Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009 #11:
Star Trek Blasts Off
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
December 29, 2009
Star Trek is one of the most storied franchises in entertainment history. Through 2002, it had spawned ten movies and 30 seasons of television from six series. The problem was that the past few years had been unkind to the House That Shatner Built. In the period from 1998-2002, two television series were put out to pasture and a third, Enterprise, made a relatively shrug-inducing debut. Its ratings were such that neither of its last two seasons of renewal were guaranteed and the show's final episode was more of a love sonnet to Star Trek: The Next Generation than it was a celebration of four seasons of Enterprise.
Even worse, the movie franchise hemorrhaged market share. After the tremendous critical and financial success of Star Trek: First Contact, a $92.1 million performer in 1996, Star Trek: Insurrection took a step back with only $70.2 million domestically in 1998. It was also considered a mediocre title, which Trekkies shrugged off as part of the "every other film is good" mystique of the franchise. Those delusions ended with the 2002 debut of Star Trek: Nemesis, the biggest bomb in the history of a film series that also includes Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Even if we don't adjust for inflation, that 1989 disappointment earned $52.2 million, placing it easily ahead of Nemesis' $43.3 million franchise. The combination of Enterprise bombing as a television series and Nemesis bombing out of theaters left the Star Trek legacy in tatters. The period from Enterprise's departure in 2005 until the start of 2009 is the biggest gap there has been between Star Trek products since the period after the animated series went off the air in 1974.
Paramount Pictures was at a crossroads. It's hardly a secret that the Trek franchise is one of their most important assets, a consistent annual revenue source. No Trek meant much less money for the studio. Open to new ideas, the decision makers at Paramount decided to cut ties with the reigning Star Trek braintrust, handing the keys to J.J. Abrams. You know the rest of the story, but let's consider for a moment what a bold gambit this was.
After beginning his career as a screenwriter on such projects as Regarding Henry and Armageddon, he began to garner attention for his headline-grabbing creation, Felicity. In the first season, much of this was positive. The second season, Keri Russell got a haircut and the media turned on the whole thing. He followed this up with another celebration of female empowerment called Alias, which started wonderfully before gaining a reputation for constant reboots in the plot. Toward the end of Alias' run, he agreed to work on a pilot for a relatively nebulous idea that turned into Lost. If Lost were a slot machine, all of the slots would say 7.
Lost was such a jackpot for Abrams that Tom Cruise pursued him to direct Mission: Impossible III, one of the best action films of the 2000s. The problem is that the world was angry at Mr. Cruise at the time for getting footprints all over Oprah's couch. This untenable situation prevented a great film from breaking out. Mission: Impossible III is the least successful film of the trilogy in terms of domestic as well as international box office. What Paramount took from the project, however, is that it earned almost $400 million worldwide despite a strongly antagonistic attitude toward the film's star. They were impressed by Abrams' output and decided he was the man to inject life into the Star Trek franchise. Fittingly enough to fans of Alias and Lost, he elected to reboot Star Trek by starting over again from scratch.