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Armchair Studio Execs (And, the Original Star Trek Cast Wasn’t That Old After All)

I appreciate the thoughts and nice words about my notes on Indy 5 earlier this week. We all have such affection and history with Indy that his final adventure stirs a lot of passions.

But I was surprised to see how many “armchair studio executives” there are talking about how they would have done this movie differently.

I just want to point out...I’m sure it’s way harder than it looks.

If you didn’t read it before, here is a lengthy essay I wrote about “Franchise Fatigue” and the difficulties in keeping our favorite movie series fresh and healthy.

Long story short: the franchises that work best are based on worlds—they are “horizontal.”

The franchises that flame out the fastest are based on characters—they are “vertical.”

Marvel and Star Wars are worlds. You can go anywhere to find a new and fresh story.

RoboCop and Terminator (and Indiana Jones) are characters. When that character completes his “story arc,” that is the natural end.

When you go past the natural end, you either have to change the premise of the character (why did Marty suddenly get freaked out about being called “chicken” in Back to the Future II?), torment and torture that character (Alien 3), or sideline the character (sort of the problem in Dial of Destiny—it’s really Helena’s story).

These are all inherently disappointing.

RoboCop to me is the single best example. After RoboCop says his name is Murphy—reclaiming his humanity—what is there left for him to do?

The poor sequels were playing with a deck stacked against them.

The only sequels that we can say are genuinely awesome and beloved—like The Empire Strikes Back and Aliens—tend to follow a protagonist whose journey was left incomplete (by design or accident) at the end of the (seminal) first film.

I personally find it depressing to see these “thirty years later” sequels were the entire world(s) that we thought the hero saved instead turned out to be utter disasters—necessitating a whole-new adventure to set them right.

The Force Awakens, I’m talking to you!

But obviously, this is storytelling. It would have been heartwarming in Indy 5 to see Indy happily married and widely beloved as he retires—but then what?

You know that whenever you see the hero in a sequel settled down and happy, that family is about to be gruesomely murdered. Remember Magneto’s family in X-Men: Apocalypse?

I have one last point to make defense of the original Star Trek cast.

If you’re old enough to have been a Trekkie in the 1980s, you remember the increasing ruthlessness with which the original Star Trek cast was mocked for their advancing ages in the movie sequels.

It was like some kind of public contest for headline writers to see how snarky and mean-spirited they could be.

True, a good part of this was brought on by Shatner’s lifelong vanity—the wigs and girdles and strutting.

But this was the first time an old TV show had beaten the odds in such a public way, and it felt like people were determined to humiliate the cast for their success.

Folks, at the time of filming Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Shatner and Nimoy...were turning 60.

Today, Tom Cruise is 61 and jumping off mountains. Ford is 80. Patrick Stewart is 82. Nobody cares!

In fact, there is an expectation they will keep doing this as long as we want to see them do it—and we’re grateful.

And, let’s give the last laugh to Bill Shatner. At 92, he is a total freak of nature, and nobody thinks he’s too old to do anything.

Bless you, Captain!

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I remember the summer of 1989 when Star Trek 5 and Ghostbusters 2 came out. Some of the Ghostbusters cast were belittling the Star Trek crew for being so old. I thought at the time who cares? If they can make a good film, it shouldn't matter how old they are. It came across as petty and mean-spirited.

That was a real Hobson's Choice that year: Ghostbusters 2 or ST 5. Neither one of them should ever have seen the light of day.


Maurizio Caschetto
Maurizio Caschetto

Huge studio films are a tough beast to tame and this one makes no exception, so yeah, it's a almost a miracle when something gets made and everything works perfectly. The problem is that a lot of the Gen Xers fans feels so entitled to their beloved franchises that they feel as a duty to speak up publicly either in their defense or in scathing attacks. I am baffled both by the vitriol of many negative opinions and the dumb giddy excitement of many positive review. There is no more space for the middle ground, or the thoughtful commentary (yours certainly is an exception), everyone just sit on the fence. It feels like Hollywood is downward a spiral, though. Here…

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