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  • STAR TREK Movie Script Review: FIRE EVERYTHING!

    fireeverything

    With the world premiere of Star Trek unspooling tonight in Sydney—and no, the International Date Line does not constitute time travel—I thought I’d finally break my silence about the script, as one of the few people in the galaxy to actually read the screenplay ahead of time.

    A word of caution as we begin: breaking my silence doesn’t mean breaking my non-disclosure agreement with IDW, Orci/Kurtzman or Bad Robot, who would all be happy to set their phasers to kill if I genuinely ruined any surprises. So, expect a spoiler-free review below; and if you actually like spoilers, you’ll already be surfing a tsunami of them tomorrow and won’t need any from me. (In fact, thanks to Twitter, you’ll probably even get them during the screening itself).

    First, however, some background: Director J.J. Abams, the mastermind behind the franchise’s reboot, is notoriously secretive with the details of his projects, a lesson cannily learned from the successes of Lost and Cloverfield; so even reading the script ahead of time required a perfect storm of opportunity and circumstance.

    trekmovielogoAs the Trek editor for IDW, which routinely publishes comic book prequels for its licensed titles, the “Supreme Court” of J.J.’s creative circle had tapped me to write the four-issue miniseries that would lead into the film, with the comics hitting the stands in 2008. Soon thereafter, though, Paramount execs repositioned Star Trek as a 2009 summer tentpole release, having laid their eyes on the film’s early footage. Meanwhile, I left the Trek captain’s chair to freelance full-time, and the logistical insanity of creating both the film and the prequel simultaneously finally forced J.J.’s team to shift gears and create the comics series in-house. (No cards or flowers for me, please—it’s not the first time that’s happened in Hollywood, and it won’t be the last.)

    During the interim between the two, however, I had the chance to drive up to Universal and read the script at the Orci/Kurtzman offices (where, by coincidence, I actually met one of the guys who’d ultimately write the prequel). This by itself took an extraordinary amount of negotiation, including a maze of round-robin phone calls, several rescheduled appointment dates, and finally a comprehensive resume of published works demonstrating my geek cred. When these people said they intended to keep the story under wraps, they weren’t kidding—in fact, even some key people at CBS/Paramount hadn’t read the script yet, and quite possibly still haven’t. (Did it help that I went to the same high school as Trek producer and Lost Abramite Damon Lindelof? Probably not, but you never know.)

    I recognize that such secrecy has occasionally frustrated fans—Trek at its most basic might be a mere copyright, but it’s also a global cultural touchstone and the centerpiece of imagination for legions of true believers. When the custodian of that mythology says he’s going to rewrite the testament, but keep its secrets from the congregates, there’s naturally going to be disquiet among the faithful.

    At the same time, however, this secrecy has delivered its exact desired effect: Fans have become more abuzz about this film than perhaps any other in Trek history, and unveiling the reworked franchise with one single flourish has proven much more effective than had J.J. piecemealed it out. Or, to put it in my familiar comic book terms: it would have been like reading a scattershot series of panels, released haphazardly, then attempting to gague whether the issue was any good.

    So, enough preamble. Having read the script in a single flourish, is it any good?

    trekcast

    The answer is: Oh, my, yes. You’re goddamn right it is.

    The Supreme Court has powered up all its storytelling weapons and—paraphrasing Nero—fired everything. Action, drama, mythology, philosophy, characterization, romance…literally, all here. Pulse-pounding action sequences, so well choreographed that they actually unfold right on the page. More in-depth characterization than some players receive during entire seasons of Trek. And, most importantly, such elements used not in place of the story, but in direct service to it.

    Let’s start with action. As a writer, I use a couple of rules when crafting action scenes: #1: Good action is cool shit happening in interesting places. #2: Everything is more exciting when it’s airborne. And #3: Never pass up the chance to explode a helicopter. The script exploits the first two with consistent and often breathtaking effect; and, while there obviously aren’t any copters in Star Trek, Orci & Kurtzman blow up nearly everything else, again always in service to the story, and not merely CGI showpieces for a picture-frame plot.

