As I’ve chronicled in the past the people in Hollywood don’t really connect to stories the same way viewers do. And recently an article by Bounding Into Comics, focusing on an interview with Jonathan Frakes but also into other comments on the Star Trek movies, highlighted this yet again. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that Frakes loves his fans and is good to them. I’m not attacking the man personally. However, his recent comments and those of Karl Urban, who played Dr. McCoy in the Kelvin timeline movies, are something I feel the need to challenge because they don’t get into the heart of why they don’t see what the problem is.
I think actors look at movies based on roles they want to play, directors based on movies they’d like to shoot, and modern writers (as we’ve gone over many, many times) stories they want to tell without thinking about adaptation or the franchise they’re continuing. They don’t see these movies the same way the fans do and that disconnect is the source of the current strife and the division between fans and modern creators. It gets more confusing for the fans when the actors don’t look at their time on a show, for our discussion the example of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the same way they do. Actors will tell you about how fun it was to play a character, shoot a scene, associate with fellow actors for a long time, or get to do something they hadn’t before while fans want to know about the character themselves, motivations, and just what they thought of the story. In the interest of continuing to attempt to bridge the gap and reduce the angry fans tweets (good luck, and I’m not even going to try to calm the actors on Twitter) I want to go over this article and find where those disconnections are.
Star Trek director and actor Jonathan Frakes, who played William T. Riker in The Next Generation and more recently reprised the role in Picard, recently revealed what advice he would give to Paramount boss Emma Watts when it comes to Star Trek films.
Speaking with Trek Movie, Frakes was asked what advice he would give to Watts regarding which Star Trek projects she should greenlight.
I haven’t seen the full interview but what’s quoted in this article is enough to comment on. I’ve learned to trust them when it comes to proper context and outside of the occasional commentary letting their readers decide for themselves, even asking what they think at the end of every article. (Maybe that’s why my comments sections are so empty?) I do however have a problem with their paragraphs (pardon my reformatting here) and habit of quoting images and Twitter posts that are right on the page. Anyway, I don’t think Frakes can give Watts advice anymore than I can give Frakes. However, the question is what advice would he give, which is just fine. Of course, all the backstage history between CBS, Paramount, Bad Robot, and their Secret Hideout subsidiary (plus Les Mooves’s nonsense) should be noted given what Frakes recommends is lacking in understanding why the rebooted movies are not more beloved. All he sees are box office numbers and performances.
Frakes responded, “I say greenlight the Tarantino and Noah Hawley, if you are lucky enough to get either of them. And if they are too busy to direct, I’ll be available. [laughs]” However, Frakes would reveal that he believes the fourth Star Trek film with Chris Hemsworth returning to his role as George Kirk is the one more likely to get greenlit. He explained, “Well, that’s probably the one that has the most hope of being made first because there’s already an audience.”
However, not the original audience. Classic Trek fans haven’t really embraced the reboot films of the “Kelvin” timeline (named because the early destruction of the USS Kelvin, the ship Kirk’s father was on, somehow led to every change in the Abrams Star Trek Universe). The only one that feels like Star Trek was the third one, which classic fans didn’t go see because they were too disappointed by the first two. Even I only know Star Trek Beyond was closer to classic Trek because of SF Debris review (I didn’t even notice he did Into Darkness; I’ll have to watch that one) and can confirm the first one was a good movie, but not a good Star Trek movie, and in some ways was hurt by trying to shoehorn its way into being a Star Trek movie.
“After Paramount shut down Star Trek for five years, J.J. [Abrams] relaunched it, and in my taste, very successfully. It captured the zeitgeist again. They spent a lot of f***ing money so it was a BIG movie. His first one [Star Trek 2009] in particular was great,” Frakes continued. He then added, “I wasn’t crazy about Idris Elba wearing a mask [Star Trek Beyond]. And I love Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan [in Star Trek Into Darkness]. And I love that cast….So my opinion is that that movie with J.J.’s cast is the one, if I were betting, that would be greenlit,” Frakes stated.
I find it fascinating how his view is almost the reverse of the franchise’s fanbase. However, dissecting this paragraph does play into my point. Let’s break it down.
His first one [Star Trek 2009] in particular was great,” Frakes continued.
