Star Trek doesn’t care about the fans anymore. At least its current makers don’t, judging by some firebreathing remarks Star Trek Into Darkness co-writer Roberto Orci made in the comments section of a TrekMovie.com article. He basically told Trekkies critical of his film to “F**K OFF!” (Yes, it was all caps.) The article that got Orci worked up to Khan-level wrath was titled “Star Trek Is Broken: Here’s How To Fix It,” meaning that the headline alone ticked him off. “I think the article above is akin to a child acting out against his parents,” Orci said. “Makes it tough for some to listen, but since I am a loving parent, I read these comments without anger or resentment, no matter how misguided. Having said that, two biggest Star Treks in a row with best reviews is hardly a description of ‘broken.’ And frankly, your tone and attidude [sic] make it hard for me to listen to what might otherwise be decent notions to pursue in the future. As I love to say, there is a reason why I get to write the movies, and you don’t.”
So in this scenario Orci is the parent and the disgruntled fan is the child. But what parent goes on to say what Orci did in a follow-up comment to another fan? “You lose credibility big time when you don’t honestly engage with the F***ING WRITER OF THE MOVIE ASKING YOU AN HONEST QUESTION. You prove the cliche of s***ty fans. And rude in the process. So, as Simon Pegg would say: F**K OFF!” Maybe that’s the parent of Go the F**K to Sleep saying that. But it sure isn’t appropriate, and there’s an inherent flaw in Orci’s rant (I won’t say argument, because his ramblings aren’t coherent enough to be called an argument). He suggests that there’s a gulf between filmmaker and fan that can’t be crossed — “There is a reason why I get to write the movies, and you don’t” — and yet he’s trolling TrekMovie.com message boards to lash out against his anonymous critics, whose barbs really must hurt him deeply, even despite the box office numbers and critical raves for Star Trek Into Darkness that he cites.
Who’s really the child?
No work of art will be universally adored. Ever. Plenty of philistines have even called Citizen Kane “boring,” and I can’t begin to tell you all the people I’ve encountered who find The Godfather “slow.” (“Why is this wedding lasting so long?”) The thing is, you can’t win ‘em all. Can you imagine if every writer or director lashed out against his naysayers the way Orci did? Imagine if George Lucas, whose Star Wars prequels have become the pop culture dead horse fans must beat unto eternity, lashed out in this way. It might even be understandable if he did. If Lucas has criticized anyone, though, it’s professional critics, people who are paid to give their opinions and take heat for them — never the “s***ty fans,” as Orci would call the rabble.
Forget the idea of Star Trek itself being broken. That’s up for debate. Yes, we concur with the Trekkies who recently voted Star Trek Into Darkness the worst Trek movie ever (here are 12 reasons we agree). But it’s the link between the franchise and its fans that is truly broken. That “there is a reason why I get to write the movies, and you don’t” line shows Orci’s profound lack of understanding of Trek’s relationship to its fandom. For years, under the auspices of producer Michael Piller’s open door policy, fans could submit spec scripts for The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. And not only did the producers read them, several of them got made. Battlestar Galactica reboot co-creator Ronald D. Moore launched his career by getting a TNG episode he wrote on spec, “The Bonding,” produced. That led to him getting a staff job on the show, the opportunity to write more scripts, and eventually the chance to be a producer on Deep Space Nine. One of the very best episodes of TNG period, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” a story so good Trek honcho Rick Berman says he wishes he’d saved it to turn into a big-screen movie, was submitted on spec by a fan.
This tradition of fan-submitted spec scripts goes back to The Original Series. There’s a reason why Mad Men’s Paul Kinsey thought he could submit a story idea to the show: because the makers of Star Trek listened to the fans. And no wonder. It was the fans who got The Original Series a third season, after intense letter writing campaigns, when NBC was ready to pull the plug. That symbiotic relationship between maker and fan was unique in pop culture and symbolic of the democratic, “let the best idea win the day” ethos embodied by Kirk, Spock, and the Federation itself. The makers of Star Trek lived what they preached. If Star Trek still existed where it should really live, television, I’d like to think it would be possible for Breaking Bad’s Badger to submit his pie-eating contest idea.
That is no longer the case. Now the writers of Star Trek are a class apart existing in a paternalistic relationship with their “child”-like fans who, like drinking milk from a bottle, should be content and happy with whatever Star Trek they’re given. Even if it’s mindless nonsense like Into Darkness that barely even resembles a Star Trek movie. Oh, and Orci will probably go on to point out the many references in that movie to Trek of old, like Section 31 or the Enterprise NX-01 model sitting on a desk. But if the spirit of Trek isn’t there, if Roddenberry’s exploratory ideals and social commentary are replaced two movies in a row with tired revenge narratives, then they’re not going to be happy. Recreating a classic scene from a 30-year-old movie, the way Into Darkness restages Spock’s death with the roles reversed, will only make us wish we were watching that movie instead. Somewhere Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, and J.J. Abrams forgot that Star Trek is about looking forward, not looking back.
What’s so odd about the direction they’ve taken the Trek franchise is that, while other media makers like Marvel Studios have come to embrace the geeky richness of their oeuvre, realizing that all pop culture today is niche culture, Abrams, Orci & Co. want to turn Trek into a sex-and-explosion-filled action franchise for a mass-market, “mainstream” culture that no longer exists. They can’t think of anything more imaginative than creating a carbon copy of a beloved villain from decades ago and putting Alice Eve in a bikini, while Marvel Studios is like, “Hey, let’s get Bradley Cooper to voice a machine gun-toting raccoon and Vin Diesel to play a talking tree.” If Marvel fans can get excited about that, the people who go see a Star Trek movie will be able to handle Uhura talking about more than her relationship problems. Maybe they’ll get a few more Trek movies produced with the current running-and-jumping formula, but it’s not sustainable if they lose Trekkies in the process: the people who will buy tickets to see the movie multiple times and plunk down their pay for tie-in merchandise.
What’s funny about this also is that, in telling the fans “F**K YOU!” Orci cites Simon Pegg, who for years criticized George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels. In his Twitter rants and on his TV show Spaced, Pegg launched every kind of barb imaginable at those movies from the perspective of an angry, passionate fan. You could disagree with his argument, but at least he cared. And you know what? Lucasfilm hired him to voice Dengar on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. They didn’t hold a grudge. They didn’t say “F**K YOU!” George Lucas actually listened. What happens when the tables are turned and Pegg’s a part of a movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, that some revile? He can’t take it. People like Pegg and Orci act like they’re all about the fans, and that they are fans themselves. Maybe they were once. But they’re the suits now. And finally, they know a fraction of what George Lucas has been dealing with all these years. The question is, like Lucas will they listen?
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