Star Trek was already too Star Trek-y

Because I am very clued in, I learned that the Internet was freaking out over Simon Pegg having called genre fiction infantile after he’d already posted a reaction to the Internet’s reaction.

As to his main point, I think he’s half right. Major film studios have absolutely taken to using genre fiction as a way to deliver spectacle rather than deep or challenging narratives, but that’s hardly a problem unique to fantasy or science fiction. The Fast & Furious franchise or The Expendables both blockbuster ticket farms too, and I wouldn’t argue they have a greater enduring cultural value than The Avengers.

What’s most concerning about the comments is the context: Pegg happens to be co-writing the next Star Trek film, a role he took on after the studio booted the movie’s original director after some unspecified creative differences. In his interview, Pegg said the original script was “a little bit too Star Trek-y.”

As someone who stands to think the movies could stand to be more Star Trek-y, that’s troubling. And the fact that he’s openly musing at the same time about how studios are dumbing down culture with infantile genre stories doesn’t inspire confidence.

On the other hand.

Something I’ve discovered during my life as a Star Trek fan is that the franchise has been so many different things over the last half-century that it’s nearly impossible to easily define. So I honestly can’t guess what “Star Trek-y” even means.

For instance, a lot of my problems with the last two movies was that they were tied too closely to the original. J.J. Abrams put a lot of work into creating a sort of used-future look that I could have lived without, but the real problem was that the plots of both movies were stuck doing contortions to have the cast end up in basically the same place they did in the show. The second half of Star Trek Into Darkness squandered what had been a really interesting movie in favor of ham-handed callbacks to Star Trek II.

Considering that the original director of the next Star Trek movie, Roberto Orci, was one of the principal scriptwriters on both films, I was never especially enthused about the next one. And while Pegg talks a lot about how the studio wants Star Trek to appeal to a broader audience so that it makes more money, he also described the situation like this:

He added: “People don’t see it being a fun, brightly coloured, Saturday night entertainment like the Avengers,” adding that the solution was to “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”.

I think this is exactly how you should approach a Star Trek film. My personal favorite movie is Star Trek VI, which was a thinly disguised political thriller about the end of the Cold War. Most people’s favorite is Star Trek II, which came together when Nicholas Meyer united three or four different scripts around his vision of Horatio Hornblower in space. And Star Trek IV, the most commercially successful of the movies before 2009, was in many ways the least Star Trek-y—it had no villain, no Enterprise until the final 30 seconds, and most of the movie was a fish-out-of-water story in 1980s San Francisco.

The enduring strength of Star Trek is the fact that it provided a framework in which you could tell basically any kind of story you wanted. The most depressing thing about the last two movies (and the four that came before them) was the sameness that pervaded all the stories, as the franchise was getting reduced to a collection of tropes, callbacks and visual cues. The best thing the next movie could do was break away from all that and use its talented cast and crazy budget to tell an altogether different kind of story.

Still, I’m not confident that’ll happen. The most successful Star Trek movies—and, really, movies in general—happened because of good filmmakers with a strong vision for the story they wanted to tell, and I’ve not seen evidence that Star Trek has that right now. Still, all else being equal, I’d like to see the movie do something new.

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