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STAR TREK: Ronald D. Moore , Part VI
Looking at the TREK feature films.
By Anna L. Kaplan
February 01, 2000
When it comes to THE NEXT GENERATION feature films, Ronald D. Moore is candid about his successes and failures. He co-wrote the first two with Brannon Braga; Michael Piller wrote the third. Moore says, 'I am more than willing to accept at this late date that our reach exceeded our grasp, on GENERATIONS. When we did the film, it was a very difficult time. The end of the series was a big psychological thing hanging over everyone's head. The transition to films was not easy for anyone. It wasn't easy for me and Brannon to write it. It wasn't easy for Rick to produce it. I think it was hard on the actors going directly from the series to the features. The last three movies, THE NEXT GEN films, have gone on this little journey. When we did GENERATIONS, we were trying desperately to say something about mortality, about life and death, about getting older, about what it means to be human, about the death that lies out there for all of us, and that lies out their for our STAR TREK heroes. As heroic as they may be, they are all mortal. This will come to visit all of us. It was a big topic. It was probably something too big for us to grapple with, in our first feature film, right out of the gateo put the original cast in it, and to make the transition, and to make them come out of the theater just really feeling something. I still like the film, but I know what the intent of the movie is. So lines that don't work for you have some relevance to me. I know what we were trying to do, Brannon and Itrying to say something, trying to give it meaning, and trying to really touch and move the audience in an unexpected way in what could have been just strictly escapism and just flash.
'After that, FIRST CONTACT became just a good picture. It works as a structural piece of filmmaking. It works technically. It hits all the right beats; it has more humor; it's a good little story. But what does it really say? Does it really challenge you as a viewer? Does it really make any comment at all, any sort of larger sense? Is there any theme that resonates when you walk out of the theater? You walk out feeling like you had a good ride, a good little roller coaster ride. It's fun; it's adventure; let's go do it againnothing wrong with that. Now it feels like after the success of that, that's all it's become.
'I don't know what INSURRECTION is about. INSURRECTION is a film that is telling you, 'This is about something.' 'We are exploring an important topic,' they keep saying. But what that important topic is, is a little unclear. Fountain of youth, immortality, something about these people that left and came back, children and parents, bureaucracy, and conspiracies. I think Michael was forced to continually keep dumbing down the script as it went on. Michael has a great passion for what he does. Michael believes in his writing a great deal. He really tries to give it meaning. When Michael writes a script, he really sets out to say something; he really wants to explore something. I know Michael had a great deal of passion at the beginning of that process. He really wanted this to be an important film. He really wanted to move the audience, and surprise them, and make them come out of the theater, like we did in GENERATIONS, thinking, 'Wow. I hadn't expected that from a STAR TREK movie.' But little by little, you die the death of a thousand cuts. Michael was forced to continually rewrite, and pull it back, and take out elements to the point that Picard doesn't even kiss the girl. There's an emptiness to that film, and there is a certain emptiness to FIRST CONTACT, in that it's a popcorn movie. That's what we shot to do. I wanted to do a good one, and I wanted it to be well received, and I wanted it to make money. I wanted to be proud of it, and I am proud of it. But it is popcorn. And I think you can't subsist on a diet of popcorn. Especially STAR TREK needs to be about more than that.'
