Can Star Trek help summer movies boldly go to a new brave world?
- Credit: Clay Enos
With the news that British director SJ Clarkson is lined up to direct the next Star Trek movie, Arts Editor Andrew Clarke hopes that getting more women involved in the blockbuster season will help cinema rediscover its ability to tell a coherent story
Believe it or not the world of the Hollywood blockbuster is in a growing state of crisis. Apart from individual stand out hits like Avengers: Infinity War or Wonder Woman, the trend over the last few summers is one of a steady decline in attendance figures.
Increased prices at the box office, for 3-D and 4-DX showings, have tended to mask the fall in numbers but Hollywood executives have all started to get a little twitchy about what the next, sure-fire, can’t fail trend is going to be.
Expensive investment in technology hasn’t really worked. The introduction of 3-D and the rollercoaster ride that is 4-DX, with its bucking seats and misty water in your face, hasn’t really embedded itself in the minds of cinemagoers.
At first both formats had novelty value and attracted attention for that reason alone but the films they were married with weren’t that special and audiences very quickly began to tire of the superficial nature of the experience.
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Audiences have come to realise that you have to make an emotional connection to the story and to the characters on screen. Explosions and being thrown around in your seat is not enough to justify an expensive trip to your local picture palace – particularly when you can see the same film in traditional 2-D for approximately half the price.
So, it comes as good news that Hollywood would appear to be taking a keen interest in employing female directors. This is good not just from an equality angle but, by and large, women directors tend to put a little more thought into the storytelling process.
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They value the importance of plot, dialogue and relationships between characters.
Kathryn Bigelow has proved with movies like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty that she can deliver spectacular action films but there is always a legitimate reason for the explosions and the gunfire and just as importantly there are consequences after the action scenes are over.
In many action films, explosions, battle-scenes and car chases serve as an adrenalin rush, they are colourful and dramatic, but afterwards you are left feeling empty. It’s nothing more than a cinematic firework display.
It doesn’t matter how many bullets are sprayed around, how many laser beams are fired, how many dragons sweep down out of the sky, how many spaceships attack the rebel base, when the smoke disperses the bad guys are all dead, the good guys indulge in some blokey banter and nothing has changed. It feels false.
Having a female director should place the emphasis squarely back on the story which in turn will undoubtedly create films which are more than a special effects show reel – which means that people will want to see the films because they will have an emotional connection with what is happening on screen.
It’s not a surprise that Patty Jenkins’ blockbuster debut with Wonder Woman broke all sorts of box office records. The combination of comic book heroics with a story populated by meaningful characters made it stand out in what was otherwise an anaemic summer for film last year.
Hollywood studios are also hoping that the appointment of British TV director SJ Clarkson will be exactly what they need to re-boot the ailing Star Trek franchise after the mis-fire of Star Trek: Beyond.
Clarkson cut her teeth directing episodes of EastEnders and Casualty before moving onto Life On Mars, Hustle, Dexter, Orange Is The New Black, Jessica Jones and Collateral.
She is an immensely capable director and will undoubtedly bring a sense of character-driven drama to Gene Roddenbury’s creation.
The Hollywood studios know that their future is on the line. They have to engage audiences if they are to survive. Rollercoaster rides in cinemas won’t cut it.
The rise of cinematic television; series like Game of Thrones, Westworld, True Detective, Outlander, Twin Peaks: The Return as well as older series like The Wire and Breaking Bad continue to give cinema a run for its money. Cinematic television offers engaging characters, developed over time, as well spectacle and money-shot moments which frankly can leave some summer blockbusters looking rather tame.
It’s no surprise that some female directors, experienced film-makers like Rachel Talalay have been tempted back to television working on series like Doctor Who and Sherlock because they found cinema such an empty experience.
Hopefully, employing female directors on showcase movies will help inject a bit of life and prestige back into the summer blockbuster.