Hollywood (CA) - Paramount Pictures made it official this morning: J. J. Abrams, the director of popular television series such as Lost and Alias, and most recently the director of Mission: Impossible III, has been signed on as the lead producer - probably the executive producer - of that last great certainty in the entertainment business, the next Star Trek feature film sequel. No, it's not dead, Jim; to borrow the timeless words of Michael Palin, it was "just resting."
Joining Abrams on the venture, Paramount told Variety Weekly, will be two other producers who currently work with him on Lost. No other crew members were named, and no cast has yet been chosen. Abrams is known among sci-fi and fantasy genre fans as one of the multitude of people serially hired to resurrect the script and production for the next Superman film, only to have the project ripped out of his hands and handed to another director. Reportedly, Abrams would have worked with former rock video director and current director of the TV series Supernatural, McG (a.k.a., Joseph Nichol), to have mildly "rebooted" Superman in the spirit of the original comic book, but with a twist.
A similar "rebooting" has often been suggested for Star Trek throughout the past several years, sometimes with the boot taking on more of the shape of a photon torpedo.
For over a year, fans have held onto a rumor propagated by the screenwriter for the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, Eric Jendresen, that he was signed on by Paramount to write and perhaps produce the next Trek film. That film would have centered around a new and not previously introduced set of characters, situated in a timeframe prior to that of the last (failed) Trek TV series, Enterprise.
Instead, the story line Paramount has accepted, according to the company itself, is amazingly the same one that has been submitted and resubmitted for the last quarter century, since back when Harve Bennett was producing The Search for Spock. It involves the adolescent James T. Kirk - the original Star Trek captain - during his Starfleet Academy days, and in his first meeting with a young, or at least younger, Spock (Vulcans age more slowly than humans). Curiously enough, this is exactly the story line which actor William Shatner, who immortalized the Kirk role, said in recent talk show appearances that he had been pitching to the studio.
Paramount has not said what role Shatner would play in the production, if any, but it also hasn't exactly said that Abrams would be "executive producer," either. It also isn't clear what role Rick Berman, the longtime executive producer of the franchise, would have, although today's Paramount statement dismissing his collaboration with Jendresen as a "rumor" doesn't bode well for him at present.
In a freshly launched poll on the Trek BBS - one of the leading independent fan sites - over 40% of respondents were saying they were unimpressed with the reported premise of the new film, with the remainder split between excitement and ambivalence. Some regular users have already dubbed the project "Star Trek: 90210." One of Trek BBS' moderators, whose screen handle is Ptrope, offers yet another moniker:
Putting in the most recognized characters of Star Trek demands that the audience - the fans - compare it to the rest of Trek; if the intent is to break new ground, then they need to, if not reboot the concept, at least create new characters and context with which to expand it. Star Trek: The Wonder Years is, IMO (humble or not), a self-defeating concept. Not only do I have no interest in it, I can't understand why anyone would want to climb into the same characters' back pockets and watch them 'grow up' into that with which we're already familiar. Telling stories about stories is stupid, plain and simple, and prequels that only attempt to explain the original material are exactly that. At least with new characters, the audience isn't constantly filtering what they experience with their own preconceptions of "how it should be"; they may not like what's being done in either case, but at least with original characters, they can concentrate on what exists now and not upon what they've built up in their heads for decades.
But another member, whose screen name is JacksonArcher (the original name for Scott Bakula's character in Enterprise), is somewhat more optimistic:
Along with the hiring of the exceedingly popular JJ Abrams, this concept has a lot of merit. Plus, a lot of people will recognize Abrams' name. He's a TV giant, and any association with his very popular shows will lend this new project some major credibility. Television is one of the most accessible aspects of media and Abrams is a very big name in it.
Plus, if Paramount stages and markets this movie as an event picture, it could really revitalize Trek. A widely known director at the helm and an easily marketable premise equals something very good.
Long-time Trek observers, as well as observers of the ongoing Superman movie fiascos, have pointed out that just because Paramount has green-lighted this project, does not mean it couldn't just as easily go red. But at least for now, the studio's chronometers are set for 2008. Until then, expect a line of Hollywood hopefuls to line up outside Paramount Studios soon, all of whom bear a suspicious resemblance to a young Leonard Nimoy.