‘Star Trek’ Boldly Goes to Unlikely Real-Life Locations
Chris Pine filming 'Star Trek Into Darkness' (Photo: Paramount Pictures)
One of the ways J.J. Abrams' reboot of "Star Trek" in 2009 differentiated itself from the previous TV and movie incarnations was its massive scale. Everything in the movie was bigger than we'd seen before: the action, the special effects, and even the interior of the Enterprise itself.
So how did they create the inside of an enormous spaceship? Why, with beer, of course.
For scenes in the engine room of the Enterprise, Abrams wanted a gigantic, open space that looked entirely different from the smaller soundstage sets that had traditionally been used in "Star Trek." So the crew traveled just north of Los Angeles to the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Van Nuys, California, where they produce Budweiser and other labels of beer. The plant has a total floor area of 1.7 million square feet, bigger than any soundstage in the world.
"J.J. wanted the engine room to be impressive, almost like the guts of the Titanic," said Simon Pegg (Scotty in the film) on the "Star Trek" Blu-ray. "The Enterprise is massive; it's a big, big, big ship, so the drive for it has to be a significant piece of engineering." Different sections of the location stood in for a variety of decks on the ship. But since it was a real, working plant, it didn't have all the luxuries of a Hollywood backlot. The area with the giant tanks where Uhura is first stationed was refrigerated to near freezing temperatures, while the powerhouse where Scotty gets stuck inside a water tube was miserably hot and so loud the crew had to wear ear protection.
For this summer's sequel, "Star Trek Into Darkness," the filmmakers went to a new location that was quite a bit more high-tech and in line with the scientific ideals of "Star Trek": the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world's largest laser, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Located about 45 miles outside of San Francisco (which is the future home of Starfleet Command), the NIF has a system of 192 laser beams that are able to generate temperatures of over 100 million degrees to study photon science and the nature of anti-matter (sound familiar, Trekkies?).
The NIF is a classified government facility that doesn't make a habit of letting movies shoot inside, but they made a special exception for "Into Darkness." J.J. Abrams said, "We were there just trying to shoot a movie, but all around us, these innovative scientists are working on technologies that will likely help the whole world." Abrams said he was intrigued not just by the work being done at NIF to develop renewable, clean energy sources, but at the influence "Trek" had on people's lives. He said, "So many people told us Star Trek inspired them to get involved in science."
Of course, much of the interior of the ship still had to be built as sets on stages, but even those were expanded for the sequel. In the first "Star Trek," the different sections like the bridge, transporter room, and medical bay were built separately, and the camera had to cut to go from one to the other. But this time, they were connected to create one seamless ship. “On this film, we really had the full playground,” said Chris Pine, who one again plays Captain Kirk. “We had construction guys working seven days a week, 24 hours a day, just so we could have this totally immersive world to be in."