After the Next Generation

TrekToday reports on an interview Brent Spiner gave where he says that Paramount considered making Star Trek X without the Next Generation characters:

The studio, I think, wasn’t really crazy about doing another movie with the Next Generation crew. What I think they wanted to do was a movie with a new Star Trek cast. Rick said he didn’t think that that was a good idea, and he didn’t think that it would work. He told them, believe it or not, that the audience still enjoys seeing us.

Frankly, I’d rather see a Trek film that didn’t focus heavily on Picard and Data, as the last three have. Who cares about Picard and his angst? Who cares about Data and his “witless exploration of humanity,” to use Q’s snide phrase? Not I. And doubtless millions of others feel the same way.

I have no objection to seeing a Next Generation film. I just want to see the film break some new ground with the characters and take them places they’ve never been before–both physically and psychologically. Characters like Riker and Troi have been strictly background for the past three films. Crusher and Geordi haven’t had anything significant to do, either. On the one hand there’s the time limitation–a two-hour film can only encompass so much, and with seven characters off the bat with some amount of screen time there’s only so many ways to share the time and screen. On the other hand, each character received a good deal of attention when the series was on the air, and do we really need to focus on the characters yet again?

Is that the right approach? Forsake character and make a Next Generation film that’s balls-to-the-walls action? Perhaps not.

The trouble with the Trek films has been, I think, the fact there are so many characters to fit into the picture. Rather than one or two protagonists, there’s seven or eight. And each of the protagonists has their cadre of fans who wants to see their favorite character say and do something significant. In a way I think that’s counterproductive; if Crusher doesn’t have anything to contribute to the film, why include her? If Troi isn’t going to spout pointless psychobabble, why waste lines on the character? But Paramount probably doesn’t want to alienate the devoted fans of Doctor Crusher, and perhaps many other fans would feel that they’re being cheated out of seeing the ensemble together again for the umpteenth time. In Star Trek II did Sulu really need to be the one at helm, or couldn’t a low-paid extra have done the job? In Insurrection did Troi and Crusher really do anything of import? Scotty? Uhura? These are characters that have their fans, but they don’t contribute in the film’s final calculus. Fans want to see them for nostalgia’s sake, but they’re useless for drama’s sake.

Maybe it is time to rethink the Trek film franchise as something separate from the television franchise. The current run of films are essentially extensions of the seven seasons of Next Generation. Nothing in the last three films couldn’t have been done of television. Maybe not as well or as polished because of budget concerns, but they could have been done. And I think it’s for this very reason that the Star Trek films aren’t blockbusters–because the audience can see Next Generation on television for free, so why go and pay for it if it’s not going to be anything different?

A Star Trek film with a new cast brings with it a whole set of advantages.

First, with a whole new cast it’s not something the audience will see on television.

Second, the story doesn’t have to tie itself to the other shows and thus limit its storytelling options.

Third, the film is going to have a much lower budget with a group of relative unknowns, and the only characters that need in-depth casting are the ones that actually affect the outcome of the story.

Harve Bennett’s Starfleet Academy script would be ideal. Or perhaps a Captain Pike film. Or perhaps something completely unrelated to anything we’ve seen on television. Remove the shackles the the television series have put on the franchise and Star Trek can go anywhere. The time is well overdue.

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