Transforming a defunct old property into a cool 21st-century event flick may seem like business as usual for Hollywood (e.g., Superman Returns, Batman Begins), but Trek presented Paramount and Abrams with a much heftier challenge: how to make this hunk of retro sci-fi cheese meaningful as mainstream entertainment, as relevant pop, as big business. ''Every studio in town is searching for these kinds of franchises, so it was important for us to reboot,'' says Brad Weston, Paramount's president of production. ''But we needed a clean, fresh take on this thing.''
Enter Abrams, 42, whose knack for mainstream genre fare (see: Alias, Lost, and Mission: Impossible III) has elevated him to visionary status in Hollywood. His Trekker credentials? Nonexistent. ''I don't think people even understand what Star Trek means anymore,'' he says, sitting outside his editing suites at Paramount, sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with a cartoon question mark. Abrams saw the first Star Trek film in 1979 with his father, veteran TV-movie producer Gerald Abrams, at a theater on the Paramount lot. But he feels no warm-fuzzy nostalgia about it. In fact, Abrams can sum up his regard for Trek in two words: Galaxy Quest, the 1999 hit starring Tim Allen that satirized Trek with painful precision. ''It's so ridiculous, so accurate, so sophisticated, it spoils the Star Trek universe,'' he says.
Plus, at heart, Abrams is still more of a Star Wars guy. ''All my smart friends liked Star Trek,'' he says. ''I preferred a more visceral experience.'' Which is exactly why he accepted Paramount's offer in 2005 to develop a new Trek flick; creatively, he was engaged by the possibility of a Star Trek movie ''that grabbed me the way Star Wars did.'' That meant a bigger budget and better special effects than any previous Trek film, plus freedom to reinvent the mythos as needed. ''We have worldwide aspirations and we need to broaden [Trek's] appeal,'' says Weston. ''Doing the half-assed version of this thing wasn't going to work.''
NEXT PAGE: ''I think a movie that shows people of various races working together and surviving hundreds of years from now is not a bad message to put out right now.''