I had a weird Star Trek phase when I was a kid. Not “weird” like “obsessive,” or “weird” like all nerdy phases seemed to be back then. I mean that the way I came to the series was strange, and I’m hard-pressed to geolocate myself in the continuum of Star Trek fans. Trek fandom is literally Generational: The most distinct line in the sand gets drawn between those people who will always roll hard for the original crew and those people who prefer The Next Generation.
The distinctions are vague, but obvious. Kirk and Co. were bold adventurers setting off to cheap Pop Art worldscapes populated by midcentury allegories. Picard and friends were more cerebral but also more whimsical. To a certain extent, those two generations are their respective captains: Brash and bold and cheesy-wonderful Kirk, wry and troubled and dripping-with-gravitas Picard.
You can drill down further. There are people who roll hard for Deep Space Nine, a TV show that doesn’t get the respect it deserves for pioneering long-form sci-fi serialization. I know people who love Voyager, a show that always felt saddled with overriding anxiety-of-influence syndrome—it wanted to be a weirder Deep Space Nine, but kept getting turned into a goofier Next Generation. But Voyager has Kathryn Janeway, and this:
#JanewayOut, indeed! But in my memory, I approached Star Trek from a bunch of different angles, all of them confusing. I remember seeing Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in movie theaters—I’m guessing my parents thought I’d dig it, because I liked Star Wars, and parents can’t really be bothered with arguments like “MOM STAR WARS IS SPACE FANTASY STAR TREK IS MORE REALISTIC THERE’S NO LASER SWORDS MOM.” I remember liking Undiscovered Country, even though I had only barely seen other Star Trek things before then—which is especially weird, since Undiscovered Country mainly works as a swan song for the whole original-crew generation.
From there, my Treksplorations were all over the place. I remember renting the first five Trek movies from my local pre-Blockbuster; I remember watching The Next Generation, although I’m weirdly certain that one of the first episodes I ever watched was the series finale; I remember catching episodes of the original series on Nick at Nite, but only very occasionally, and I didn’t like them very much because they felt “old” in some ineffable way, and most kids don’t like watching things that feel “old.” I watched a few seasons of Deep Space Nine but weirdly dropped off on it right before the Dominion War, which everyone agrees is the best part; I watched the first few years of Voyager and don’t remember liking it very much, although there’s a two-part episode called “Year of Hell” which I remember more than moments from my own life. I played a lot of the Interplay Star Trek games, because I loved video games but only had an Apple computer back when the only games for Apple were Interplay Star Trek games or LucasArts.
Weirdly, the Star Trek stuff I remember most is the tie-in novels. The Star Trek novel-verse occupies a weird place in the franchise. In terms of canon, it’s nowhere near as well-curated as the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Usually, individual writers come up with their own internal chronology for their stories; sometimes, Trek novels referenced classic Trek episodes in interesting ways. But mainly, as a kid growing up circa 1992-94ish, what made Trek novels great was that there were so freaking many of them. Dozens. Hundreds? Every Trek iteration had its own series of novels. They even invented a few new ones—I’ll always stump for Peter David’s New Frontier series, which was basically The Next Generation rewritten by George R. R. Martin.
All of which is to say: I don’t think I’m necessarily the right guy to suggest a director for the next Star Trek movie, insofar as my ideal version of a Star Trek movie would be time-traveling Kirk going renegade with Sisko to stop the Borg-Dominion alliance, and they’re being chased by Captain Picard and Admiral Janeway, who carry on an outrageous His Girl Friday-esque banter, and the whole thing ends with everyone fighting their Mirror Mirror duplicates.
Still, I tried. Readers responded with their own picks for the Trek directing duties. Let’s bag this mail!
How about putting Brad Bird on the short list? He’s already taken over for JJ once before with Mission: Impossible (and I personally think Ghost Protocol is great). He’s coming off of his first sci-fi romp with Tomorrowland, and I personally think the man who directed Ratatouille can do literally anything he wants. Maybe he can be pulled off his upcoming 1906 for a little bit to tackle Star Trek.
Also. Chris Evans. He’s not a half bad director. Captain America could do it. Would that be so bad? Or would the space time continuum collapse if Evans directed Pine?
