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Star Trek Is Not Broken

Michael Hinman provides a broader view on fandom

We seem to evaluate what the world thinks based on our own circle of friends, or the people we come into contact with.

And if I believed that those people represented the world at large, then I would have been the only person enjoying and loving “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in the late 1980s.

It couldn’t have been more than the second season of the show, and I had met some avid “Star Trek” fans at a place my family would summer. And if you noticed, I put “Star Trek” in quotes because I’m not talking about Star Trek, the overall franchise — but the actual original series.

They had tried to watch TNG, and felt it was nothing like what made Star Trek great. There were no fist fights, no Capt. Kirk losing his shirt, none of the cowboy diplomacy the crew of the original Enterprise seemed to like. This was more of a thinking Star Trek, where people would come and talk about their feelings. Where the captain would talk before acting. And where the Enterprise itself was far too comfortable to be an actual starship.

The vitriol I have heard from some people about Capt. Picard, Cmdr. Riker, and especially Wesley Crusher, made me think that Star Trek was going to die. And when “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” came out and bombed? I thought it might be time for me to become obsessed about something else, like maybe punk rock or something.

Yet Star Trek wasn’t broken. Instead, Star Trek was going through a growth phase, a transformation that would allow it to evolve as society evolved. Sure, the 1960s Original Series was a blast, and it still is. But audiences of the late 1980s were much different from the audiences of the late 1960s — just as today, the audiences of the 2010s are much different from the audiences of even the 1990s.

It’s tough to change and evolve, because people really don’t like to change. I mean, look at an old wall in the house that needs paint, and suggest to your family that it should be a different color, and you would think by the response you suggested tearing down the house and having everyone live in tents.

I am not going to say that “Star Trek: Into Darkness” should be making plans to attend the Oscars next year, but it’s impossible to say that the film was not a success. Let’s look at the raw numbers.

The production budget for “Into Darkness” was $190 million, according to The Numbers. The film itself grossed $462.5 million worldwide in ticket sales. Even if you add a very liberal $25 million for marketing, Paramount took home a profit of more than $225 million — and that’s just in ticket sales. That’s not even counting DVD and Blu-ray, which could gross another $100 million or so.

I am not sure what world some people are living in, but if I invested $215 into a project, and I got back $460 — I would count that as a good day. Add six zeros to the end of that, and I wouldn’t even be writing this right now — I would be on a tropical island somewhere.

The argument made by a fan site about Star Trek being broken suggested that “Into Darkness” underperformed — falling short of $1 billion. Sure, the film may not have performed the way Paramount had hoped (and even they recognize they released it during a very busy movie schedule), but no one on this planet was expecting “Into Darkness” to reach $1 billion. At least no one in power to make decisions for the Star Trek franchise.

Think about that for a moment. Even using worldwide box office, $1 billion would be more than double what “Into Darkness” made. And “Into Darkness” was the highest-grossing Star Trek film of all time — even adjusting for inflation. The last movie made just $385.7 million worldwide in 2009, yet someone at Paramount thought “Into Darkness” would somehow nearly triple that?

I mean let’s look at how many $1 billion movies are out there. According to Box Office Mojo, only 17 films have crossed the $1 billion mark, and all of them have done it since 1993. The only film to achieve that this year was “Iron Man 3,” which earned $1.2 billion.

But “Iron Man 3” is a much different animal than “Into Darkness.” First, it comes on the coattails of “The Avengers,” which earned a whopping $1.5 billion worldwide. Oh, and “Iron Man 2”? It made $623.9 million in 2010.

The combination of strong numbers in a previous film, as well as the third-highest-grossing film of all time booster in between — if “Iron Man 3” made anything less than $900 million, people would be scratching their heads.

Star Trek does not have the international appeal that superheroes do. It’s just not the same thing to the general public in Asia, for instance, as it might be here. All that money that “Iron Man 3” made? That was international. Here in North America, it grossed just a little more than $400 million. More than “Into Darkness,” yes, but it wasn’t like it sat on top of the charts for weeks and weeks and weeks. It didn’t.

It is true — “Into Darkness” may not necessarily have brand new people rushing to pick up the 1960s series, or maybe even TNG or “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” or even “Star Trek: Voyager.” But then again, did TNG really create a rush to see Capt. Kirk, outside of the new material they were releasing in films? Did DS9 give teenage boys the desire to see the original?

No. Primarily, these audiences stuck with what was new. Just like in “Doctor Who” — every new Doctor might bring in new fans, but that doesn’t necessarily translate they will turn into fans of the classic. It doesn’t mean the classic is not worth recognizing, but that audiences are progressing forward. And that’s what audiences do.

Otherwise, new Star Trek would be made the same way as old Star Trek. It’s not. It takes themes that make Star Trek what it is, and then present them in a way that appeals to modern audiences. And while what J.J. Abrams did may not be what Robert Wise did, or what Nicholas Meyer did, or what even Gene Roddenberry did, it is something that has proven successful with Paramount, and ensures that more Star Trek will come.

That will be a different Star Trek than what many of us grew up with, and it will have a new fanbase that may not be like the fanbase we all grew up with. But it’s probably safe to say that there’s nothing wrong with that. I was 11 when TNG premiered, and I most closely associate myself to the early spinoffs like TNG and DS9, and would probably watch those more often than I would watch the original “Star Trek.” But that doesn’t make me any less of a fan than, say, Bjo Trimble or Larry Nemecek.

The reason why Star Trek has endured for almost 50 years is because the franchise has evolved. It hasn’t always evolved smoothly or even successfully, but it has found a way to not only survive, but now to thrive.

And the fact is that “Into Darkness” is not even out on DVD and Blu-ray yet, however it’s already a money-maker for Paramount Pictures. Anything that happens from now on, whether it be DVD, iTunes, Netflix, HBO or even as CBS’ Sunday night movie — it will just be icing on the cake.

You simply can’t look at the people who shelled over those dollars, say they enjoyed what they saw, and then claim the franchise is broken. It might need some help getting clearly back on the right path — but broken it is not.

About the Author
Michael Hinman is the founder and editor-in-chief for 1701News, Airlock Alpha and the entire GenreNexus. He owns Nexus Media Group Inc., the parent corporation of the GenreNexus, and a co-founder of 1701News. He lives in Tampa, Fla.

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