Everyone in the entertainment industry is so fascinated by Marvel’s ability to churn out a series of excellent and popular interconnected movies that they are all seeking ways to duplicate Marvel’s success with other franchises. Now Mark Altman has come forward with a pitch to do the same with Paramount’s sci-fi vehicle, Star Trek.
So much optimistic dreaming for such an optimistic series… but it all comes down to a pessimistic, purely profit-driven entity which demonstrably couldn’t care less about franchise quality: Paramount. Expecting them to step up and do the right thing by properly handling this franchise is a lot like expecting GM to start producing nothing but electric vehicles, or McDonalds to replace its menu with bowls of granola.
Paramount has already gone through this… when the original Star Wars came out, and wowed the entertainment world with its inventive cross-promotion and heavy merchandising engine. At the time, Wars was the incredible media juggernaut to emulate. And when someone at Paramount asked, “What can we do to get in on that bandwagon?” somebody reminded them that they had their own science fiction series from the sixties… one that had a ravenous fan base clamoring for more material… a built-in audience. Thus, Star Trek was greenlit for the motion picture treatment.
But Paramount demonstrated back then that they didn’t know how to approach the major cross-promotion bit, and were too risk-averse to give the production what it needed to be a great motion picture. Yes, they made money, but not nearly what Lucas had pulled out of Star Wars.
So they decided to try again for gold, but by hiring a TV director who didn’t know Star Trek, and trying to redesign the production to have less substance, and more show. This time, they made a bit more money, which was apparently enough to convince Paramount that they had their formula.
Paramount proceeded to do then pretty much what Altman recommends they do now, creating multiple TV shows and movies, with a bit of tie-in to each other. But their skewed formula was only good for spectacle… which was fine for any science fiction show except smarter-than-most-SF, forward-thinking, optimistic Star Trek. The last productions of that era, Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Nemesis, clearly suffered and brought a temporary end to the big screen and TV franchises.
Now, with two reasonably successful recent Star Trek movies, Paramount believes it’s found its formula… again. Unfortunately, the movies are in fact nothing like Star Trek; they are something else. Something flashy. Something loud. Something with a few iconic caricatures of itself. The Jesus Christ, Superstar of science fiction. They are doing everything they can to make Star Trek look like all the other science fiction material out there… exactly the last thing you want to do with a franchise that is already iconic.
Here’s the big difference between the Marvel movies and Star Trek movies: Marvel dipped through its deep history and cherry-picked elements for the movies, carefully weaving them into a rich, coherent story across multiple character arcs; Star Trek has also cherry-picked story elements, but only things that seemed cool, then they randomly threw them at the screen to get a lot of “ooohs” and “ahhhs,” but not to build a coherent story out of them. In fact, the choice of elements has only served to tear the rich tapestry of Trek down, leaving little to work with in the future other than continuing to throw cool stuff at the screen… until the audience finally says “enough” and walks away. In fact, thanks to Star Trek Into Daftness, many of them are walking already.
In order for Paramount to succeed with Trek, they need to be much more prudent about cherry-picking the workable and entertaining elements that make Trek iconic, and putting much more care and effort into building those elements into something compelling for people to latch onto and follow through multiple episodes. But all that takes dedication to a franchise beyond dollar signs, something Paramount has never, ever shown to Trek.
I just cannot see Paramount doing justice to this venerable franchise, as it’s demonstrated time and again that it’s never done justice to it. Unless Paramount wants to hand Star Trek over to someone else, it might as well let it die an honorable death.
Which is why I’ve argued that maybe we need a new franchise for the 21st century; something that understands Star Trek‘s positive view of the future, but with a more up-to-date approach. As nice as all Altman’s talk sounds, it may just be beating a dead tribble.