'Trek' seeks new life in China

First space film to show here since 'Episode III'

BEIJING -- Paramount releases "Star Trek" in China on Friday, the first outer-space science fiction film to land on a big screen here since "Star Wars: Episode III" earned roughly 76 million yuan ($11 million) in 2005 for 20th Century Fox.

To fans in the know, the films are apples and oranges. But to China's growing number of moviegoers, these Hollywood blockbusters come from the same largely untouched basket--the science fiction genre that government censors here, following communist doctrine, long shunned for fear of showing movies to the masses that did not adhere to hard science.

That all began to change in 1999 with Fox's release of "Star Wars: Episode I," which earned 34 million yuan ($5 million) and was then followed, in 2002, by "Star Wars: Episode II," which earned 44 million yuan ($6.5 million).

For "Star Trek" director J.J. Abrahams, 42, the release in China of his prequel to the original 1970s American television series could be a taste of the dish best served cold.

After all, it was China's Film Bureau that delayed and then heavily censored the 2006 release of  "Mission: Impossible III" -- which Abrams co-wrote and directed. Cut from that release were scenes deemed untidy and unflattering: laundry hanging from Shanghai windows, Chinese gambling at mahjong and a Chinese guard shot by Tom Cruise.

Rated PG-13 in the United States, "Star Trek" will show unrated and uncut in China at about 127 minutes, according to exhibitors already selling tickets in the capital. China has no rating system and U.S. distributor UIP declined to comment on censorship in China as a matter of policy.

"We're really happy to be bringing this film to China to share it with Chinese on the big screen as it should be seen," a UIP spokesman said.

"Star Trek" will release on 800 screens in China on digital and 35mm prints at 550 modern theaters and also will show on three IMAX screens operated by the Wanda cinema chain in Beijing, Changchun and Changsha, where tickets will sell for as much as 100 yuan ($14.65) for adults.

"Star Trek" will compete in theaters here with Fox's "Wolverine," which has earned 43 million yuan ($6.3 million) since May 3 and then, also from Fox, with "Night at the Museum II," due to release in China on May 26.

Since its U.S. premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard on May 8, "Star Trek" film has earned an estimated $76.5 million in U.S. grosses and another $35.5 million overseas.

China earnings will be "Star Trek" gravy and serve perhaps as the foundation for the next generation of sci-fi movie lovers in the fastest-growing movie market in the world.