First of all, props for mentioning Tomorrowland, the upcoming movie by my colleague/hero Jeff Jensen. (We co-host a podcast! Currently in drydock, but only like how the Enterprise was in drydock for a little while between the original five-year mission and the movie adventures!)
Second of all, Brad Bird is probably on the shortlist for every blockbuster franchise in Hollywood right now, and he occupies a rarified stratosphere in geek culture. We all kind of love Brad Bird, I think—all the more incredible when you consider that Bird’s only made three movies in the last decade. But what movies: Ratatouille is basically the best talking-animal cartoon Disney’s ever made, Ghost Protocol is almost certainly the best fourquel ever made, and The Incredibles is always in contention when we talk about the best superhero movies ever.
So Brad Bird on Star Trek: Duh, that’d be great. Would Bird want to do Star Trek? Hell, deeper question: Would anyone want to do Star Trek, right now, given where the franchise is at? This is a tricky question. On one hand, doing Star Trek 3 means being given the keys to one of the most beloved franchises in history, with a big budget, an extremely fun cast of actors, and the opportunity to do lots of fun space stuff. On the other hand: Paramount badly wants to make Star Trek 3 for 2016, which means you’d need to start filming like-now-or-sooner.
It’s a tricky thing, working on a franchise movie, and it feels like it’s getting trickier. In the last few weeks, there have been trailers for new iterations of Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and The Terminator. Each of the trailers are positively stuffed with images or concepts from movies that are twenty years old, thirty years old, or even older. Brad Bird is a director who comes up with new images: Would he want to be saddled with the need to do another spacefight with the Enterprise? Do we want him to do that?
I haven’t seen Chris Evans’ movie, Before We Go, and I’m glad to hear it’s not half bad. I am an Evans fan from way back—him doing Freddie Prinze Jr. in Not Another Teen Movie is all you need to know about teen culture at the turn of the millennium, and he’s my second-place Star of 2014 with Snowpiercer and Winter Soldier. (My first-place Star of 2014, cuz you asked: Scarlett Johansson for Under the Skin and Lucy and Winter Soldier.) I’d be down for Evans directing Pine, but only if the movie also features a flashback with Hemsworth-as-Papa-Kirk, and only if Evans also has a cameo as Harry Mudd.
Steven Spielberg. A long time ago he had ideas on how to make Star Trek more exciting. And as a former film student I see similarities with Abrams’ style and Spielberg’s so I think Spielberg will fit just right in with the quick paced action of the Rebooted Star Trek Franchise.
Listen, this is a lovely idea, and I’m sure it’s happening in the same fantasy universe where Guillermo Del Toro made the Hobbit movies and Sergio Leone adapted Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. But if we want to focus on directors who are within the realm of possibility:
Here are my choices for the new Star Trek 3 director.
-Jack Bender: He was the most prominent director of the TV show LOST and directed some of the best, including the series finale. Plus he has some Bad Robot pedigree.
-Colin Trevorrow: He is the director of the new Jurassic Park and just from the trailer I can tell that it is gonna be one of my favorite movies next summer. Why not give him a shot at another franchise!!
-Joe Chappelle: A lot of television directors are and he is one who deserves a shot. He directed the most of any from Fringe and also has some Bad Robot pedigree.
Ones that I know won’t happen but would be cool to see:
Insane props to Seth for picking out Jack Bender and Joe Chappelle, two directors who were responsible for defining the look of two of the best genre TV shows of the last ten years. In particular, I’d love to see what Chappelle could do with Star Trek. Fringe was, most constantly, a show about people talking about big topics—which is also what Star Trek has always been about in TV form. That rhythm has only rarely come across in the movies, which have always trended more toward big visuals and operatic action. People who don’t like Abrams will say that he “betrayed” the franchise by pushing it in that direction, but the style-over-substance vibe was true way back in The Motion Picture, a movie that badly wanted to be a cool-looking 2001 riff, and it’s definitely true of The Wrath of Khan, a hotblooded revenge flick about the scenery-chewing Shatner-Montalban showdown. Remember: The Star Trek movie before JJ Abrams joined up was the movie where this happened:
Trevorrow I’m less sure about. Did we all like the Jurassic World trailer? It felt pretty same-y to me: The stuff that hit was the literal recreation of the best bits of Jurassic Park, while everything else in the trailer was Chris Pratt looking confused and Bryce Dallas Howard inventing a brand new dinosaur made of pure evil or whatever. Book, cover, don’t judge, we’ll see.