Moore recalls, 'That trilogy they did with the original series, STAR TREK II, STAR TREK III, STAR TREK IV, are about something, about these characters getting old, about the characters accepting change and death, even though Spock comes back to life, moving on. They give up their ship to go get their friend; then they go back in time to save the whales. There were messages there. There were themes about environmentalism, themes about the human condition. We are all getting older. Kirk has to wear glasses. That was a stroke of genius. You've really made a decision to go somewhere with that character. To watch it play out over that three, it was really about something. Then V was just another episode. It doesn't have any grander ambitions really than to be an episode and to try to do something about God. It's so muddled, it's just another episode. Then VI tries to be about the end of the Cold War, so VI shoots a little higher. Now there is no sense of them trying to shoot for those goals. They are not trying to go out there and push, and try and do something really interesting, and something that challenges their audience. Now it's all about hanging on to an audience, about not letting go of the audience, and about being safe with the audience. Don't confuse them. Don't refer to old episodes, because they may not have seen them. Hang on to the audience, instead of being kind of bold and taking risks. Sometimes you are going to fall on your face, and sometimes you are going to do a story that is just out of your reach, like GENERATIONS probably was, but that's the risk you take. You are storytellers. If you can't take a risk with STAR TREK which is the biggest, safest franchise in all of science fiction with the exception of STAR WARS, what can you take a risk with?'
What about the future wonders Moore? 'The movies have to go back to being something significant. There has to be a reason to do these movies. When you did STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, it was the first one. That's a reason alone to do it. The second one decides to take a different direction. It gambles. It makes the characters not only look old, they are getting old. You kill off Spock. The next one, you blow up the Enterprise, you take their ship away from them. They were taking risks; they were doing things, and they weren't just grinding out another episode with a bigger budget. Now it feels like that's where the movie series is. GENERATIONS, we took the Enterprise away from them, and you could have sent the series in a different direction with the following film. We all decided not to go that way, because we felt like we needed a solid adventure piece. At that time, I believed it. It's hard to say that was a wrong decision. I think you did need to give them a ship, prove that the film franchise is viable, that it can be fun, that you'll get an audience with you, and it worked. But then the choice of INSURRECTION is harder to swallow. Now it's just another episode. FIRST CONTACT is just another episode, a show that we could have done on the series but for the lack of dollars. Nothing about that movie precluded it from ever having been done as just another episode of THE NEXT GENERATION. It's just a big time travel story with the Borg as the big villain and Picard facing demons from the past. It's a good episode; it's a big episode and it works on the big screen, thank God. INSURRECTION is just an episode. STAR TREK II, STAR TREK III, and STAR TREK IV are not just episodes. Even STAR TREK I takes Kirk, and he is an Admiral, and he's given up the ship. Spock is off there; McCoy is growing a beard, and time has passed. Even that movie isn't an episode. You are watching something that you couldn't have done on the series. Now there's just this lower bar; there's just this unwillingness to do anything that truly challenges the audiences' expectation.'
Moore laughs, 'Why do they all stay on the same ship for crying out loud? Other than budgetary reasons, why are these people all still on the same ship? Riker [Jonathan Frakes] can only keep saying, 'I want to be the best second-in-command,' for so long, before it gets a little ridiculous. Worf went to DEEP SPACE NINE, so he went off and did something different. But Troi and Riker and Geordi [LeVar Burton] and Data [Brent Spiner]they are all really going to sit on that bridge forever and not do anything else? The films should be shooting higher, because they can shoot higher, because they have more money to shoot higher, because they can really try to say something different. You've got a lot of episodes already in the can. You want to watch THE NEXT GENERATION? You can watch it anywhere in the country at almost any time of the day or night. You don't have to keep doing it on the big screen.'
What about making a feature film with a mixture of some of the current casts, something Berman is fond of mentioning? Paramount executives have also said that the cost of placing someone like Patrick Stewart in the next movie may be coming prohibitive. Moore says, 'That's a problem that all of Hollywood shares. Any of these franchise pictures that depend on the other actors have this budgetary crunch. That's just something you have to work out. The actors are going to try to get as much as they can, and I can't really say that I blame them. If Patrick thinks that he is worth that much money, and Paramount is willing to give it to him, more power to Patrick. The actors have not shared in the riches to the point that they feel that they should. All of the actors feel like they were not given a big enough piece of the pie. All of them feel that they were slighted by Paramount. How true that is, is anybody's guess, because God knows the accounting on these things is a history unto itself. But I can't blame them for going and saying, 'Well, you want Data in this picture, it's going to cost you. You want Picard in this picture, it's going to cost you.' Shatner and Nimoy did the same thing. They certainly said, 'You want us to do THE MOTION PICTURE? It's going to cost you.' They all did it. And the pictures all got made. If Paramount financially can't make the movie because the actors' salaries are too high, then don't make the movie. You don't try to then make some other movie, and pretend that this is just as good. That's not what you to do. That's not STAR TREK.'
