Tossing Around “Star Trek XI” Concepts

Seven months after Paramount’s April announcement that J.J. Abrams will write and produce the eleventh Star Trek movie, very little other information on the high profile but top secret project has been released.In fact, the only other official details of any significance came in July when Paramount released an advance poster for the film at Comic-Con, heralding a 2008 release date. The poster appears to contain a TOS-era Enterprise command insignia, bridging fields of command gold and science blue.Since then, Paramount and other official sources have been fairly silent. Rumors are everywhere. As a rule, I try not to report rumors or non-sanctioned, major plot spoilers on The Film Frontier prior to a movie’s US release. This policy is in place out of respect for not only those involved in making movies but also readers (both of you). So, I leave the rumors, script fragments, set photos, and related minutia to other sites.That being said, I want to indulge myself a bit today and certainly a self-indulgent blog such as this one is the best place to do that. Without directly addressing any rumors and with the caveat that only a handful of people truly know what the next film will be about, I want to take a look at some of the many possibilities that exist for the eleventh Star Trek movie and offer my opinions on which direction Trek should take.

Star Trek XI: Picard’s Adventures Continue

For whatever reason, the enormous success of Star Trek: The Next Generation on the small screen has not yet translated onto the big screen. The original Star Trek faced this dilemma as well, with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Though Trek-starved fans lined up in droves for the first TOS movie, which sold more tickets than all nine of its successors, most agreed that it was a creative disaster. Paramount wisely brought in new blood in the form of Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer to take a fresh look at the franchise and the result was the invigorating Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and its sequels.

A similar dismantling of the Rick Berman-era production team in favor of Abrams’ new team could jump-start the ailing TNG movie franchise.

But don’t bet on it. A limited version of this “fresh blood” approach was already tried on the TNG crew with Star Trek Nemesis (non-Trek writer, non-Trek director) and the movie set a record for bringing in less money than any previous Trek (yes, even including the much maligned Star Trek V: The Final Frontier).

As a Trekkie, I enjoyed Nemesis. I thought it was a great entry and the best of the TNG-era movies. However, it was quite derivative of previous Treks, particularly The Wrath of Khan. It also suffered for being aimed solely at existing fans, with the assumption that each audience member had their very own, dog-eared copy of Michael Okuda’s Star Trek Encyclopedia. The movie buckled under the weight of its own continuity.

Though there were four years between the films, I also believe that some of Nemesis‘ problems at the box office were actually caused by failing to fully distinguish itself from the wretched Star Trek: Insurrection. To outside observers, it simply looked like more of the same.

It is regrettable that TNG never really hit its stride in theaters. Other than Star Trek: First Contact and the muted success of Star Trek Generations, TNG has simply failed as a movie series. While I don’t think we’ve seen the last TNG adventure, I do think we’ve seen the last for awhile. Let Picard and Data rest for awhile. We’ve earned it.

Star Trek XI: Riker’s Command Begins

After seeing Star Trek Nemesis in the theater on opening weekend, a Star Trek: Titan television series or movie featuring Captain William T. Riker seemed a very real possibility. In terms of movies, I envisioned a direct Nemesis sequel that continued the Romulan storyline and brought back Ambassador Spock in a major guest role for Leonard Nimoy.

Then, Nemesis tanked. No one does a sequel to a flop, so don’t look for a Riker/Romulan/Spock storyline for Star Trek XI.

A USS Titan movie would allow cross-pollination among crews of the three TNG-era series (TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager), as well as the inclusion of new faces.

Will and Deanna are my favorite TNG characters. It would be interesting to finally see a married captain but as for establishing a new movie franchise around Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, I don’t see that happening either.

I say, save Star Trek: Titan for use as a television series. There’s already a successful series of novels out there about it. Bring in those writers to pitch episodes. I’d be much more interested in a Star Trek: Titan series than, say, Star Trek: The Adventures of Captain Sulu.

The aforementioned advance poster would seem to point away from a TNG-era film, discrediting these first two concepts anyway.

Star Trek XI: Launch of the Enterprise-H

Despite the huge success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Paramount took a risky move after the fourth TOS film and set a new television series about eighty years ahead in Trek’s future. Star Trek: The Next Generation limped along for two awful seasons and then became a deserving hit in its third year.

After four TNG films, is it time for Paramount to make the same kind of bold move again? By setting the next film eighty or so years after Star Trek Nemesis, Abrams could effectively wipe away much of the clutter of the Berman universe and start with a nearly clean slate.

This would allow new characters, new actors, and a brand new, state-of-the-art starship design. For a multi-million dollar film, it may however be too risky. While TNG was allowed the necessary time to build viewer interest in the characters over a period of years on TV, this film would need to be a hit the first time out.

