Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Future #3 The Next Next Generation (Feature Film Division)

There's a certain conspiracy theory around that says Paramount wasn't really unhappy with the failure of Star Trek Nemesis, the most recent Star Trek feature. The feature film business is changing, and only big event movies justify big budgets. With the cost of digital effects falling, the biggest expense is getting to be the salaries of star actors. Star Trek films no longer are the big events with the major first weekend receipts; Trek films, like most films, make an increasing percentage of their money from DVD.

But Paramount couldn't simply abandon the Next Generation cast without alienating the fans that provide a reliable base of ticket sales. Nor could they have counted on the Star Trek infrastructure (Rick Berman, etc.) to go along with a completely new cast and concept. So they deliberately released the film when it would get clobbered by the real event blockbusters of today.

Whether or not that much is true, Patrick Stewart has indicated that his negotiations to appear in this film were particularly difficult, and they nearly broke down. And it is indisputably true that Paramount marketed the film as if it was going to be the last Next Generation movie ("a generation's final journey begins"), which evidently took the cast by surprise.

There has been regime change at Paramount since then, which makes this scenario more problematic, but Rick Berman has been talking about the story in development which doesn't feature known Trek characters. That of course translates into not featuring known Trek actors.

Less money for established stars means more for effects and other parts of the budget. It also means you don't have the big names that draw people to the theatres. Therefore you are going for the long-term DVD market, while hoping for a theatrical release surprise.

This strategy might mean that Paramount will have to cater to the fan base. If so, then there are a couple of other elements likely to be part of this alternative. First, the timing has to be such that enough time elapses to whet fan appetite, but not too much that the fan base dies off.

Second, that there is some continuity. If the Age of Berman is over (see the next alternative) then somebody else identified with Star Trek might very well be involved. The likeliest candidates are from the Next Generation: Jonathan Frakes and/or Levar Burton. Frakes directed the most successful Next Generation film, he's been a good soldier for Trek (even appearing in Enterprise) and he's on good terms with the rest of the Next Generation cast and crew, as well as with at least some of the original series folks, and subsequent ones.

Burton has directed episodes of every Trek series except the first, is very articulate and clear on what Star Trek is about, and has established relationships with cast members and others from the subsequent series to TNG, as well as the kind of ties and experience Frakes has. Both are liked and respected by fans. Both were hired by Gene Roddenberry---a very important qualification for traditional Trek fans, and even for executives who want to recapture the magic of the 1970s through the early 1990s.

No comments: