have a lot to do in every episode of the original Star Trek. At the same time, Pegg says, it's those original episodes that make what he and his other shipmates do so tricky. Much of the audience is familiar with these characters—but they also still think of other actors in those roles.

"It's a delicate balancing act, but at the same time, it's not Shakespeare," he says. "Scotty exists in the other universe, and I am the ultimate version of him. But that involves channeling the spirit of the character, trying to think about the choices that James [Doohan, the original Scotty] made as the progenitor of the character, and go along with that, but, at the same time, make him mine. 

"But I'm not playing James Doohan; I'm playing Scotty, and I tried to approach it like he, or any other actor, would have approached it, to look on the page and say, 'OK, he's a Scottish engineer, he works in space, he's fiercely intelligent, he's very principled and he's a bit stubborn." It's unusual, though, obviously, because you also have to be aware that it exists elsewhere."

Write to anders@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. You can follow Anders on Twitter at @anderswright.

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