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Exclusive: LeVar Burton Talks Geordi, VISOR, Nemesis, JJ Abrams, the future of TNG, and more

In part 1 of our exclusive interview with TNG’s Levar Burton, we focused on his new acting, directing and blogging projects. In part 2 (below), it is all Star Trek, with LeVar’s thoughts on Geordi LaForge, the last Trek movie (Nemesis), JJ Abrams new Star Trek movie, his hopes for a future TNG movie, and more.  

 

TrekMovie.com LeVar Burton Feb 2009 Interview (Part 2)

TrekMovie.com: In our recent interview with Jonathan Frakes, he talked about how Star Trek stays with you and is intertwined with his life, and he said that he and Michael Dorn were just talking about a couple of weeks ago. Do you feel that way as well, or with all of your other big projects like Roots and Reading Rainbow and directing, is Trek just one of many things you have done?

LeVar Burton: Star Trek will always be a big part of my life. You read in my blog that I was a huge fan of The Original Series. I love being a part of this universe. I love being a part of this history.

TrekMovie.com: Looking back on your time with Trek, what are you most proud of, of the work you did?

LeVar Burton: I think all the directing, on all of the shows, directing on our show, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise. I think I am most proud of the directing. That and in terms of the acting, I am most proud that Geordi takes himself the least seriously. I think Geordi is the loosest of the family, and I am proud of that.


Burton directing episode of "Deep Space Nine"

TrekMovie.com: How do you feel about the arc that Geordi went through in the series, and into the movies. Were you satisfied with his arc or were there angles they never tapped into?

LeVar Burton: Oh, there were so much that was left on the table, it is not even funny.

TrekMovie.com: What are the top things left on the table?

LeVar Burton: The VISOR was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing for the storytelling because it spoke to the technology of the 24th century, but it was a real curse because we never used it. We never saw what Geordi sees. 

TrekMovie.com: We saw a little bit in Generations, when the Klingons took over his VISOR.

LeVar Burton: I guess, but Geordi seeing is like our hearing. You can be in a room full of sound and isolate certain frequencies or certain tones or tonalities, yet you are hearing it all simultaneously. And that is the way Geordi sees, he sees all the electromagnetic spectrum simultaneously, but whenever we depicted what we saw, once in the series and once in a movie, we were only looking at a specific band of information. We never saw what he sees. Geordi sees sound, and he sees it along with the whole other range of the spectrum. It was such a huge storytelling device that was never used.

TrekMovie.com: I know some Star Trek actors — Bob Picardo tells me he did this all the time — would go to the writers and pitch ideas for their characters. Is that something you did?

LeVar Burton: No, they didn’t listen. Rick Berman didn’t want any input from us. That is the truth.


Burton feels Geordi’s VISOR was under-utilized

TrekMovie.com: As a fan of The Original Series, looking back at how it went from TV to the movies and how that was perceived, and looking at how Next Generation transitioned to movies, do you thing that TNG never met its full potential in feature films?

LeVar Burton: Yeah, I think if one were able to turn back the hands of time and have the ability to make different choices, the whole thing could have been done differently, and I dare say, better. If I had a magic wand to wave I would go back to the end of the seventh season and I would do what it took to create an eighth season and maybe a ninth season. It was the seventh season when we were nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Drama. We were doing the best work of the run when we were taken off the air. We were taken off the air because the powers that be at Paramount didn’t believe that the audience would go see the Next Gen cast in movies if we were still on TV. What we now know is that we could have sustained both simultaneously, at least for another year or so. I would also have pulled the plug on the over-proliferation of Trek, and never would have launched Enterprise when they did. I would have shut it down after Voyager and let it rest for a while, in forced retirement.

TrekMovie.com: So not do Nemesis either, or do it differently?

LeVar Burton: Do it differently.

TrekMovie.com: How so?

LeVar Burton: Different director.

TrekMovie.com: Anyone in mind?

LeVar Burton: Jonathan Frakes is a pretty good director.

TrekMovie.com: In our interview he did say that he thought he could have saved that one.

LeVar Burton: I think he could have too.

TrekMovie.com: It is hard for people to understand, [Nemesis screenwriter] John Logan is a great screenwriter and Academy Award winner, how did that happen?

LeVar Burton: It boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

TrekMovie.com: So you think it is as simple as flipping from [Stuart] Baird to Frakes and you get a totally different result.

