Monday Morning Quarterback Part II
By BOP Staff
May 22, 2013

The Oxbow Incident

Kim Hollis: The blame game has already started for Star Trek Into Darkness. What do you believe could have been done better to promote the film, if anything?

Brett Ballard-Beach: My father-in-law is a Star Trek fan through the decades (as are my parents) and neither of them knew as of two months ago that the film was coming out. Perhaps Paramount chose to focus on the younger audiences who made the last one so successful, and left the elders out in the darkness?

Bruce Hall: I am not sure that promotion was the issue, but I'll get to that. I think it's worth considering that Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby are still doing solid business, and considering the wide variety in Star Trek's demographic it's safe to say that both of those films had something to say about this result. Looking back, the 2009 film had no real competition, opening the week after X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie that was so bad my memory has largely blocked it out for my own good.

Getting back to marketing, there was definitely no shortage of it. I think the last minute early opening backfired somewhat when not enough people became aware if it in advance. I'm not sure that makes $15 million worth of difference, but it counts for something. But I think the manufactured controversy surrounding the villain may also have hurt the film, or at least it didn't seem to help. Those who cared subjected the issue to such intense scrutiny that when advance screenings finally revealed the truth about that and the clunky story, a collective "meh" ran through the online community. My own sentiments toward the film are positive but lukewarm, and that was enough to keep several people I know away until next weekend. Multiply that by "fanboy" and perhaps that's part of the problem here.

Matthew Huntley: Two possible causes are the title, which tapered interest/awareness, and the way the movie wasn't made to look all that different from the original. I think more people would have been aware of the movie coming out had it been called Star Trek II: Into Darkness instead. I know that sounds like a negligible difference, but it makes it more distinct. There's just something about Star Trek Into Darkness that doesn't roll off the tongue and I know a lot of people abhorred it when it was first announced.

Secondly, the trailer/ads simply made Into Darkness look like more of the same, and indeed it is. If Paramount had played up the differences between the first and second movies, however little there are, they might have garnered more intrigue/curiosity from audiences.

Max Braden: I think moving away from the old Star Trek environment was a risk that may pay off in the long run but may be hurting the series right now. The old series offered a simple scenario: Starfleet good, Klingons bad. The trailer for Darkness gives a murky presentation of who the villain is and why he would be would be an iconic foe. I can't even remember the name of the villain in Star Trek (2009), and they both "remind" me of the forgettable villain in Star Trek: Nemesis. Without the old guard, new audiences may just see this as a bunch of kids in costumes running around. Simplifying the presentation may be necessary to give a sense of what's at stake for the characters.

Jay Barney: By raising the blame game question we are probably reading too much into what happened. I really don't think playing with the release date had much to do with the numbers and it certainly didn't hurt the title. Where it hurt was the elevated expectation side of the equation. The film had good to great buzz and the studio probably thought that opening it a day early would create a larger audience. Obviously that didn't happen, but the idea that opening early is a reason not to see a film doesn't make much sense to me.

Back to my original point....what sort of blame game are we talking about? Paramount has a good movie on its hands. The 2009 reboot did very well. This film had an opening over $80 million, and should hold strong going into next weekend. Overseas money is bringing smiles to the exec's faces and money to their pockets. If we are talking about assigning blame to an $84 million opening against a $100 million I think that will be a short conversation. If you look at the numbers, this is still going to be a money maker for Paramount. At worst Trek should be north of $100 million going into Memorial Day and with a 50% percent drop it will have $150 million domestically in the bank against a budget a $195 budget. And those will just be the domestic numbers. Trek is still going to make money.

Tim Briody: Short of more scenes of Alice Eve in her underwear, I'm not entirely sure. I don't think it's a promotion issue. Maybe we need to accept that, despite the success of the reboot, the appeal of Star Trek is pretty limited? It was a moribund franchise before this, and perhaps the sequel just wasn't as special as the first time out. That's all I've got.

