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Star Trek Voices Play Red Hot Role in Film's Success

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

May 20, 2009

Comments (7)

Some of the Star Trek Cast Members from 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.

Voices in Star Trek

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 as Spock

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.

Chris Pine as James Tiberius Kirk

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 as Chekhov

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.

Simon Pegg as Scotty

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.

Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy

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).

John Cho as Sulu

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.

John Cho's previous voice over work includes an episode of Kim Possible called "Exchange" as Hirotaka and some voice over work on two episodes of Static Shock.

Zoe Saldana as Uhura

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).

Eric Bana as Nero

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.

Some of Bana's previous voice over work includes roles in Mary and Max as Damien, and in Finding Nemo as Anchor.

What Do You Think?

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.

Best wishes,

Stephanie

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.


Related Topics: Accent, Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine, Eric Bana, how to, John Cho, Karl Urban, Los Angeles, Simon Pegg, Star Trek, voices, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana


Comments


    First of all, I think any actor either on the theater or on TV or in the movies is 80% voice, 15% looks and only 5% physical acting. A great voice makes a great actor and that can't be denied. After all, anybody can walk, drive a car and smile. The only exception is for martial arts experts turned actors. In their case their art is physical. But other actors deliver lines. That's their jobs. So their voices are their most important instruments.

    Secondly, talking about Star Trek, I think you forgot the greatest voice in the movie. Bruce Greenwood (Captain Christopher Pike) really delivered an outstanding performance mostly because of his voice and the way he delivers his lines with it.

    Posted by:

      Hi Philippe,

      Thank you very much for your comments and insight! I agree, the voice has a significant amount to do with how a character comes across.

      Also, Bruce Greenwood did have a wonderful voice in the film as well as a great presence as a senior member of the cast. I admired his voice in the previews as well. For the sake of brevity, I had to draw the line somewhere (which is why he is not in this particular article), but want to let you know that I am a fan of his work.

      Thank you for drawing our attention to him! Perhaps an opportunity will come our way to honour him in his own feature in the future.

      Best wishes,

      Stephanie

      Posted by:

        Thanks for explaining the accent change by Simon Pegg! It was the most noticeable difference in the movie for me, but worked very well, because James Doohan's Scottish, while fun, never sounded very authentic to me.

        Speaking as an old Trekkie (before they called us Trekkers), this movie was an absolute delight, with it's respect to the original series vision, fun and thrills. And yes, all the voices were effective and very well done. And props to J. J. Abrams for pulling it all together!

        Posted by:
        • David Sloan
        • May 21, 2009 12:49 AM

          Chris Doohan does voice-overs as well. Actually, he is the voice of Scotty in the new animated version of Star Trek. He's also done a quisnos sub commercial.

          Posted by:
          • Michael
          • May 21, 2009 2:08 AM

            Just saw the film this past weekend with all my guys and even Grandma. Really enjoyed it! We've all been big fans since the very beginning - my husband and I from way back and then all 3 of my sons through all the Star Trek series. It was so well done, and we really appreciated the matches of these new performers to the originals!

            Posted by:

              The first time I ever remembered seeing Karl Urban was in Xena: Warrior Princess, which the entire thing was filmed in New Zealand, I believe. They had excellent voice coaching as both him and Lucy Lawless didn't show any hint their native accents on the show. He played Caesar and the role of Cupid.

              Posted by:
              • Edward Hagihara
              • July 20, 2009 4:10 AM

                As a life long fan of the many Star Trek in carnations, including the JJ Abrams vision. I would like to mention a briefly heard and uncredited voice of the Vulcan Student Girl who was in the "education pod" at the Vulcan Academy.

                The young lady on camera was voiced over by (then 12 year old) Alexis Serrano who also appeared on camera behind the bullies who were tormenting young Spock.

                Alexis is an American and was booked for background only but they had her read the part and used her voice over for the establishing shot and as another girl spoke. Alexis has since recorded voice overs for The LA Zoo, The New York Museum of Science, Microsoft and others.

                I am a big fan of Alexis because she is a terrific young talent and because she is my daughter.

                Posted by:
                • Robert Leach
                • December 24, 2010 3:12 PM

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