LeVar Burton: Yes, absolutely. Anyone would know more about Trek than Stuart Baird.

TrekMovie.com: Well [Wrath of Khan director] Nick Meyer didn’t know anything about Star Trek…

LeVar Burton: Nicholas Meyer is an adept storyteller. Stuart Baird was an editor.

TrekMovie.com: How would this ‘betterness’ manifested itself?

LeVar Burton: I have no idea.

TrekMovie.com: You are a director, what if you had the chair?

LeVar Burton: Nah. I just think the whole shebang was lacking in a vision that was appreciative of the field of play. Mr. Baird didn’t get Star Trek and Mr. Baird didn’t appreciate Star Trek, unlike JJ Abrams who is excited to get his hands on the franchise. He is a smart man.


Burton as Geordi La Forge in "Nemesis" – feels it had the wrong director

TrekMovie.com: So did you have a chance to see the trailers for the new Star Trek movie?

LeVar Burton: I was intrigued by the first trailer and the second trailer looked pretty good too. I am going to see the movie. I love Star Trek.

TrekMovie.com: As a long-time fan, do you get concerned over things that are different?

LeVar Burton: What do you mean?

TrekMovie.com: Some fans are concerned about canon and continuity or things looking different, that kind of thing.

LeVar Burton: No. [laughs] I am not a nitpicker.

TrekMovie.com: Last year you created some buzz when you told Star Trek Magazine, that if JJ’s movie is successful, that it could some how lead to another Next Generation film. I am trying to follow how that would happen.

LeVar Burton: Well here is what I believe to be true. If there is any chance of us doing another movie, it will only be as a result of the success of JJ’s movie. I did not mean to infer that one would lead to another.

TrekMovie.com: Don’t you think that if this one is successful Paramount would want to do another like it, with the same team? Or are you envisioning where some of the Next Gen people get wrapped in with Pine, Quinto and the new gang?

LeVar Burton: No. In being an observer of corporate behavior over the years, if this one is successful, then sooner or later Paramount is going to start looking around for where else the can make some money.

TrekMovie.com: So you think they might do multiple movies, like JJ Trek and Next Gen Trek?

LeVar Burton: What is to say that JJ wouldn’t do a Next Gen movie?…I believe — and I know the rest of the cast does as well — we believe we have unfinished business, and we would like one more shot to go out well. And this is the franchise that brought Kirk back to life how many times? And Spock a couple times as well. And anything is possible, isn’t it?


Burton looking forward to new "Star Trek" – thinks success may lead to return of TNG

To keep up with the latest from LeVar Burton, check out his blog at LeVarBurton.com (where he also does ‘audioblogs’), and you can also ‘follow’ him on Twitter @levarburton.

Sort by:   newest | oldest
Christian
February 17, 2009 11:02 pm

Levar seems to be a little angry…..but he speaks the truth. However, I have serious doubt on the future of TNG films. Even though I’d love to see it. Straight to DVD maybe?

luke montgomery
February 17, 2009 11:02 pm

no next gen movies please…let’s move on.

TOG
February 17, 2009 11:08 pm

I think TNG is done even with the success of the next movie…

February 17, 2009 11:08 pm

the audioblog is definitely worth the listen indeed.

THX-1138
February 17, 2009 11:09 pm

#2

Let’s move on? By going back to TOS? I like the idea of the new movie, but that seems like a silly thing to say. I say make a GREAT TNG film. Have a TOP FLIGHT director who get’s it. Do it right. Stop hating on Next Gen just because TOS is fashionable. It wasn’t cool to do it to TOS when Next Gen was all the rage. I personally would love to see some cool story arc between the two, Next Gen and TOS, that featured a few movies between them culminating with a fantastic story bringing Kirk back or preventing his death on Veridian III. It’s something one can imagine and that’s what’s great about Trek.

It let’s you use your imagination.

Ensign RedShirt
February 17, 2009 11:13 pm

I thought it was unfortunate the way TNG ended too, but I agree that their day in the sun has passed. What a squandered opportunity. 1 good film out of 4.

Devon
February 17, 2009 11:15 pm

Levar did seem a bit “blunt” but I very much appreciate that, and he seems to be very cordial most of the time so I’m sure he wasn’t trying to be rude or anything.

Darth Ballz
February 17, 2009 11:17 pm

Next Gen is that little red button that pops out when the turkey is done, it was great but its over…….

