Sunday, June 1, 2014

Why Roberto Orci is bad for Star Trek, and for the film industry as a whole.

So I’m returning from my self imposed exile. I have decided to do weekly posts rather than three a week, mainly to give more resources towards my other creative projects. Also, this space will occasionally house more than just Trek stuff. There will be some gaming and some film related things in here as well. Now, the topic at hand: Variety has just named Roberto Orci as the director of Star Trek 3. This isn’t shocking, we all pretty much knew this is what was going down. It leaked about a month ago, and it seemed like the studio didn’t have issues with it. I kept quiet, mainly because it was still speculation, and when it comes to speaking out about other creative people in public, I usual err on the side of caution. However, now that he is officially the director I must speak up. Roberto Orci being given the directors chair for Star Trek 3 is not just bad for the Star Trek franchise, it is bad for the film industry as a whole.

Now most of my reasoning is probably not for the reasons that you think. Roberto Orci has never directed a feature film, and that is troubling. However neither had Leonard Nimoy, and he directed Star Trek III and Star Trek IV. STIII was sort of a mess, but its a good sequel to Wrath of Khan. STIV was the third most successful Star Trek film in terms of domestic box office and is a fun time travel romp that effectively brought Star Trek to a much broader audience. It was co-written by Nimoy, Harve Bennet, Nick Meyer, Steve Meerson, and Peter Krikes. Usually seeing that many names attached to a screenplay throws up red flags, but Bennet and Meyer were part of the incredibly successful rebranding of Star Trek, having directed and produced Wrath of Khan, respectively. Part of the success of the new direction was the producing and directing, with Bennet reeling in the budget and Meyer more effectively retooling the concept to a more effective storytelling method, which ultimately saved the franchise. That was 30 years ago. Another comparison to be made is Jonathan Frakes, who prior to directing Star Trek: First Contact, had never directed a movie before. However, Frakes had proven himself to be a very competent director on Star Trek: The Next Generation, having directed The Offspring, Reunion, The Drumhead, Cause and Effect, The Quality of Life, The Chase, Attached, and Sub Rosa. Reunion, The Drumhead, and Cause and Effect are considered some of the best episodes of the series. (Sub Rosa is often cited as the WORST episode of the series, so theres that.) Nimoy also was not new to directing, having directed theater and television before that.

So then why is Roberto Orci being turned on? Are his ideas that bad? The short answer? No, his ideas aren’t terrible. The long answer is much more complicated. Orci and Kurtzman wrote the screenplay for the first two Star Trek reboot movies. The first is a rollicking sci-fi adventure that manages to cleverly reboot the franchise with a wit and energy that had been long missing from the franchise. There were definitely issues, the script was full of bad writing tricks like an eye rollingly high amount of coincidence, things just happened because Orci and Kurtzman needed them to happen. Worse yet, existing continuity and character were excised when they found themselves in a conflict that they didn’t know how to get out from, like a certain character inventing a technology on a whim based on information from a future person. One of my favorite writing rules was broken countless times in the film: “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.” The last bit of criticism I don’t personally feel as strongly about but it’s been said many times; the characters had such dramatic changes to their histories that they were no longer even the same characters, specifically James T. Kirk. Overall though, I enjoyed the movie, but all of the errors, all of the issues I had from day one? All of them were problems with the screenplay. The best elements of the movie were the direction. The speed and efficiency of the storytelling. The visually dynamic action scenes and interesting choices in diversion from existing canon. All of this was J.J. Abrams, not Orci and Kurtzman. Orci and Kurtzman’s ideas aren’t terrible, they’re actually pretty interesting. It’s their application that is seriously flawed.

The second Star Trek movie written by the duo, Star Trek Into Darkness, I can’t write about here. I loathe the movie. It would be unfair to drag my feelings about that movie into this, suffice to say that it just illuminates how poorly the two writers behind the screenplay understand basic story structure and stakes. It is gimmicky and manipulative and DUMB in all the ways a screenplay should not be. This movie is the perfect example of good ideas being completely wasted by bad writing left and right. How this script was greenlit for such a huge franchise is very surprising.

So Orci is a hack, and thats why he’ll be a terrible director? Well... No. Not really. Honestly, I have worked with creative people for a long time, and time and time again I have come to realize that when it comes to things like directing and translating ideas, sometimes, people really shine in the directors chair. You really can’t tell until they’re UP THERE doing it. Orci has been the exectuive producer on a few shows, and being an EP on a TV show is very similar to directing a movie, you have many creative people you’re trying to wrangle into the right place, often giving specific qualitative and creative decisions from on high, so he’s had elements of the right kind of control. It was also noted that Orci and Kurtzman were very active on the set of STID, (which is more of a mark against him as far as I’m concerned.)

So, it doesn’t matter that he’s a hack and it doesn’t matter that he’s inexperienced? No it matters because he’s the guy in the room. Paramount has a history of going with the guy in the room. In fact J.J. Abrams was the guy in the room when he got the job on Star Trek. When J.J. Abrams was offered the directing and producing job on Star Trek, he has just come off of a MASSIVELY successful, critically acclaimed, reboot of the Mission Impossible franchise with MI:3. The skeptics of that project, of which there were many, were instantly silenced, and from Mission Impossible, which was another reboot of a classic television series, J.J. Moved to Star Trek. Except, in retrospect was that really what was best for the franchise as a whole? One great movie, one terrible movie, and he jumps ship for his true love, Star Wars? As we sit here now, having gone from Star Trek being the hottest shit in the galaxy five years ago, to being the sad girl at the prom whose boyfriend left to go dance with the more popular, sexy girl, with a rich daddy to boot? The J.J. Abrams Star Trek is an evolutionary dead end. J.J. was never interested in the franchise, he was settling for the only Space Opera in the room that wanted him. Where did that come from? Being the Guy in the Room, or as most of us know it, nepotism. Should Roberto Orci be directing Star Trek? Who knows really, he might be good, he most likely will be bad, but the question should be WHO should be directing Star Trek? I don’t know, maybe someone in the spirit of Star Trek? If experience is irrelevant, hire someone unique, someone with fresh, incredible ideas, like say, an upcoming female writer/producer like Brit Marling, or someone with existing credits like Duncan Jones, or literally ANYONE ELSE. Even going back to the old guard would give you some pretty fantastic talent that has shown they can update the sci-fi to be gritty and interesting, like Ron D. Moore. Just showing up and being the only guy with his hand raised is a terrible precedent to be set, especially since it’s another dude. When these franchises can be killed in one swift blow, why would they risk so much on a person that is so incredibly boring? That probably says it straight away.

Roberto Orci in the end isn’t Harve Bennet or Nick Meyer. He’s not even Leonard Nimoy. The era of filmmaking that those men belonged to is long over, they had a thoughtfulness about the way a motion picture should be constructed. Orci wrote Transformers 2. Yeah. This is a very slippery slope for Hollywood, and is a major red flag for the way that Paramount is choosing to treat it’s biggest franchise, that ultimately boring is better. At least he’s not writing the script. Maybe if Orci drops out of Star Trek 4, Patrick Mckay and John D. Payne, the screenwriters, can direct it, and they’ve only written comic books.