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Star Trek 3 Writers Are Actual Fans, Unlike J.J. Abrams

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jd-payne-02Trek Core has posted the first installment of a multi-part interview with Star Trek 3 screenwriters Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne, and it’s an exciting chance to get a look inside the heads of two dudes who will be helping shape the big-screen future of Star Trek, but who have been mostly a big question mark up until now. The pair first caught Hollywood’s attention with a spec script they describe as “the Batman Begins version of King Midas,” which didn’t sell but became a calling card that was passed around town and helped build them a reputation. Other projects followed, eventually leading them including a draft of a Micronauts movie, until their journey culminated in the final frontier with the Trek 3 assignment — the sort of thing any up-and-coming screenwriter would chew off their own arm to get. The great news? McKay and Payne are avowed longtime Star Trek fans, and the interview proves, if nothing else, they can definitely talk the talk.

McCay says he grew up the offspring of Trekker parents, with The Original Series in regular rotation during his childhood. Payne, on the other hand, got hooked into the franchise thanks to The Next Generation, and he discovered it on his own — he didn’t have true-fan parents indoctrinating him from the start. McKay tells Trek Core:

I think that the first episode I ever saw was ‘Frame of Mind,’ and it was like discovering jazz or something. How has this been out there my entire life and I’d never seen it before?! After that, I was just plugged into it. I would tape it off of television, edit out the commercials, and I had my own little library of Star Trek and got super, super into it. I just loved the sense it had for the possibility of what could be ‘out there.’

The Trek Core folks rightly point out that, even before the reboot, Trek has been stuck in a bit of a narrative rut. Over and over again, we’ve gotten variations on the same core story idea: a wrathful villain with a badass ship and relatively straightforward plans of destruction. Insurrection’s Ru’Afo, Nemesis’ Shinzon, the 2009 reboot’s Nero, and Into Darkness’ Khan/John Harrison. Fans who are hoping for something different for Trek 3 might just get their hopes up after reading McCay and Payne’s thoughts on the subject. McKay says:

You know, people always talk up ‘Wrath of Khan! Wrath of Khan!’ — and while I love Star Trek II, and I’ve seen it so many times, I also REALLY love Star Trek III and Star Trek IV. Those are movies that have a little bit more of the character relationships and the humor and some more of the speculative sci-fi elements. And sure, there are certainly a lot of problems you can point to in The Motion Picture, but I love that movie too. I think it’s a cool movie, and it’s totally Star Trek.

There are big, ambitious, complex movies that also have a huge audience. Take The Dark Knight — certainly, that’s a very villain-centric movie, but that’s also very ambitious movie. Inception — does that one even have a villain? That’s such a complex picture, and that ended up doing like $800 Million worldwide. There’s a lot of ways to do it.

Even if you happened to like J.J. Abrams’ particular take on Star Trek, the director has made no secret of the fact that, prior to taking the gig, he was not a fan of Gene Roddenberry’s iconic science fiction franchise. He was much more of a Star Wars guy, and that preference can be felt throughout Abrams’ Trek movies, which are much more in the action-oriented space opera vein of Luke and Han than the more cerebral and nuanced world of Kirk and Spock. With Abrams now making actual Star Wars movies, the fate of Star Trek 3 rests in the hands of McKay and Payne, with Roberto Orci — who was one of the writers of the first two rebooted Trek flicks — taking over the director’s chair. Will the three of them be able to right the ship, and to make Star Trek 3 a hit that can appeal to both die-hard Trekkers and new fans brought in by the Abrams’ flicks?

Orci just recently revealed that the third Trek film will finally see the alternate timeline’s young Enterprise crew finally beginning their five-year mission to boldly go where no man has gone before. That will hopefully give us a story that’s more classic Trek — one about exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilizations. We’re certainly going to be keeping our fingers crossed, and we have to admit, it sounds like the new guys get it. Payne sums it up perfectly:

That’s one of the things that I think is so wonderful about Star Trek. It’s a universe in which there are a lot of different possibilities in terms of what make a good story. … Star Trek can do so many different things and do it well, that you have just so many colors on that palette to paint with — and I think that for us, in terms of what we’re thinking for the next one, nothing’s really off the table.

Star Trek 3 is expected to land in 2016, timed to the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Photo by Kjirstin Youngberg

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