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‘Star Trek’: Even Space Has Its Road Bumps : Film: First, the script appeared on Internet and at Trekker meetings; now Paramount is dealing with buzz about a test screening.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is someone out to sabotage “Star Trek: Generations,” the next space sequel from Paramount Pictures?

First, the entire script was leaked about a year ago onto the Internet, the global computer network. Next, pirated copies of the screenplay began appearing at “Star Trek” conventions around the nation. Now, someone is spreading rumors that a recent test screening of the movie resulted in a lackluster audience response--a rumor the studio and the film’s producer vehemently deny.

Some believe it could all be the work of irate Trekkers, those “Star Trek” groupies who boldly go wherever their worship of the series takes them, and who are upset over the rumored death of Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner), which reportedly happens in this film. Or perhaps it is the work of a disgruntled Paramount employee or someone associated with the “Star Trek” television series.

Whoever is responsible--and Paramount says it hasn’t a clue--studio officials say they aren’t particularly worried about the newest “Star Trek” film, the seventh in a series, which opens Nov. 18. After all, they point out, the “Star Trek” films have a built-in core audience and have grossed almost a half-billion dollars at the domestic box office.

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Paramount distribution chief Barry London said he does not believe a Paramount employee is the culprit.

“Why would it be surfacing now if it was an inside situation?” London asked. “Why would they not have hit on a lot of other movies? This company has had a lot of high-profile movies.”

London and “Star Trek” producer Rick Berman said they are concerned about inaccurate reports that the Sept. 13 test screening at Paramount of “Generations,” the first film to feature cast members from the original “Star Trek” series as well as “The Next Generation,” went poorly. They noted that even if it were true, such screenings are intended to be used to iron out problems before the film is completed.

“We’re now getting movies reviewed in the press before anyone has seen the movies,” London said. “Outside of maybe 250 people who saw the (“Generations”) research preview and some (Paramount) executives, nobody has seen this movie.”

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Research screenings, London explained, are conducted with unfinished prints and are used to help filmmakers gauge audience responses to plot points, character development and dialogue in the movies. If something doesn’t work, the director can go back and shoot more footage or try to solve the problems in the editing room.

But with high-profile films, a bad test screening can create buzz in Hollywood that is difficult for a studio to overcome.

Two recent films from Columbia Pictures garnered bad buzz after test screenings. The most famous was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Last Action Hero,” in which someone inside the studio may have been leaking negative information to the press. The other involved James Brooks’ “I’ll Do Anything,” which was made as a musical until people walked out of a test screening when star Nick Nolte broke into song.

“If someone is going to put a bad buzz on a film before it opens, there should be some founding to that,” Berman said. “It seems that anyone who is considering putting a bad buzz on this film, is doing it based on totally unfounded information. I have read all kinds of things about this film that are flagrant examples of things that are totally fictitious.”

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Berman said he is concerned that even by responding to the rumors now circulating around “Generations,” he could be feeding the “bad buzz.”

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To begin with, he said, it just isn’t true that the test audience gave “Generations” a lackluster score of 63%, as has been reported in a New York tabloid. Berman called that figure “double-digit incorrect” but declined to divulge the actual score. Sources told The Times it was “close to 80%.”

“The movie tested very well,” Berman said. “They were blown away by this film.”

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Berman, however, did confirm that the crew will be returning soon to a mountaintop location in the Valley of Fire 80 miles north of Las Vegas to “embellish” scenes in the movie’s finale, which involves Capt. Kirk, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and a dangerous alien called Soren (Malcolm McDowell).

“There were things about the movie that we knew well before that screening that we wanted to go back and shoot--a tiny amount of stuff, but stuff we wanted to punch up a little bit,” said Berman of the film, which is budgeted between $30 million-$40 million. “We knew it before we showed it to the studio. It has nothing to do with changing the story. It has nothing to do with the old characters. We are not doing anything to change fate of any of the characters. It’s all nonsense.”

Berman said he refuses to respond to questions about the plot. “If Kirk dies in this movie, it’s a story point that I don’t think I need to divulge to anybody before the movie comes out. I think that’s unfair.”

Berman denied another rumor that Kirk appears in the film for only 12 minutes, which, if true, may infuriate many Trekkers. Berman said the actual screen time for Kirk is “over a half-hour” in a film that currently is about 110 minutes long.

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“This is not a story about the original cast,” Berman said. “This is a story about the next generation. It has a prologue that involves (three) of the original cast members and it has a through-line of James Kirk, so he is in it more than others.”

Almost since its inception, the new “Star Trek” has touched off controversy among Trekkers.

“We’re dealing with a film that has the most verbal and passionate group of fans that exists for any film or television phenomenon that is around right now,” Berman said. “You name me one other franchise where anytime, day or night, you can log on to computer networks and see literally hundreds of people discussing things that they haven’t even seen yet.”

Some Trekkers are unhappy that all of the original cast won’t be in this movie. Only Shatner, James Doohan (Scotty) and Walter Koenig (Chekov) are in the film. Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed Spock, chose not to appear this time, as did DeForest Kelley, who played Dr. McCoy.

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“The only reason they’re putting the two (casts) together is to make money,” said Alisha Black, a San Diego-area homemaker and Trekker. “Paramount is not stupid.”

Black, who identifies herself as Vice Admiral Black on the telephone, heads a 250-member Star Trek writing club called “Starships of the Third Fleet;” her husband, Ken Brannon, is Fleet Admiral.

“I think all of the crew should have been in it,” Black said. “I don’t think it should be a ‘Next Generation’ movie. If it’s a pass-the-torch movie, it should be half and half.”

Black said she has seen the “Generations” script circulating at Trekker conventions. In fact, she said, before “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” came out in 1991, Paramount used her in a “sting” to help arrest four people who were selling bootleg copies of that script.

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Black said many Trekkers won’t like it if Kirk dies, but she is prepared. Her advice to fellow Trekkers: “Bring some Kleenex.”


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