It is a strange feeling to be a fan of a film or television franchise which appears to no longer care about you. A lot of longtime Star Trek fans have felt this way about director J.J. Abram’s revival of the franchise, which began with 2009’s Star Trek and then continued with this year’s Star Trek Into Darkness. As BBC Radio film critic Mark Kermode has argued, it’s like Abrams decided to eliminate the speechiness of Star Trek by having the characters engage in their ethical debates while running for their lives. Abrams has been astonishingly honest about his lack of Star Trek fandom, and intention to approach the material as an outsider attempting to discover how to pull it from the clutches of the trekkies and deliver it an easier to swallow form for the masses.
Financially speaking, the strategy paid off for him and Paramount Studios when 2009’s Star Trek ended up as the highest grossing domestic film in franchise history, even after adjusting for ticket price inflation. It may have backfired this summer with Into Darkness, which did okay-but-not-great domestic business, finishing 2nd in franchise history behind the ’09 Star Trek and 4th behind Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home after inflation adjustments. People (or at least their new 3D theaters) overseas seemed to love it though, making it the highest foreign grossing (and, as a result, highest worldwide grossing) film in franchise history. It’s final total of $452 million worldwide on a $190 million budget is the kind of business which will likely mandate a sequel (with a rumored 2016 release window), even if in one half of the world the film is thought of as a failure.
However, Paramount may have a bigger problem on their hand with domestic fan disenchantment than they realize. At last week’s big Star Trek Las Vegas convention, Jordan Huffman over at ScreenCrush.com moderated a panel in which the end target was for all fans in attendance to reach a consensus opinion on the rankings for each Star Trek film in terms of quality. Which film ended up being voted as the worst Star Trek film of all time – this being a franchise which famously has arguably more poorer films than good ones? Star Trek Into Darkness!
Here’s the full list:
- ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’
- ‘Star Trek: First Contact’
- ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’
- ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’
- ‘Star Trek III: The Search For Spock’
- ‘Star Trek’
- ‘Galaxy Quest’ [as a Star Trek re-affirmation parody, it is thought of by some as an honorary Star Trek film]
- ‘Star Trek: Generations’
- ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’
- ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’
- ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’
- ‘Star Trek: The Final Frontier’
- ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’
Holy smurf! These kind of things are obviously horribly subjective and fun to quibble over which film belongs where. Personally, I would have The Search for Spock and Nemesis even lower and, as a result, Generations and Insurrection just a bit higher. But what does it say to Paramount to see that a room packed full of North America’s biggest and most passionate Star Trek fans deemed Into Darkness the worst Star Trek film of all time?
Of course, all tolerance for dissenting opinions aside I can, without hesitation, say that those fans are wrong -there is no way in hell Into Darkness should be thought of as the worst Star Trek film. This is, after all, a franchise which has crap-fests like The Final Frontier and Nemesis on its resume. Into Darkness may be far too derivative of Wrath of Khan for its own good and overly reliant upon its non-stop action to distract from its nonsensical plot twists, but it is not that bad.
Moreover, as much as this kind of thing can be quantified Into Darkness is among the best reviewed films in the franchise, its current 87% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes falling behind only Star Trek (95%), First Contact (92%), and Wrath of Khan (90%).
Abrams has received heaps and heaps of praise for his mainstreaming of Star Trek form Trek-averse reviewers and filmgoers who admire his ability to make the once byzantine seem accessible. However, there has been a growing chant of, “But what about us?” from longtime Trekkies who no longer recognize the Trek they loved in Abrams’ version. Perhaps this has finally reached its boiling point. To be fair, it’s not as if long-time fans have the exclusive right to dislike Into Darkness, as its certainly possible fans who only jumped on board in 2009 were turned off by the Wrath of Khan fan-baiting. Overall, there is an obvious response bias whereby whichever film is the most recent will illicit the most passionate response for feeling fresher in the minds thus drawing upon rawer emotions among those voting. So, ultimately, this may be a non-story.
However, there is no arguing that Into Darkness was a financial disappointment in North America, with the explanations for why ranging from taking too long at 4 years to arrive since the last film and adopting a secretive marketing campaign that annoyed more than it enticed. Could disenchantment among North American Trekkies be another explanation? If so, do they even matter at this point after Into Darkness played better overseas than any Trek film before it?
Recent rumors indicate J.J. Abrams will be too busy with Star Wars to direct the still-as-yet-not-officially-announced Star Trek sequel, but his Into Darkness screenwriters Alexander Kurtzman & Roberto Orci are returning. Plus, Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, will still be involved. So, as fans in Vegas scream out, “Into Darkness sucked harder than anything Star Trek has ever done before!” Paramount appears to be looking at the bottom line and proceeding with business as usual, with perhaps a heightened sense of needing to crank out a sequel faster this time around.
And, seriously, I wasn’t too crazy about Into Darkness, but it is not the worst Star Trek film ever. Not even close.