Moore adds, 'I don't know what changing casts gets you. I don't know that mixing actors from the different casts gets you any great 'want to see' factor. I don't know that people are going to say, 'Damn, you should go see the next STAR TREK movie. It's actually got actors from all the series.' I don't know why that matters to anyone. It's either a good show, or a good movie, or it's not. It will have to live and die on its own merits. [Robert] Picardo cropped up in FIRST CONTACT in a cameo, which is cute, and fine, but I think a good chunk of the audience doesn't even know that Picardo wasn't in NEXT GENERATION. In their minds, all the characters kind of blend together, and I think they assume that they show up on each others' episodes more than they actually do. They just did the episode with Deanna and Barclay on VOYAGER. Does that mean that doing a movie with Deanna, Barclay [Dwight Schultz], Janeway and Kira [Nana Visitor] has some innate appeal? You can make that movie and if it's a great STAR TREK story it will be a hit. But just mixing the casts together doesn't mean anything. Okay, so they are from different series and they are all on the screen together. Now tell me why I should go see it. It's just not the answer to anything.'
In a perfect world, what should they do? At the current time, 'they' refers to Rick Berman in terms of the movie franchise, and Berman and Braga as executive producers of VOYAGER. Says Moore, 'They should take a break and reassess. In my perfect world, they would let the entire franchise lie fallow for five, eight years, a long time. Let it really go away overall. Let VOYAGER run its course. Don't do another series; don't do another movie; just let it go quietly away. What you want, more than anything else, I think, is for people to start saying, 'When are they going to do another STAR TREK? When are we going to get another series? When are they going to do another movie?' You want people saying that, like they said with STAR WARS. Take a lesson from Lucas, who is a very smart man. Say what you will about PHANTOM MENACE, he waited a long time; he refused to do other movies; he sat on the franchise. He knew that the longer you sit on it, the more 'want to see' factor you get. When it came back, he could have run a test pattern and called it PHANTOM MENACE and he was going to get people lined around the block for that opening weekend. That's what STAR TREK needs. It needs that kind of want-to-see, which is what they had in 1979. STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE came out. People ran to see the movie, this long, lugubrious movie that was bloated with special effects, and silly looking uniforms. People just couldn't get enough of it. It was a huge hit, because people were so desperate to see it. It had been ten years since the original series went off.'
He adds, 'There has just been too much STAR TREK for a while. I remember the moment the franchise peaked. The moment, to me, was when Kirk and Picard were on the cover of TIME Magazine. I literally walked in the next day to the office and said, 'We have peaked. It's down hill for quite a while from here.' You reached this kind of critical mass in popular imagination. You were now on the cover of TIME, and all the old stuff about the Trekkies was kind of gone by the wayside. It had gone from being a subculture of a subculture, to now this legitimate nationwide phenomenon. It was Americana. Kirk and Picard are big heroes, and everyone loves them. You can't sustain that, so it just started falling off. Because in that same little window, when that cover hit, NEXT GEN had been off the air for only four months, five months, and GENERATIONS was premiering. DEEP SPACE NINE was on the air, and VOYAGER was going to premiere in January. It was just overkill, and you just had this massive amount of TREK. The public can only swallow so much. Even hard-core fans, I think, only watch so much TREK. When you had both series on the air at the same time, how many people really watched both shows every week? The hard-core audience does, but not the general audience, and STAR TREK has lived and died because of the general audience, because it has appealed beyond the cult phenomenon. You can't get the public to watch two hours of STAR TREK every week, and a movie on the side, and the reruns from the old show.'