Star Trek: The Beginning

I can’t corroborate this account of how JJ Abrams ended up directing the recent Star Trek films, but this is allegedly what happened. If you know different, sound off in the comments and I’ll correct the article as appropriate.

In 2006, CBS and Paramount split into two distinct companies, rather than being two divisions of the same company. The split was essentially about licensing rights. Paramount got the movies and everything that went with them, and CBS got the TV series and all the went with those.

The split also included a clause which prevented CBS from competing with Paramount for 2 years – the idea being that Paramount would be able to develop a movie in that time-frame that would be used to bring the mainstream cinema-going audience into the Star Trek franchise.

A script for “Star Trek: The Beginning” was written by Erik Jendresen and set on the USS Spartan and was to be about the United Earth Stellar Navy and the crew of this ship. The movie was to start 4 years after the Terra Prime incidents in Star Trek: Enterprise and was to act as a bridge between Enterprise and The Original Series.

The USS Spartan is a prototype Starfleet vessel and is stolen by one Commander Tiberius Chase – Kirk’s maternal grandfather – who wants to use the ship to fight the Romulans. The Federation/Starfleet did not agree with Chase’s opinion of Romulans as his father was a member of Terra Prime (the isolationist organization that appeared at the end of the Enterprise TV series) – so his views are dismissed by association (a sins of the father thing).

To quote Memory Alpha:

According to Jendresen, the film would have bridged the gap between the end of Star Trek: Enterprise and the beginning of The Original Series. It was Jendresen’s hope that the story, which depicted the Earth-Romulan War, would be part of a trilogy of films. Jendresen went on to blame a “regime change” at Paramount Studios for the death of the film. The story, which Jendressen quoted as being “big and epic”, would have taken place “a couple of years after the end of the events of Enterprise but well before the original series, and it would look at the inciting incident that started everything“. Jendresen also explained that the story would have focused on a small group of people, particularly one character, but it would not have been a traditional Star Trek captain or crew. In addition, it would have featured “a couple of ships, including a principal ship“. The central character of the trilogy, stated Jendresen, would have been a progenitor of James T. Kirk named Tiberius Chase.

There’s far more background on the what the story would have been about over at Memory Alpha.

The movie was about to go into pre-production when there was a regime change at Paramount. The new people in charge didn’t like Jendresen’s script so wunderkind JJ Abrams, fresh off the success of Mission Impossible 3, was hired by Paramount to direct and re-imagine the franchise.

JJ Abrams - The Man Who Ruined Star TrekJJ Abrams – King of the lens flares!

Abrams hired his buddies – Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman – to pen a new script. These were writers on the Lost TV series (and we all know how that series ended). Orci’s writing abilities in particular, seem to be held in low regard by a lot of people. Neither seemed well acquainted with the Star Trek universe.

In order to extend the time-frame of the non-compete clause by another 2 years, Paramount agreed to sell all Star Trek merchandizing rights to CBS.

Abrams wanted to create a TV series with brand recognition so he attempted to get a derivative license from CBS for an Alternative Universe, not an Alternative Timeline in Trek. CBS didn’t want to give over the rights either to a new series or for merchandise. CBS already owned the merchandizing rights for any nuTrek (anything Star Trek created by Abrams) due to the second 2-year deal (but apparently Bad Robot – Abrams’ production company – owns 15%). However, merchandise for nuTrek doesn’t sell.

Abrams originally demanded that CBS lock away all Prime Universe merchandise and let him do a new series based on his re-imagining of Star Trek. CBS said no.

Then Roberto Orci pitched a second series idea but without the merchandising demands. Again, CBS said no.

Finally, just before Star Trek Into Darkness came out, Abrams/Bad Robot pitched a third series idea. And, once again, CBS declined.

Into Darkness didn’t make as much at the box office as the 2009 Star Trek movie, profit-wise. Star Trek (2009) had a budget of $150 million and made $420.2 million worldwide. The budget doesn’t include the advertising costs which are usually in the same region as the budget. Into Darkness cost $185 million and made $467.4 million worldwide. Advertising again would have cost about the same as the movie’s budget. So, overall, Into Darkness did worse at the box office. Studios often use domestic (US) box office takings as a gauge for how successful a movie has been, rather than worldwide takings (a myopic view). Through that lens, Star Trek (2009) made 84% profit (not accounting for advertising costs) in the USA, whereas Into Darkness made just 20%.

There a much more thorough breakdown of of the profitability of Star Trek movies here.

Star Trek Into Darkness

So Into Darkness wasn’t seen as much of a success in the domestic US market. “The success of one movie does not mean the success of a brand” is was what CBS is reputed to have said. So that killed off any notion of there being a nutTrek series anytime in the future.

As has been stated before, JJ Abrams was not a Star Trek fan. He admitted it himself in his interview with Jon Stewart that he could never get into Star Trek because he couldn’t understand it, so he wanted to create a Star Trek for someone like himself.

Nick Meyer, who wrote (uncredited) Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan and directed and also directed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country wasn’t a fan of Star Trek either. However, he did his homework, watched the TV series, learned about the characters and the Star Trek universe and then created probably the two best movies featuring The Original Series cast.

Abrams was unwilling do familiarise himself with the Star Trek universe. So we end up with movies that are re-conceived by someone who never understood what Star Trek was about. Is it any wonder then that for the majority of fans, the reboot movie just suck?

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