    The drama? There are a couple of rules when crafting drama as well. #1. Desperate characters struggle against rising stakes; #2: External conflict should be matched by internal conflict; and #3: Get the hell out of the helicopter, douchebag, it’s about to explode.

    Here again, the script utterly nails it—especially #3, in which (once the story goes to warp) characters find themselves in almost constant jeopardy, either through action itself or the tension leading up to it. That alone speaks to the skill behind the script, since it keeps moments stretched drum-tight even when we’re all well aware—because, of course, this is the relaunch of the franchise—that most characters aren’t about to get cut in half by a lightsabre midway through the second reel.

    spock-and-kirkOK, enough with the rules-numbering. Let’s talk about the characterization. Having written and edited licensed Star Trek, I can tell you that it’s really not that difficult to get Kirk’s voice onto the page or make Spock sound like Spock. Even Slash/fanfic’ers can do it; we’ve all seen the episodes and movies dozens of times and know exactly who they are and how they talk. The challenge for this film is to deliver an origin story about how those characters came to be.

    On that level, it’s a story that will appeal not just to Trek fans, but universally to any fans of good storytelling, who can connect with individuals and the relationships that develop between them, with their character arcs of growth, failure and sacrifice, and their authentic human experiences even amidst the backdrop of exploding photon torpedoes.

    neroWere there things I didn’t think were perfect? Well, sure. I thought that Nero actually read a little flat on the page—no pun intended—but, having seen even just brief clips of Eric Bana’s performance from the TV spots and trailers, I realize now that he could see in the script what I didn’t. He’s definitely taken the character and punched him through to the stratosphere.

    I also thought there was one brief action set-piece that felt a bit too familiar to one from another film of the same genre (again, no spoilers, so I won’t say what); but when you’ve seen as many SF films, episodes, comics, scripts and pitches as I have, sooner or later you’ll find all sorts of moments that can start to seem familiar. It’s the only one I found in the script here, though, and if it’s executed correctly on the screen, it’s going to be a fantastic sequence.

    So, all right, it’s a great script. But Star Trek scripts need to be more than great stories; they need to be great Trek, and that means fidelity to all the precise continuity that goes along with it. Talk of reboots and reworkings and reimaginings makes fans afraid that they’re about to rewatch Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. We’ve all seen Greedo shoot first, and in Hollywood the words “trust me” and “fuck off” often sound remarkably identical. When I moderated the Star Trek publishing panel at the San Diego Comic-Con last year, the subject of the film naturally came up, and Wil Wheaton, sitting next to me, put it best: “We are all living in a Post-Phantom Menace World.”

    I also have a number of good friends who have written Trek professionally for the screen, and as much as I fully respect them, there’s a sentiment among some that resists not just change, but any change. Those friends might very well disagree with me about this script, but it’s likely that they would have been disappointed no matter what story was made. Hell, some Star Trek fans already have Internet firefights worthy of the Dominion War, and that’s just for stories that didn’t restart the franchise. I couldn’t produce stories that pleased every single one of those fans when I ran the Trek titles at IDW, and Orci/Kurtzman don’t make the mistake of attempting to do that here.

    enterpriseBut, just in case you’re concerned that this story marks its new continuity by pissing all over the old one, let me reassure you: That isn’t what happens here. The script doesn’t ignore 40+ years of continuity, it doesn’t replace it and it doesn’t even eulogize it. It constructs a deceptively elegant narrative device to leave in place all that has gone before, while striking off in a bold new direction. It’s a fresh coat of paint on the ship that we’re all already familiar and comfortable with.

    There is indeed a moment in the script—I won’t say what it is, even though it’s already been leaked and widely discussed, since I promised no spoilers—that indelibly marks this as a new continuity; it’s sure to be controversial among the fans, but it’s not a cheap stunt or way of dismissing the old stories. It’s the story’s way of cementing a new identity all its own.

