OP/ED: Open Letter to J.J. Abrams About the STAR TREK Sequel
by Michael Doran
Date: 13 May 2009 Time: 07:40 PM ET
Dear J.J. (may I call you "J"?),Saw Star Trek over the weekend. Really liked it. If you ask me rebooting the franchise by recasting of the original, iconic characters with a fresh, young ensemble was the cleverest way to go (I for one had little interest in a Starfleet Academy movie or the Next Next Generation), and the $79.2 million the film pulled in Thursday through Sunday seems to have bore that out. If you'll pardon me setting phasers on pun for a moment, thanks to you it looks like the once creaky old space-sparing vessel is ready to achieve maximum warp and live long and prosper. That said, I do have one bit of unsolicited advice, as you, your production team, and the good folks at Paramount Pictures begin plotting in earnest a course for the inevitable sequels. The alternate timeline you've created and the successful launch you're now enjoying likely gives you the opportunity to take the franchise in a completely different direction – to really (sorry, this will be the last time) boldly go where no one has gone before. The temptation to do exactly that is probably compelling, as the future of Star Trek will live or die by Paramount's ability to find renewable sources of fandom, rather than burning through the existing fossil fanboys. But as fresh a start as you've given the universe, there is such a thing as too fresh.
Give me a moment to explain… No, this is not a plea for recurring appearances by Leonard Nimoy as "Spock Prime", or future cameos by the other living original cast members. In fact, you're probably wise to put time-travel and its headache-inducing paradoxes in mothballs for a long while … at least for 20 odd years or so until that probe thingee parks itself in Earth's orbit looking for the Humpbacks (Spock Prime should probably leave the young Kirk a memo about that one –"Jim, if you ever happen to time travel to the Earth's past, bring back a whale … trust me"). So while I'm not suggesting you be a green slave girl to what's come before, I do think you'd be well served to continue to keep future installments – as you astutely did with the first – deeply steeped in classic Trek lore, spun in a way that makes sense to the newbies but gets the old guard standing up and cheering, as anyone who attended a screening this past weekend probably witnessed for themselves. You see chemistry is a tricky, volatile thing, and leaving out even one important element or getting it in the wrong proportion could make your concoction inert. We see it in the comic book industry all the time. Even normally 'superstar'-level creators can sell certain types of projects in pedestrian numbers. And there is no iconic character in comics incapable of selling like a dud. But mix the superstar creator with the iconic character and your often get explosive results – a chemical reaction greater than the sum of its ingredients. The young, talented cast you've assembled and accessible storylines are both key components to your Star Trek cocktail and could probably steer the ship for a few films (to mix metaphors), but I'd argue without a health portion of the elements that engendered a 40+ year pop culture love affair, things could go flat, but quick. And what's some unsolicited advice without some unsolicited suggestions... They often say what makes a great action/adventure film is the quality of the villain, and with all due respect J.J., you managed to pull this one off without a top flight one. Nero was a forgettable villain with questionable motives and one of film's most passive-aggressive evil schemes ever. And with the "origin story" now out of the way, your next Star Trek is going to need a great big bad to put the still-dewy Kirk and crew to the test. So here are three suggestions for some villains pulled from the past that you might want to consider for part 2. Oh, before we start, as iconic as the Klingons are to Trek lore, there is really no stand-out villain to re-imagine, even from the original TV series. It was the movies, in fact, that fleshed out individual Klingon adversaries. Yeah, Christopher Plummer's Chang in The Undiscovered Country was pretty cool. Christopher Lloyd as Klingon Commander Kruge in The Search for Spock not so much. The less said about the Klingon sisters in Generations the better. They're aggressive war mongers and have a guttural language …I get it already. So I'm turning my attention elsewhere... 3.) The Crew's "Mirror Universe" Counterparts Now, even I admit this one may be a little kitschy for its own good given the new Star Trek universe is itself an alternate reality. And "evil twins" seems a little too "TV" for the big screen (not that there's anything wrong with TV J.J.). This could walk a fine line with self-parody. But hear me out on this one. Some of the best-known Star Trek villains have always been somewhat allegorical, as elements of great science fiction often are. The Klingons were of course stand-ins for Cold War era Russians and Gene Roddenberry's attempt at a new allegorical race of villains in the Next Generation – the Ferengi – was a play on 1980's consumerism and Gordon Gekko-like greed run amok. But assigning the objects of our fears and all our negative impulses onto an alien race is something of an easy way out. Pardon me for taking a sharp left turn into the serious for a moment, but right now this country is dealing with the fallout and legacy of our government's perversion of the United States' sacred ideals and our national identity in the name of defense, and unfortunately it looks like this will be a prominent story in our national consciousness for some time to come. What better moment in history to examine the darker side of human nature – to see an all-out war between our own angels and demons and what could happen to us were we to let the erosion of our principles go unchecked. Plus, Spock with a goatee is just plain cool… Oh and as a bonus J.J., you won't have to use any of your budget on a big-name actor to play the villain. You just have to work your existing cast twice as hard for the same money. 2.) The Borg Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I'm probably committing Star Trek heresy to suggest the Borg appear again in anything but a big screen reboot of the Next Generation, but that could be a very long time from now (if ever) and they're too good a concept to have lying around doing nothing for all that time. Nero messing with the timeline means all rules are off in terms of when and where things first occur, and having the franchise's arguable best crew face off against its arguable best villainous alien race (sorry Klingons and Romulans) would be waaay cool and add a curiosity factor that would be hard to match in any other way … but one, which I'll get to in a moment. And do it right and it doesn't preclude a future appearance years down the road by "Locutus of Borg", which is no doubt on every TNG fan's wish-list. As to that one other thing that could raise the level of anticipation and curiosity in a next Star Trek film even higher… 1.) KHAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNN!!!! Chris Pine, start warming up your vocal chords. Okay, so you probably saw this one coming all the way from Spacedock, so J.J. I'm just going to come right out and ask directly – can you please put Khan Noonien Singh in the next movie? I'll even go see it twice! You see, by including Nimoy as Spock Prime in your reboot and setting up the alternate timeline instead of just a 'clean' relaunch, you yourself have introduced the prominent concept of destiny and inevitability to the new Trek universe. Jim Kirk was destined to be the Enterprise's Captain even if he had to be scrapped off a bar room floor and snuck on the ship by Bones to get there. Kirk and Spock are destined to be friends to the end of their lives, even if their guts told them they didn't even like each other at first. Because Nero changed the timeline beginning with Kirk's birth, that means the derelict SS Botany Bay is still floating out in space somewhere, with a young(er) Khan just waiting to be revived and his genetically engineered conqueror mentality set in motion again … and Kirk is destined to be the one to thwart his plans … yet again … for the very first time. But the beauty part is Kirk doesn't even have to score a knockout win the first match. This could be Star Trek's "Empire" moment. Kirk vs. Khan is a two-round fight at minimum, and what better way to start than a re-imagined at a big screen-scale adaptation of the original "Space Seed"? C'mon J.J. – Star Trek 2: The Rise of Khan has a certain ring to it, doesn't it??