by Jerod C. Batte
Remember back in November of last year when I said I’d gladly watch any Star Trek series developed by fellow Trekkie Roberto Orci because other television shows by Orci and Kurtzman have done so well?
Well, maybe I spoke too soon.
Today, Variety’s Alexandra Cheney and Cynthia Littleton reported that the longtime powerhouse duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman is amicably splitting up for future film endeavors. While they’re still working together on more than two dozen other film projects — notably The Amazing Spider-Man 3, which has already been written; its spinoff movie Venom; possibly Universal Studios’ old monster film franchise; and future television projects that have already been in the works for a while — they won’t be doing any further motion picture projects together anytime soon.
Kurtzman left the writing team for the next Star Trek film back in December, and now we may finally be finding out why: Both Kurtzman and Orci want to direct their own films. Kurtzman has already been tapped to direct Venom, and it seems he’s taking over the plans for Universal’s monster films that he and Orci have been working on since May of last year. Orci, on the other hand, is focusing all his efforts on the Star Trek franchise. We already know he’s been in talks about a television series, but he’s also lobbying to direct the third Star Trek reboot film, a movie wholeheartedly supported by Bad Robot Productions. No word yet on whether Paramount wants Orci in the Captain’s chair yet or not, however. Star Trek XIII would be Orci’s directorial debut, and Variety reports that Paramount is being very cautious about who they’re giving the next film to.
I can’t blame Paramount for being cautious. While Star Trek Into Darkness was a hit, it wasn’t quite the hit Paramount wanted it to be, and they’ve slashed the budget for Star Trek XIII as a result. With Abrams departing the final frontier for a galaxy far, far away, Paramount will want a veteran director with lots of positive buzz to take the reins of the Star Trek franchise.
Yes, Orci has been a major presence in the franchise ever since Paramount first approached him and Kurtzman for their first Star Trek jaunt back in 2005. Trusting someone to write a film and trusting someone to direct are two very different things.
The production company may be all for it, the actors may be used to him enough to take orders from him, and he may have been one of the primary movers on the project to begin with (being the hardcore Trekkie that he is), but Paramount already lost $20 million in revenue for Star Trek Into Darkness compared to the revenue for the first reboot film, and Into Darkness wasn’t Paramount’s only big loss last summer. Star Trek XIII will be the first Trek to hit theaters without Abrams at the helm since he took on the project in 2005. Paramount won’t be taking any chances, and that means they may not be willing to let a directorial newcomer like Orci have the captain’s chair just yet.
Additionally, what will the Kurtzman/Orci split mean for a future Star Trek TV series? When I opined about an Orci-helmed Trek series last fall, I was used to seeing Orci and Kurtzman working on television series as a duo. While they will be working on future television projects together via their production company, K/O Paper Products, we may not see them working together on a future Star Trek TV series.
It’s important to note that Orci approached CBS about a new Star Trek television series solo. No sources have stated that he did so with Kurtzman; he went to CBS on his own. Given his “laser focus” on Star Trek XIII (Variety’s words, not mine) and the future of the Trek franchise, Orci’s split from the Star Trek XIII writing crew in December 2013 shows me that he’s not as committed to the franchise as Kurtzman is. If a new Star Trek TV series is made, his name may show up in the writing credits for a few episodes, or he may join the writing staff later. He might even direct a few episodes, since he’s hoping to direct more films after Venom. Given how absurdly busy he’s going to be with the Universal monster films franchise if his monster flicks are a success, however, I don’t see him actively developing the series with Orci or having any major hand in keeping it on the air other than signing his name on paychecks (as I’m assuming K/O Paper Products would be producing and developing the series).
That is, if the Kurtzman/Orci television partnership survives their film partnership split. In his article about the Kurzman/Orci split, The Playlist’s Kevin Jagernauth briefly wondered if their movie-making magic only works when Orci and Kurtzman are together, and that’s a valid question. Part of the Kurtzman/Orci “magic” is how well their writing styles mesh together. If these two have success independently of each other in their film endeavors, their writing styles will show it. Even a tiny boost in the confidence they already have can lead to dramatic changes in how they write films and television episodes, and when they come together for another series (or for one of the TV series they’re already working on, like future episodes of Sleepy Hollow) their writing styles may be so dissimilar by then that they may not work well together anymore.
Setting that issue aside, however, Kurtzman’s potential lack of involvement in a future Trek series is troubling for another reason. I haven’t ever seen Orci work alone on a television series yet. I don’t think anyone has, for that matter. Yes, Orci is enough of a Star Trek fan that I’m certain he’ll give the Star Trek series he’s developing his best efforts, but Star Trek: Nemesis has shown us that having a major Trekkie as your primary writer isn’t always a good thing. Kurtzman was more of a casual fan of the franchise, and I think his casual approach to the past two Star Trek films helped balance their scripts and kept the focus on crowd-pleasing action and excitement (though that didn’t seem to work in Into Darkness’ favor as much as it did its predecessor, which — as reviewer Confused Matthew mentioned in his massive five-part review — felt a tad disjointed at times). Orci as a solo Star Trek series showrunner may be fantastic; I certainly hope he will be. However, he may be also be a failure when separated from Kurtzman.
(Just as a side note: don’t they look like a recently divorced couple in some of their photos? Seriously, the expressions on their faces in some of the photos I’ve seen since the split-up announcement... they look like they just came from the courthouse after a really bad annulment! This split was amicable, right?)
Will Kurtzman and Orci do well in future solo film endeavors? Will their television partnership last beyond the film break-up? Will an Orci-only Star Trek series be anywhere near as good as a series with both Orci and Kurtzman giving it their all? All these quandaries and ponderings are little more than idle speculation, of course. The Kurtzman/Orci split is major news, though, and the next few years will show what the dissolution of their cinematic partnership will mean for both gentlemen—and, of course, for the future of the Star Trek franchise.