Star Trek Into Darkness

Paramount Pictures

Roberto Orci has officially been hired to direct Star Trek 3 out of the darkness. It will be the first directorial gig for the co-author of a large amount of blockbuster movies, and you don’t have to look far to find people complaining about the choice, either because of his inexperience in that particular folding chair or because of his name in general.

A few scattered editorials and fist-clenching comments on Twitter defend the choice or warn all of us to exercise caution, and while the dramatics are fun (in the usual way that any blockbuster speculation this far out is “fun”), there’s something everyone is forgetting:

It doesn’t matter who directs Star Trek 3.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the past two decades of blockbusting dominance, it’s that sequels are somehow not universally feared anymore. If there’s a second thing we’ve learned, it’s that studios are embracing franchising instead of stripping a popular movie for parts and hack-jobbing it into a 7-movie series composed mostly of direct-to-your-home schlock until it fails to turn a profit on diminishing returns.

And if there’s a third lesson, it’s that the insulation of studio filmmaking has largely made the director’s name irrelevant. Particularly when we’re talking about a third or fourth entry. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a great example (quick, who directed it?) where the look and feel of the franchise’s universe were back in play because internal memory wasn’t going to let Gore Verbinski’s replacement start from scratch.

The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel (which Orci was co-writer on) were further reminders that a studio can take a director with a unique vision and mute it sufficiently enough to produce something with mass market appeal. The second film has a few moments where Marc Webb’s touches shine through (particularly the romantic elements), but both movies feel more like Spidey was Mad Libbed into the standard superhero structure.

To be blunt, there’s not much room for directorial authorship in these movies, and there may be none at all with a Part III.

But, okay, prevailing wisdom says it’s not smart to give a $200m budget film to a first timer. It also says that rookie directors will rely on their DPs and department heads heavily. With those competing ideas in mind, I’d be willing to bet that Orci will be learning on the job with the largest safety net possible. It’s not like he’s soldiering out with credit card debt and a dream here. He’s partnering with a corporation with a half-billion-dollar interest in getting the product they want.

That’s not to say it’s impossible for him to screw it up or that directing a movie of that size is in anyway easy (because it’s insanely difficult), but there are a significant amount of safeguards in place here — including an established set of aesthetics — and Orci knows the Star Trek team and Paramount well enough to take full advantage of the veterans at his disposal. He’s within the sphere of talent that renders his name sufficient enough for the task. Beyond that, the studio very well may see him as a team player who won’t fight when they offer notes or guide him toward exactly what they want in order to sell the most toys. He’s a close cousin to the commercial spec director brought up to the big leagues. The bottom line being that there is a system at work here much larger than the director.

The most interesting part of all of this will be how Orci does as the final arbiter of his own screenwriting. Maybe that’s what people are really afraid of.


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