I consider myself a huge Star Trek fan. Sometimes I’ll even call myself a “trekkie.” So when news came that the Fast & Furious Justin Lin would be taking the helm for the third “Nu Trek” installment, I joined my brethren in our collective WTF moment. How is this a good idea?
Like many an Internet commentator out there, I panicked at the thought of Justin Lin directing Star Trek 3. I didn’t think there was any way that the guy best known for directing car porn could effectively continue what J.J. Abrams started. Shades of Brett Ratner and X-Men: The Last Stand quickly came to mind.
And then I did the one thing that fanboys of any ilk rarely do–I got to thinking. I pondered what this actually meant for the Star Trek franchise, and came to a startling realization: it’s going to be okay.
Here’s the deal–there are several different directors a lot of us would have preferred over Lin. Edgar Wright’s name popped up here and there, but he’s working on a million different projects; it never would have worked out. Joe Cornish seemed like a viable alternative, but that didn’t pan out. Matt Reeves would have been great, but he’s tied to the (excellent) Planet of the Apes films right now. And Zowie Bowie–er–Duncan Jones, well, that would have been too perfect. The universe can’t handle that much awesome-sauce in one go.
But Lin isn’t a bad choice. Seriously, he’s not. Whether or not he’s a great choice is left to be seen, but on paper, it really does make a lot of sense. And here’s why:
“Star Trek” and “action” aren’t mutually exclusive terms.
Justin Lin is best known for his work on four of the seven (!) Fast & Furious films, so it’s safe to call him an “action” director at this point. In other words, he knows how to shoot fast, pulse-quickening shots that retain their coherence. Say what you will about action movies–it takes talent and skill to make them.
This is important, because Bad Robot’s version of Star Trek has been primarily action focused. And regardless of how some may feel about this, switching the focus to talky, idea-heavy sci-fi would break continuity. If Star Trek 3 doesn’t continue this trend of “ZAP BANG POW!”, then they may as well reboot the entire franchise yet again.
Before you get all huffy and puffy, consider this: have Star Trek films of past not been action endeavors? I’ll argue that the best ones were. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan features a villain who lives and breathes combat. Star Trek: First Contact pits the next generation crew against a race of trigger-happy cyborgs. To a lesser degree, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home relies on an adventure-centric narrative. And all the other ones, save for the original Motion Picture and maybe The Final Frontier (this is my least favorite one, so I admit to not remembering a whole lot about it) have had elements of action.
Long story short: Star Trek films have always relied on least a little action, and the new ones are all about it. It may be an unpopular stance among some fans, but I happen to think it makes them better films. Besides, Kirk is all about going with his gut and working on pure instinct, and that kind of makes him a classic action hero.
Justin Lin improved the Fast & Furious films.
They aren’t my cup of tea, but there’s no point in arguing that the Fast & Furious films are wildly popular. And ever since Lin took over as the primary director, they’ve done something almost unheard of in inevitable-sequel-land: they progressively make more money.
How did he do it? How in the world did Lin take such a boneheaded series and turn it into a phenomenon that commands an exponentially growing audience? Fast cars are cool and all, but seven movies worth has got to be overkill, even for die-hard auto enthusiasts.
The answer is quite simple: he turned them into soap operas. Character-driven, plot-heavy soap operas. Prior to the fourth installment, the Fast & Furious films were effectively one-offs featuring four-wheeling mayhem and some cool car stunts. With 2009’s Fast & Furious, Lin gave the series something that it sorely lacked–a cohesive, caper-esque narrative. He kept at it with 2011’s Fast Five and 2013’s Fast & Furious 6. It turns out people love characters, and they always want to know what happens next.
In other words, he used a template that’s been a mainstay in Star Trek filmography since the inception of the franchise. Lin stayed true to the characters in Fast & Furious, and he undoubtedly will do the same for Star Trek 3.
With that, though, there’s something to be said about pigeon-holing Lin into specific “type” of film, because…
Directors rarely work in the same genre every single time.
Think about your favorite film directors. How often do they work in a singular genre? Mine surely don’t. Steven Spielberg has shown that he’s just as comfortable in sci-fi and action as he is in drama and comedy. Robert Zemeckis made the Back to Future films in the 1980s, made Forrest Gump in 1994, and then made Beowulf in 2007. Even J.J. Abrams was better known for espionage thrillers (TV’s Alias, Mission Impossible III) before he became the sci-fi mainstay that he is today.
Lin isn’t all that different, either. Though he’s (currently) best known for his Fast & Furious pedigree, he actually made his initial mark within the drama category–1997’s Shopping For Fangs (his first time collaborating with John Cho), and 2002’s Better Luck Tomorrow. Unfortunately, Lin also directed the terrible Annapolis, but the point still stands–directors don’t usually work in a solitary genre.
Same goes for the several directors behind all the Star Trek movies. Robert Wise helmed Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Day the Earth Stood Still, but he also directed West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Leonard Nimoy directed Three Men and a Baby and The Good Mother after his stint with the first-generation crew. Jonathan Frakes dipped into nonsensical adventure with the made-for-TV Librarian movies.
Directors don’t have to live-and-breathe sci-fi to excel in sci-fi filmmaking. It isn’t a job requirement. Besides, we’re probably giving them all a bit too much credit. Lest we forget that directing a film simply entails giving life to an already-written story. Regardless of who is calling the shots in any given movie…
It’s all about the script.
Okay, this is where you can start to worry a bit.
Justin Lin may be the guy behind Star Trek 3, but he isn’t writing it. Scripting duties have been handed to J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, two absolute unknowns without any prior writing credits (at least none I could find on IMDB or Wikipedia).
Because we know little-to-nothing about Payne or McKay, it’s impossible to speculate as to how the story in Star Trek 3 will pan out. We do know that Roberto Orci’s deep-space exploration script won’t be used, which is kind a bummer–say what you will about the guy and his “truther” ideology, he knows his Trek.
That being said, the end of Star Trek Into Darkness sent Kirk and his crew onto their iconic five-year mission, so they’re bound to use that prompt in one way or another.
So if Justin Lin’s Star Trek turns out to be less-than-stellar, chances are it will be directly related to the script and not to the actual “filming” part of the whole deal, because…
Justin Lin knows how to direct movies.
It all really comes down to this. Before Lin was announced as the director of Star Trek 3, Roberto Orci was the guy behind the wheel. Which sort of made sense–he did co-write the two preceding Star Trek films, after all. His heart was probably in the right place, but his repertoire had one glaring omission…
…he had no directing credits to his name.
Once upon a time, Star Trek films could get away with journeymen filmmaking. This is not the case anymore. J.J. Abrams set a very stylish standard with 2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. His visual stamp is all over the place–rotating introductory pans, Battlestar Galactica-esque shaky-cam wide shots of starship action, the occasional flicker of lens-flare–the whole shebang.
I’m not saying that Orci would have been a bad director. I wouldn’t know–none of us would, and that’s the whole point. With Lin, we have someone who knows how to command a camera and translate a written script into a cohesive visual affair. The fact that he’s comfortable behind vehicular action is just an added bonus.
And maybe with his connections, we can finally have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson back in Star Trek…
…sorry, I couldn’t help it.