Edwin Davies: As I said earlier, I think a lot of it had to do with a lack of a sense of anything special around this sequel. Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor and a smart choice for the film, but he's not a huge star on his own and the secretive way the film treated his character meant that people didn't get the thrill of thinking, "Oh my God, the Enterprise is going to be going up against [insert iconic villain here]!" which was basically the whole appeal of The Dark Knight, the film that best illustrated how to escalate the stakes for a sequel and raise the box office as a result. Instead, what they got was a bunch of well put together trailers which seemed to say, "Remember that film you liked from a few years ago? Well, that." So short of being up front about who the villain is - something which might not even mean that much to people who aren't at least a little steeped in Star Trek lore - the only thing they could have done is make what was at stake seem more important, because the trailers kind of failed in that regard.

David Mumpower: While looking for explanations, we should not ignore the basic principles of box office analysis. I believe that Bruce overstates the difference between Star Trek and its sequel in terms of marketplace competition. The number two film during the opening weekend of the first (well, 11th) Star Trek earned $26.4 million; this weekend's number two movie grossed $35.8 million. Both competitors were comic book adaptations that shared demographic similarities. Arguing that other titles in marketplace impacted Star Trek Into Darkness is a non-starter in my opinion.

Upon (much) reflection, what I feel was lacking with the movie's advertising is something basic. What is the appeal of Star Trek as a franchise? The answer is the characters. It is the same explanation about why there is so much interest about Star Trek 7. People have grown attached to the characters and want to see what has happened with them as well as the world(s) in which they live. What aspect of the story exhibited in those clips identified the crew of the Star Trek Enterprise as old friends we have missed that we should visit again? That is the crucial element of any sequel. Contrast that to the Iron Man 3 trailer that goes out of its way to delineate the precarious position of Tony Stark in the wake of The Avengers incident in Manhattan.

Star Trek Into Darkness attempted to use the Lost/Cloverfield mystery playbook of J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof once again. The reason why this tactic was ineffective is simple. People did not know what Lost and Cloverfield were about from the start. The primary reason Lost failed as a series is that the promise of further mysteries was given in place of answers to the existing puzzles. With innumerable Lost and Cloverfield clones having aired in the interim, the once innovative tactic is now the default style for a lot of television and movie premises. I believe Paramount would have been better served by resisting the temptation to build a mystery. Instead, the marketing should have highlighted a key aspect of the actual movie, the Enterprise family building relationships in a different manner that (some) fans know from the television series. Kirk and Spock are iconic. Why were they not emphasized more when Alice Eve's screaming and underwear shot were italicized in every ad?

Kim Hollis: I agree that there was no reason to be so secretive about the villain in the film. I think they could actually have built a lot of excitement just around that character alone. But I also think that Star Trek suffers from not skewing older. There's been no good way to build excitement among the youth audience, because most of them are going to look at the '60s show and even the non-reboot movies and wonder what all the fuss is about. The characters are using communicators that look like flip phones. There's nothing special or "sci-fi" about that. Matt may be onto something, too, when he notes that the reboot isn't really doing anything new with the story, just sort of re-inventing it in almost a fan-fiction sort of way. It's tough to get non-fans of the series excited about that.

Kim Hollis: With JJ Abrams gone after this film and at least a marginally disappointing debut for the latest Star Trek film, what do you believe is the short-term future for the franchise?

Brett Ballard-Beach: Nemesis killed the franchise. Star Trek revived it with a hit of (lens flare) crack to the system. Into Darkness will do fine when all is said and done. Paramount may be a little overly cautious now that they have tasted sweet sweet global grosses and probably won't do any stretching creativity wise in the short term.

Bruce Hall: As a former Trekkie who no longer drinks the Kool-Aid but is still a fan, I'd argue that what first sealed the franchise's fate was an inability to take true creative risks with the film version. And by that, I don't mean letting Shatner direct one. I mean that at one time, the studio was notoriously tight with the production budget because they were content to churn out increasingly mediocre pictures, knowing they could always count on a mathematically profitable number of devoted fans to show up. Eventually, the television product also meandered as the same producers tried to handle both the big and small screen adventures. Things had become a matter of repetitive parody by the time Star Trek: Enterprise was mercifully shot out the airlock in 2005.