Darth “Kunta Ballz” Ballz

nephron
February 17, 2009 11:19 pm

#5

MORE time-travel stuff? Again? Still? Really?

Naaah….it looks like they might have a good thing going with this new cast. It’d be cooler if they ran with it instead of Next Gen.

Putting Next Gen in with the new cast would mean YET ANOTHER time-travel story, and it’s not Time Trek, it’s Star Trek. This means that Next Gen is probably over and done with, which is just as well. Those guys are all getting waaaay old anyway.

The Governator
February 17, 2009 11:27 pm

I hate to say it, but as much as i would like to see the Next Gen crew back in some form or another, I think they are pretty much done for good. Paramount has, IMO, completely shut it down. When they canceled Enterprise and when Nemesis failed, it was the big goodbye for the old crew altogether. Either this new Star Trek succeeds and we get more of it, or it doesn’t, and Star Trek is over forever. Period.

GaryS
February 17, 2009 11:28 pm

When he said “anyone knows Trek better then Baird”
i thought THANK YOU!
I would have LOVED the job!
So ,
What are your visions of Nemesis?
How would all of you do it?

King Of All Blacks
February 17, 2009 11:30 pm

LeVar seems a bit pissed off at Rick Berman and also pissed off about the way TNG handled his character.

the next TNG (if there even is one) movie should be focused on the Geordi LaForge adventures.

they could also do direct-to-tv/dvd movies that continue the TNG/DS9/VOY stories.

that’s a potentially profitable market that TREK hasn’t (to my knowledge) tapped into.

King Of All Blacks
February 17, 2009 11:37 pm

I’m very curious if the TREK veterans like LeVar, Marina, etc. are having a rough time finding work in Hollyweird.

they’re always insisting that more! TNG movies need to happen.

I hope they’re doing alright in their current professions.

Tim Lade
February 17, 2009 11:38 pm

Actually, Generations did not demonstrate how Geordi’s vision worked. It broadcast back in normal spectrum.

If you want to see examples of how he saw than view the first season episode “Heart of Glory” where it is broadcast back in VISOR spectrum or the “The Mind’s Eye” in which again we can view what is being seen through the VISOR albeit with Romulan programming included.

February 17, 2009 11:40 pm

The more I read, the more it seems like a Frakes directed TNG movie would be a big hit with the cast and crew, and likely that would translate into at least a decent movie for us the audience.

Which of course just makes it all the more frustrating that Nemesis was such a hunk of junk.

Ensign RedShirt
February 17, 2009 11:40 pm

Judging by how Paramount has handled Trek in the past, I think the only filmed Trek we’ll see is with the new cast. Remember, when TNG and the spinoffs became all the rage TOS was tucked into a corner, only to be revived for home video and licensing purposes. I suspect that’s the eventual fate of TNG.

February 17, 2009 11:42 pm

I would go see new TNG stuff. I liked that series. It was so well written. Bette than Voyager, me thinks.

Ensign RedShirt
February 17, 2009 11:44 pm

#13-

I suspect you are correct. LeVar seems to get directing gigs, but Sirtis and Dorn seem to work sporadically. You don’t hear much out of Stewart or Spiner pining for a new film. They both got paid quite well and have moved on to other things.

ryan
February 17, 2009 11:48 pm

A NextGen movie with all of the main characters is most likely out of the question because Paramount is more keen on a follow-up to the upcoming film if it is a hit. Perhaps a T.V miniseries or straight to dvd release featuring Geordi LaForge as captain of his own ship and/or a Starship Titan is a possibility. I believe there are enough people who are fans of TNG to make it happen. But the major hurdles would be finding a director and a few writers who are qualified and respect the characters and their backstories.

DrNebuloso
February 17, 2009 11:51 pm

TNG needs a good send off. The OS had Undiscovered Country, which I still feel is one of the best Trek Movies.

TNG just needed to get back to good character and story development.

They deserve a good send off, I feel robbed we didn’t get it.

Sean4000
February 17, 2009 11:53 pm

This proves that FX CANNOT hold a movie on their own. I loved Nemesis’s battle scenese and digital FX work, loved them to death. Digital Domain’s work was fabulous and The Scimitar is my favorite alien vessel out of 40+ years of Trek. However, when i to tried to take the story seriously for one second, my brain shorted out because there was simply no compelling plot in Nemesis. None at all, whatsoever.

