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The recent announcement that Paramount is planning to extend its Transformers movie franchise into a cinematic universe was surprising not because the studio was looking to build a competitor to Disney’s Marvel or Warner Bros.’ DC universes (or, for that matter, Sony’s mooted Ghostbusters universe), but because Paramount already has one in its catalog: Star Trek.
The lack of Trek focus is confusing in multiple ways (as noted by THR‘s Borys Kit shortly after the Transformers announcement.) The franchise’s 50th anniversary celebration is upcoming — surely, if ever there were a time to try and concentrate attention on a property, it’s during something like that. But also, Star Trek already has the shared universe experience that something like Marvel Studios enjoys, and indeed was one of the first genre properties to explore such a thing in mainstream media.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Trek was doing a version of what Marvel launched with the 2013 debut of Agents of SHIELD: running multiple parallel narratives in the same shared fictional universe, across both television and movies. The trinity of television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and the movie continuation of Star Trek: The Next Generation shared characters and situations in much the same manner as the Marvel movies and shows of today, while building on a world (or worlds) established three decades earlier.
More importantly, those three parallel properties each explored different facets of the core Star Trek concept: The movies centered on the flagship of the Starfleet line in grand adventures, while Deep Space Nine focused on the political machinations on board a space station, and Voyager was ultimately based around the social problems of a crew outside their traditional situation, forced to rely on people they don’t trust for survival. In terms of proving that Star Trek can support multiple properties simultaneously, there shouldn’t be any question: It’s already been done.
Moreover, the movie reboot of 2013 opens up a literal universe worth of ideas, characters and even simply alien races for use, reinvention or exploration by any number of future television series or movie projects; with all stories past the 2001 prequel series Enterprise undone, almost everything that has appeared in nearly five decades’ worth of television shows, movies, comic books and novels is up for grabs. There is an amazing amount of potential material available to be mined, should someone go looking for it.
Of course, just because the material is there isn’t necessarily enough of a reason to do something with it; even the 50th anniversary might not be seen as reason enough to revive the property beyond the movie series already in progress. However, Star Trek offers a couple of things that the Marvel, DC, Transformers and Ghostbusters universes don’t: Firstly, a setting that can entirely bypass the world as we know it, thanks to the 23rd century space basis; and secondly — and arguably more importantly — a more optimistic tone, unlike the constant panic and struggle for survival of almost every other genre “universe” out there.
Star Trek has the (fictional) history, the depth and the … real-world experience, for want of a better way to put it, that make it uniquely prepared to transition into the brave new world of “Cinematic Universes.” Ultimately, the real question is, what’s stopping Paramount from pursuing the chance to take advantage of a perfectly primed property?
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