    It’s also entirely fair to say that Paramount has hoped to refit the franchise for a new generation, acutely aware of the gently aging demographic that has devoted itself up until now; and in that respect it definitely represents a more modern sensibility and departure from the back-to-basics, “Enterprise gets involved in two warring factions on a planet” type of routine story that made Insurrection such an epic fail.

    But while teens will most definitely love it, I’ll also say that my dad is 72 years old, wouldn’t know a phaser from a fork in a toaster, and I’m going to make him see it on opening weekend. It’s a story that communicates everything we’ve loved about Trek, to the masses who could never quite fathom why we loved it; it is, in almost every way, the Star Trek movie we’ve been waiting for.

    25 Comments

    1. This won’t do obnoxious “Dark Knight” numbers, but Star Trek 2009 = Main Stream. My dad is 63, and he’ll go see it, and the “Hunky Kirk and Spock” angle are going to bring in the youngsters as well.

      It’s going to cut wildly across nearly every demographic. And if it’s as good as it looks…who knows. Regardless, it’s going to smoke T4 and Transformers2. Captain Kirk is here to bitch slap them, and it’s going to be fun to watch!

    2. They always say the odd numbered Star Trek movies are the worse. Star trek 11 is an odd number ( 1,3, 5, 7, 9. 11)

      This is not Star Trek. And I will not be watching it. You just can’t dump 40 years of Star Trek History in one film. There are Next Generation fans, DS 9 Fans and Voyager Fans. This make believe Star Trek completely leaves them out in the cold. You just can’t abandon the fans.

      I also reject the alternate univese theme. Star Trek 11 feels more like Star Wars than Star Trek. Even one scene of the pretend Kirk on a motor cycle looks like it was lifted from Star Wars.

      This is the worse Star Trek film ever.

      And Thats my opinion.

    3. Hmm. You say it doesn’t replace the continuity or eulogize it, but fits nicely within it, but in the next paragraph you state that there is a point that clearly distinguishes it as a “new continuity”. That seems contradictory, and it’s what we’ve heard since the start. Now, I’m okay with the new continuity, but before I go into the theater, I want to know what universe I’m looking at. My guess is that it’s one of those “You just have to see it” kind of things where explaining it takes something out of it… am I correct?

      Great review, thanks a bunch!

    4. Scott–I can’t say too much, but perhaps it’s best explained by Bob Orci himself, who did an interview with TrekMovie.com about this exact subject. You can find it here:

      http://sn.im/fdmja

    5. I can’t wait for this film! I’ve been a fan of TOS since childhood, and have grown to love both TNG and Voyager as well. Going by the look of the trailers alone, this film looks like it will be fantastic!

    6. I find that so hard to believe because it sounds like exactly what a studio person would say to keep the hype high before anyone has seen the movie. If you recall the whole, “this will please fans and non fans alike because of how relatable it is,” line was also given before Insurrection came out which you note as an epic failure, so why is THIS the one movie that Finally makes it true? I’m hoping it is as great as you suggest but I still remain incredibly skeptical.

    7. See…. I’m hoping very much for a good movie, and a good Star Trek movie. But while I’m open to recasting, open to a certain degree of visual redesign, the only thing I’ve ever asked of this film is that it be part of the same fictional universe as all the rest, in terms of the storytelling.

      It may yet be a great film. It may be a lot of fun. But if, as I’ve feared of late, it ends in a different world than what we’ve built for 40+ years, in an alternate world in which what we saw happen before no longer matters…it’s already failed.

      I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since the early ’70s. But I’m not just a fan of Kirk and Spock, or of any one set of characters. What I am a fan of is Star Trek’s universe. The whole thing. And as such, it increasingly looks like this will not be a movie for me. After all these years, it would seem that I’ll be among the demographic being jettisoned for this film.

      I hope that’s not true, but if it is, well… I won’t feel the need to reward it with the many repeat viewings I was planning when I thought it was going to be a real prequel, and a real “origin story” for TOS.

      Or can you tell me, Andrew, that I’m worrying more than I need to? I sure hope so!

