By Stephanie Ciccarelli
May 20, 2009
Star Trek is known for a number of things, but have you ever considered "Voice" to be a strong point for the franchise?
In this article, we're going to look very closely at how voice has been used in Star Trek, specifically at how J.J. Abram's film uses voice, and also reflect on how voices from previous series have figured prominently in the shaping of today's crew.
Something that I've noticed lately, and we'll get into this more in a future article, is just how important the casting of someone with a great voice is in addition to their ability to perform and their physical attributes.
Want an example? Just listen to some of the spectacular voice talent cast for the newest Star Trek movie.
The actors chosen for the film had great voices in addition to delivering formidable interpretations of their characters.
In particular, I'd like to highlight vocal performances by Zachary Quinto (Spock), Chris Pine (James T. Kirk), Anton Yelchin (Chekhov), Simon Pegg (Scotty), Karl Urban ("Bones" McCoy), John Cho (Sulu), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), and Eric Bana (Nero).
Zachary Quinto (b. 1977), is as many have noticed, the breakout story on this film. Well known for his work as Sylar on the television series "Heroes", Quinto may now be better known the world over for his role as Spock in the new Star Trek movie and its sequels to come. In addition to an uncanny resemblance to Leonard Nimoy, Quinto's voice shares many qualities with Nimoy's such as its warm depth, ability to soothe and versatility. As a result of being cast in the show "24" as Adam Kaufman (acting in 23 episodes during 2003-2004), he has also recorded voice over work in the video game of the same name. Zachary Quinto has also been on Robot Chicken in the episode "Bionic Cow" (2008) voicing Sylar.
Quinto's most notable voice over work to date is the narration of the Star Trek movie novel adaptation written by Alan Dean Foster, based on Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman's screenplay, an 8.5 hour long, unabridged Star Trek audiobook released by Simon & Schuster. This narration includes parts of the story that were not shown in the movie. You can listen to a sample of the audiobook by clicking the link two sentences before this one.
When Chris Pine (b. 1980) was announced as the new Captain Kirk, I think a lot of people were holding their breath to see if he could measure up to the legendary performances of Canadian-born actor, William Shatner. It wasn't until I saw several, if not a dozen, different clips promoting the film that it became clear that Pine was up for the challenge complete with charisma, spirit, a satisfying interpretation and fantastic vocal delivery in a comedic style reminiscent of The Shat. I'm not sure if Chris Pine had to manipulate his voice much for this role, as it's the first film I've seen him in, but his efforts in that realm were appreciated.
To date, credited voice over work performed by Chris Pine includes Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey as Dave. Interestingly enough, William Shatner has also signed on to voice a character named Core on this project!
Anton Yelchin (b. 1989), was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia and emigrated to America with his parents at the age of 6 months. Yelchin had an interesting time interpreting the original accent performed by his Chekhov predecessor, Walter Koenig. Imagine having to pronounce all those words with W's instead of V's, for instance, words such as "vessels" would become "wessels", "very strange" becomes "wery strange", and "Vulcan" becomes "Wulcan".... you get the idea! Having a pleasant voice already, the challenge for Yelchin was to deliver a flawless linguistic performance and he executed quite nicely.
While we're on the accent and dialect train, I happened to read an article in the May 2009 issue of the magazine "Famous" called "Space Cadets" by Jim Slotek. Slotek discovered that Simon Pegg (b. 1970) had befriended the late James Doohan's (original Scotty) son Chris and chose to slightly shift his character Scotty's accent from Aberdeen to Glaswegian. Pegg shared, "Half of my family is Scottish and my wife's Scottish. I had some leeway, and I made Scotty's accent Northwestern Scottish - just above Glasgow, but pretty Glaswegian."
Simon Pegg has recorded a number of voice overs, most recently The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn as Inspector Thompson (post-production for release in 2010) and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (post-production for release in 2009) as Buck.
There was no denying that Karl Urban (b. 1972) embodied more than just the physical presentiments of his forerunner in the original Star Trek as "Bones" McCoy... he also sounded amazingly like the original Bones, DeForest Kelley! A challenge for him, having such a deep respect and love for Kelley's work, was to find the spirit and essence of the character and funnel it through what his interpretation of a younger version of that character would be, considering it a gift as an actor to receive a character (Bones in particular) with such polarity between what he says and does.
If you were to hear Urban speak naturally, he has a New Zealand accent as he was brought up in Wellington, NZ and now lives in Auckland. He is also a close friend of actor Viggo Mortensen, a co-star in Lord of the Rings. I think the real beauty of this performance, aside from the obvious voice match, was the American accent Karl Urban was able to perform convincingly throughout the film and his interpretation of classic lines like "I'm a doctor, not a (fill in the blank)!"
While most of Urban's work is on-camera, he has done some voice over as well, namely in the video game The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (2004) as Eomer and some uncredited voice over work in a first shooter fighting sequence in the video game Doom (2005).
Jumping into the role of Hikaru Sulu, first played by George Takei, actor John Cho (b. 1972) was born in Seoul, South Korea and was raised in Los Angeles. In the same interview as before, Cho revealed, "I was nervous about stepping into his shoes, but in his typically magnanimous fashion he said, 'In a couple of years, people are going to call me the older version of you.'" That's not bad when you take into account the vast array of credits Takei has, including a body of voice over work.
Zoe Saldana (b. 1978), one of the lone females in the film, did a superb job donning the role of Uhura. In a video interview I watched of her, Saldana related that the character was a favorite growing up and brought her own interpretation to the role. While there is no documented voice over work in Zoe's resume that I could find, I thought it would still be nice to give her a mention in this article.
Before Star Trek, one of her notable roles in film was Anamaria in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).
Last but not least, wasn't this an incredible performance! Eric Bana really knows how to play the bad guy and his role as Nero was sterling. The role of Nero, a Romulan, required him to look quite different, with a shaved head, tattooing, and so forth, but something that I noticed even more than his physical presence was his voice. What a voice! Before he even took shape, he had that voice, ominous, gravelly and robust. It's the kind of voice that when used in the right way can give you the shivers. Bana did a wonderful job using his vocal mastery and on-camera experience to project a sinister, warlord type bent on destroying the Federation.
I'm interested to hear your thoughts. If you're reading this on the blog, comment below. If you are reading this in your email, click here to get to the blog and comment online.
P.S. Although I would loved to have included more characters and actors in this article, I had to draw the line somewhere! An honourable mention for Canadian-born actor Bruce Greenwood, who played Captain Christopher Pike, is in order. His voice was splendid in the trailers when used and gave a warm, authoritative presence to the film in a fatherly way.
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