Would have loved to see what Frakes could have done to salvage it.

February 17, 2009 11:54 pm

13. King of all black
“they could also do direct-to-tv/dvd movies that continue the TNG/DS9/VOY stories. That’s a potentially profitable market that TREK hasn’t (to my knowledge) tapped into.”

Potentially yes, but mind the bulk of filmsets, props, uniforms, and stuff like that was either destroyed or sold out. Hoever would like to make the movies, would have to make all of this from scratch. That’s awful lot of money to invest for direct-to-DVD movies…

Duane
February 17, 2009 11:55 pm

Another TNG movie? I would absolutely go see it. For that matter, they could release a new ST movie every month and I would see each one at least twice.

Mr. Golksom
February 17, 2009 11:55 pm

What we should get is a 47 part TNG era mini series

February 18, 2009 12:11 am

#23 me too!

Stanky McFibberich
February 18, 2009 12:12 am

“And this is the franchise that brought Kirk back to life how many times? And Spock a couple times as well.”

Well, I think Spock was brought back to life once.

Dan
February 18, 2009 12:16 am

I want another TNG movie, NOWWWWW!!!!

cinemadeus
February 18, 2009 12:36 am

If you wanna get the farewell-TNG-movie done, you have to revise the script, give it a little more depth / dimension and remake NEMESIS with David Fincher directing. If not me myself… ;-)

mike
February 18, 2009 12:38 am

LeVar is the man

Kirk's Toupée
February 18, 2009 12:51 am

I like LeVar’s attitude, he has one………..

February 18, 2009 12:51 am

Live Long & Prosper, LeVar! (And damn right, you’re Kunta!)

ety3
February 18, 2009 1:17 am

“Best storytelling” in season seven?

No.

I’m thinking they got the Emmy nod that year because they were going off the air and they had some good years before, so why not recognize them while you can.

Olley Olley Olley
February 18, 2009 1:17 am

#5
“Stop hating on Next Gen just because TOS is fashionable. It wasn’t cool to do it to TOS when Next Gen was all the rage”

The TOS movies were being produced during this time, as a matter of fact it was the success ST 1, 2 amd 3 that lead to the birth of TNG so to bite the hand that fed you would have not only been unwise, but stupid.

The only person who hated TOS during this time was Rick Berman.

Relentless
February 18, 2009 1:22 am

LeVar tells it like it is. I like that, especially when he talked about the poor job that Berman, Baird, and Logan did. However, there is a point I like to make here about us never seeing what Geordi saw through the visor. In the first season episode “Heart of Glory”, we can actually see “through the visor” on the bridge view screen when Geordi activates a transmitter he and Data built. I felt it was pretty clear how he saw through the visor in that episode.

4 8 15 16 23 42
February 18, 2009 1:28 am

I’m gonna channel my best Deanna Troi impersonation and say, I don’t sense much anger in Levar Burton in his comments above. My interpretation is he’s just being frank and realistic. He’s telling it like it is, without prejudice. Vis-a-vis Rick Berman, he didn’t welcome feedback from the actors, it just wasn’t his style – maybe it was even the right decision. In Voyager, some of the ways Picardo colors the Doctor character work for me, and others seem forced or cheesy. In regard to Stuart Baird, I think it’s clear everyone including Mr. Burton gave him a chance, and he failed – that would be hard to contest.

Will_H
February 18, 2009 2:08 am

All these TNG haters. To me, TOS was closed and done with after VI, and even though this new movie is a whole new…well what ever they’re calling it today, its still the same crew, and Nemesis seems like a movie that was made to be followed up, despite the tagline of it being the final journey. To me it was like ending the first movies with Wrath of Khan, sure, they could have, they intended to, but it was unfinished, and they went on for another 4 movies and for the most part they were great. TNG got tossed to the wolves with Nemesis as far as Baird went, and I think for all it did as far as bringing the franchise back, it deserves another shot, at least something to close it. And forget direct to DVD, sorry, but Star Trek in any form is better than that. And I think its finally great that someone in the franchise had the guts to say that TNG was taken off the air too early, I think another few seasons would have been great. For one, we could have seen lots more of the Borg before Voyager messed that up. But I do agree that another TNG film isnt likely. Chances are they’ll stick with JJ Trek, so I just pray its good, and I mean good by Trek standards.

grid
February 18, 2009 2:12 am

Burton is correct in pretty much everything he says.