They took their fanbase for granted, and people like me got off the bandwagon in the 1990s. I would gladly have put Star Trek out of its misery myself, if only to spare an old friend any further suffering or indignity.

Fast forward to 2009. Only one of ten previous Trek films broke $100 million, and that one was the entertainment equivalent of a Dr. Who Christmas episode. Since then, we're two for two and I don't see any reason why Into Darkness does not marginally outperform its predecessor when all is said and done. Abrams made Star Trek relevant again, and he did it by proving that the franchise can and does have appeal outside the fanbase - particularly overseas. This was going to be critical if the brand was to survive. To purists, nothing about Abrams' vision resembles Star Trek other than the uniforms and the ships, so it'll be up to the next director to put some brains back into it. But personally, while I find the stories themselves somewhat lacking I do love the world they've created, I love the cast, and I love these interpretations of the characters. And most importantly, a lot of people with no previous emotional attachment to the franchise do as well.

There will be more Star Trek, but it'll be interesting to see how much further Paramount will sex it up and dumb it down as opposed to the more challenging material Star Trek was once known for. I feel like I can already guess, and it's possible that by the franchise's 50th anniversary, Gene Roddenberry himself wouldn't recognize it.

Max Braden: I'm far more interested in the future of these characters than the string of Star Wars movies coming up, but I imagine Star Wars is going to dominate the box office. I don't see any problem with development and release of the next Star Trek movie, but I think expectations will be that it must earn more than Darkness in order to be considered a success worth pursuing.

Jay Barney: I think the future of the franchise is quite bright. At this point it is the #1 movie in America...there will probably be another movie a few years down the road. I wouldn't doubt there will be a return to television at some point. As far as "franchises" go, I don't think there is a universe out there that can claim the longevity or appeal of Star Trek - three seasons during the '60s that became iconic with reruns in the 1970s, followed by six films spread over 15 years with the original crew. A new direction was taken with the TNG, but that only became the highest rated syndicated show of its era. The success of that show brought on three more series and spawned four TNG centered films. After a little break...we now have two hit films in the span of four years. Paramount has the rights to the film franchise and CBS has the rights to the shows. It will be interesting to see when the return to television comes.

Edwin Davies: Abrams' departure as director will probably slow the next film down somewhat, but I've no doubt that a third installment will be along in the next few years and hopefully he'll be able to shepherd it along in the same way that he has with the Mission: Impossible series, which has benefited immeasurably from his involvement as both a director and a producer. I don't consider this slight under-performance to be anything close to a fatal blow for the franchise, but I do think that Paramount will have to make sure they pick the right people for the next one, since the series will probably have to work even harder to expand beyond the audience its already found, something which would have been difficult even with the direct involvement of Abrams.

David Mumpower: Adding to Edwin’s thought process, Star Trek Into Darkness is on pace to smoke Star Trek’s $385 million global box office. Paramount can trumpet this aspect of the movie, which is what studios like to do to gloss over the box office struggles most big budget releases face in North America these days. Barring something unforeseen, Star Trek 2/12 will be remembered as a solid hit.

The important question right now is whether Abrams will be allowed any presence with Star Trek. Edwin mentioned that he has demonstrated significant skill as a caretaker. I have to believe that Star Wars will not only consume all of his time but also create a conflict of interest. Why would anyone at Paramount believe that Abrams would save his best ideas for a project he has abandoned over one that will make his career? Yes, I know he is already famous; creating a great Star Wars movie would place him squarely on the path to legend status.

With Abrams off the board, there is a certain amount of uncertainty about this project. I will be surprised if there is any movement on Star Trek 3/13 until next year. When there is, Paramount has to grab an ascending talent equally as good as Abrams if not better. Abrams in a way had an easy task in rebooting Star Trek with the original characters from the 1960s television show. The next director must operate within established confines to create new story arcs. The task is a difficult one, even on paper. I have significant concerns about Star Trek 3.