Starfleet goes Guantanamo? ‘Star Trek’ team hints that the next film will reflect contemporary war issues

Sept. 15, 2009 | 10:00 p.m.


I was in Vancouver visiting the set of “Fringe” (you’ll see that story here on Thursday) and caught up with two of the show’s key creators, J.J. Abrams and Roberto Orci, who are also squarely at the center of the “Star Trek” universe now. They had great success with the revival of the grand old Starfleet mythology with Abrams directing and Orci co-writing (along with Alex Kurtzman)  and I had to ask about their plans for a follow-up film, which will have Damon Lindelof added to the writing team and is aimed at a summer 2011 stardate at theaters.

Abrams spoke about the general creative imperatives for the story while Orci hinted that we might be seeing clear metaphors for modern geo-political concerns in the story about ongoing mission of the Starship Enterprise. First, here’s what Abrams told me: 

“The ambition for a sequel to ‘Star Trek’ is to make a movie that’s worthy of the audience and not just another movie, you know, just a second movie that feels tacked on. The first movie was so concerned with just setting up the characters — their meeting each and galvanizing that family — that in many ways a sequel will have a very different mission. it needs to do what [the late ‘Trek’ creator Gene] Roddenberry did so well, which is allegory. It needs to tell a story that has connection to what is familiar and what is relevant. It also needs to tell it in a spectacular way that hides the machinery and in a primarily entertaining and hopefully moving story. There needs to be relevance, yes, and that doesn’t mean it should be pretentious. If there are simple truths — truths connected to what we live — that elevates any story — that’s true with any story.”    

Here’s what Orci had to say:

“We’ve literally had two meetings now. We haven’t decided anything but we’re starting to circle around some ideas. We got a lot of fan response from the first one and a considerable amount of critical response and one of the things we heard was, ‘Make sure the next one deals with modern-day issues.’ We’re trying to keep it as up-to-date and as reflective of what’s going on today as possible. So that’s one thing, to make it reflect the things that we are all dealing with today.

I asked Orci somewhat flippantly if that meant we might see Starfleet grappling with the ethics of torture or dealing with a rising terrorist threat or perhaps a painful, politicized war with the Klingons.

“Well yeah, those are the kind of issues we’re talking about. Wow, you’re good! But seriously that’s the way we’re thinking, that’s an approach. So if you have any ideas … “

As an aside, I also mentioned to Abrams that I had interviewed James Cameron recently and that the “Titanic” filmmaker had been gushing about his fondness for the “Trek” revival and cited it along with “Up” as a stand-out for 2009.

“James Cameron, as in the James Cameron? Well, it’s incredibly sweet and, frankly, it’s just weird. I mean, it’s always a ridiculous thing to hear that someone like James Cameron even knows what you do. To hear that, it’s blush-inducing. Now tell me about ‘Avatar’ … “

And I did…

— Geoff Boucher

Photo: Director J.J. Abrams (center) discusses a scene with actors John Cho (Sulu, far left) and Anton Yelchin (Chekov, center left). Zade Rosenthal / Paramount Pictures


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34 Responses to Starfleet goes Guantanamo? ‘Star Trek’ team hints that the next film will reflect contemporary war issues

  1. neela says:

    One thing Star Trek in the past has not done well is treat modern day problems subtly (that black/white vs. white black episode, anyone?). I hope that sort of heavy handed we're-going-to-preach-at-you bit isn't what's going to happen here. I'm a moderate Democrat, wasn't for Iraq, and I really liked the first movie, but if this sequel is going to turn into a stuck up stereotypical elitist Hollywood whine fest at the supposed stupidity/racism/closed-mindedness of half the country, I'll pass.

    • Jon says:

      Right on! NOOOOO politics!!!!!!!!!!!! NOOOOO torture references!!!! There"s sooo much more to be done in the original mission of "seeking out new worlds and new life forms…", etc. Can't we please just enjoy ourselves in escaping MSNBC, FOX, CNN and the like! Film makers should remember that and stop trying to make some sort of moral statement. We get enough of that…REALLY!!

  2. JJ says:

    Hmmm mordern issues. I guess they mean homosexuality. Well, there always Star Trek the orignal to fall back on.

  3. JJ says:

    Hmmmm…Modern day issues. I guess they mean homosexuality. Well, thank God there is Star Trek the orignal to fall back to.

