Ripoffs from Space: When Big Movies Are Cannibalized by Even Bigger Movies
Hollywood screenwriters know that if you don't have an original idea you can always steal an existing plot... and then set it in SPACE!
<i>Star Trek</i> Couldn't Have Been More <i>Star Wars</i> -- or <i>Star Trek</i>
Fans might have expected a prequel, but Abrams and Lindelof opted for an alternate timeline instead. Following Spock (Leonard Nimoy) back in time after his two-part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Unification”, a group of Romulans (the people Spock was trying to help) alter the past, causing Captain Kirk’s history to closely resemble that of Luke Skywalker.
Let’s follow the story. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Luke (still Hamill) both grow up on farms they don’t like and are raised by people who don’t understand them. They're both mourning the death of the fathers they never knew. Both fathers were ace pilots (of SPACE planes) and space explorers who fell far too young, just as their son was being born. Their lives seem aimless and pointless until they run into an older mentor who was also a war hero and friend of the character’s father. Each elder mentor pushes our hero to step into a brave new world of space battles and adventures in space.
The bad guys (both led by tortured men who are depressed and obsessed over their lost families) develop a device that can destroy peaceful planets… in both films. Tragedy is averted in both films due to intercepted transmissions that contain secret plans. Things go horribly wrong when the planet killing device (drumroll) destroys a planet. In both cases that planet is the home to a major character (Leia in Star Wars, Spock in Star Trek) who is emotionally compromised by the loss. Things get worse when the elder mentor is put out of commission by the bad guys while on the planet-killing ship forcing the hero (Kirk/ Luke) to crash land on an all-but-deserted planet where they meet yet another elder mentor who can continue the mission. Note that both Kirk’s second elder mentor and Luke’s second elder mentor are mystical psychic war veterans with pointy ears in the form of Spock for Kirk and Yoda for Luke.
In the end, both Luke and Kirk are thrust into a world they are not ready for (Luke is a Jedi with incomplete training, Kirk goes from flunking cadet to captain of the Federation’s flagship without working his way up through a single rank), but it’s okay because both use their incredible luck and talent to outsmart the bad guys and destroy the planet killing spaceship before it can destroy the planet they really, really don’t want them to destroy. Just before the credits roll both Kirk and Luke get rewarded at a well-attended ceremony.
Even if Kirk had reached his arm out and caused a lightsaber to fly into his hand so he could chop off someone else’s hand with it, it could not possibly have been more Star Wars.
Perhaps it all worked out for Abrams because Lucas soon sold Lucasfilm and thus, Star Wars went to Disney, which immediately announced Episode VII and asked Abrams if he felt like making the same film again, but this time with authorization.
It all worked out for Star Trek also because… well…
Star Trek rips itself off all the time!
Before he could take on the job of awakening the Force, Abrams directed a sequel called Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) which is yet another remake/ rip-off, this time of the Harve Bennett-produced Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Of course having dispensed with that pesky thing called “continuity” by setting things in an alternate universe, Abrams and company were free to reimagine Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, albeit slightly. Most of the same things happen but often to other people. Kirk dies and is resurrected instead of Spock. Spock, not Kirk, is the one who yells “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!” Khan is now a white guy.
But at least Star Trek: Into Darkness was open and honest about what it was doing. Of course, this is a retelling of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. What did you expect? Well, we might have expected something like that seeing as how this wasn’t the first time that particular Star Trek film was ripped off… by other Star Trek films.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan itself is a sequel, but not to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Instead, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan follows the 1967 episode of the original Star Trek called “Space Seed”, in which Khan (Ricardo Montalban) takes over the Enterprise and is marooned on a hostile remote planet as punishment by Kirk. In the 1982 film, Khan’s obsession over taking revenge against Captain Kirk (William Shatner) mirrors that of Captain Ahab, making Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan something of a SPACE Moby-Dick!
Moby Dick was later used as an inspiration for Star Trek: First Contact (1996), essentially a film about SPACE zombies, which is considered by many critics to be the best Star Trek film since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. If only that quality had continued.
