News Column

U.S. Trekkies Gaze Longingly Abroad as New Film Opens

May 10, 2013

Andy Goldberg, dpa

For U.S. Trekkies, these are strange and interesting times.

For decades they have basked in the center of the Star Trek universe, getting first access to the innumerable TV shows, movies, conventions and cartoons that have been spawned by the legendary sci-fi series Star Trek.

But on Thursday, as Star Trek Into Darkness, the latest blockbuster installment of the space-voyaging franchise, opened in Germany, the UK, Australia, Austria, Switzerland and Ireland, legions of ardent US fans were left feeling both frustrated and excited.

"I tremble every time I go online," said engineer Will Hayes, a self-described life-long Trekkie. "The film doesn't open here for another week, and I'm petrified that someone in Germany or England will just give away the plot."

Hayes and millions of other Star Trek fans in the US have never had to deal with that problem before. In the past, the films and TV shows in the series barely registered internationally, and never were released before the curtain was raised in the US.

But with international markets becoming ever more important for Hollywood studios, especially for films with massive budgets like the 195-million-dollar Into Darkness, producers have pulled out all the stops to give the film global appeal.

The film, to paraphrase the famous tagline of the series, is going boldly where no Star Trek movie has gone before.

None of the previous 11 films since the series launched with Star Trek: The Movie in 1979 have ever had much international impact. According to movie industry website TheWrap, the series has taken in more than 1.8 billion dollars at the global box office, but just 312 million dollars of that has come from outside the US.

Even the last film, the 2009 Star Trek movie that was easily the biggest hit in the series, earned just 128 million dollars of its 387 million dollars from overseas cinemas.

That just won't do in an age where, boosted by the rapid expansion of cinemas in Russia, China and elsewhere, Hollywood expects blockbusters to double their domestic haul overseas.

So, from the earliest days of the film's conception, director JJ Abrams and his team of writers and producers focused on how to make the America-centric legend more palatable to an international audience.

Using focus groups in major international markets, the production team decided to change the traditional Star Trek focus on sci-fi, bring in actors with more international appeal, and boost its marketing budget to allow country-specific marketing and publicity blitzes in all the major markets - hence the staggered release schedule.

"I guess less Trekkie, more action might be the short story," Paramount's head of international distribution Anthony Marcoly told TheWrap. "Basically, it was more action, more of the adventure elements and less of the real Trekkie stuff."

The changes include a higher-octane script with a terrestrial story-line that focuses on the return to earth of the crew of the Starship Enterprise, who are called into action to eradicate the threat of terrorists who have infiltrated the Starfleet organisation.

In addition, popular British actor Benedict Cumberbatch has been cast as the villain, while Abrams has also added spectacular special effects that had largely been absent from previous Star Trek iterations. And in a move that may well make William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk, shudder, his successor Chris Pine dons a spacesuit and darts through an asteroid field in a move that seems snatched from a Superman or Iron Man movie.

To Star Trek fan Hayes, that sounds like a good formula - as long as it doesn't mess with Star Trek's intricate back story.

"We live in a different world to when I started watching Star Trek," he said. "I can't wait to see what JJ Abrams has up his sleeve. I just wish the US could have seen it first."

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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