  4. Cal Godot says:

    You're the fanboy Louella Parsons, GB.

  5. Jim Foxx says:

    A great modern day tie in with star trek would be Khan. As in the wrath of khan. It has all the elements in the headlines. A middle eastern war, genetics, politics a new settleing in what was the USA and the birth of the space exploration age.

  6. grahamGrafx says:

    paraphrased: "I love them, but Star Trek movies are a royal pain in the ass to make." -Abrams

  7. ce3kman says:

    I really wish this guy would stay away from star trek! I mean Beastie Boys in a star trek sound track. That is no way to update a franchise. It was like Mtv took over Star Trek, very sad.

  8. Martin A. says:

    Yes, please — some gay people in outer space!! We're a seriously under-represented people not only on Earth, but in sci-fi galaxies!

  9. Dude101 says:

    I cant wait, hurry up and make it! Bring on the Klingons! I want to see a bird of prey in action!

  10. James LeBlanc says:

    "I really wish this guy would stay away from star trek! I mean Beastie Boys in a star trek sound track. That is no way to update a franchise. It was like Mtv took over Star Trek, very sad."
    Yeah they should make another crappy movie that fails at the box office and only services old fans like you. Like or not Abrams made Trek fun again and the 93% rating at rottentomatoes speaks for itself.

  11. Damien says:

    ha ha.
    If star trek gets “preachy” again and too heavy handed you can expect paramount will have a box office flop on their hands.
    NO ONE WANTS TO BE LECTURED/PREACHED to (the is one of the worst aspects of star trek to the average normal people), the public want an escapist/fun 2hour action epic. Explosions/humor/excitement/maybe some fantasy/battles/fun.
    Make it a kilngon war movie, but make it epic, huge and exciting. Don’t bore the average, non geek, non computer science major, non trek freak, person to death with attempts to “be all serious”. Cause all it will give you is the end of the frachise thanks to the public screaming “b-o-r-i-n-g”.
    NO ONE WANTS PREACHY STAR TREK, again the masses want an epic, exciting, space war movie with great characters and heaps of drama. Allegories to the iraq war, gimme a frigging break, how exciting. if that is the case I can see the 120 million gross final receipts right now.

    • max allen says:

      i totally disagree, Avatar was about as preachy as you can get about moving a population and making war with them to get their resources, aka the whites with the indians and the ever present oil fueds in the middle east, and avatar made just ridicoulas amounts of money some ppl watching it 2-5 times. So there must be an appetite for preachy movies, or Avatar would have flopped, but instead it was an absolute blockbuster hit that made more money in one weekend then any star trek movie has during its entire run at a theatre

  12. truth serum says:

    I can't wait to see JJ's take on the Klingons, thats gonna kick arse.

  13. Peter Lange says:

    While I have to agree with Damien that no one wants to be preached to in a movie, I think if you look back at what most of the best movies you have seen are, they all have a central message they were trying to convey, but did so in a manner that was not necessarily off putting. I am willing to give the new crew the benefit of the doubt that they will do so as well. Hopefully, I will be right.

  14. Bill in Spring says:

    NO!!! Please NO!!! Not that! I'm a fan from WAAAAY back, have followed the various spinoffs (STNG still my favorite) and liked 'em all to some degree except for the last one, Enterprise with Scott Bakula. That show sucked majorly because they had to go all 9/11 and stuff. NOOOOO!!!!
    We don't need to go there! Been there already enough! I hope they decide on something completely different… you know, go where no man has gone before and all that….
    I liked Bakula OK as a captain (not great, but OK) and had no issues with the cast or the acting in general. But all that terrorist garbage was insufferable and I blew off attempts to watch that series when it was obvious that this was a major part of their ongoing plot.
    Just say NO to more terrorism, torture, 9/11 parallels and all that. I watch sci-fi to ESCAPE all that stuff in real life. I know what's going on in real life and know what we've been through. I'm not hiding my head in the sand, just don't want my ENTERTAINMENT ruined with contemporary political references.
    Thanks for listening, Mr. Internet. I hope some others agree with me, but I understand different strokes for different folks and all.
    Bill in Spring

  15. Tess Cox says:

    Geez, I go to the movies to ESCAPE politics and war and the news. I don't want to go pay hard earned money to sit in a movie and get preached to about present day issues or political problems. If Abrams (who i love, by the way) can keep it subtle and use humor and keep delving deeper into the characters and what makes them tick, I'll enjoy it. Otherwise, I'll see it once, but it won't get my repeat business. I won't OWN it.

