Tony Black on the marketing campaign for Star Trek Beyond…
So did you notice this week that a third, albeit fairly brief trailer for Star Trek Beyond went online? Probably not. If you’re in the UK, you’ve been too busy watching Game of Thrones or England disgrace themselves in Europe in more ways than one, and if you’re anywhere else you may well have been put off by how much Rihanna was draped over the back half of the promo for Justin Lin’s upcoming 50th anniversary adventure, celebrating the franchise. Now I have nothing against Rihanna; she strikes me as having poor taste in men & her music is about as appealing to me as a mug of cold sick, but there’s nothing wrong with her per se. Apparently she loves Star Trek too (oi, you at the back, stop laughing!). Should her music, in this case specifically her new track ‘Sledgehammer’ be used to sell a Star Trek movie? Err. Well. No.
If you can find anyone in the target market for Star Trek Beyond who are more likely to turn out and see this film because of Rihanna, then I’d like to meet them. Flip that around, and I doubt there are many Rihanna fans desperate to check out Captain Kirk’s latest space-based fuck up either, even with her warbling all over it. Herein lies the problem with Star Trek Beyond‘s marketing. It’s shocking. And it has been pretty much from day one.
Cast your minds back to last year, as we eagerly awaited the first trailer to a movie which does have a certain weight of expectation and scepticism behind it, for reasons I’ve covered previously so won’t repeat here. Nevertheless, a fair few people are a bit worried Beyond may end up a bit bobbins, and they needed a trailer to assuage their fears. Last Christmas, then, in it arrives on impulse, and all those haters of ‘nuTrek’ (or as its recently been officially christened, the Kelvin Timeline, which is worryingly close to the Kevin Timeline for me) gained serious grist for their sceptical mill when it played a lot like a Fast & Furious film – action, explosions, spectacle, gags, lots of vehicle porn and a souped up version of ‘Sabotage’, the Beastie Boys track used to good effect in the first Star Trek reboot film.
It sucked, in a nutshell, and even Simon Pegg knew it – subtly displaying his anguish on The Force Awakens red-carpet and quietly imploring fans there was more under the hood than the trailer implied. Pegg deserved some faith, so we patiently waited for a second trailer, as its more than common these days for Hollywood studios to balls up their first trailer and respond with a much better second (see the Ghostbusters reboot most recently). So come this year, we were ready. Maybe this trailer would *feel* more like Star Trek, even the newer, sexier, more stylish and mass appeal Star Trek curated by J.J. Abrams. And it did. Sort of. However, this time it decided to pull a Terminator Genisys. In other words, the second trailer basically revealed what the first trailer itself had suggested: the USS Enterprise gets destroyed in Star Trek Beyond, and we can presume it happens relatively early on.
Now this may end up being slightly unfair, certainly the Genisys comparison. The trailer for that ultimately boring sequel gave away a WHOPPING end of second act reveal about a character which was frankly unforgivable, and genuinely did affect the enjoyment of the movie going in. Will we feel the same way knowing the Enterprise is blown up by Idris Elba’s alien bad guy & his forces? That depends on your POV, I guess. If you’re a long-time Trek fan, you’ll remember the last few occasions we’ve seen the Enterprise destroyed at the movies. Try and imagine how we would have felt knowing Kirk self-destructs the Enterprise three quarters of the way through The Search For Spock, or that the Enterprise-D crash lands on Veridian III in Generations.
For Trek fans, destroying the Enterprise is not throwaway, it’s a big fucking deal. It’s the equivalent of Star Wars VIII revealing the Millennium Falcon gets destroyed in the trailer. Imagine how pissed Wars fans would be! Now while the destruction of the Enterprise appears to be a catalyst for a story where the crew are stranded on a hostile alien world and Kirk must prove his leadership chops to save them, we can from both of these first two trailers do something the Genisys trailer was definitely guilty of: make a reasonably accurate stab at the plot of Beyond. I reckon, for the record, it’s going to roll out something like this:
The Enterprise, in the middle of her five-year mission, has some shakedown time where Kirk begins questioning whether he wants to still be Captain. They probe uncharted territory and get more than they bargained for when Krall’s swarm of alien ships takes out the Enterprise, forcing Kirk to abandon ship & the crew to crash on an alien world controlled by Krall, who puts the crew into slavery. You’ve got Spock & Bones being all philosophical as they try and save people on the ground, while Kirk & Scotty (with Pegg having appropriately bumped up his role, given he’s probably after Pine or Urban now the second biggest star in the cast) work with Sofia Boutella’s martial-arts kicking rogue alien to jury rig a ship (or part of the downed Enterprise) to take the fight to Krall, who by this point has his eye on Earth and in the climax launches a major attack on the Federation which Kirk & his erstwhile crew must foil. Come the end, Kirk has his mojo back & Shohreh Aghdashloo’s Starfleet big wig gives Kirk a newly built Enterprise, a la the end of The Voyage Home, which the crew take off in to continue their five-year mission. Cue RIP Leonard Nimoy & Anton Yelchin. End.
Say what you like about Star Trek Into Darkness, but I would have struggled accumulating that much likely information from its trailer. The fact I can do that with Beyond (and I’ll probably be at least 80% right) is worrying, and I don’t say this to boast if I do turn out to be right. I’m annoyed I can extrapolate that much in the first place and it’s part of a deeper Hollywood problem, a lack of faith in their product, that they need to front load so much information into their trailers, especially for a franchise like Star Trek. What’s worse is that the way Paramount have tried to sell Beyond is so nakedly, obviously at as wide a demographic as possible, they’ve served mainly to alienate most of the very people who were a shoo-in at the box office on day one with how shoddy their marketing has been; even down to The Motion Picture rip off posters, which stoked some ire, though I thought it was probably one of the few things the marketing campaign got right. Rihanna draped over trailer three was just the icing on the cake. They’re bricking it about Star Trek Beyond, of that I’m convinced. They’ve not been sure about this film all year, ever since it wrapped shooting fairly close to the wire, and their hap-hazard, non-Trek promotional campaign is evidence of that.
You know what hurts the most? This year doesn’t feel remotely like 50 years of Star Trek has been properly celebrated. It doesn’t help that we don’t have the show back on TV (yet), and for the 30th anniversary specifically Deep Space Nine & Voyager both made an in-show fuss about it, but regardless everything about Star Trek Beyond just smacks of regurgitated Hollywood formula. A decent but totally uninspired director, a rushed production clouded with narrative issues we don’t yet know the full extent of, and a story which yet again on the face of it seems to want to fashion Trek into a big action franchise when it’s never been any such thing at heart.
The next time I talk about Beyond, it will be to review it, and I am desperately hoping as a lifelong Trekkie that I’ll eat a lot of these words. I truly am. As it stands though, with Rihanna dripping in my ears, I can’t help fear my prevailing comments upon leaving the cinema in three weeks time will be: “so how much longer until Bryan Fuller’s TV show, then?”. Rihanna better steer clear of that one.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.