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C&E: Writing a Summer Blockbuster

A sinus infection wiped me out last week, but in between bouts of sniffling, coughing, aching, and sleeping, I watched Star Trek into Darkness.  I realize that this makes me one of the last people on the planet to see it, and yes, I know  I probably didn’t get the full effect at home instead of the theater.  The two things that struck me hardest about the movie, though, related to the plot instead of the visual effects.  [Warning:  spoilers ahead.]

First, over the weekend, I stumbled across an interview with Peter Weller, who played Admiral Marcus in the film.  Weller pointed out that audiences consider Captain Kirk to be the hero of the movie and Admiral Kirk one of the villains.  This made him laugh because the captain, true to his character, disobeyed orders, flouted Starfleet regulations, and was generally insubordinate – a routine day at the office for Kirk.  Admiral Marcus did his job as the head of Starfleet:  he recognized a threat (approaching war with the Klingons), he created a strategy to minimize the threat, and then he executed his strategy, mostly within the bounds of Starfleet’s regulations (there is that pesky one about Starfleet not being a military organization but an exploratory one).

Second, there’s a scene in the movie when secret, mystery weapons appear at the hangar (or whatever the equivalent is called for spaceships) for loading onto the Enterprise.  Scotty, the engineer, refuses to sign off without an inspection out of a sense of duty for the safety of the ship.  Kirk cajoles him to skip the inspection, sign the paper, and allow the torpedoes on board.  Scotty continues in his refusal, growing more agitated that the engineer of a ship would not be allowed to inspect such dangerous cargo.  Kirk devolves into threatening Scotty, and so Scotty quits his job rather than be party to something that he knows would be wrong.

For a summer blockbuster, Star Trek into Darkness packed a lot of compliance & ethics into its entertainment.  We got two whistleblowers in 132 minutes in a movie about space exploration.  Both Kirk and Scotty end up being heroes at the end of the movie – good news, and good for our cause in C&E.  I suspect, though, that employees face situations like the ones faced by Kirk and Scotty every day, but they don’t stand up the way Kirk and Scotty did.  It’s not that our employees lack moral courage.  I think it’s that they see that their own movies could go in other ways, that they may not get happy endings.  Kirk died.  Scotty drowned his sorrows and his outrage in alcohol.  If the movie had been something other than Star Trek, or a summer blockbuster, if it had been a drama released in December, Kirk probably would have stayed dead, and we’d find Scotty in increasingly worse bars until he became a shadow of himself who lost all his friends and family.  Employees who observe serious misconduct suspect that the latter is the movie that they’re in.  As a result, they fear coming forward.  It’s up to us in C&E to rewrite the drama script to be a summer blockbuster with a happy ending.

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