Roberto Orci is one of those people who is simultaneously unknown and infamous. Why? Because: Internet. If you don’t know him, you know his work. Alongside longtime collaborator Alex Kurtzman, Orci co-wrote some of the biggest franchises in Hollywood: Their names are on Transformerses and Star Treks and most recently The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Orci and Kurtzman co-created two swell genre shows (Fringe and Sleepy Hollow) and still cash checks on the Hawaii Five-O reboot. (Also, Cowboys & Aliens.)
Orci has always been a key figure in Paramount’s rebooted Star Trek series. Although the films’ creative team included Kurtzman, director J.J. Abrams, and producer/co-writer/conscience Damon Lindelof, Orci was outspoken about the personal connection he felt to Gene Roddenberry’s spacefaring franchise. During the years between 2009′s Star Trek and last year’s Into Darkness, he occasionally interacted with fans directly, participating in the comment boards over at TrekMovie.com under the name “boborci.”
So it made sense last week when Deadline reported that he was lobbying hard to take over for J.J. Abrams and direct the as-yet-untitled Star Trek threeboot. Today, Variety reports that he has officially gotten the job. A rep for Paramount had no comment when contacted by EW, but the choice makes sense. Paramount is a little light on franchises just now — recall that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was a thing that happened, barely — and Star Trek is a trusted multimedia brand approaching a major anniversary.
So Paramount is pushing Star Trek 3, stat. But there’s a problem, maybe. Star Trek Into Darkness was a relatively well-received blockbuster. It made $467 million worldwide, which is bizarrely not-great according to the sad-clown economics of modern Hollywood. It got pretty good reviews. And then everything…changed. By the end of summer 2013, the reputation of Star Trek Into Darkness among hardcore Trek fans had sunk as far as a Trek movie can sink.
And Orci was a key figure in that descending reputation. Remember how I mentioned that he enjoyed interacting with the fans in comment boards? Last September, “boborci” posted several messages underneath a TrekMovie.com post titled “Star Trek is broken.” Some key lines:
I think the article above is akin to a child acting out against his parents. Makes it tough for some to listen, but since I am a loving parent, I read these comments without anger or resentment, no matter how misguided.
There is a reason why I get to write the movies, and you don’t.
STID has infinetly [sic] more social commentary than Raiders [of the Lost Ark] in every Universe, and I say that with Harrison Ford being a friend. You lose credibility big time when you don’t honestly engage with the F—ING WRITER OF THE MOVIE ASKING YOU AN HONEST QUESTION. You prove the cliche of s—y fans. And rude in the process. So, as Simon Pegg would say: F— OFF!
Orci later apologized for his comments via Twitter, and then deleted his Twitter account completely. Recent geek history is filled with once-beloved creators who run afoul of their own fanbase. (Just ask Lindelof.) But Trek fans’ suspicion of Orci goes a bit deeper than a comment-board scuffle. Back when Orci still tweeting, he occasionally made statements that many interpreted as supportive of the 9/11 Truther movement. (You can get some of the flavor of that from this TrekMovie.com post’s comment board, where, among other things, “boborci” disputes the idea that Osama Bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks.)
The soft way of putting this is that Orci appears to be a bit of a “conspiracy nut.” This only really matters to the extent that Star Trek Into Darkness is now widely interpreted as a 9/11 Truther Allegory, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan reconfigured as a “terrorist” who is actually working for the government, sort of. (Devin Faraci at BadassDigest has the best summation of this particular Into Darkness critique, describing the film as “a crypto-truther conspiracy movie.”)
All of this helps to explain why, when I wrote a post last week about Paramount go-aheading Star Trek 3 with Orci directing, these were the kind of the comments that popped up:
ChowYunPhat: Oh, goody. Maybe he can make ST3 a 9/11 was an inside job allegory. I’d so enjoy hearing some more of his crackpot truther gibberish.
alistaircrane: Honestly, in order to save this franchise, Paramount needs to hire someone completely unassociated with JJ Abrams. He and his ilk don’t give two f**ks about Star Trek. THANKFULLY these films are set in an alternate timeline and don’t affect the real Star Trek universe, but I hate that these films are some young people’s first taste of Trek. They’re getting a completely wrong message about Star Trek.
Tommy: He helped ruin Transformers, his script for the new Spider-Man was just dreadful, and Into Darkness had a miserable script elevated by the game cast and JJ Abrams’ energy and sense of excitement. He attacked Trek fans online (told them to ‘eff’ off) and he was tweeting that the Boston bombings were perpetrated by US government, mere minutes after the bombs went off while people were dying and injured. He’s entitled to defend his work and to his nonsensical conspiracy theories, but that’s just classless.
jenn43: Please never say “go-aheading” again, Franich. It’s even more insipid than the other teenage girl phrases and words you try to invent.
Now, let’s take a moment to dev-advo. Dev-Advo (verb): Teen-girl abreev for “devil’s advocate.” You could argue that Orci’s clear fascination with upper-level political issues is precisely the kind of engagement that you’d want out of a creative force behind a major science-fiction franchise. Plenty of science-fiction greats have held unpopular political opinions, and the genre itself encourages a kind of twisted-mirror Rorschach test for the audience’s own ideas. (Some people think Robert Heinlein was a fascist, and some people think he was a hippie, and some people really like how he wrote about cool space stuff.)
To my eyes, Into Darkness is way too scattershot to read as a direct allegory for anything. Here at EW, we’re generally fans of the Abrams Trek movies — moreso the ebullient Star Trek than the excessive Into Darkness, but surely we can all agree that there are worse things than Khan’s Magic Resurrection Blood, and those things are Romulan Tom Hardy Picard and Evil Space God. Sure, Orci picked a fight in the comment boards — but don’t we kind of want our geek-franchise creators to be something more than happy-smiley fan-service deliverymen?
And it’s important to remember that Orci was just a collaborator in those movies. If you don’t like Into Darkness, it’s unfair to put all of that at Orci’s feet. Arguably, it makes more sense to read the Star Trek reboots as Abrams’ demo reel for Star Wars: Young Kirk = Luke Skywalker, Old Spock = Ben Kenobi, R2-D2 = In Star Trek now for some reason. Orci clearly feels a strong devotion to the Trek brand, and if nothing else, Into Darkness seemed to finally bring the reboot franchise up to the beginning of the original series, with the Enterprise out in the frontier exploring new civilizations.
Blockbuster-sized productions generally take two years to put together once a director is announced — and 2016 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek, an occasion for considerable cross-promotion, celebration, maybe even new spinoffs. (Orci has talked in the past about a new Star Trek TV project.) Which means we probably have two years until we really see what a Roberto Orci Star Trek movie looks like — and two years of ambient skepticism or outright hostility about what a Roberto Orci Star Trek movie could be.