2016 will mark 50 years of Star Trek.
It’s a great franchise, built on optimism. Trek’s mythology inspired real life space explorers and scientists. Its imagery influences today’s technological aesthetic (camera phones; social media). The language is part of our collective cultural memory. ‘Beam me up’. ‘Make it so’. Etc.
The big anniversary requires an event to match. So we’ll get a new movie in Star Trek: Beyond. It will be directed by Justin Lin (Fast and Furious series) and written by Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) and Doug Jung, based on characters created by the late, great Gene Roddenberry.
Little is known about the movie’s content, save the usual round of casting rumours. Idris Elba (yes, him again: great!) might be playing the bad guy. The Klingons might be back. It will clearly remain action packed (JJ Abrams defected to Star Wars but remains Producer; Justin Lin is very much an action choreography kind of director). Simon Pegg has also hinted that the more ‘classic’ Trek feel will finally be present too.
Best we can do is offer our usual wish-list come predictions and possibilities. ‘Engage!’
Star Trek always was, at its plasma warp core, a series about ideas and discussion of issues. Race, class, gender, sexuality, freedom v oppression, leadership styles. They have all been addressed. One can maintain that tradition alongside an entertaining piece of action adventure cinema.
See Wrath of Khan: arguably the best Trek movie and one of the greatest sequels in any franchise. Its strength was fusing a meditation on growing old in friendship to a tense revenge thriller on an epic sci-fi landscape.
Also: First Contact, whereby struggles against the Borg menace were visually spectacular and ambitious. But its message was all about letting go of obsession and trusting nature and history to take their course, whilst retaining one’s own identity over cultural ‘assimilation’.
Repeat THAT kind of balance between action and ideas and you have a winning film that can please devoted Trekkies and discerning film fans alike.
Old Faces, New Spin
The JJ Abrams reboot of 2009 was a great success partly due to its limitless potential for territories any sequels could visit. It was world building but with every tool of previous iterations at the film-makers’ disposal.
Part of that magic was definitely in predicting how the new versions of Kirk and co would manage when encountering classic staples of previous Trek lore. In that sense, 2013’s Into Darkness was spot on in its choice to feature Khan, Klingons and Tribbles.
But it has to be done properly. You either remake something or at least reinvent it. You cannot just throw in references and awkwardly paste an old motif onto new templates. The villains and supporting cast MUST fit the core story, plot, moral themes and tone.
That’s why it did NOT work to try tagging on moments from Wrath of Khan (a story about a veteran Captain and his old enemy) to the new, fresh faced crew of Into Darkness (who were yet to earn their stripes for any kind of real pathos).
By all means have a visit from Q (Godlike intelligence mischief maker on Next Generation) or a spookily unspecific alien probe intent on Armageddon (V’ger from the Motion Picture / that friend to whale noises thing in Voyage Home).
Throw in a little time travel (the best Trek television episodes used that conceit) either backwards or forwards. Why not have William Shatner meet Chris Pine as the two versions of Captain Kirk? Feel free to integrate some Next Generation characters and ideas, too. Do it all: provided it is advancing the story organically. Think Spock and his ‘logic’: even science fiction requires verisimilitude.
Remember: Star Trek is about exploration and the conflicts ensuing from that premise, whilst providing reassuring resolution. It’s the very ethos of Trek, founded as a kind of Wagon Train in space.
It cannot be too dull or sedate (Insurrection) but you need not save the universe or confront an evil mastermind every time. Make sure that the Enterprise does show us new worlds and actually fulfils its mission statement, rather than simply hinting at that day-job in opening teasers and footnotes.
Push the boundaries of visual effects, whilst retaining a human warmth and earthy appeal through character interactions: be they romantic, comic or semi-tragic. The current cast is competent, charismatic and credible so you can throw anything at them and thereby watch sparks fly. Stretch everyone, whilst allowing the team to retain its sense of fun and fraternity.
‘Live Long and Prosper’
Star Trek Beyond is released in 2016.
Words: James Murphy