Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman interview: Star Trek

Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman talk us through Star Trek Into Darkness, Sleepy Hollow, Eric Bana's Nero, and more...

Roberto (Bob) Orci and Alex Kurtzman are exceptionally busy people. As well as penning the latest Star Trek movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, they’ve got Ender’s Game, Now You See Me, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Van Helsing, Sleepy Hollow and The Mummy in the works. They’ve just finished up with Fringe and Hawaii Five-0. And they have no shortage of other projects bubbling up.

Fortunately for us, they found us a spare ten minutes to natter about them….

Star Trek first. I really like the first/eleventh film. But if there’s one criticism of it, there’s not a lot of room for Nero, the villain, in that movie? Were you keen to redress that here?

Alex: We believe very strongly that sequels are about bad guys. The old adage that your hero is only as good as your villain is true. But uniquely with sequels, the first film in a franchise is about setting up the world, but in this one, it’s who puts the crew to the test? Who forces Kirk to become the captain that he is? Did he inherit the chair too early? If so, what’s going to happen when he’s faced with a real challenge, and an enemy that he doesn’t know what to do with?

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Bob: Eric Bana is an unsung hero in the first movie. We always thought of him as a great white shark. He is just this force that is coming after our crew to put them together. In a way, it’s a thankless job, and he did it brilliantly. And it was by design that the origin story took up so much time. It’s why it was so important to have someone like him, who had weight and as much character as the great white shark in Jaws.

In this story, as we were starting the adventure from the beginning, we were able to give another dimension to the villain that we were not able to give Bana. But he brought that to it on his own, so God bless him. 

Also, Eric Bana’s Hulk movie is criminally underrated.

Bob: Totally agree.

This film, and also the first, is almost a recruitment drive for Star Trek isn’t it? Whilst there are ties to Trek of old, this feels like you’re driving to get a new audience in. And at a point where movies are subverting lots of conventions, you’re not. Where are you drawing the line as to where to pitch this one?

Alex: The fact that we all had different relationships with Star Trek going into it was a real plus for us. Because we knew at our core that we needed to please two people: fans and non-fans. Basically, everybody! So how were we going to do that? We needed to make sure that all of our choices were going to be received and filtered through the scrutiny of die hard fans. So we had that element in our group, with Bob and Damon. As a die hard Star Trek fan, how would I feel about this? What would I embrace?

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Then there were a group of people who, in the past, have rejected Star Trek because it was too cold, too sci-fi, too unemotional, all of the things that we knew to be false about Star Trek. So we said alright, we need to bring those people in too. Because we are making a movie for a much bigger group.

That, I think, ultimately has to do with telling stories that are about big universal emotions. Trek at its core, and Roddenberry in his vision for it, was always about reflecting the world we lived in, and the time that we lived in. But doing it in a way that was also emotional. That was the key for us: figuring out that balance. It is for the audience to decide if we found it, but that was certainly our collective goal.

My big problem with the movie was its title. Where’s the colon?! That’s basic punctuation, isn’t it?

Bob: Unless it’s a sentence! [laugh]

It doesn’t make sense, though!

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Bob: Trek Into Darkness, Trek Into Darkness.

Trek Into Darkness does, Star Trek Into Darkness doesn’t! You need to add a colon, or lose the word ‘Star’!

Bob: It’s pretty close! It’s debatable! [Laughs] 

Staying on the name, the title says Darkness, and three months out, looking at the promo stuff, it looked like we’d got The Dark Knight Rises. Especially when one of the posters was released. But this is quite a light film, which bucks the modern trend somewhat. I think it might surprise people. Tonally, if you go back to what Roddenberry fused in his work, there was always a sense of wonderment to it. Is that lightness, with tinges of darkness, part of you trying to be true to that ethos?

Bob: Well if you look at the first film, a lot of terrible things happen. An entire planet – Vulcan, by the way – gets destroyed. Spock’s mother. Kirk’s father. There’s some dark stuff in there. I think the thing with Star Trek is to keep your chin up, in spite of these things. The title does not reflect necessarily the tone….

You should have called it Star Trek: Chin Up…

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Bob: [Laughs] Exactly! The title is about what comes to challenge the utopia. Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t that Star Trek is going to be no fun, and dark. It’s that the fun’s going to be challenged by some serious issues. That’s how we see it. So the title, in addition to lacking a colon and being sort-of a phrase, was a challenge to the utopia. It’s one that existed in the first movie, and we’re repeating here without losing the optimism and the fun of Star Trek.

Does that mean we’re going to get whales soon? When it was underwater at the start, I thought we were going to get some.

Bob: You saw a big fish though. That fish was the whale of that planet.

That’s not a whale! Anyway, can I touch on a couple of other projects you’re involved with.

Bob: Yeah, what have you got?

Your names are attached to an assortment of reboots, as if you’re trying to attract the ire of the internet. I think if you announce The Goonies next, that’d just cap the lot off!

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Bob: Don’t go there! 

I’m curious where everything is. We’re told you’re working on Sleepy Hollow, The Mummy and Van Helsing. So firstly, is that all true, then what’s the appeal of them, and is the word reboot a little bit disingenuous?

Alex: It’s all true. Yeah, I do think that reboot isn’t the word at all. Each of those things are unique and totally different and separate from anything that’s been before.

Sleepy Hollow is actually modern day, and pays tribute to the Washington Irving short story in a very interesting way. It’s a totally new context, totally new story. It is a contemporary modern day story.

And The Mummy is an entirely different story. It’s not a reboot. It’s a fresh story. There are new elements that have never been done in any of the Mummy movies. We don’t want to give away too much, other than to say it’s a really exciting prospect for us. The idea of taking The Mummy, and putting it in a new context, as a fan of the horror genre we haven’t really had a chance to dig into that yet. So that feels like a new and exciting challenge for us.

Bob: And I would say this. In school, you learn that there are only seven kinds of stories. There’s man versus nature, man versus man, man versus himself, blah blah blah. So it doesn’t matter what they’re called. It’s this: do you have a new story that fits into one of those things. It’s easy to think that rebooting things or taking on existing titles is somehow treading the same ground, and it isn’t. Those movies could be called anything, frankly. It just happens that the business is here, it’s where it is. Studios, to cut through the clutter, want recognisable titles. But that does not excuse you, as a writer, from having an original story.

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So for us, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. We’re going to tell an original story, and hopefully be inspired by what the title meant to some people back in the day.

Bob and Alex, thank you very much!

Star Trek Into Darkness is out in UK cinemas now. You can read our interview with Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk here.