When Salary Talks Stall Star Trek, It’s Time for the Enterprise to Look Within and Go Where Kirk Is Gone.
Star Trek Box Office:
#1 BUDGET $150M, GROSS $257M/ $385M WW, NET <$235M after Publicity & Ads.
#2 BUDGET $190M, GROSS $228M/ $467M WW, NET <$277M after P&A.
#3 BUDGET $185M, GROSS $158M/ $343M WW, NET <$158M after P&A.
Star Trek 4 talks were delayed this week as Paramount is reneging on its salary deal with Captain Kirk’s Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth who plays his dad. The two were signed to a fourth rebooted Star Trek film before the third: Star Trek Beyond under-performed at the box-office. Paramount is budget conscious wants to bring down the cost. They have hired a cheaper television director in S.J. Clarkson, and unfortunately for Pine it also involves salary cuts for him and Hemsworth. It’s not that Paramount doesn’t have the money, they are under new management and don’t think the amount of dollars the actors bring in are worth the investment, as far as Star Trek goes they are right. Believe you me, creatively and commercially speaking, the franchise can do without either famous Chris onboard.
It’s not that either of the Chris’ are bad actors. To give them some undue credit they’re better than others on big budgets and green screens. For all the actors who seemed lost in Ava DuVernay’s big budget debut in A Wrinkle In Time, Pine turned in one of the film’s good performances. He knows what to ignore and pay attention to, and was also relatively decent in Wonder Woman. Further challenging himself, he does lean character work with Joe Carnahan (Stretch, Smokin’ Aces) and especially with David Mackenzie in Hell or High Water. The latter pair’s follow-up is set to open the Toronto International Film Festival. Hemsworth is a similar deal. He’s equally charismatic and was the right look to portray George Kirk, his breakout role before perfectly playing Thor. His best role is arguably the dead ringer portrayal of James Hunt in the under-seen Ron Howard race car rivalry thriller Rush. So why am I not advocating for them? It’s because I don’t think they need this and big budget Star Trek should realize it doesn’t need them too. There are plenty of under-utilized members of the Enterprise crew that could temporarily fill the Captain’s chair. Furthermore, I hate seeing actors trapped repeating themselves becoming stuck in their once breakout role.
The reason talks have stalled apart from money is that the script heavily revolves around the two likely coming face to face via time travel. If you have seen Star Trek (2009) or Star Trek Beyond (2016) you will know elder Kirk and his actions directly figure upon younger Kirk. In Beyond, Jim realizes he has outlived his father’s age when he died and finds himself lost and facing an identity crisis. He ends the film along with the rest of the crew in the same place they began but with a renewed sense of purpose. It’s well-directed, mythologically sound, intentionally episodic, and definitely not the heaviest plot to hang a $185 million dollar budget on. [Former TV director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness) and his writers weren’t ‘Trekkers’ like Beyond director Justin Lin and writers Simon Pegg & Doug Jung, but they at least knew what stories fit the big screen mold.] Either way I don’t think I want to see another story centred around on one of Hollywood’s most recurring patriarchal themes: fatherhood. Enough has been explored about it in the series that it is not an urgent avenue to revisit. Perhaps the best course of action following failed salary negotiations is to take a page from Star Trek III’s namesake: The Search For Spock and combine it with the script flipping tendencies of the rebooted series.
A Star Trek 4 with a missing Kirk would raise the stakes for the entire crew (Where is he? How will they find him? What will they do without him?) and also provide an engaging intertextual narrative for audiences to follow. By design its production could also allow for a reduced Kirk role that would satisfy salary negotiations and still possibly give us the father son face-to-face that has been teased. Or it could have no Kirk at all as several other successful Trek iterations have been made without him.
Commanders Spock and Sulu have already briefly taken control of the Conn in this continuity (dubbed the Kelvin timeline) and would be good characters who are developed enough to lead the next installment. Spock surprisingly, was the one to kick ass in the finale of Into Darkness and was a more qualified and experienced Captain before Kirk took over. I have also seen growing appreciation for John Cho who portrays Commander Sulu. His recently well-reviewed Searching is yet another great addition to his impressively reviewed body of work and with the success of Crazy Rich Asians shedding light on existing Hollywood diversity his profile is likely to be raised. My choice however to lead the next installment would be Lieutenant Uhura played by Zoe Saldana. In her character’s history, she took command of the Enterprise in episode four of the animated series, was a Commander in the prime timeline following 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. She was also a Captain in the fan film Star Trek: Of Gods and Men starring original actors Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig. Though she is a lower rank than Spock or Sulu, I believe creatively and commercially she would be the best choice to be promoted to lead. Highly competent and qualified enough to get a Vulcan to change its mind, the Communications Officer is familiar to fans of the rebooted series yet hasn’t been given a meaningful arc yet. She also has the same or arguably deeper connection to Spock who is the soul of the series. She is due for a promotion.
As for the actress herself, Zoe Saldana is part of the Guardians of the Galaxy, which technically makes her an Avenger. She had a crucial part in this summer’s Infinity War which she carried among the film’s several uneven performances. There’s a case to be made that she even out-acted Thor thanks to five minutes more of screen time. As far as a Box Office draw, she is of equal or greater status than the two Chris’. Along with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Trek, thanks to AVATAR she is currently one of the most recognizable faces working in Hollywood & Sci-Fi today. She out earns Hemsworth despite his three Thor movies and two Avengers films and out earns Chris Pine by five billion dollars. Make no mistake, she can unquestionably handle leading her own film at this point, and there’d be little misogynistic hatred because creatively Captain Uhura makes sense. It would also allow the S.J. Clarkson directed story to remain distinctive compared to its predecessor and go where no Trek has gone before.
Even without Pine and Hemsworth, you have Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Zachary Quinto, Alice Eve, and Sofia Boutella. THAT’S AN “A” CAST! Arguably A+! Promote Uhura, Spock or Sulu to Captain and you still have got a hell of a crew. I personally would wanna see all three kick ass again because we know they can. Maybe have the last director Justin Lin stick around as Producer to do something like that multi-level fight scene they had in Fast & Furious 6 and make the most of the Enterprise crew fully utilizing the rest of the cast for once. The two Chris’ have given Paramount and opportunity to experiment. They may not deserve it, by picking a bad release date for the last film and alienating their fans at the same time. All of this is their doing, but they still have a cast. Cut the budget to $100-125 million, maybe pay the Chris’ for far fewer days of work, and explore more ideas which is central to Trek. Take the series in a bold, risky new direction with S.J. Clarkson and Uhura (and Sulu & Spock) to go where no man has gone before.
*The title of this article refers to a decent standalone X-Files episode, referring to a chemical weapons storage facility in Pine Bluff, Arkansas itself named for being on a cliff surrounded by Pine trees. “Pine Nuts” are also a nickname for Chris Pine fans, coined by talk show host Graham Norton.
*How amusing would it be if they switched out Chris Pine for Chris Evans. He could pull it off too and think I like him more.
*If Paramount screws this up it still has Tarantino’s Star Trek.