Also: ELIZABETH BANKS! I think that’s a splendid idea. Banks is currently working on her directorial debut with Pitch Perfect 2, which doesn’t necessarily scream “big-budget sci-fi threequel,” but Trevorrow’s last movie before Jurassic World was a weird low-budge indie comedy. Certainly, Banks could bring a lighthearted sense of humor back to the Trek franchise, “sense of humor” being a thing that pretty much gets forfeited once you’ve slammed a spaceship into San Francisco because the centuries-old gene fascist was betraying the evil government officials who betrayed him because the clones were all inside the missiles or something, ow ow ow ow my brain.
He’s only directed one movie, Attack the Block, but that proved to be an exciting film that was BOTH a sci-fi and an urban youth movie. It showed that he has a good talent for mixing character and thrilling action pieces. Plus, that film starred John Boyega of upcoming Star Wars fame. He has a good eye for talent.
The movie came out in 2011, so the real question is why hasn’t he done a blockbuster yet?
Attack the Block is a great movie everyone should see immediately, and as Matt points out, it’s also one of the great recent starmaking performances: Boyega is so good and so natural in the movie that you barely even notice how, over the course of the 88-minute running time, gradually and effortlessly, he becomes a movie star.
Cornish theoretically should have been one of the microbudget directors who got promoted to blockbuster sequeldom around 2011-12. He wasn’t. Why? Who knows: There are rumblings that he was in line to take on Star Trek 3 before Orci took over, and further rumors that Legendary wanted him to make the King Kong offshoot Skull Island.
Again, I wonder if part of the problem here is the very unique status of Star Trek right now. It’s one of the most beloved franchises in history…but it’s not clear that anyone particularly enjoyed the last movie. And it’s not clear what people want the new movie to be. Most franchises nowadays are sagas, but Star Trek is classically a series of awesome standalone stories. Anyone directing a Star Trek movie has to deal with a mind-numbing amount of internal continuity, and the awareness that—rightly or not—the most engaged fans of the movie will also be the ones most likely to tear you to pieces.
I like your idea about Kathryn Bigelow! But what about Kenneth Branagh? He’s done some genre fare before (Thor). And he’s also directed action films as well (Jack Ryan). As a bonus, he could cast himself as the villain!
Now this is an idea I can get behind! When I was going through my Shakespeare Movie phase, Branagh won my heart forever. His Henry V is a grandiose roller coaster that plays a little bit like an early iteration of the Gladiator/Lord of the Rings turn-of-the-millennium battle epics. (Except it’s those movies with good dialogue, and by good dialogue, I mean literally Shakespearean.) His Much Ado About Nothing is just fun fun fun, one of those movies that feels like it could be a date movie and also a watch-with-multiple-generations holiday movie. And his Hamlet is only my fifth-favorite Hamlet—I can’t stress enough, Shakespeare Movie Phase—but considering that it’s a four-hour movie about British people standing around a castle, it’s remarkably fleet-footed and fun. It’s a four-hour movie that feels like a two-hour movie: What better compliment can you give?
I really enjoyed the parts of Thor that felt like Branagh—the first twenty minutes and the romance, mostly. And the fact that Branagh did Jack Ryan shows that he’s willing to do random franchise work. In an ideal world, Paramount would get a writer with an interesting voice to do a draft of Trek 3—someone like Charlie Brooker, creator of Black Mirror—and then hand it to Branagh to add in all kinds of outer-space pageantry. I’m in.
Just a couple of my thoughts on your article for the new Star Trek director.
Geek Credible Directors
-Ridley Scott because, he needs a sic-fi hit after Prometheus.
-Neill Blomkamp because District 9 was awesome, Elysium was okay, and if he ever wants to get the financing to make the Halo games into a movie, he needs to show he can handle a big budget movie like Star Trek.
-Robert Zemeckis because, If anyone can handle all the time travel they do in the rebooted Star Trek, they need someone who can keep the plot threads separated and not too confusing. Plus, if there’s anyone who can make the characters stay in touch with their emotions instead of being card board cutouts like actors in a Bay film it would be him.