    8. Dan–I think it’s good to be skeptical. And, quite frankly, after Insurrection and Nemesis, it’s healthy to be skeptical. But it also means you’re going to like it that much more. I almost wish I could go into the theater expecting it to be lame, and then having it blow me away.

      Alex–You raise many interesting and thoughtful points. The best I can say is go in there and give it a chance; if you’re a fan of the entire Trek universe, then it’s going to include this one. Stuff from the 23rd Century wasn’t jettisoned when they launched Next Generation, stuff from the Alpha Quadrant wasn’t jettisoned when Voyager was the only show carrying the torch, and the stuff that you love isn’t being jettisoned now.

      I’d actually like to hear what you think about the film if you decide to see it next month, so drop me a line and let me know.

    9. People like Magnum crack me up – he hasn’t seen the film yet it’s already worse than Star Trek V.

      I’ll throw my Trek cred up against anyone – why get hung up on TOS? Star Trek isn’t that, it’s “everything is going to be ok, because the human race is good.” That’s it, done.

      Re-work it in a legit sci-fi manner? Great, who cares? If you’re a fan of the old show, the mind really boggles with excitement at the notion that perhaps Gary Mitchell could show up in a sequel. Are we going to meet the woman who WAS Nancy Crater? If f’ing Finnegan going to be in the bar fight?

      How much fun is that? To complain without seeing the film is to completely miss the point.

    10. Having seen 20 minutes of this, I can say it will be a huge disappointment on every level. It truly is not the Star Wars-ization of Star Trek, but the American Pie-zation of it. The “Supreme Court’s” brand of humor is sophomoric, the logic of the situations is specious and Chris Pine was the only one doing any acting. Quinto and that poor guy who got stuck with the Chekov accent are so bad (or badly directed) it hurt. I want the franchise to be revived, but not like this. And really – who thinks the Superman Returns shirts are anything but a wardrobe malfunction of the highest order?

    11. This is going to be a great movie. Good special effects!!!

    12. [...] STAR TREK Movie Script Review: FIRE EVERYTHING! With the world premiere of Star Trek unspooling tonight in Sydney—and no, the International Date Line does not [...] [...]

    13. THANK YOU. Now I don’t have to worry about if its terrible or not. I love Abrams to bits. Lost. Cloverfield. OMG AWESOME. MI3…. not so much…. but anything that involves Tom Cruise I’m gonna be wary of frankly…. I was glad to hear Abrams was doing the Trek movie, but still wasn’t sure how it’d turn out.

      (Love that u went to school with the Lost team btw!!)

    14. [...] was actually at the showing. You can read about it here. Then I read another positive review of the script. Both of these reviews gave no spoilers but managed to get me a little excited for the movie. Maybe [...]

    15. Hi, Andrew,

      “Alex–You raise many interesting and thoughtful points. The best I can say is go in there and give it a chance; if you’re a fan of the entire Trek universe, then it’s going to include this one. Stuff from the 23rd Century wasn’t jettisoned when they launched Next Generation, stuff from the Alpha Quadrant wasn’t jettisoned when Voyager was the only show carrying the torch, and the stuff that you love isn’t being jettisoned now.”

      I’ve now read the spoiler reviews in the wake of the Austin screening. More than ever, I am feeling as I was when I wrote my previous comment. Pretty much the only way to make what I quoted from you true would be an explicit commitment from the studio that they’ll also support the continuity of the 5 series and first 10 films. I won’t put spoilers here, but I will say that they crossed major lines for me, and what I’m reading/hearing, I do not like.

      That said, I’ll still go and see the film. I’ll give it a chance. But it’s got a pretty heavy millstone on it in my mind now.

    16. Everyone loves Star Trek right now!!!

    17. Rod–I can’t speak to things like acting, accents, direction, etc., since I haven’t seen the movie and this was only a script review. I will say, though, that your comparison to Superman Returns is an interesting one–that movie suffered precisely because of excessive studio interference (Superman not allowed to hit anyone, even when powerless, for example.).

