Will 'Star Trek Beyond' take the Enterprise 'where no one has gone before'?
Simon Pegg has a real knack for saying things I agree with in a way that drives people completely insane.
I've known Pegg for a little over a decade now, and I was a fan for a year or two before that thanks to "Spaced." It's been quite clear in that time that he takes genre very seriously, and that his fandom is genuine. One of the reasons "Spaced" connected to people who saw it was because it was clearly coming from people who spoke that same secret language that we all do as fans, and we could see ourselves in the characters. Edgar Wright's voice as a filmmaker builds off of the visual vocabulary of many of our genre heroes.
One of the reasons I am inordinately curious about "Star Trek Beyond" is because Pegg is one of the writers of the film, meaning he's playing a key role in keeping this series alive and pushing it forward in what will hopefully be a course correction for the promising young series. And, yes, I know "Star Trek" as a property has been around for almost 50 years, but it's only been since 2009 that this particular incarnation of "Trek" has been around.
I love the 2009 film, and I find "Star Trek Into Darkness" to be one of the most confounding examples of franchise filmmaking in our modern age. The cast is all on point, there's a great deal of energy to things… and it is crippled by some of the most disastrously strange choices imaginable. I was talking to a friend on Sunday night and when I mentioned the odd way they handled Khan in "STID," he was confused. Somehow, even though he saw it twice, it never registered to him that Cumberbatch was playing Khan. He refused to believe me at first.
That's not a good sign.
One of the things that I found most promising about a third "Star Trek" movie based on the early conversations with Pegg took over as the writer was the idea that they would finally be beginning their "ongoing mission to seek out new worlds." To me, that's "Star Trek." Keeping them Earthbound worked for one film, but it's a disaster if you're talking about the series as a whole. The entire point of the show was exploration, the idea of expanding our universe. One of the beautiful things about the way the reboot happened was knowing that there are no rules now for their universe. None of what we've already seen has happened, and there's no guarantee things will happen the same way twice. The entire universe is open to "Trek" storytellers now, as long as they take advantage of it.
What concerns me is that Paramount, a studio that is barely in the studio business as this point, is desperate. They have not had a particularly good decade, and when it comes to tentpoies and franchises, they're struggling. As I wrote earlier today, they've got all the weight in the world focused on "Transformers" right now, because it's been a consistent international performer for them. And while the "Transformers" films may be critical punching bags, they seem utterly impervious to reviews. I have no doubt that when the studio looks at the money they earn on the "Transformers" films, everything else they make falls under very harsh scrutiny, and it's a little bit scary. Pegg pointed out that the original "Avengers" made $1.5 billion worldwide compared to "Star Trek Into Darkness," which made about $500 million worldwide. Instead of seeing that as a hit, he says, "According to the studio, there's still $1 billion worth of box office that don't go and see 'Star Trek,' and they want to know why." That is a crazy perspective on things, and chasing that other billion is what is going to eventually start killing the studios completely.
It's interesting that the thing most people got worked up about when Pegg spoke to The Guardian was the way he talked about fandom in general. I think it's far more interesting at the end of the piece when he talks about how he and co-writer Doug Jung have approached the job now that they've replaced Roberto Orci. What's tough to decipher here is exactly what Simon's talking about. He says "They had a script for 'Star Trek' that wasn't really working for them. I think the studio was worried that it might have been a little too 'Star Trek'-y." There were rumors about what the third film might entail under Orci that involved Romulans and more time travel and it sounded like it would look a lot like the first two films, but without Abrams there to ride herd over it. One of the most immediate and important shifts the project took under Pegg and Jung is that they're leaving Earth and they'll actually be on their ongoing mission now. Within that, it sounds like Paramount wanted something much more conventionally shaped, and Pegg explained that they will "make a western or a thriller or a heist movie, then populate that with 'Star Trek' characters so it's more inclusive to an audience that might be a little bit reticent." The good thing about shifting "Star Trek" to a narrative structure that's more like the show is that you can do a different genre in every film depending on what planet the Enterprise encounters that time. In giving the studio what they want, Pegg may have made the jump that Eon's current Bond series never has.
After all, the thing that is most frustrating about the Daniel Craig series is the way they seem to tie themselves in knots making sure that James Bond never really has a chance to be James Bond. I get that they took him back to the beginning for "Casino Royale," and I'm okay with that. But it took three films for him to shake off his own personal baggage, and by the end of "Skyfall," everything was in place. Moneypenny manning the desk, the new "M" firmly installed, James ready to just go to work as the super-spy we know and love. And in the new one? Well, once again he goes rogue, and once again, it's all very personal, and once again, we're going to get a movie that almost sadistically refuses to snap into the familiar shape that has kept Bond fans happy for 50 years. It sounds like we're done idling with "Star Trek," and I'm hoping Pegg really does pull off the trick of turning this into the "Trek" we've been waiting for while keeping the studio happy at the same time.
Won't be easy.
"Star Trek Beyond" is set to warp into theaters July 8, 2016.