Long Shot Directors
-Guy Ritchie because, Kirk/Spock = Holmes/Watson
-Robert Rodriguez because, once upon a time he made a small film called The Faculty that he didn’t write and it was awesome. Gotta watch Faculty every Halloween and who wouldn’t to see want the enterprise be infiltrated by a parasite that takes over the crew. Think Star Trek meets The Thing with less snow.
-Steven Soderbergh because, despite Ocean’s 12, he would be able to handle the cast and why not make the enterprise have to heist a macguffin from the Klingons or the Romulans?
Sure Thing Directors
-Justin Lin because, look what he did with the Fast + Furious movies, and the crew of the enterprise is one big dysfunctional family as well.
-James Gunn because Guardians of the Galaxy was influenced by Star Trek. Star Lord = Capt. Kirk. Why not give him the keys to his dad’s car and let him take it for a spin.
-Shane Black because, besides Iron Man 3, he wrote a movie called Predator and I would love to spend the last 20 minutes of Star Trek 3 watching Kirk set traps for an alien that is trying to use his skull as an ashtray.
-Graham Yost because, even though SOA is more brutal and gets more credit, Justified is the smarter show and Timothy Olyphant plays a heckuva bad guy. Think how good he was in Live Free or Die Hard. Better yet, he might get Walton Goggins and who doesn’t think Boyd Crowder is an all-time great tv villain? Ricardo Montalban/ Khan = Walton Goggins / ?
-Kurt Sutter because who doesn’t want to see Chekov rebel against Kirk whilst slowly turning into the person he hates?
These are quite a few of my ideas about the next director. On a side note, you will notice a lot of directors of foreign origins. J.J. Abrams wasn’t a fan of Star Trek when he directed the first two movies. Maybe that’s the key to Star Trek. Think of what an American TV director would do with Dr. Who. Why not have someone from another country direct Star Trek?
Have a good weekend,
Dear Steven: You and I disagree about a few things, but someone who thinks that a third Star Trek movie should be directed by Justin Lin or Graham Yost—but also someone who specifically takes the time to mention the horrible characters in Michael Bay movies—is somebody whose back I will always have.
Get somebody to proof read your work on Star Trek 3 directors that was alive in 1999.
I’ve been puzzling over Pat’s missive, and I can’t figure out what it means. I think he’s either saying one of two things. One: “Your post had several typos, and you should hire someone who is at least 16 years old as a copyeditor.” Two: “Your suggestions for Star Trek 3 directors reflect the cultural sensibility of a 15-year-old.”
Both are possible. I write fast, and sometimes there are typos, and every single one of them is a dagger in my heart. And when it comes to pop culture, I basically approach everything like a valley girl with a skateboard who can’t wait for Elizabeth Banks to turn The Silmarillion into a movie.
But now let’s get serious here, people, because our boy Fritz is about to go all Code Zero Zero Zero Destruct Zero on this conversation!
How about this: forget a ST3 director, and scrap the movie entirely. For as much love and care went into the nu-Treks, and for as much as I love them for it, neither movie really demands a sequel. And, ultimately, the direction of “action blockbuster” for Trek is inorganic in the same way as making a Star Wars trilogy featuring nothing but stodgy Jedi and CGI.
With momentum behind Trek slowing fast, maybe it’s time for Star Trek to pull a Star Wars, totally pull the plug on the current direction, and return to the roots of what made it great in the first place, while updating it for modern viewers. Kill the JJ-verse, have CBS and Paramount re-unify the Star Trek TV/Movie brand, and get Trek back on TV as Game of Thrones-style serialized event television for the 50th anniversary, from which a new shared universe of books, games, web content, and maybe films, can be born.
What say ye?
This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking perspective on the current Trek problem. It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since I saw Star Trek Into Darkness. That second movie essentially ends where the original series began: With Kirk and his Enterprise buddies setting off on a bunch of wild new adventures. (Weirdly, that’s also where the first JJ Abrams Star Trek ended.) And as Fritz points out, it doesn’t quite make sense for Star Trek to become just another action blockbuster series.
Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it doesn’t quite fit into any of our current notions for what makes a blockbuster series. Again, it’s not a “saga;” there’s no master story. The characters in Star Trek are characters who are doing their jobs. “Just doing their job” is the basis for most TV shows, but it’s a concept that has basically disappeared from contemporary blockbuster movies.
On the big screen, Star Trek has always struggled through attempting to make the movies “matter” to the characters. They gave Kirk a son in Wrath of Khan and took him away in Search for Spock; they gave Picard a weird clone son in Nemesis; some of the best parts of First Contact take Data’s essential story arc and reframe it as creepy body horror. The most extreme version of this was Abrams’ first Star Trek, which retroactively turned Kirk into a Chosen One hero straight out of Harry Potter. (He was born during a space battle! When his father died! Fighting the Romulan Kirk would someday fight on his very first mission!)
But where do you go next? Star Trek Into Darkness was an all-but-explicit attempt to Nolanize the franchise, but the best part of the movie was the pre-credits scene, which felt like a wild and crazy episode of TOS. I would happily watch a whole movie on that wavelength: Enterprise goes to a world, has a crazy adventure, moves on.But even the “Crazy Adventure” model feels like a betrayal of something fundamental to the best parts of the franchise. For so much of Star Trek‘s history, it’s been a cheaply produced product: The most expensive episode of any Star Trek show would probably pay for one AT-At. That cheapness was a good thing: It meant that Trek was fundamentally more human than, say, Star Wars, if only because Star Trek couldn’t afford sweet space battles, so it had to just keep putting boring old humans onscreen.
So Fritz’ solution actually feels like a so-crazy-it-could-work situation. We’re in a sudden renaissance for event television and a sudden renaissance for reunion television and a renaissance for great-but-not-super-popular things that can live on the cheap thanks to hyper-engaged fanbases. Like, theoretically, the Fritz Star Trek TV idea is a combination of True Detective and Twin Peaks-on-2016 and Community-on-Yahoo.Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the new 2016 Star Trek would feature a few familiar faces, for the sake of raising funding and fan interest—think Days of Future Past or Star Wars: Episode VII (or, hell, TNT’s Dallas.)
Now let’s also say, for the sake of argument, that the new 2016 Star Trek would be a ten-episode season, Game of Thrones-style, with maybe a special “bonus” 90-minute episode that airs six months later, Doctor Who-style. Now let’s say for the final argument that The Powers That Be at Paramount decide to turn this new Star Trek into an anthology drama, like True Detective or American Horror Story, with the implication being that every “season” will tell a complete story.
Does that sound cool to you? How about this: Patrick Stewart. As Jean-Luc Picard. Returning to the Enterprise for one final go-round the universe. Picard’s role in this series—which I’m henceforth going to refer to as Star Trek: Edge of Forever—would be a major one. He’d be the Captain of one Enterprise or another, but his crew would be entirely new characters. So Picard’s role would be sort of a combination of Steven Hill on Law & Order (gravelly wise old mentor) and the Doctor on every iteration of Doctor Who since the reboot (whimsically sad elder who seems curiously lonely despite all his friends).
A couple episodes would focus in specifically on Picard as an older man—essentially doing for him what every Star Trek movie after The Motion Picture did for Kirk. Like, we’d get an episode guest-starring Gates McFadden that closes the book on the Picard/Crusher relationship—were they just meant to be friends? Did their lives get in the way? (Ideally, this could occur in an episode that features the Mirror universe, like where maybe the alternate-universe versions of Picard and Crusher were happily married—an example of how the new Trek could use hoary old concepts in new ways, and also an example of how I wish Fringe were still on.)
Then, at the end of the series, the Enterprise gets blown up, and some crew members survive and some don’t, and the next Star Trek is completely different: Something like Deep Space Nine, set in a locked space somewhere dangerous, or something like Enterprise, focusing on the small-scale missions of a smaller crew. Whatever: The key would be making an event series that splits the difference between big-and-small-screen Trek, that lets creators tell a longform story but also emphasizes nifty hour-long concepts.
Will this happen? Probably not. Paramount needs franchises, needs a 2016 tentpole, needs to convince itself that it makes sense to make a Star Trek movie that nobody is really asking for. And maybe it’ll be good! But I think it will require someone who can come in and rethink what, precisely, makes a good Star Trek movie. Maybe Elizabeth Banks?