J.J. Abrams' newly rebooted Star Trek is still in theaters, but writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman tell SCI FI Wire that they're already thinking about the sequel, and they know their dilemma: whether to come up with an original story or go back into Trek lore to retell a story that's been dealt with before.
In either case, the writers say they learned a few lessons from the first movie, which has become an international hit.
"I think the major lesson we learned is that fans were willing to accept differences and surprises, provided that they were somehow echoes or inspired by canon," Orci said in an exclusive interview earlier this month. He added: "We still have to be true to Star Trek the next time around, but we've also been blessed with being able to be unpredictable. And that doesn't mean we can just be shocking for no good reason and just throw everything away. ... It still has to echo everything that Star Trek has been."
At this point, the writers don't have a story or even a premise. "We have agreed to write another one," Orci said. "We're going to start thinking about it any second now. But we're still just having a mental sorbet before we jump back in. And, you know, just seeing all the reactions to the movie. We want to make sure we take it all in and really figure out what worked and what didn't and proceed from there. But now that we have ... an open canvas, ... anything can happen."
Following is an edited version of our exclusive interview. Orci and Kurtzman also wrote the upcoming sequel film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (with Ehren Kruger); it opens June 24.
Tell me about your reactions to the reactions to Star Trek. What surprised you, what were you pleased with, what were you disappointed with?
Kurtzman: Well, you know, it was sort of stunning for us, actually, because ... we did not know how people were going to react to the movie in general. ... The last version of Trek was fairly unsuccessful at the box office, and, ... in talking to people, there was such a stigma against Star Trek [and] sci-fi: how polarizing it was, it wasn't accessible to women, it was too cold, any number of things that people have to say about it.
So in aiming to make a movie that both reached a broad base and ... satisfied the fans, ... A, we weren't sure we were going to be able to accomplish both, and, B, we just didn't know if people were going to show up. And the tracking for the movie, which we all watch religiously right before the movie comes out, was telling us that the movie was going to do fine but not great.
And usually, in our experience, tracking has been extremely accurate. You know? Like within a margin of, like, a couple of million bucks. It's pretty close. So we were told that we were probably going to be on track for, like, a $50 million weekend, which frankly was going to be a disappointment to the studio. And, you know, we were bummed. The movie was a labor of love for us, and we tried very hard to make it work.
The night before the movie came out, literally hours before, there was a 36 percent spike in tracking.
It was, like, shocking. And all of a sudden, ... everyone went, "Wow. Now we have no idea what kind of a number we're going to have this weekend." So by Friday night everyone kind of knew where we were going.
Orci: And they attributed that to word of mouth, right?
Orci: It was the fact that people were reacting well, and it was impossible to [predict]. It was the first time we had seen word of mouth in action, so that was fascinating. And we're so grateful that most of the fan base was open about it, and that new people were willing to risk being in a room with people who speak Klingon. ...
I think people were willing to go with you with the time incursion to reboot everything, and they're willing to give you the benefit of the doubt now if you change things. Do you think that's true?
Orci: Yes. But ... [you] just can't use old things willy-nilly, you know. There's still an internal logic that has to be followed. ... We could still cross some lines [if] we think, "Oh, we can do anything now." And a savvy fan will go, "Well, technically, [you can't]." ...
In thinking of a story, the inclination for a fan would be to see a new version of a story that's been told in some fashion. Or to pick up tropes from one of the TV episodes or the films and maybe combine them. Or is your inclination to do a completely original story this time?
Orci: Well, that is the debate, literally. And that is going to be one of the first conversations that we have. But that's exactly the question.
Because it's such a rich mythology. I mean, you could pick any villain or situation or whatever and exploit that. But, again, the risk is that you're going to be compared to what came before.
Orci: Exactly. That's right. That is the question.
I don't envy your job, I'll tell you that.
Anything else about Star Trek that you want to say about how the first film was received or how it's affected how you think about Star Trek?
Orci: We just want to say thank you.