So, Roberto Orci is out, Justin Lin is in, and we have a release date, July 8, 2016. That’s where we’re at with Star Trek 3 now.
Back in May when Orci was first announced as the director of Star Trek 3, things turned ugly pretty fast. That was to be expected. Orci is the same guy who’s co-written the screenplays for successful but divisive films like Transformers, Star Trek, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and his views as a 9/11 truther as well as his admirable but usually ill-advised habit of taking to the internet to engage with fans directly usually ends in shouting matches, like the time he told those critical of Star Trek Into Darkness to “FUCK OFF!!”
Now, here he was being handed the keys to the Star Trek kingdom just in time for the franchise’s 50th anniversary in 2016 even though he’d never directed anything before. Heck, when Paramount let Leonard Nimoy direct Star Trek III: The Search for Spock at least he’d directed a couple of TV shows episodes before that. Even William Shatner had directed 10 T.J. Hooker episodes before he got to step behind the camera for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Orci had none of that.
Did that really matter, though? At the end of the day, how much does it matter who directs Star Trek 3 or the third entry in any established franchise?
As FilmSchoolRejects argued:
“The insulation of studio filmmaking has largely made the director’s name irrelevant. Particularly when we’re talking about a third or fourth entry. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a great example (quick, who directed it?) where the look and feel of the franchise’s universe were back in play because internal memory wasn’t going to let Gore Verbinski’s replacement start from scratch.
The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel (which Orci was co-writer on) were further reminders that a studio can take a director with a unique vision and mute it sufficiently enough to produce something with mass market appeal. The second film has a few moments where Marc Webb’s touches shine through (particularly the romantic elements), but both movies feel more like Spidey was Mad Libbed into the standard superhero structure.
To be blunt, there’s not much room for directorial authorship in these movies, and there may be none at all with a Part III.”
This is an argument which has nothing to do with Star Trek, specifically, and everything to do with the way films are made these days. However, I can immediately think of several franchises where it absolutely mattered who directed the third installment, Joel Schumacher with Batman Forever and Brett Ratner with X-Men: The Last Stand. Schumacher’s universe was an immense departure from the one previously established by Tim Burton, and Ratner was a competent shooter with none of the heart previously brought to the material by Bryan Singer. FSR’s point remains: How much does it really matter who directs third installments of modern film franchises? Get a good director of photography, lean heavily on your department heads, and find someone to simply steer the ship and do his or her best to keep the studio happy. That’s pretty much been the film studios’ dream ever since producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber ran roughsod over Tim Burton and forced him to make the Batman film they wanted, not the one he wanted in 1989. In recent years, Marvel Studios has placed an emphasis on bringing in directors who can provide a unique voice to the characters and story while allowing the actual visuals to mostly adhere to the Marvel formula, Joe Johnston’s sepia-toned Captain America: The First Avenger being an obvious exception.
So, does it really matter that Justin Lin, not Roberto Orci, is directing Star Trek 3? Beyond being a bit of fan service, would it have even really mattered if they went and got Jonathan Frakes, who had been campaigning for the gig big time, having now established a career as trusted TV director after helming Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection back in the day? Oh, the First Contact fan in me really, really wants to say it absolutely would have mattered, but I have to admit that I completely forgot that Frakes even directed that movie until looking it up while writing this article.
I would argue that it does matter that they hired Justin Lin because it signals what Paramount wants from Star Trek 3. They didn’t just go hire the guy who turned Fast & Furious into the 15th leading film franchise in the entire world to now come in and deliver something that performs on the same mid-range level as Star Trek ($385m worldwide) and Star Trek Into Darkness ($464m worldwide). No, this is them trying to really push Star Trek into the realm of the mega-franchise. Hire a guy who’s shown he handles ensemble casts and action scenes well, help him deliver the most blockbuster-y Star Trek film of all time, and hype it to no end during the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Maybe after that Star Trek will move up the franchise list, where it is currently ranked 24th after 12 films. The franchise in front of it? Toy Story, which only has 3 films. I should point out this list I keep referring to is ranked according to worldwide box office, and is not adjusted for inflation. That’s a pretty big variable considering that the first Star Trek came out in 1979, but the point remains that for as much as we all know Star Trek that’s more due to the TV shows than films.
Hiring Lin is not a move to placate the fans who voted Star Trek Into Darkness the worst Star Trek film of all time. No, if they wanted to do that they would have hired Jonathan Frakes, or maybe someone with serious sci-fi cred, such as Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), who is believed to have been on their shortlist. Justin Lin is a guy who makes fun action movies and random, fun episodes of Community, and in a post-Guardians of the Galaxy world the key word for sci-fi going forward is probably “fun.” Perhaps moving things that direction is not really the best decision, considering that J.J. Abrams already did plenty to re-make Star Trek into a bonafide action franchise, but at the very least this should mean no more damn lens flare. If the rumors are to be believed, they are starting from scratch on this, throwing out the prior scripts Orci had shepherded. That means they now have roughly 16 months to get this film done in time for its release. Let’s hope they don’t move too fast through the most important part: Finding a good story to tell.
Wow. I can’t believe I waited until the very end of the article to make a lens flare joke. Isn’t that kind of the obligatory thing to do when talking about Abrams’ films? Either way, what do you think of the hire? Did I too quickly dismiss Frakes, who maybe could have done an amazing job with the ginormous budget the film will surely receive? Or is it actually more important that now neither J.J. Abrams nor Roberto Orci are directing this meaning that regardless of who the new guy is he can bring in a fresh feel to things? Let me know what you think in the comments.