Yeah, it was a great Star Wars movie, but it was not a great Star Trek movie. Kirk was a dudebro jerk who only snapped into it when the story demanded it and only became captain of the Enterprise because the series demanded it, that last one being a universal problem. It’s hard to believe that the characters end up at the end of the movie in their classic places considering where they are at the start of the movie. Kirk is a cadet, Spock is his superior, Scotty is sitting on some outpost and basically made starships obsolete while handing the Federation a potential new weapon surpassed only by maybe the Genesis device…Dr. McCoy is the only one I believe would end up where he does. I had my issues with the novel Enterprise–The First Adventure and I still think it would have made a better Star Trek movie than the one we got.
He then added, “I wasn’t crazy about Idris Elba wearing a mask [Star Trek Beyond].
Why is that a concern? LeVar Burton wore a mask the whole series and Michael Dorn wore heavy make-up the whole time to play a Klingon. Did you ever notice in more recent superhero movies or the Judge Dread movies they seem to try to get the actors out of their costumes, or at least their masks, as often as possible? Studio execs, producers, and investors have this weird notion that they spent the money on the name actor and they have to show him off as much as possible. I think that also led to the crappy faces in Cats. Some actors also want to be seen as much as possible, as if they all believe we the audience are too stupid to know it’s them. The truth is we don’t care. Superman: The Movie had to be forced to use Marlon Brando (who according to rumors wanted to play Jor-El as a bagel and given what I’ve heard about how difficult he is to work with I find it easy to believe) when Richard Donner wanted to use all unknowns to focus on the characters, not who was playing them. It’s still considered the best of the Superman movies, and despite some issues I have with it I can’t disagree.
And I love Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan [in Star Trek Into Darkness].
And yet I’ve heard the opposite from people who saw the movie. Mind you these are people who are fans of Cumberbatch, and he is quite the internet beloved. That’s not because of his performance but because of the character he was given, who couldn’t hold a candle to the original. I haven’t compared Cumberbatch’s portrayal to Ricardo Montiban’s because the actor isn’t the problem, the writing is. Cumberbatch may have given a great performance but we’ve seen great actors give great performances of some of the dumbest lines and scenes in cinematic history, or sometimes they realize they’re in a dumpster fire of a movie and just run with, chewing scenery like it’s a bagel. (Maybe that’s how Donner talked him out of it?) This is the problem, not the performances or the actors but the material they were given.
Cynthia Rothrock is a fair actress and a good martial artist but she was given terrible movies. Fans see the name Jackie Chan and race to the movie, but not just because of how Chan gives his all…and bones, the occasional limb, maybe even more personal parts…but because they know the movies he star in are usually good. There have been exceptions but most of the time he delivers. Steven Spielberg only draws people through his name because he makes quality work, not because he’s Steven Spielberg. It’s the material he creates. We were talking about McLean Stevenson last night. People loved him on M*A*S*H but when he got his own show it bombed. That’s not because he’s a bad actor, because he’s a good actor and a funny one. It’s just he either wasn’t given a good show or it wasn’t promoted very well. Meanwhile Harry Morgan was brought in to replace him as a new character and the show moved onward.
It’s the characters and stories that make a good movie. Naturally you need good performers to play those characters and a director who can make the most of them, but at the same time you need well crafted stories and a world that brings people back. Denise Crosby left because she felt underused and the show continued without her. Wil Weaton left and the show went on without him. Gates McFadden left and only came back not because Diana Muldaur was a bad actress (she’s a good actress) but because Doctor Pulaski wasn’t that great a character. Deanna Troi gets flack for how she was often written, not because of anything Marina Sirtis did. Only jackasses blame the performer for the material written or how poorly the director directed good actors.
He relayed, “Yeah, that’s a great question to which I’m not sure I have the answer. I think that my interest as a fan would be in what would what kind of movie does Tarantino make.” He then stated, “And as a fan of Hawley, what’s that writing going to be like? But as a businessman, I would think you would bet on Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth, wouldn’t you?”
