I had never seen a Star Trek episode or movie until I saw J.J. Abrams‘ Star Trek. Afterward, I watched a handful of the first season, caught Khan and then dug deeper into Next Generation thanks to my wife’s loving insistence. The short version: I’m by no means a Trekker.
Still, Abrams’ flick was a lot of fun, and it’s obvious why the franchise has captured the imaginations of so many millions. Through humanity and high adventure, it has secured untold dedication from the most hardcore of fan bases – a details-oriented group that cares about canon and gets genuinely excited by the core message of exploration and human achievement pumping from the heart of Gene Roddenberry’s vision.
And now here’s the Star Trek Into Darkness poster – a piece of advertising that is so clearly lifted from The Dark Knight/Rises that every movie website made the connection immediately (Den of Geek even put them side by side). On top of a half-stolen smoldering logo concept, it’s a poster so generic that you can’t even quite tell who’s on it. We all know it’s Benedict Cumberbatch, but it might as well be Neo or Captain Jack Harkness or Captain Jack Sparrow. Hell, even the typography mimics Transformers the way the plot synopsis echoes what every sequel has tried to do since Empire.
This is a lot to level at a piece of marketing, but the sheer scope of how unoriginal this image is draws into focus how this, like many before it, is a franchise that is slipping away from the fan base.
That’s probably inevitable. It’s not like Paramount wanted to keep the Chris Pine-led adventure a secret or anything, so of course it would gain new fans (like me), and those new fans would define it for themselves. That’s been an obvious reality for all franchises, but Trek always seemed insulated from its own success, somehow belonging solely to the alpha-fans while still reaching beyond them.
It’s also nothing new. The pattern of geek properties on film in the past decade has filtered down to crafting movies that have two key features:
- Red meat for fans.
- A broad enough adventure story for everyone else.
If #1 is favored, the movie runs the risk of failing in the eyes of the greater public. If #2 is favored, the movie might cease to resemble that earned fan appreciation in the first place.
And so it might be with Into Darkness. Maybe a loss of uniqueness happened with the reboot, but it seems more present now that everything we’ve heard about the follow-up seems to ape the best practices of other successful films. The irony here is that Star Trek was also a successful film, and yet we’re seeing The Star Trek Rises in poster form and seeing fans upset that the logo has been tarnished while the synopsis might seriously be trying to turn Captain Kirk into Batman.
So a host of questions arise. Can Star Trek Into Darkness maintain the unique appeal of the franchise by following the formula of other blockbusters? Can the franchise maintain and build upon its own legacy with movies alone or does it take a weekly television series? At what point will fandom not belong to Trekkers?
But maybe most importantly: can Star Trek Into Darkness win over the fan base if it looks just like everything else?