Working on a Star Trek film means having to deal with the baggage that comes with a long-term franchise.
Production Designer Scott Chambliss had to balance telling a good story with not angering the long-term fans. “Every project I get to take on is a grad school thesis course,” he said. “I can jump into something and learn everything I can about what it is and what is going on. And it changes, obviously, because it is a job to tell a visual story dramatically and articulately. So, in that respect, that was super-exciting.”
“The drawback is the baggage that this story brings with it, because it is kind of like a religion for some people, at the most extreme. And at the least extreme, it has avid fans who cherish every detail of what has come before. Striking a balance between telling a dramatic visual story and not f–king with the canon in a way that disturbs the people that really cherish it, was the daunting bit and that required a lot of assistance from people who really knew the history of the story, like John Eaves.”
J. J. Abrams and Chambliss wanted to make the starships recognizable to old school fans, yet have an updated “fresh” USS Enterprise that would appeal to both old and new. “That is how J.J. [Abrams] and I wanted to start the movie, with ‘Oh look it is a Star Trek space ship!’ and make it really recognizable,” explained Chambliss. “Supe it up and make it more lavish, because we had more money, but honor what has come before and make it familiar in a way that old fans would like. But that was also a dramatic ploy on our part, because in doing so, we wanted to create the highest contrast possible for the Enterprise. Because how do you make the Enterprise feel fresh and new, if it looks exactly like something we have seen for the last forty years. The Kelvin was the contrast we did to hopefully make the Enterprise feel cool and new.”
Some things, like the ships, worked out well, other things did not, such as the “Budweiser” engineering set, which drew fan complaint. “Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” said Chambliss. “I have nothing to say to that.”
But Chambliss understood the devotion of Star Trek fans and could accept the occasional criticism. “It is one of the things I was originally afraid of, but then came to appreciate,” he said. “People who have loved this story, and all the series and movies for so many years…the passion they have for it and the knowledge, and what they want it to be, is really sweet. Although it is not a religion and not a cult, but it is something that that specific audience so passionately cares about. And how many of those things are there in the entertainment biz?”