Although Star Trek Beyond squeaked into a distant second place this past weekend, (Behind the latest Jason Bourne film) with an estimated $24 million–taking in over $105 million in two weeks–it’s had a nearly 60% decline this weekend. That’s a significant drop compared to the last two Trek films, both of which saw their domestic totals reach over $146 million by the end of their second weekends. With a total budget of $185 million Star Trek Beyond needs to make $370 million overall, which seems unlikely at this point. If this film does lose money for the studio, it puts the entire future of the cinematic Star Trek franchise in doubt. Despite the fact that a fourth movie has been announced, if this current entry fails, that project is not a certainty.
What’s the answer? Why is the current Star Trek series dwindling with each entry? Why is there so little buzz about it? Maybe the answer to revitalizing the series is to get a director who understands what made the classic Star Trek series (created by Gene Roddenberry in 1966) so iconic that it’s still beloved today, 50 years later.
The first two rebooted Star Trek films—Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)—were directed by JJ Abrams, who also directed such action films as Mission Impossible 3 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Abrams has admitted that classic Star Trek was “too philosophical” for him. Justin Lin, who directed Star Trek Beyond, is known for directing several of the Fast and the Furious movies. The implication is that these two directors are not the right men to control a film series which is based on a show that had been a metaphor for deep issues like war, the value of personal loyalty, authoritarianism, imperialism, class warfare, politics, economics, racism, religion, human rights, sexism, feminism, as well as the pros and cons of technology. A new director with the proper mindset that could jibe with the values of Classic Trek, can still save the sinking Starship.
Christopher Nolan would probably be the best person to take over the fourth Trek film, because his cerebral style of dealing with existential, ethical and epistemological themes would be a good fit for Star Trek, as it was originally envisioned by Gene Roddenberry. Let’s look at seven reasons why…
He Explains Things with Accurate Science: Classic Star Trek was known for utilizing legitimate scientific principles to make the show more realistic. Scientific accuracy and general believability was guided by technical advice from numerous experts, including some at NASA or the Air Force. Physicist Harvey Lynn was one of Roddenberry’s advisors. Nolan likes to do this, too. When Nolan made Interstellar, he used the laws of physics as represented in Einstein’s theory of general relativity. When making Inception, he studied the concept of Lucid Dreaming. Even while making Batman Begins, he took efforts to make Batman’s arsenal of gadgets and equipment seem as logical as possible.
He Deals With Ethical Concepts of Right or Wrong: Star Trek had the philosophy, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Nolan’s films have subjective ethics using the idea that whatever is beneficial to the overall good of a group or culture is morally right. For instance, Batman’s vigilante activities are justified as being for the overall good of Gotham City. Similarly, the cop (played by Al Pacino) in Insomnia used questionable methods in the past to frame a criminal who would otherwise have gotten off. Afterward he feels justified in maintaining the lie, because if his dishonest action was revealed, it could lead to many of the convicted criminals he caught being released to menace society again. Both Trek and Nolan use this utilitarian philosophy of the greater good.
He Can Handle Loneliness and Issues of Personal Identity Well: Star Trek’s Mr. Spock was the ultimate outsider, forever caught between two worlds (Human and Vulcan). Despite his friendship with Kirk, he remained a solitary figure, living in “a self-made purgatory”. As his mother explained, he was “at home nowhere”. Bruce Wayne in the Batman trilogy was trapped between his obligation to be Batman and his desire for a normal existence. His secret life alienates him from others, making him unable to commit to Rachel Dawes, and leaving him feeling very alone. Like Spock, his two halves were always at odds.
He’s Good at Dealing With Perceptions of reality: Star Trek liked to do episodes that played around with the nature of reality. Episodes like the Menagerie (Parts 1 &2), Dagger of the Mind, Shore Leave and Spectre of the Gun deal with the perception of what exists and how we see it. Nolan likes to do movies that twist our view of reality in films like Inception and the Prestige. Both “Dagger of the Mind” and Inception are about implanting thoughts into another person’s mind.
He likes Stories About the Search for Truth and Knowledge: Star Trek is about exploration. The USS Enterprise goes “where no man has gone before”. Some characters, like Spock, are filled with intellectual curiosity to understand everything he comes across. (In “Devil in the Dark”, Spock wanted to understand the Horta when everyone else wanted to kill it.) In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Spock felt a bond with V’Ger whose mission was “To learn all that was learnable”. Nolan’s films have been described by critics as “epistemological thrillers whose protagonists, gripped by the desire for definitive answers, must negotiate mazy environments in which the truth is always beyond their reach.” Whether that truth is in memory as in Memento or finding the killer in Insomnia, they are always looking for answers.
He Is Good At Illustrating People Overcoming the urge to Violence: In Star Trek, we learn that Earth in the 23rd Century has put war behind them. Similarly, the Vulcans, who were once very violent, have become pacifists. In The Dark Knight, we have a scene where the two ferries—one filled with convicts and the other with random citizens—refuse to blow each other up.
He Likes to Deal with Time as a Concept: Star Trek liked to do stories revolving around time. City on the Edge of Forever, Tomorrow is Yesterday and Assignment: Earth, as well as Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home, all centered on varying concepts of time travel. In Nolan’s films, his characters and stories always have an odd relationship with time. Interstellar dealt with the physics of time; Inception dealt with altered perceptions of time and reality; Memento dealt with memory of the past, or the lack of it. Bruce Wayne in the Batman trilogy was stuck emotionally in the past.
So, for all these reason, Christopher Nolan is the guy who should take the helm for the next Star Trek film and steer it back to the original zone where it first became legendary.