Introducing brand new characters and another timeline jump that non-fans may not even be able to follow could result in disaster. Like Star Trek: Titan, I think an idea like this one is best saved for a television series.

And why doesn’t the CW network try a Star Trek mini-series? What a perfect way to try out new crews like this one or Titan.

Star Trek XI: Kirk’s Adventures Continue

While Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country proved a fitting conclusion to Kirk and crew’s adventures, I always wanted them to pick up right where VI left off and give us one last journey on the Enterprise-A. Until 1999, this was always my sentimental choice for the next Star Trek movie.

After the death of DeForest Kelley, I finally let this dream go. TOS will always remain my favorite cast, but I can’t see the adventures continuing without Dr. McCoy. And now James Doohan (Scotty) is gone as well.

An old show business adage goes “Always leave them wanting more.” That’s how the TOS cast left audiences and, in retrospect, it was a perfect way for the original cast to bow out. No more curtain calls.

Star Trek XI: Kirk’s First Adventure

Whether you love them or hate them, you have to admit that the success of the Star Wars prequel trilogy has inspired the opening of new storytelling doors for similar franchises.

For Star Trek, Paramount tried this route with the failed Star Trek: Enterprise television series–which took place about a hundred years before the original Star Trek.

But what about a more direct prequel, featuring younger versions of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy played by new actors?

One of the obstacles a prequel movie would have to overcome is casting. If James Bond, Superman, and Obi-Wan Kenobi can be recast, then it is likely that Kirk, Spock, and the others can be as well.

Worse than casting, though, would be trying to make a prequel movie fit within the rigid confines of Star Trek canon. Remember, this sort of prequel would take place between 2005’s Star Trek: Enterprise and the original Star Trek from 1966.

It would also have to avoid contradicting major facts established in the ten Star Trek movies and the three television series that take place after TOS in the fictional web of continuity that we call Star Trek.

A prequel would also serve to constrain any appearance of the NCC-1701 USS Enterprise to more or less the same design established by the 1966 television series. Star Trek: Remastered has shown what contemporary digital effects can do for the exterior of the vessel, but will 1960’s retro styling really be the saving grace of Star Trek?

Obviously, Abrams can choose to ignore as much or as little of the continuity as he chooses. But why should he choose to make a prequel only to ignore what came before? Why go looking for that sort of trouble?

Star Trek Begins

As of this writing, there are over seven hundred episodes of the various Star Trek television series and ten feature films. That’s over 545 hours worth of Star Trek continuity to weigh down the eleventh film.

We already saw Nemesis and Star Trek: Enterprise buckle from this sort of pressure. So, why not give audiences a break and start over?

Make the new movie a full reboot with no rules and no restrictions. Historically, reboots are necessary in comic book universes about once every generation or so. It allows a cleansing of the previous plotlines and provides an opportunity for new readers to come aboard. I submit that the same is necessary for the Star Trek universe.

Star Trek would benefit greatly from this approach, as long as proper care is taken. A reboot must not turn into a parody, but become a true rebirth of the adventures. Think Battlestar Galactica, not Dukes of Hazzard: The Movie.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are Star Trek. They are the characters that built it, and they are the characters that can save it. They are icons and should not be put on the shelf in favor of Archers, Janeways, or other no-namers.

Like a prequel, a prime concern in a reboot would still be re-casting Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and other key crew members. But Spock has been re-cast before, and by Leonard Nimoy himself no less, for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Though part of me is pained to say this, if Star Trek is to thrive and grow, it must now do so without William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. They must not be brought into the new movie as crutches or marketing gimmicks to get TOS fans (like me) into theaters.

Instead, the new cast must establish themselves and take ownership of the roles, and a reboot would be the best way to begin that process.

A reboot would also open the doors wide in terms of potential plots and production design. Without limitations, the new writers could write within the spirit of Star Trek without being tied down by the hundreds of previous stories.

A brand new, sleeker version of the starship Enterprise could be introduced, as advanced and inspiring to us today as the 1966 version was to audiences two generations ago. Star Trek must have the Enterprise. She was as important to the show as any other character.

The benefits of a Star Trek reboot outweigh the potential risks. And Abrams must take risks if he is to make Star Trek relevant to a new generation.

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No matter which direction Abrams chooses, whether it is one presented here or something no one else has ever thought of, the real key, the building block upon which everything else will rest will be the script. A high quality story could make any of these concepts work, while a poor story will surely sink the movie no matter who plays Kirk or Picard.

As a member of a previous Trek generation, I look forward to seeing Abrams’ new universe, in whatever form it takes.