[19 May 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
By all accounts, the current incarnation of Star Trek is at a crossroads. On the one hand, by rebooting the franchise to feature much younger (and by all accounts, different) versions of our favorite sci-fi heroes, Paramount found a viable way of rescuing a more or less DOA property while keeping the original fans invested. Yes, some purists balked at the revisionism, but considering most film fans today had parents who weren’t even born when the TV series redefined the genre back in 1966 (that’s 48 years, folks), such tinkering could be tolerated. Even when an untried J.J. Abrams was handed the keys to the Starship Enterprise, most appreciated his dedication to the past with obvious bows to filmmaking (and blockbusters) circa 2009.
Then Into Darkness arrived and changed all that. Many felt it went overboard on such antithetical to Trek elements like F/X battles and space spectacle, while some still haven’t forgiven it for besmirching one of the most sacred texts in the Roddenberry Universe - the story of super soldier Khan Noonien Singh. Even with such concerns, the sequel went on to earn big bucks worldwide, meaning another installment in the series was all but inevitable. Fans took to social media to express their wants/desires while Abrams jumped ship to restart another beloved interstellar effort - Star Wars. Then the news arrived last week that screenwriter Roberto Orci had been hired to helm Star Trek 3: Whatever We’re Calling It Today and the web went catawampus.
Orci, you see, was part of an infamous partnership with fellow scribe and friend Alex Kurtzman. Together, they cut their teeth in television, working on such shows as Sam Raimi’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Jack of All Trades before heading over to Abrams’ Bad Robot brand for Alias and Fringe. In between, they penned many of Michael Bay’s most recent over the top travesties, including The Island, Transformers, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen before jumping over to Spider-Man to reboot the character with Amazing and the recent Amazing 2. Now the duo have called it quits, amicably, with Kurtzman’s future uncertain and Orci being handed one of the highest profile gigs in Tinseltown. And he has absolutely no experience as a director.
That’s right. No TV credits. No short films. No graduate degree experiments from USC, UCLA, NYC, or Sunscreen. According to almost all published reports. Orci is being given a gift by Paramount for guiding the first two films to almost $800 million in worldwide revenue. Now, this isn’t unusual. The equally untalented - at least when it comes to directing - Akiva Goldsman got Warner Bros. to cough up a budget of $60 million so he could besmirch everything that author Mark Helprin created with his crowd-pleasing novel Winter’s Tale - and all it took for him was an Oscar, Dan Brown, and some blackmail photos of Will Smith (that last bit’s a joke) to earn that opportunity. Even with a bank-load of cash as a result of his scripting, he proved that, when it came to helming a magic realism fantasy romance, he’s one heck of a typist.
Orci doesn’t even have Goldsman’s track record. Some could argue that it’s more condensed and commercially viable, but it seems odd that a man who is seen as ancillary to the success of many of the projects he’s been involved in would trump someone who needed an Academy Award to get his dream project greenlit. True, Bad Robot is still involved with Star Trek 3, but hiring from within just doesn’t make sense here. Again, Orci has NO skill set beyond the laptop and there’s a lot riding on this. Do Part 3 right and Star Trek will continue on for another few films. Mess it up, and you severely jeopardize a major Summer tentpole.
Of course, those indifferent about the choice point to Leonard Nimoy (Search for Spock, The Voyage Home) and William Shatner (The Final Frontier) as examples of inexperienced filmmakers pro and con, but both had numerous TV credits before tackling the franchise. Generations’ David Carson, First Contact/Insurrection‘s Jonathan Frakes and Nemesis‘s Stuart Baird also had experience behind the lens before tackling Trek. Orci will be the first and only “filmmaker” in the history of the franchise to have no previous directing experience. And when you think about the number of artists who could have been chosen, his selection seems more and more like a case of industry nepotism and blatant favoritism.
How about a filmmaker of color? There are many who’ve expressed interest in taking on a Star Trek film. Better yet, how about a female point of view? In this series’ supposedly gender equal/diverse dynamic, there’s never been a woman behind the lens for a Trek movie. There are dozens of deserving indie auteurs, each who could bring their own unique perspective to the property. After all, Warner Bros. just handed over their multimillion dollar Godzilla reboot to an untried Englishman - Gareth Edwards - with one significant credit to his name (Monsters) and that worked out great. It’s called thinking outside the box, about avoiding the appearance of impropriety while doing the best for both the film in question and the fans in general.
Not in this case. Orci will be supported as having “earned” this chance and Paramount seems perfectly happy to let him succeed or fail on their dime. And who knows - maybe there’s a hidden Spielberg inside the man. Of course, he will have to make a near masterpiece to please some people. Orci has a “reputation” as a 9/11 denier/‘truther’ (we’re not even going to get into that) and took to social media last year when fans were dissing Into Darkness left and right. The result? Let’s just say, he didn’t make a lot of friends with his sometimes incoherent “get over yourselves” rants. It’s one thing to have contempt for those whom you are expected to please. It’s another to be wholly unable to deliver on what you were hired for. So far, all signs point to Orci being the wrong choice. He can prove all of us wrong. Sadly, some of us sense we are more than right.