Why Neill Blomkamp Is The Wrong Fit For Franchises
With the sleeper hit “District 9″ behind him and “Elysium” coming up, Neill Blomkamp seems to have acquired the perfect cachet to take on a franchise tentpole. His stories have a strong social conscience combined with exciting action and visual flair. He hits the sweet spot where serious meets fun.
That inspired speculation he’d take on a studio franchise, especially “Star Trek.” His resume, after all, seemed especially perfect for “Star Trek,” which has such earnest roots. Yet Blomkamp recently told Filmz, a Danish website, he wouldn’t do the next “Star Trek” movie. (Update: Paramount says Blomkamp was never offered the next “Star Trek” picture.) Though he was a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” he said, he didn’t want to deal with the politics of a franchise feature. “Would I be able to make the’ Star Trek’-film I want? Probably not, and therefore I have no desire to make it.”
Fans may be disappointed, but Blomkamp made the right decision. He’d actually be an awkward fit with Gene Roddenberry’s earnest sci-fi legacy, and he seems to know it. His approach to science fiction is too personal.
First, there’s the basic matter of creative control. A franchise installment for “Star Trek,” superheroes and “Star Wars” must must generate toys, games and lunchboxes. That means the studio’s licensing and marketing people are never far removed from decisions about design and story. For many directors, that would be a happy trade-off. Blomkamp doesn’t seem to be one of them.
“I’ve seen some insane, absolute dream projects come across his table,” ”District 9″ and “Elysium” cinematographer Trent Opaloch, a longtime Blomkamp collaborator, told Variety. “Studios that have thrown this stuff at him, huge opportunities,” says Opaloch. “It’s just not his thing. He’s not interested so much in the ‘Star Wars.’ … With Neill, knowing him as I do, the default (answer) is ‘No, why would I do that?’ He’s got a channel for telling his own stories with his own characters. And that’s just who he is as a person. I think that’s really really cool. It’s pretty inspiring, actually.”
Second, while Blomkamp’s mix of issues and action seems just right for Capt. Kirk & Co., there are some crucial differences. “Star Trek” has always been a mix of pulpy sci-fi (ray guns, telepathy, green-skinned alien seductresses) and earnest social commentary. Roddenberry created the original series because TV censors of the the 1960s wouldn’t let him write about burning social issues in contemporary-set dramas unless he set his stories in the 23rd century.
Even the movies carried that issue-orientation forward. Wags labeled “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” as “Star Trek saves the whales,” and the original cast’s finale, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” amounted to our heroes emracing Gorbachev and the reformers in the Soviet Union. While such social commentary was missing in J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” feature reboot, it was present in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which tackled the issue of assassination by drone.
In “Elysium,” Blomkamp envisions 2154 as a time when the haves live in luxury far above the Earth while the have-nots live in misery on the surface below, a premise that even echoes a 1969 “Star Trek” episode. With “District 9″ and now “Elysium” he has bolstered sci-fi’s social conscience while avoiding “Star Trek’s” preachiness. But he arrives at his stories by a different route. He says he doesn’t plan a movie about this issue or that issue, the way a TV writing staff might. He writes about the topics that interest him “for whatever reason,” he says. “It can be totally unrelated to film. I don’t go about trying to inject socially relevant stuff into the stories. It just seems to naturally happen.”