on J.J. Abrams taking the helm of the Star Trek franchiseIt was 40 years ago that Gene Roddenberry first taught the band to play. It was a seminal science fiction series called Star Trek. And despite having spawned a succession of spin-off’s and sequels, the original Star Trek, remains the most prescient and entertaining series of all by far four decades after it first aired on NBC. Ironically, while it’s nearly impossible to watch Next Generation or Deep Space Nine these days, both which seem hopelessly dated relics of the bland 90s; Classic Trek, with its 60s fuelled New Frontier zeal, despite its Styrofoam sets and dated visual effects, remains amazingly potent largely because of the inter-personal dynamics of its troika of leading men; Kirk, Spock and McCoy. It’s because of them I’d rather watch the worst episode of Classic Trek than the best of Enterprise or Voyager.
Since the announcement of Star Trek XI there has been a frenzy of both excitement and anxiety. Scores of people are speaking up with their opinion on how J. J. Abrams should craft the story, with some championing strict adherence to the Trek canon, while others wish he would throw it all out with the bathwater much as Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. But in all of this, the truth is that the Trek franchise began dying more than a decade ago as viewership declined from a peak during the height of Next Generation to the abysmal ratings of Enterprise and poor box office results for Nemesis. Mr. Abrams has a massive task ahead of him. He must breathe life into a franchise that has lost its fan base by finding a way to open Trek up to an entire new generation. However, I believe that in order for the movie to be successful, he must also find a way to also connect with ‘old school’ fan base. There are a lot of us out here with purchasing power of a demographic that spans every generation. J. J. Abrams will have to pull out those things that were great about Star Trek and “reboot” the franchise in such a way as to attract a mainstream audience. It is a monumental task, but one that could be accomplished simply by talking with the “Old School.”
This editorial is the first of a series from Dennis Russell Bailey on ‘Bad Reasons for not doing a TOS movie’ Based on published reports, it appears likely that the storyline J.J. Abrams has conceived for his “Star Trek” movie takes place in Trek’s 23rd century and revolves at least partly around youthful versions of James Kirk and Spock. Some long-time fans of the Franchise are excited by this possibility, and some are dead-set against it. Those fans who dislike the TOS-based movie premise have been active out on the Web advancing a number of assertions-passing-as-arguments as to how the premise somehow violates basic principles of “what ‘Star Trek’ should be about.” There are several themes that crop up again and again on blogs and message boards. Here’s one of my favorites: “Star Trek is about the future. It should move forward, not back.”
Variety first announced Star Trek XI with this sentence “J.J. Abrams is becoming the next Gene Roddenberry.”, referring to the late creator of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as producer and co-writer of the first Trek feature film Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the recently reported debate, Free Enterprise producers (and big time Trekkies) Rob Burnett and Mark Altman agreed on one thing: Paramount did the right thing by bringing in a new team headed by JJ Abrams. Burnett went on to say that Abrams and his team “bring Star Trek creative blood not seen since Nicholas Meyer“. Meyer is the writer and/or director of the Trek classics Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. So which is he…the new Roddenberry or the new Meyer?
Mark A. Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett (the team behind the 1998 cult hit Free Enterprise) may be friends but they don’t see eye to eye on Star Trek XI. Their semi-autobiographical indie film about two struggling filmmakers who meet their childhood hero William Shatner (who plays himself) demonstrates that these two take their Star Trek very seriously. In the latest issue of CFQ (of which Altman is a co-Publisher) the pair square off…
One of the issues that many Trek devotees seem to be fixated on is that of recasting. The assertion of these fans is that audiences will not accept new actors in the roles made famous by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. But Hollywood has never shied away from recasting roles…even iconic ones. This week the top film is Miami Vice, in which original show creator Michael Mann has recast quintissential 80s stars Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. The film made over $25 million in its first weekend in the US (The LA Times saying it is on track to exclipse Mann’s 2004 hit Collateral). Are Kirk and Spock any more iconic than Crockett and Tubbs?