Ten years after J.J. Abrams rebooted the classic Star Trek movie series with his “Kelvin Timeline” version, it appears that the famed starship’s continuing mission will not be returning to the big screen with a fourth installment. Abram’s Bad Robot Productions announced in January of last year that S. J. Clarkson would direct the next movie with production to begin early in 2019. She would be the first woman to helm a Star Trek film. Months of silence followed, ending with news that Paramount was having difficulties reaching agreements with Christopher Pine and Chris Hemsworth who played Captain James T. Kirk and his father George Kirk.
Again, news regarding the production went silent until an announcement regarding another franchise appears to confirm what has been suspected. Director S. J. Clarkson, known for her work on Marvel’s Defenders, Jessica Jones, Dexter and Orange is the New Black, has moved on. Instead of the Final Frontier, Ms. Clarkson will be journeying to Westeros to direct and executive produce the pilot for HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel.
The announcement of Ms. Clarkson in January, 2018 came amidst a flurry of news surrounding the film. Paramount’s press release announcing the film revealed that the script was written by J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. Additionally, it stated that Christopher Pine and Zachary Quinto were “expected to return” as Captain Kirk and Spock, respectively. Jim Gianopulos, the head of Paramount Pictures, announced in April that there’d be a second Trek movie as well. That would be an R-Rated tale directed by Quentin Tarantino – a self-described “super fan” – and billed as his tenth and final film.
Plot Complications Off the Port Bow, Captain!
With a worldwide gross of $343.5 million against a production budget of $185 million, 2016’s Star Trek Beyond was considered to have underperformed in a crowded summer. Ironically, had Paramount waited until September to release it and coincide with the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s broadcast debut, industry insiders believe it would have become the intended financial success. It was against this financial background that Paramount sought to reduce the budget for Star Trek 4 (as opposed to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, (aka the One with the Whales)). As was reported in August by various industry publications and the regular media, money was the primary issue leading to both Pine and Hemsworth walking away.
In Hollywood it is especially true that death is but a plot complication. And, the unofficial word is that the project “has been shelved” rather than killed, but this may be the same thing. In reality, there has been no official announcement (of any kind) from Paramount about the future of its cinematic space franchise for quite some time. At the beginning of this year, John Cho, who plays Hikaru Sulu, stated that he was optimistic that he’d return to the helm of the Enterprise. In an interview with The Playlist, promoting his most recent film, Cho said:
“I am optimistic there will be another one because I’m optimistic about what “Star Trek” says and its place in our culture and I think it will come back around. I think it’s an important part of American popular culture that speaks to Americas best impulses and I think that there will always be a place for “Star Trek” films and I just hope to be in it and there isn’t another totally different group of people! I’m bullish about it, and honestly, for personal reasons I suppose the last film has a cloud over it, losing Anton [Yelchin] after the last one and for me it would be important personally to make one more at least. I think it would alleviate that part of us a little bit to make at least one more.”
Do not make time your enemy – Lt. Worf?
Optimism aside, there are forces arrayed against the franchise’s return in its current incarnation. The first and foremost is the calendar. With the departure of the director, a 2020 release date is no longer certain, even with a script that writes out the Kirks or recasts them. The other actors attached to the movie will be compelled to move onto other projects. Cho himself is currently involved in five other projects currently underway this year according to IMDB. The production deal between Abram’s Bad Robot and Paramount reportedly expires in 2020. While Star Trek fandom is practically ageless – it was seven years between Star Trek: Nemesis and the reboot – it may prove difficult to continue the Kelvin Timeline with a six year (at least) hiatus as opposed to setting a new movie elsewhen in the Classic Timeline.
With uncertain prospects at the box office, Paramount may be reluctant to renew the deal, much less offer any increase. And with the most recent Star Trek movies performing unevenly, Paramount’s corporate parent Viacom, may want to see money spent on productions with a chance of better returns.
Behind the Scenes “Corbomite Maneuvering”
And then there’s the chaos over at CBS – the holder of the television Star Trek franchise. After a rough first season, the second season of Star Trek: Discovery is being aired on CBS’ streaming service (and Netflix for overseas markets) to much better reviews. In addition, Patrick Stewart (TNG’s Captain Picard) and Michelle Yeoh (Discovery’s Philippa Georgiou) have each been inked to their own Star Trek spinoffs – both set in the “Classic Trek” universe.
However, CBS’ head mover and shaker Les Moonves was brought down as allegations of his sexual harassment came to light along with his efforts to block investigation. Moonves was instrumental in the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005 just as he was crucial to bringing Discovery to the streaming service he launched in 2014. CBS’ Chief Operating Officer, Joseph Ianniello, is a strong backer of Star Trek’s ability to bring in viewers to CBS All Access. By some accounts, Discovery was directly responsible for half of that streaming service’s subscribers. Ianniello will serve as CBS’ acting CEO while CBS’ board looks for a successor to Moonves. While the ouster of Moonves removed a road block for a merger between Viacom and CBS by their vice-chairwoman, Shari Redstone, talks to make that happen have been put on hold for two years and the uncertainty may also play into a continued delay.
Indeed, the very status of Star Trek’s ownership adds one more plot complication. As was revealed in the suit against Axanar, the rights for the franchise are very convoluted. Industry insiders have speculated that the two divergent paths taken by the studios over the shared intellectual property is an effort to establish clear lines of ownership over what segment each owns.
In the end, Star Trek is much beloved by fans and that equates to high-potential for commercial success when it is treated with respect. The Enterprise will likely boldly go again at some point in the future, but the faces may not be the same.