In 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis we are introduced to Shinzon (Tom Hardy), a clone of Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) in spite of the fact that Hardy looks absolutely nothing like Stewart. Shinzon feels left behind as he was forgotten on a harsh remote planet and grows up to have Ahab-like thoughts of revenge. As Khan begins his revenge he and his ragtag crew of criminals first seize control of a powerful warship called the Reliant and then lay waste to a science station. As Shinzon begins his revenge, he and his ragtag crew of criminals first seize control of a powerful warship called the Scimitar and then lay waste to the Romulan Senate.
In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the Enterprise embarks on a peaceful mission when it receives a distress call due to the attack on the science station, is called away to investigate and soon comes face to face with the Reliant and its new crew of villains. In Star Trek: Nemesis the Enterprise embarks on a peaceful mission when it receives orders to investigate after the destruction of the Romulan Senate and soon comes face to face with the Scimitar and its new crew of villains.
In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the captain is shocked to learn that the bad guys are being led by Khan, an unbeatable nemesis that can outthink Kirk and is inexorably linked to the captain’s past. In Star Trek: Nemesis the captain is shocked to learn that the bad guys are being led by Shinzon, an unbeatable nemesis that can think just like Picard and is inexorably linked to the captain’s past.
Things go from bad to worse in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Khan proves to have control of the Genesis device, a torpedo that can eradicate all life in order to recreate a new livable planet. Things go from bad to worse in Star Trek: Nemesis when Shinzon proves to have control of the thalaron-radiation generator, a weapon that can eradicate all life in order to make Earth completely unlivable. To attempt to defeat Khan, Kirk leads his enemy into the Mutara Nebula, which renders shields useless and levels the playing field between the two ships. To attempt to defeat Picard, Shinzon ambushes his enemy in the Bassen Rift which renders subspace communication useless and levels the playing field between the two ships.
As Khan finds himself outsmarted, beaten and near death he decides to set off the Genesis device which will destroy everything in the area including both ships, himself and especially his nemesis James T. Kirk. As Shinzon finds himself outsmarted, beaten and near death, he decides to set off the thalaron-radiation device which will destroy everything in the area including both ships, himself, and especially his nemesis, Jean-Luc Picard. Luckily the captain has a very skilled best friend, a super strong, highly logical yet emotionally challenged non-human (Spock in 1982 and Data in 2002) who sacrifices himself to save the crew of the Enterprise. However, due to some clever linking of minds between that amazing, dearly departed best friend and a surviving character the door is open for Spock/ Data to return in a future sequel.
Yes, folks, it’s practically a note-for-note space remake disguised as a new space film. But while Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan was immensely popular, successful and acclaimed to this day, Star Trek: Nemesis was ridiculed, poorly reviewed and a financial disappointment. Spoiler warning, Spock did indeed return for more sequels but Data (Brent Spiner) did not, as Star Trek: Nemesis pretty much tanked the series until Abrams decided to remake Star Wars in 2009.
The writer, if you can call him that in this case, was a man named John Logan who seems to have just about zero original thoughts in that head of his. Want another example? Data is surprised in Star Trek: Nemesis to discover he has a brother (another android built by Data’s creator) in the form of B-4 (also Spiner) whom he finds on a remote world. John Logan clearly saw (or had an intern read him an online synopsis of) the 13th episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Datalore” (1988) in which Data is surprised to discover he has a brother (another android built by Data’s creator) in the form of Lore (also Spiner) whom he finds on a remote world.
I would say that John Logan almost literally phoned in Nemesis except for the fact that even with the biggest titles to his credit Logan essentially used preexisting ideas reformatted into a new script with his name on it. Logan’s best-known works are either adaptations of existing scripts (2002’s The Time Machine, 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) or adaptations of historical events (2000’s Gladiator, 2004’s The Aviator) which do require a lot of copyediting, but not much (if any) originality. This is what Logan is best at, taking existing plots changing a few names, making slight edits and putting his name on them.
The Logan-penned Spectre (2015) gives us revisions on the history we knew of James Bond and reenacts everything from Casino Royale forward but now indicates a new secret (and repetitive) villain was behind it all. The Last Samurai (2003), also written by Logan, is essentially a remake of Dances with Wolves (1990) with Native Americans traded out for Native Japanese. The pattern is all over Logan’s resume, but nowhere is this better exemplified than in Star Trek: Nemesis, seemingly written entirely with SPACE CLIFF’S NOTES!
And speaking of Dances with Wolves…