      This new Trek is actually the exact opposite: The studio passed the wheel to J.J. and told him he could pretty much drive wherever he wanted. (As I said, there were key CBS/Paramount people who hadn’t even had the chance to read the script.) That’s an exceedingly rare thing in Hollywood, especially for a major franchise–hell, for just about any film, I’d say–so it’s going to be interesting to see whether that nearly total creative freedom actually pays dividends.

      Alex–I really do hope you like it, but I’m not sure what you mean by a possible lack of commitment to the 5 series/10 films. There’ll still be all sorts of novels, comics, games, stories, etc. set in TNG, TOS, DS9, and so on. There just won’t be any more films or TV shows, which has been the case for TOS since Undiscovered Country and for TNG since Nemesis. (And for the other shows since their series finales.) Some of the TOS actors are gone, and many of the TNG actors aren’t interested in reprising their roles, so there wouldn’t be the opportunity to continue with them on screen anyway.

      Brian–since I just mentioned Star Trek VI, Magnum’s comments encourage me quote Kirk from the film’s fiinale–strangely appropriate, since that was the final full movie with the full original TOS cast, and this is the first movie with the new cast:

      “People can be frightened of change. I know I was.”

    18. I haven’t seen that one in forever…I remember Plummer was great. I think I’ll put it on the list for this month…

    19. Are we EVER going to get a Star Trek movie?

      In case anyone from the studio is reading, that would be a movie illustrating an episode in the five year mission of the Starship Enterprise™ in which it explores a strange new world at the edge of the known universe, and discovers a new life form or civilization — thus fulfilling the mission statement itemized at the beginning of every episode. They’ve been in reruns for forty years, I’d have thought you guys would have stumbled across one by now.

      This would be as opposed to what you’ve been giving us, i.e. movies set at least partly on the planet Earth, in which the ship is rushed into service prematurely (or is on a training cruise, or is getting mothballed, or explodes, or does not appear, or is rushed into service prematurely, or gets mothballed despite apparently never having seen any actual service), and in which a crazed villain blows things up until he is himself blown up.

    20. [...] I just wanted to say that the Star Trek movie script review that I published this week has easily become one of the most heavily-trafficked posts in the short [...]

    21. After viewing the final trailer for this movie, I can’t help but feel this will be one of those movies that defines a generational imprint.

      For myself it was Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Titanic.

      Then came the Lord of the Rings epics.

      Now Abrams new … likely masterpiece … will not only be a tentpole for paramount but a cultural identity film for this generation of youth.

    22. Jamenta–that’s a very astute observation. It seems like every 10 years or so there’s another film that becomes not just a hit, but a cultural phenomenon, especially among fandom. In the late-70s it was Star Wars; about ten years later it was Batman; ten years after that, The Matrix; and now it’s ten years later again. (Yes, it’s true, Dark Knight posted unprecedented numbers, but it didn’t itself transform the culture.)

      I thought the next film to do that–since we are in fact due again–would be Watchmen, but its length and R rating seems to have relegated it to mere repeat-viewing status. So I think the film that’s going to step up to the podium is Star Trek, both because the culture is due and the franchise itself is due. Early word is that JJ has delivered a knockout film, one that’s absolutely going to demolish the box office, so we’ll see if it converts a new legion of Trek fans as well.

      Forrest–I suppose that’s a fair enough observation, except that what you’re talking about has never really been the focus of the films (at least, not the best ones). Khan isn’t about strange new worlds at the edge of the universe, and neither is Trek IV. First Contact–probably the best TNG film–was likewise set substantially on Earth. The “Wagon Train to the Stars” approach may work for episodic TV, but a film needs to have a bolder, more definitive signature. All just IMHO, anyway.

    23. “…what you’re talking about has never really been the focus of the films…”

      Exactly. Having abandoned the premise, they should change the title to avoid accusations of false advertising. Make it a new franchise that reflects the actual selling points. I suggest the title EARTH DOOM, or perhaps the more exciting EARTHDOOM!, in each installment of which something or someone arrives and threatens to destroy the Earth, but is defeated by pluck, luck, and plasma effects.

    24. Thank you


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