Robert Justman was there at the beginning as a producer for both Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the second part of our interview with him, he talks about his views on J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie and how some of today’s debates reminds him of Trek’s days past.
[Warning note: Justman definitely uses some ‘colorful metaphors.’]
TrekMovie.com: Over 40 years ago you worked on the pilots for both Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. If someone told you at the time that both would be big movie franchises 40 years later, would you have believed them?
Robert Justman: Oh no. At that time we wouldn’t even know that we would get a series.
TM: So regarding the latest Star Trek movie, how do you feel about J.J. Abrams and his new team coming in, and in some respect redoing the original series?
RJ: Well, I am prejudiced. I am thrilled about it. [laughs] It is a reverse prejudice. I want to be there as part of an audience when the first meeting occurs. Can you imagine you have Kirk on some planet and he turns a corner and someone turns around it is Spock or Spock’s father. It would be so thrilling.
TM: Do you think it is important that the new movie look like the old show in terms of the sets, ships, uniforms and such?
RJ: I think it is very important, because it gives the audience something to hang on to. If everything is changed, then it is foreign. But it is a conundrum. Mr. Abrams has got to make certain choices and they are tough choices, because you are committing everything to this one enormous effort. You have to be careful not to make people look askance at it. They should be able to be comfortable with it. But it is what it is all about that is important, not what kind of clothes you are wearing.
TM: What do you feel is the true essence of Star Trek that you feel it must capture?
RJ: It is an adventure! And it is thrilling! Those are the kind of things it should be. People on the screen should not only surprise themselves, but the audience. It will be difficult for some people, but it has to be done.
TM: Difficult for who?
RJ: For the originalists. The people who said, “The original was a great show and don’t fuck with it.” If you have to fuck with it, then go ahead and do it, but do it right. I remember when we were preparing Star Trek: The Next Generation and there was a Star Trek convention in Universal City and I invited myself over. Now this is before it aired and they were angry. All kinds of rumors were flying about and they were none too thrilled. I said, “The least you could do is wait for something you could see, but don’t condemn us out of hand because it is important to us to make a wonderful show.” That was my message. Just be a real good human being and let’s see what they’re offering and then make up our minds. Don’t play it down before its’ time.
TM: And so you see parallels with that today?
TM: There is some irony in that fans of The Next Generation are now upset because they want more Next Gen movies…
RJ: Well it was a terrific show. We did things that we were never able to do before. I went to Gene and said, “Gene, I think we should have a Klingon.” Gene’s posture was “don’t do what you have done before, go further, reach out.” But Gene also had a penchant about talking about the future and how we are going to be having a good time and not a bad time. Less wars, less hunger and all that. I came to him with the idea of having a Klingon. Gene said “No, no, I am tired of that we can find new villains,” and I said, “But Gene, think of what it means,” and he stopped and looked it to me and it sank in. It means that yes there is a way to coexist and have a better future and this is living proof…and it was sold and that is how Worf came about.
TM: But you still think a return to The Original Series is a smart move?
RJ: I will tell you what is going to happen. He [J.J. Abrams] is guaranteeing a tremendous audience. He is knocking over all these shibboleths. He is doing something that is audacious, and that is a great adventure. Maybe it won’t satisfy the purists… probably it won’t, because they know better than anyone else (laughs), but I don’t care. I am a filmmaker. I want to make something that people will remember and talk about for the rest of their lives. Doing it the old way isn’t going to do it. Now there is more to it than what the approach is, but how well they do it, how well they write it and direct it. Star Trek broke ground. And what I hope happens is that J.J. is audacious, that he does something new. Surprise me.
TM: So if they wanted to consult with you for the film would you be interested?
RJ: Absolutely, it would be a thrill and I would be honored.