I know nothing of the movie Noah Hawley wants to make beyond what’s coming up so I can comment on nothing. As far as Quentin Tarantino’s Star Trek, I do at least know the kinds of stories he prefers to tell, and that’s when I have a problem. If you read the next few paragraph-sentences (I did say I question their paragraph layout) he seems more interested in the fact that he believed they’d bring back the Kelvin cast, but would it be in the Kelvin continuity where Spock and Uhura are a couple, Sulu is gay for some reason (this is an alternate timeline not an alternate universe…show me the event that turned Sulu gay in contrast to how we’re told homosexuality works), and Scotty can build a transporter that beams through shields of a ship traveling at warp speed light years away? Then there is Karl Urban’s reasoning for why an R rated Tarantino movie (and this is not an actor you’ll see making many G movies) is a good thing.
Karl Urban did provide some more details during an appearance at Trekonderoga. The Dr. McCoy actor stated, “You shouldn’t worry that it is going to be full of obscenity and stuff. He wants an R-rating to really make those beats of consequence land. If it’s not PG, if someone gets sucked out into space, which we have all seen before, we might see them get disemboweled first…It allows some some breadth…gives him some leeway to do that,” he elaborated.
And why is seeing someone getting disemboweled before getting sucked into space a benefit? In Star Trek: The Motion Picture there’s an unnecessary moment when the transporter goes haywire and kills some people beaming up. (I’m sure they could have found a better way to leave the science officer posting open for Spock, like he’s sick and they don’t have time to wait for a replacement because V’Ger is that dangerous.) They try to send them back to the Starbase and the guy monitoring the transporter there tells them “what we got back didn’t live long…luckily”. Would seeing their mangled and mismatched corpses really benefit the story? How? It sounds gruesome enough the way they say it and our own minds could probably do worse than even today’s effects. The obscenity and stuff doesn’t add either. Remember that a lot of us classic Trek fans came in AS KIDS! That’s why the toys sold when there was no adult collector market and if Star Trek hadn’t been popular with the kids (enough to make a Saturday morning continuation years after the show was canceled and sent to syndicated reruns) those toy phasers would have been just another 60s sci-fi ray gun. Outside of the cartoon the Star Trek franchise hasn’t been for kids (especially the modern stuff) but it has been friendly to kids (NOT the modern stuff).
As for Hawley’s planned Trek film, he recently told Variety that the film was still alive, but in stasis.
He also went on to provide some details as to what the film would look like. He explained, “We’re not doing Kirk and we’re not doing Picard. It’s a start from scratch that then allows us to do what we did with Fargo, where for the first three hours you go, ‘Oh, it really has nothing to do with the movie,’ and then you find the money. So you reward the audience with a thing that they love.”
You think they’ll wait that long? Maybe they will. They sit through Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks hoping to see Star Trek, though no reward seems to be coming there.
Hawley previously told Deadline that his film would get back to what he loved about the franchise. He elaborated, “Going back to what I loved about the series Next Generation, when a lot of franchises focus on ‘might makes right’, Star Trek is about exploration and humanity at its best, and diversity and creative problem solving.”
Here’s a problem to solve. How do we make actors realize that the only reason fans go to see stuff they’re in now is because they chose the right shows and movies before and they know you do good work, but will still rage when the supposed continuation of a beloved franchise bears no resemblance to that franchise or why they love it? Actors can be replaced or characters can be replaced. I’m not trying to belittle the importance of hiring the right actors, but being a big name doesn’t mean what you’re working on is good. Some movies purposely hire unknowns, and it’s still the case of hiring the best actors that auditioned and making sure they get a mix with the right chemistry to make us believe their friends, lovers, strangers, or mortal enemies either at the start or the end of the film. You can have the best actors give the best performances and still have the film labeled garbage because the story has huge plotholes, the actors lacked the needed chemistry, or visuals were weak. We the audience don’t always see all the fun times you had working with a particular director, the comradely among the cast (if there is any), and your performance is only one piece of the puzzle.
Tarantino doesn’t make movies like the Star Trek we know and love. Hawley seems more interested in telling a type of story than telling Star Trek, with no evidence he understands the franchise beyond a surface description, or that he connects to those characters any more than Tarantino does. It takes more than good acting and a fun set to make a good movie. But for the actors, that’s all they look for and sadly that seems to be all they see or care about. And that’s why the disconnect continues. Granted the angry ranting fans should do a better job pointing this out to the actors, but Twitter only has so many spaces to write in and angry rage is all social media seems good for these days so I don’t see anyone bridging this gap any time soon.