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'Star' Tracking: The Meaning of $77 Million

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Monday, May 11, 2009
While it's not Dark Knight money (though many print reports love to tout some obscure Batman record this Trek beat), it's definitely Christopher Nolan level acclaim.
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Star Trek

Director: J. J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, John Cho, Winona Ryder, Ben Cross, Simon Pegg

(Paramount Pictures; US theatrical: 8 May 2009 (General release); 2009)

Review [8.May.2009]

Think about it for a moment. You love a certain franchise (say the Star Wars series) in a way that is indicative of your overall geek mantle. You hear a rumor that Fox, fed up with the failing returns on its limited creative investment, has decided to “reboot” the material, to give it a fresh life with a different director (one mostly known for his TV hits), updated special effects (good!) and most concerning, a substantially younger, CW-oriented cast. The reasons for apprehension start creeping in immediately, especially when you learn that only one of the original actors will return for what is best described as an “extended cameo.” Such was the situation when Paramount, displeased with the way Star Trek was being remembered by a slowly dissolving demographic, asked Lost legend J. J. Abrams to give the adventures of the Starship Enterprise a 22nd Century sheen. And now, $78 million later, it seems both the studio and the salvage effort were wildly successful.


While it’s not Dark Knight money (though many print reports love to tout some obscure Batman record this Trek beat), it’s definitely Christopher Nolan level acclaim. With only 11 Rotten Tomatoes critics playing contrarian, the film stands as one of 2009’s best reviewed. And with audiences both pro and con taking to the movies many delights, there appears to be enough legs to expand on the update’s future potential. Still, as with any major triumph, victory stands to benefit more than one group in the creative process. Sure, there will be sequels, big paydays coming down the line for everyone involved. And when heads have cleared and production models clarified, a new TV outing is definitely in the cards. Of course, all of this could change the minute the movie stiffs, or falls short of its coffer clogging potential.
  
Still, there should and will be some incredibly positive blowback. A blockbuster can do that. So by racking up the bucks, many players in the Star Trek saga should be prepared to reap some substantial rewards. Everyone from the writers (who have already scored big in the Summer Popcorn contests) to the actors (many new to the big screen fame game) to the powers behind the production will turn the current clime - and the understanding of a long and prosperous potential—into career gold. Money definitely changes everything, never more than when there is plenty to go around. The costs will increase. The expected rate of pay will be protracted out. The inevitable home video release should reestablish the reasonableness of this response. But by looking at what happens to those involved, we can definitely determine a sense of scope and probably proportion, beginning with: 


The Studio(s)



Paramount


Paramount must be beside themselves at this point in the process. It was a risky proposition, that’s for sure but some suit certainly determined that the potential benefits far outweighed the consequences. By turning their DOA franchise to someone who clearly understood how to make it reverential and commercial, they ended up with a terrific thrill ride that will linger as one of 2009’s big surprises. Even better, the series is reborn, ready for any number of movie/TV tie-ins possible. Sure, the ballooning budget remains a concern, and with the actors supposedly locked in for two more entries, their will be the inevitable renegotiations. But with nothing but gravy as part of the profit margin forecast, this is one studio that assured itself a series of success Summers to come.




The Source



The Original Series/Movies


The biggest debate over the weekend was clearly the link (or lack thereof) to the original Star Trek series. By now, many know that this new version of the characters interrelate within an alternative timeline where the events depicted in the ‘60s (and in the films of the ‘80s) no longer ‘exist’. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that this is the end of Roddenberry’s vision as we’ve come to know it. In truth, any success of this size does little to destroy the past. In fact, one assumes that many of the newest fans will be running out to their local B&M (or Netflix queue) to load up on everything they’ve missed before. Even cable networks are getting into the act, rerunning any version of the Trek canon they happen to have access to. While some might be underwhelmed or even turned off by what they see, it’s a safe bet that more fans will be cemented, and seen flocking to the original series that ever before - and that’s a very good thing indeed.





The Writers



Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman


Don’t jump on (or off) the Orci and Kurtzman bandwagon just yet. While they have managed to make some moldering characters from forty years ago relevant to a new, novice generation, they have had plenty of practice turning old ideas into post-modern box office gold. They’ve worked with Michael Bay on The Island and most importantly, his two Transformers films, and helped Abrams inject life into the water treading Mission: Impossible series with their script for part three. With the untitled Star Trek sequel guaranteed to take up most of their present free time, they will be among the highest paid and most sought after talents in Tinsel Town’s interchangeable writing pool. For them, it will probably be nothing but business as usual.





The Director



J. J. Abrams


Abrams doesn’t need much help in the TV arena. He’s been the beneficiary of a narrative mythos that has people perplexed as well as hanging on each new installment. With a definite timeframe before Lost leaves the small screen, he can parlay the success of Trek into any personal project he wants to oversee. Of course, Paramount in hoping he (or someone he suggests) will helm the sequel, and at that point, he can name his price. But here’s hoping that, as part of the deal to return, he can foster some favored material from his past or personal perspective onto the big screen. He clearly has the chops to handle the size and scope of such a possibility.





The Stars



Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, et.al.


Aside from a standing invitation at every Sci-Fi Convention from here to the end of the next millennium, the hyper-young cast of Star Trek have some mighty big shoes to fill - especially ego-wise. Here’s praying they make the smart choice and balance the ballyhoo of being the newest old members of Starfleet with the reality of life as a working actor. Only then can they artfully trade on said commercial cred for a few choice roles. While Quinto still has Heroes (for now) and Simon Pegg will always have his work with Edgar Wright, the rest of the fresh face newbies here can be assured of some quick, post-blockbuster offers. After that, however, Trek may be the place where they do some of their best, most important work. Optimistically, they will realize this and won’t turn arrogant and unruly. There is nothing worse than watching a nameless talent suddenly turn and bite the hand that made them famous in the first place.





The Franchise



Sequels?


In actuality, the possibility of a series of films is less likely than, at the very least, a single sequel. The reason is quite simple - the next Star Trek film has a helluva lot to live up to. It’s the same problem facing Jon Favreau as he helms the next Iron Man and Christopher Nolan as he tries to top The Dark Knight. If the follow-up succeeds in a Wrath of Khan kind of way, then Paramount will definitely go with a new collection of features. If it tanks, in a Final Frontier kind of failure, it will mean that Abrams only had the one reboot up his sleeve. As a franchise, Trek has always had a shaky status cinematically. Here’s hoping the infusion of energy is not short-lived.


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