  16. JJSucks says:

    JJ's Star Trek is about as "Star Trek" as the CW's Smallville is to Superman. The no talent hack's tv show Lost steadily declined after its first season, no doubt Star Trek will suffer the same fate after the novelty of a rebooted Star Trek wears off.

  17. call_me_cassandra says:

    Star Trek was often at its worst when it brought out the big allegorical sign ("Racism Is Bad" (black/white harlequin people vs white/black harlequin people)) and at its best when it tried humour (Chicago gang planet — Kirk drives a stick shift!) or had some alien aliens (the rock-devouring monster who turned out to be misunderstood and nice, the cloud creature who just wanted to connect) for our guys to figure out. The last thing we want is some heavy handed allegory about modern life (an esp bad tendency among producers and writers of the later Trek series). Send our friends on a big, exciting adventure like the one we had this summer! Those are the key words: Big. Exciting. Adventure!

  18. Brad says:

    I think the main thing the next Star Trek needs is a great villian. I understand why Nero had as little screen time as he did, but the universe and characters have now been set up. It's time for Kirk and the crew to face a real foe.

  19. Bear says:

    As long as the "issues" don't promote the sec/hum athie agenda of mainstream Hollywood.

  20. Bear says:

    To Martin A…. Sulu isn't enough for ya, huh?

  21. Walter says:

    I never liked the "modern day issue" Star Treks. The one about the Vietnam war particularly irked me. I watched Star Trek to be entertained and not to be preached at or to have a particular point of view shoved down my throat. The prisoners in Gitmo deserve to be there. If not Gitmo, then under the ground. I don't want to hear that they are really nice fuzzy bunny rabbits who wouldn't hurt a fly. The best Trek movie, IMHO was the second one. It was good v. evil. They tried that in Star Trek IX and X and both missed the mark. The former, because it was politically correct. People were beamed away and not killed. The latter because it was just stupid. Bring the Klingons back as the Nazis of the future. Make they really bad. Unredeemable. Make the situation really hopeless. Lets get in some real "ship on ship" action. And finally let's have Kirk gamble everything on a Hail Mary play and get away with it, like he always used to.

  22. Yes, well, everyone knows–the best way to make people want to see your film and appreciate the story that you're telling is to lecture them on their morals and present the material in such a way as to beat them over the head with a personal or political bias that is so extreme, it makes you want to vomit.

  23. krak says:

    Um, great piece, but I would point out that YOU cited Trek and Up as the standouts of the year, not Cameron.

  24. jenny says:

    I hope I'm not too late to get in on this discussion. First, I'm delighted to hear that JJ, Orci and Lindelhoff are at least discussing the next Star Trek. I loved the first movie and the second one can't come soon enough! Second, I understand about those wanting escapism and adventure. I say "Me too" to that. However, I don't think Star Trek would have had such lasting popularity if it was just Coyote and Road Runner stuff. I like a little complexity in my characters and conflicts. Rodenberry or his writers did sometimes hit us over the head with his social commentary but the exciting thing was that it was done at all. His views were somewhat subversive at the time!! How brave some of that was.
    I hope the writers can please "all the fans, all the time" but that is pretty big order. Even though it might not exactly fit my ideal, anything that increases the movie's popularity increases my chances of getting to see the movie after that!
    Anyone proposing to return to TOS to excape "modern issues"
    will find a wonderful retreat. However, TOS was not PC as it is now understood. Those writers were advocating heresy as compared to the mores of THAT time. Because TOS was SciFi and full of exciting action, many absorbed their lessons painlessly. Maybe they invented pc.
    Love Star Trek, JJ and the writers and I'm looking forward to the next movie.

  25. I personally cannot wait for a new star trek movie

  26. Andres says:

    To all those saying they don't want the Star Trek back that deals with "issues", go watch another science fiction franchise. Trek has always been about this. And to call_me_cassandra, I found the opposite to be true. The most memorable Trek episodes were often dealing with specific issues, especially racism. What was always great about Trek was that you could get episodes that were pure entertainment and others that dealt with issues in an entertaining way, but always to the backdrop that this was Roddenberry's vision for the future. Whether or not his audience agreed with it or believed it would come to pass was inconsequential. Trek is great science fiction because it tries to approach contemporary issues in a roundabout way. It doesn't need to be preachy to get there, and can certainly be entertaining along the way. There can be a balance, and I'm glad the writers are trying to keep Trek close to its roots by attempting some of the same ethical issues in the sequel. If it doesn't work they can always go back to popcorn entertainment for the third.

