Surreal as it might now seem, it wasn’t all that long ago when Star Trek was the pop-culture equivalent of an expired star whose white-hot fires had been extinguished, floating inert and neglected in the coldness of space for what felt like eons. Indeed, the 2005 cancellation of the franchise’s last show standing, Star Trek: Enterprise (on freaking UPN!), after just four seasons saw an uninterrupted 18-year retro Renaissance ignited by Star Trek: The Next Generation abruptly end with a sad whimper. – That was, until reboot maestro J.J. Abrams stepped in!
However, while the scintillating, sexified, action-packed, lens-flare-filled films of the alternate Kelvin Timeline launched with Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek gave the franchise a new lease on life that makes this 50th franchise anniversary taste so much sweeter, it can’t go on forever. Consequently, I will make the case that the Kelvin movies should prepare an intriguing transition to revive Star Trek: The Next Generation as movie fodder. It’s certainly happened before.
An injection of Kelvin adrenaline that’s wearing off
2009’s Star Trek clearly wasn’t aimed at the cosplaying purists who studiously committed to Conversational Klingon or memorized all 285 entries of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. Yet Abrams’ inaugural mainstream Trek movie treatment did inject that aforementioned dead star with the rejuvenating mana of renewed, wider interest, as well as box-office bankability with its $385 million global bow. While 2013’s twist-centric sequel Star Trek Into Darkness upped the ante with its $467 million global, this past July’s entertaining threequel Star Trek Beyond (which saw a Star Wars-tasked Abrams cede the helm to Justin Lin) will actually buck that upward trend, currently sitting at $336 worldwide.
While the untitled fourth Kelvin Star Trek film is set for a Stardate in 2019 (10 years after Abrams’ initial reboot), they might just be winding down. Thus, the high-impact, in-your-face Kelvin Trek might want to consider ceding to another Star Trek cast such as The Next Generation. While Beyond’s smaller box-office take isn’t necessarily a reason unto itself for such a move, the five-year mission on which the Enterprise embarked in Into Darkness – which was halfway finished at the start of Beyond – will soon come to its natural conclusion. Plus, barring the recent tragic passing of Chekov actor Anton Yelchin, it will only become more difficult to corral the busy star-studded cast members such as Chris Pine, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto and Simon Pegg.
Make it so?
In the beginning, no one would have suspected that Star Trek: The Next Generation would have such a bountiful bellwether run, creating a unique kind of cultural influence independent from the zeitgeist-heavy classic 1960s original series. Certainly, The Next Generation’s seven-season run from 1987 to 1994 (which many argue ended unnecessarily early,) ran the pop-culture gamut in every conceivable way, even inheriting the big-screen baton after Kirk and company seemingly called it quits after 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, with four subsequent Star Trek headers starting with the captain crossover in 1994’s Generations, 1996’s First Contact, 1998’s Insurrection and 2002’s Nemesis. Thus, its worthiness is unquestionable.
Following the same apparent natural order of things, the momentum of the Kelvin films would benefit from a shift forward in time from the 23rd century of Chris Pine’s reinvented Captain James T. Kirk to the elegant aesthetic grandeur of the 24th century with a reinvention of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who, of course, became iconic in his portrayal by Patrick Stewart. While one would think that the Kelvin films, which center themselves on explosive, frenetic, popcorn audience-friendly action, might not be compatible with the dignified, revered persona of Picard, it’s possible that an intriguing amalgam might manifest, borrowing crucial elements of Stewart’s classic Picard with the more provocative nature of the Kelvin films. Interestingly, we might end up having Star Trek: Nemesis to thank for that.
A best of both worlds tapestry of all good things
Nemesis – released on Dec. 13, 2002 – was actually designed to assail the kind of ennui that would eventually create the need for J.J. Abrams to concoct the Kelvin films. On the television front, The Next Generation had ceased production over eight long years earlier, the epic wormhole wars of Deep Space Nine had ceased, Captain Janeway finally got her crew back home on Voyager and prequel series Enterpise (which unfortunately had to premiere 15 days after 9/11) was treading water amid sinking ratings.
Consequently, it became increasingly clear among even the most minutiae-minded Trekkies that the slow, heavy-handed philosophical approach to the Star Trek franchise that had reaped so much success had become stale. Thus, with Stuart Baird (U.S. Marshalls, Executive Decision) in the director’s chair working off a screenplay by John Logan, Nemesis had clear designs to replicate what the lauded Borg-battling First Contact had seemingly achieved with solid action and layers of levity … and then inject them with anabolic steroids with a dash of human growth hormone for good measure.
The result was a jumbled, yet serviceable space epic about a conspiracy to sabotage Federation-Romulan relations involving the mysterious inhabitants of neighboring Romulan planet Remus rife with post-9/11-appropriate terrorism, headed by a Reman hybrid clone of Captain Picard named Shinzon, played by none other than a young Tom Hardy. For all its quasi-Wrath of Khan conceits, including a similar sacrificial death of a main cast member, Nemesis does stand as a potential test run for how the smooth-edged, almost-clinical aesthetic of The Next Generation could be put through the cinematic Kelvin lens.
A Picard who is the Borg's reckoning
Lest it appear that I’m talking the film up too high, it should be noted that Nemesis also happened to be an abysmal bomb, whose worldwide gross of $67 million on the back of its $60 million budget was technically a loss. While it reeked of the unmistakable smell of trying too hard (they had a 24th century ATV chase around a planet’s surface for Pete’s sake,) it still remains a form of objective proof that The Next Generation and the concept of balls-to-the-walls action are not entirely disparate.
However, more importantly, Nemesis could also retroactively provide the fundamental ingredient for a Kelvin Timeline take on The Next Generation: Its new Captain Picard, prospectively played by the man who portrayed the character’s clone, Tom Hardy. Recently receiving his first Oscar nod for The Revenant, Hardy cemented his own iconic genre status as Batman-back-breaker Bane in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, appeared in 2010’s Inception, inherited Mel Gibson’s title character in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road and even fielded a multitude of work on prestige television shows such as Peaky Blinders and the upcoming Taboo. Thus, Star Trek would be getting some substantial star power.
Of course, while the part of Shinzon in Nemesis – which included posing for a photo as a young (but nevertheless bald) Picard – was just an early role in his career, the idea that Hardy would “return” (in a manner of speaking,) to play a younger, energized version of the genuine Captain Picard would be an exciting prospect with an A-list star and a poetic link to the past. Just as with 2009’s Star Trek, the specifics regarding “how” or “why” a clearly younger Picard (at a time when his Prime Timeline counterpart might be captaining the Stargazer,) rounds up new versions of the same Enterprise D crew would need to be fudged beyond believability. However, the result could be something as equally exciting and accessible as J.J. Abrams’s reboot launch.
While the pessimistic purist in me might scoff at the notion of yet another sacred cow such as Star Trek: The Next Generation experiencing the dreaded “r-word,” the prospects are thrilling. Imagine fresh versions of Picard, Riker, Data, Troi, La Forge, Worf and Dr. Crusher on a new Enterprise D going head-to-head with reimagined versions of the Borg, Romulans, Cardassians, Ferengi or even amped-up classic celestial opponents such as the omnipotent people-shamer Q or the planet-eating Crystalline Entity? In actuality, the treasure trove of television-inspired Kelvin possibilities dwarfs that of the original series.