An Open Letter To ‘Star Trek’ Director J.J. Abrams

Our movie writer has a few friendly tips for reviving iconic franchise.

To: J.J. Abrams
From: Larry Carroll, MTV News
Re: The new gig

J.J.,

Congratulations on your recent selection as the new keeper of the “Star Trek” flame. The geeks and the green alike are sufficiently intrigued, and the honeymoon period of your appointment has begun. By all means, please enjoy a celebratory cheese plate — and no, that doesn’t mean you should invite William Shatner over for dinner.

Relaxed yet? Terrific, because now it’s time for me to set my phaser to “stun.” You’ve earned tons of good will by making “Alias,” “Lost” and possibly the best of the three “Mission: Impossible” movies (see “How Did ‘Lost’ Guru J.J. Abrams Find Himself In Hollywood’s Hot Seat?” ), which is exactly why we’re worried about your appointment. Your marching orders are to ignore the last 10 films and reboot the franchise from Day One. You’re now taking on one of Hollywood’s most impossible missions, and nobody wants to see you get turned into the next Joel Schumacher.

With that said, please accept my heartfelt best wishes, along with some friendly suggestions on how to avoid getting into any trouble with your Tribbles:

Don’t Cast A-Listers. Unlike Batman or James Bond, an honest “Star Trek” fan will tell you that it’s not the characters that are memorable, it’s their portrayals by the original cast (listening to … SHATNER … was half the … FUN … of the series). No matter how Matt Damon might do if he does indeed play Kirk, fans will inevitably compare his performance to Shatner’s. At best, Damon and other rumored stars such as Adrien Brody, Gary Sinise and James McAvoy will merely mimic the old cast. At worst, they’ll turn it into pure camp. Eliminate the temptation, and give the characters a fresh — and fresh-faced — start.

Make ‘Em Badass. As we’re seeing with Daniel Craig in “Casino Royale” and Gerard Butler in “300,” reinterpreting old stereotypes with a ’70s-style tough-guy approach is a really, really cool idea. So don’t be afraid to let Scotty come up out of the engine room and kick some butt, or allow Uhura to make like the Bride in “Kill Bill.” Look at Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” if you need inspiration on how to balance tough-guy sensibilities with the Gene Roddenberry sense of noble exploration.

Don’t Make It A Prequel. Prequels suck and we hate them. If you’re going to reboot the franchise with a new “Star Trek,” then actually reboot it. Remember how we said that Roddenberry’s characters aren’t like Bond? Well, they’re not — but that doesn’t mean the aesthetic of your movie can’t be. As silly as it might sound for a movie set in space, the grittier, more realistic approach would do wonders for this particular franchise. Remember how the engine sputters when Han Solo tries to turn the key on the Millennium Falcon? Imagine if George Lucas (circa ’77) had brought such ideas to the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Don’t Make It An Action Movie. Please don’t mistake our desire for badass characters to mean that they need to be pitted against computer-generated armies of villains. Gabriel Byrne in “Miller’s Crossing” is a badass; Forest Whitaker in “Ghost Dog” is the same, yet both were memorable for their cold-blooded precision rather than a body count. If fans wanted to see a bunch of indiscriminate shooting with square-jaw heroes mowing down faceless aliens like they’re video game targets, they’d rent “Starship Troopers.” Or “Doom.” Or “Alien vs. Predator.” Or just about any other so-called science-fiction movie these days. “Star Trek,” at its best, has always been about grand philosophical ideas and the examination of other cultures that could exist out there. The penultimate “Star Trek” TV episode from the legendary first season, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” explored time travel in a more honest way than ever before. The episode “The Apple” flirted with anti-religious themes, and the “Darmok” episode from “Next Generation” exhibited the intricacies of diplomacy. Be brave enough to dream about themes outside the expected.

Buck The Fanboys. Things we don’t want to see in the newest incarnation: Klingons, transporter malfunctions, techno-babble, warp-drive failures, holodeck fake-outs, and let’s not forget the overly dramatic threat of saucer separation. In other words, don’t just grab every “Trek” cliché that’s been played out over the past 40 years thinking fanboys will love the familiarity. If it doesn’t fit organically in your script, don’t force it. Let’s call it the “Chewbacca in ‘Revenge of the Sith’ ” law.

Don’t Be Afraid To Make With The Funny. Besides “Wrath of Khan,” the best “Star Trek” movies were numbers IV (“The Voyage Home”) and VI (“The Undiscovered Country”). Why? Because they excelled at that unique balance of humor and honor unique to the “Trek” franchise. With “Alias,” you displayed a great knack for doing a similar balancing act. Some of the classic lines can indeed be dusted off and made organic enough to not violate our last suggestion — and what has more comedic potential than one of McCoy’s “Damn it, Jim! I’m a doctor, not a (blank)!” speeches?

Give Us A Cool New Villain. “Khan” is the greatest “Star Trek” movie because it brought back the franchise’s supreme super-villain. In “Mission: Impossible III,” you gave the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman enough room to redefine what we could expect from a token villain in a fading action series. Any real sci-fi flick can only be as great as its antagonist, so think of the best ones — Darth Vader, HAL 9000, Agent Smith — and get to work.

Got all that? Please, feel free to print out some extra copies, dispense them to whomever joins the cast, and maybe even tack one to the back of Captain Kirk’s swivel chair like a rock band’s set list. At the end of the day, J.J., “Star Trek” is all about making us dream once again of what might be going on out there beyond the stars. Lead us not into frustration.

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