JJ Abrams Fades Into Darkness for Star Trek 50th Anniversary Sequel
By Kevin Cook
Given the commercial and critical success of Star Trek Into Darkness, plus the fact that the key pieces of the cast remain under contract to Paramount for a third film, there isn’t any question whether there will be a sequel. The only questions are exactly when moviegoers will be able to curl up in darkened theaters to boldly go where — now — 12 other major motion pictures have gone before and who will be boldly directing the 13th installment of Gene Roddenberry’s landmark franchise.
The first question is easier to answer: Star Trek, now known to the world as Star Trek: The Original Series, debuted in 1966. Simple math tells us that 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the original series, to which writers/producers/fanboys Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof have been almost slavishly deferent in their two extant treatments.
Make no mistake — Paramount will be releasing a third installment of the Star Trek reboot to coincide with the hoopla sure to accompany the half-century anniversary, and thus cash in on the buzz that will undoubtedly be swirling around the franchise then.
There is no guarantee, however, that auteur-cum-wunderkind J.J. Abrams will be reprising his role as director a third time. Discussion with cast, crew, and Paramount executives — though infuriatingly veiled and guarded — seems to indicate that he likely will not. During marketing for the first Star Trek film, Abrams famously gaffed big-time by confessing that his childhood obsession was the Star Wars universe, and not Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the USS Enterprise crew.
Of course, Abrams is now in full control of George Lucas’s beloved franchise. Star Wars VII is slated to be filmed in 2015, and every indication is that Abrams intends to devote himself to Wars over Trek, one such indication being comments he made to Playboy hinting that he did not intend to direct both projects going forward.
This should hardly be a surprise, especially considering that, while Star Trek Into Darkness will probably better than recoup its $190 mil production budget in the long run, the 4-day opening of $84 mil fell well short of Paramount’s expectations of $100 mil or more. Don Harris, Paramount’s head of distribution, even did some minor damage control, explicitly downplaying expectations in an interview with TheWrap and citing “word of mouth” and the quality of the film in his optimistic forecast, as though Into Darkness were an Oscar sleeper and not, say, the biggest, most ostentatious and showy blockbuster the studio could manage to produce.
All signs point to Abrams relinquishing his central role as director and overlord — Orci and Kurtzman have half-jokingly referred to him as “God” in numerous interviews — though he will absolutely be back as an executive producer to lend his name, if not the full weight of his genius, to the inevitable 2016 Star Trek film. As for his replacement, it’s almost certain that it will be one, or some combination, of the three writer/producers Orci, Kurtzman, and (less likely) Lindelof.
The problem in gauging that particular outcome is that, in interviews, Kurtzman and Orci seem to be playing some bizarre, fawning hybrid of hot-potato and footsie, first breathlessly proclaiming their lofty, canon-faithful plans for the franchise, then utterly dismissing even the thought that Abrams might not return. The smart money says that Orci and Kurtzman will team up to helm the new project, which will, barring unforeseen delays, hit theaters squarely in the middle of the Star Trek 50th anniversary hullabaloo.