Whether you’re excited about it or not, Star Trek 3 is going to be a movie worth keeping an eye on. Not just because the last two films did well critically and at the box office (although Into Darkness didn’t do quite as well as Paramount hoped). And not just because it will be releasing in 2016, in celebration of Trek’s 50th anniversary. No, Star Trek 3 will very much be a transitional film, and a chance for Paramount and the filmmakers to win back some of the long-time Trek fans alienated by J.J. Abrams’ alternate timeline. Where will Star Trek 3 take us? One of the new writers says it’s all about tough choices and boldly going where no man has gone before.
Writer J.D. Payne is one of two new screenwriters tackling Trek 3 with Bob Orci — the other is Payne’s writing partner Patrick McKay. Last month Payne was a guest at the LDS Film Festival, where he spoke about Trek 3, his vision for where the franchise should go next, and how he and his partner landed a dream job writing for a franchise he’s been in love with since he was 15. While he didn’t venture anywhere near specifics as to what the story of Trek 3 might entail, or which antagonists/alien races might be involved, he did say that the third film would be looking to embrace a tenet of the show’s iconic opening narration — to boldly go where no man has gone before — more than the previous two films did. Payne said:
We had sort of the origin story, we had sort of a darker, grittier manhunt Star Trek, but this one we really want to get back to the sense of exploration and wonder. That kind of optimistic sense of the future that Star Trek has always kind of had at its core.
A focus on actual exploration and sci-fi’s tried-and-true “sense of wonder” is definitely a step in the right direction. As much as I enjoyed the admittedly flawed first two films, they were very much focused on setting up the alternate universe and the schemes of the villains. We haven’t really seen the young crew of the Enterprise pointing the ship toward the unknown and exploring strange new worlds. I’m hoping that’s what we’ll get with Trek 3, as well as further developing the Enterprise crew themselves.
Payne also hinted at what type of story Trek 3 might be:
We’re trying to set up a kind of situation where you really could — and not in just an ‘everything’s relative’ sort of moral relativism — you could be a good person of any creed or philosophical background and come down on both sides of how you should respond to this opportunity that the crew has…. that also has some pitfalls to it. Where you could argue very, very, very compellingly that ‘this’ is what you should do, and if you’re advocating ‘this’ then it’s actually evil.
It’s sort of the Adam and Eve thing, where should we eat the fruit or not eat the fruit? Well, there are some very compelling reasons why they should and why they shouldn’t. So, similar kinds of things here that really give the whole movie and opportunity to sort of play with that, and have people come down on different side and wrestle with it; then come to an ending where you can walk out and say, ‘You know, I don’t know what I would do.’
Again, this approach sounds promising if they really stick to it. The choices facing the Enterprise crew in the past two films have been relatively straightforward: stop the bad guy, save the day. I’ve love to see this younger, less-experienced crew facing some of the moral and philosophical conundrums that classic Trek loved to explore, and that could be a way to lure back fans who weren’t down with J.J. Abrams’ more action-oriented interpretation of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. This is a huge opportunity to take the rebooted franchise’s strengths — a solid cast and a universe where anything could happen, regardless of old canon — and repair its weaknesses — weak writing and a director who by his own admission was never a Trek fan.
It will be interesting to see is Star Trek 3 can become a return to form, combining the best elements of everything Trek’s history has had to offer. If nothing else, it’s good to know that at least one of the guys crafting the script actually loves and understands the Star Trek universe.
You can see snippets of Payne’s appearance at the LDS Film Festival below, or you can watch the entire 1 hr 40 min video right here.