Is the "once-proud" Star Trek franchise stagnant and in decay?
Yes, according to a leading game maker.
Activision filed suit Monday against Trek's federation bosses at Viacom, accusing the media giant of running the Enterprise into the ground and zapping fan interest in its videogame tie-ins.
Viacom, in turn, says it's the gamer that's trying to trod on Trek for the sole purpose of renegotiating a $20 million licensing deal.
Activision's breach-of-contract lawsuit, excerpted Tuesday in a release from the Santa Monica software manufacturer, is unusually harsh in its assessment of the state of Star Trek and even contains a spoiler.
To whit: According to Activision, Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures, has "no current plans for further Star Trek films."
Spoiler proviso: Studio sources say that while a new big-screener isn't in the works that doesn't mean one won't be--Paramount, they insist, isn't phasing out Trek.
Paramount has released 10 Trek features, dating back to 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The most recent was 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis, the fourth to star the cast from Star Trek: The Next Generation and the first to fail to surpass the $50 million mark at the U.S. box office.
To Activision, Nemesis' negligible performance wasn't an isolated incident but a trend.
"Through its actions and inactions, Viacom has let the once-proud Star Trek franchise stagnate and decay," Activision said in a statement.
The gamer is yelling "Tilt!" over Viacom's perceived failure to provide "a continuing pipeline of movie and television production" as reputedly agreed to under terms of a 10-year licensing agreement inked in 1998.
Activision complains Paramount released just one movie, Nemesis, and introduced just one new prime-timer, Enterprise, during the deal's first five years, while "allow[ing]" two Trek series to expire.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ended a seven-season run in 1999. Star Trek: Voyager concluded its seven-year mission in 2001. Enterprise blasted off on UPN in September 2001. The show is widely considered to be a few photons low on ratings power. It is ranked 101st for the TV year to date, averaging 2.1 million viewers.
But, Viacom would argue, the show's still on. The old shows are still rerun on cable. Nemesis DVDs are still rented at Blockbuster.
"Activision's assertions and claims in its filing are manifestly unfounded as one can learn by simply turning on a television set or walking into a book, game or video store," the company's consumer products division said in a statement Tuesday.
If Activision sees Trek as Scotty sees the Enterprise, as a ship one bolt away from disaster, then Viacom sees Trek as Captain Kirk sees himself, as a leader among men and aliens. Star Trek is, in Viacom's words, "perhaps the greatest intellectual property franchise to ever emerge from television."
Per Viacom, Activision is "trying to use the courts" to redo its videogame deal, which, so far, has produced 10 titles, including the just-released, Star Trek: Elite Force II.
Per Activision, it doesn't want to redo the deal--it wants to break it. In fact, it says, it has. For good measure, it wants Viacom to pay damages.
The Activision-Viacom feud resembles the ongoing Marvel Enterprises-Sony Pictures dispute, in which Marvel has accused the studio of mismarketing Spider-Man, and Sony has accused Marvel of trying to renegotiate its licensing deal.
Activision, meanwhile, isn't the universe's only aggrieved Trekker.
Steve Kutzler, editor of the exhaustive Star Trek news site TrekWeb.com, says the lawsuit will validate a not-unpopular opinion.
"There's definitely a vibe in terms of fandom that Star Trek is at a low point," Kutzler says. "A lot of fans do feel 'decay' is an accurate word for it."
But while Activision charges Viacom brought about the problem by not producing enough product, Kutzler thinks Viacom contributed to the problem by producing too much product in the late 1990s.
"From a numbers perspective, Star Trek is nowhere near its heights in the early 1990s with Star Trek: The Next Generation," Kutzler says.
Patrick Stewart, who, as Next Generation's unflappable Captain Picard, had the com in Nemesis, was quoted by WENN News last week as saying he had "totally left Star Trek behind."
Unlike some, Stewart isn't fed up with the franchise, just the public's failure to embrace Nemesis.
"I think we're a little disappointed , we're a trifle bitter, because there are a group of us who think it's the best of the Star Trek films," Stewart said, per WENN.