I don’t think there’s any chance of a TNG theatrical film, but a very good chance for a TNG mini-series or straight-to-DVD project. Of those two options, a mini-series is preferable, hopefully sold to a major network.

The real question is whether Stewart would do it. I think if it was a high profile event on a major network, with a brilliant script, there’s a coinflip’s chance he might do it. maybe.

Without him it isn’t really TNG. It’d be USS TITAN low budget, direct to video fare and I think the fans and the ensemble cast deserve better than that.

February 18, 2009 2:12 am

I want some TNG era direct to DVD films to come out that universe is HUGE!! They could bring back so many different things and basically keep that era alive with a whole new enterprise (pardon the pun).

Kirk, James T.
February 18, 2009 2:55 am

I think perhaps the way you’d get to do a TNG movie now is to have it set before this movie.

I think Paramount will want to expand the Kirk and Spock era though and really leave TNG to the annals of history.

it’s a shame because i think Burton speaks a huge truth in saying that all the 4 films TNG did – Nemesis and Insurrection being case in point – could have been done a lot better.

February 18, 2009 2:56 am

Burton has his head screwed on straight and says it like it is, easy to respect that.

JJ could take TNG and kick some serious ass, get the golden trio on that, either TV series (ala Fringe) or movie. If some characters didn’t want to sign up, no hard feelings, JJ CAN and WILL work around leaving out bruised egos.

February 18, 2009 3:10 am

TNG should get another shot one more time

February 18, 2009 3:39 am

In a few years when the reboot has died down you just know Paramount will revisit TNG. Maybe prequel style like the new movie or continuation of classic TNG (and in TNG I include DS9 and VOY too). Either way I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the TNG era, it may just take a while.

Captain John C Baron
February 18, 2009 3:44 am

You’ll never see TNG on the big screen again – it’s been and gone. I would, however, love to see a direct-to-DVD movie series featuring as many TNG cast members as possible. I think it would be highly proftable for Paramount.
As far as Patrick Stewart being interested, I dunno, he’s doign a lot of theratre work – and he’s not getting any younger for the big screen satuff. Saw him last night on BBC2 with ian McKellan promoting his new Waiting for Godot, which is due to tour the UK soon. He looked like time was catching up with him. Still a fantastic actor, tho.

Dr_Beckett
February 18, 2009 4:00 am

A series of direct-to-dvd movies set in the TNG era would make more sense as opposed to another TNG big screen movie.

What I cannot understand is why are Paramount so against doing Trek direct-to-dvd or TV movies? I mean, there is a demand for it. Several TV shows have had TV-movies years after they were cancelled to respectable earnings and reviews.

Just curious

February 18, 2009 4:01 am

Levar Burton, as well as Jonathan Frakes, have always been very classy dudes.

Much respect.

Sisko
February 18, 2009 4:08 am

We need DS9 or ENT movie.

screaming satellite
February 18, 2009 4:11 am

ive a strange feeling that we havent seen the last of TNG – im thinking more along the lines of cameos/Nimoy like appearances in future movies/tv shows…as opposed to a full on TNG film, STDVD film or tv show

bababouee mamamonkey fafaflowhi
February 18, 2009 4:28 am

I for one would love to see another TNG movie.

James Cannon UK Trekker
February 18, 2009 4:31 am

I’ve never liked the Geordie character yet I’ve always liked Burton as a person. He is a true fan and speaks his mind.

It would have been interesting to have either Frakes or Burton as director for Nemesis. TNG peaked with First Contact.
Insurrection was a good tv movie (it was PURE Star Trek – Roddenberry would have loved it) and Generations seemed too rushed.

I agree with the lapse in time. There should have been a 3 or 4 year gap between All Good Things & Generations – as well as between Voyager & Enterprise.

Berman seemed only as if he was wanting to cash in on Trek after First Contact.

Great interview with Burton tho.

Bruce_Wayne
February 18, 2009 4:45 am

I agree 100% that TNG needs a better send-off than that smoking pile of Klingon doodoo that was NEMESIS!!!!

BUT, Paramount will NEVER bank roll a feature starring the TNG cast 7 years AFTER a box-office bomb, and especially not after JJ Abrams’ movie will reinvigorate the entire Trek mythos.

Lastly, I think Rick Berman destroyed Trek with Voyager and Enterprise, and he should’ve been ousted a long time before he finally was…

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