  27. Bob says:

    Is it possible to both suck and blow? After making a very sucky Star Trek movie, J.J. Abrams would certainly make the next movie blow as well if he introduces a modern anti-war message (note to Hollywood-we don't all support your points of view!).
    Oh, and while you are at it Mr. Abrams, could you add some more product placements in the next film? Maybe a Wal-Mart in the Neutral Zone? Or how about a big Sony logo on the main viewscreen on the Enterprise's bridge. That'd be nice.

  28. Jack Riley says:

    Yeah…I think people here are blowing this morality business waaay out of proportion. The great thing about the original Star Trek, was that – yes – there were some obviously preachy episodes that people didn't like, but at the same time there were episodes that were good and thought inducing like "The Apple". The idea of the episode that Spock was bringing up at the end was that in their situation it seemed resonable to take away that society's perfection and replace it with the kind of society that they live in where there is evil. Yet, looking at it logically and subjectively, they – like the devil – had given the people an apple and projected themselves into the role of Satan. Of course, Jim and Bones brush this off by turning the joke against Spock and the episodes ends comedically, the the point was a focus on the reality of evil.
    A better, and funnier example of a similar idea would be "This Side of Paradise". Still comedic and fun (especially with Spock grinning right and left) but the focus point was the idea of paradise. Kirk asked himself "What can I offer up against paradise" in the episode as everyone's living peaceful, perfect lives. There was nothing wrong with how they were living, and yet there was. There's no real answer to that episode, it just makes you dive into the basic human principles and look around.
    Yeah, maybe preachy and terrorist isn't the way to go. That's probably not the way I'd take it, but relatable is. Some of Roddenberry's best episodes are the ones that look at the human soul and human heart and make the watcher think about their own morals. That was the purpose of the having the trio of Spock, Kirk, and McCoy debate out problems from three different perspectives. He was trying to help people pound out their own beliefs and perspectives on issues.

  29. LL says:

    "Yeah they should make another crappy movie that fails at the box office and only services old fans like you. Like or not Abrams made Trek fun again and the 93% rating at rottentomatoes speaks for itself."
    Yeah, nevermind that this Star Trek had nearly 3x the budget of ANY Trek film before and didn't have to limit itself to just about anything previously established.
    Not that I care too much about all that, but I'm fairly confident a host of people could have been successful with that set of operational parameters.

  30. Tim says:

    "I really wish this guy would stay away from star trek! I mean Beastie Boys in a star trek sound track. That is no way to update a franchise. It was like Mtv took over Star Trek, very sad."
    Yeah they should make another crappy movie that fails at the box office and only services old fans like you. Like or not Abrams made Trek fun again and the 93% rating at rottentomatoes speaks for itself.
    Agreed. I grew up with the original Star Trek in its first run. I'm not a Trekker; I don't know what Episode 13 is; etc. But I certainly have appreciated the series in its many incarnations. And after Rodenberry passed the torch to that other guy, the series got just plain boring. They touted, for instance, that the final "Next Generation" movie was written by a fan. That's odd, because every fan I knew wondered why, in all of these big-screen incarnations, we never once saw Q. What a lost opportunity.
    I love what Abrams has done with the new series, and I hope he keeps making these for years to come. I thought the first five minutes of the new movie were more enjoyable than the last six Star Trek movies put together.

  31. Stevo says:

    It seems many of you fans that disapproved of the new film are still assuming that the "Shakespeare in Space" model the preceding shows and films followed would ever succeed today. "Star Trek: Nemesis" debuted at #2 its opening weekend to J-Lo's "Maid in Manhattan". What does that tell you? It means the general public doesn't want to see a bunch of middle-aged actors in jumpsuits, stumbling around recycled sets and uttering technobabble anymore. This film was exactly what the FRANCHISE needed to survive. If a few of you are so stuck in the past that you can't even accept a little injection of sex and rock & roll? Then you missed the boat a long time ago. You will not be missed.

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