‘Star Trek’ is in an odd place right now. Or rather, it has been for a while, but in a way that is just now coming to a head. After ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ was cancelled in 2005, the rights to the television and feature films sides of the franchise were split between CBS and Paramount respectively. Until recently, this was more of a theoretical issue than a practical one. After all, between the cancellation of ‘Enterprise’ and the debut of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ in September of this year, there hadn’t been any ‘Star Trek’ to speak of save for the JJ Abrams-lead reboot films, which have been… divisive at best.
Of course, that’s all been turned on its head over the past year. Despite the early announcement of a sequel, speculation has been rampant about the future of the current film franchise ever since the release of ‘Star Trek Beyond’ and its subsequent underperformance at the box office. Meanwhile, ‘Star Trek’ has come roaring back to TV for the first time in a decade with ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. And while the show hasn’t been without its controversies, it has overall been well-received.
With all of that in mind, it seems fair to say that Paramount needs to bring something new to the table for their next ‘Star Trek’ film. And if nothing else, they are now primed to do exactly that. According to Deadline, Quentin Tarantino is now involved with the production of the next ‘Star Trek’ film. The director reportedly pitched an idea to JJ Abrams, and the plan is now to assemble a writers room to develop Tarantino’s pitch into a film. The real stunner, though, is that depending on how the script and the schedules of those involved shake out, Tarantino may well direct the eventual film with Abrams producing.
This is… an interesting development to say the least. As both an avowed fan of Tarantino’s and an unabashed critic of the entirety of JJ Abrams’ association with ‘Star Trek’, I genuinely do not know how I feel about the auteur working on one of those movies. On the one hand, I am very firmly of the opinion (as some of you may have gathered from my past allusions to the subject) that JJ Abrams is someone who fundamentally does not “get” ‘Star Trek’. I can (and have) gone on about this at length, but suffice it to say that I’m not a fan and my critique of the three most recent ‘Trek’ films would need an article all to itself in order to do it justice. At the risk of belaboring the point, my position is that while those movies may be passable sci-fi action films, they are terrible ‘Star Trek’ films. Someday I may cover that in greater depth, but today is not that day.
On one level, this feels like Paramount desperately trying to reinvigorate the movies after ‘Beyond’ while also trying to avoid throwing the baby out with its fetid bathwater. But at the same time, there’s a reason Tarantino doesn’t typically work within existing franchises. He is generally the kind of filmmaker who brings very specific and potentially very interesting ideas to the proceedings, but whatever the merits of his ideas, they tend to be better suited to standalone films than the sort of thing that would necessarily work within the framework of a franchise. This is a man, after all, who prior to the 2006 reboot of the ‘James Bond’ films, wanted to do a page-for-page adaptation of Ian Fleming’s debut Bond novel ‘Casino Royale’ as a 1960s period piece. And while I would very much like to see that movie, it’s hard to imagine it giving that reboot the same sort of shot in the arm that Daniel Craig’s first film ultimately did.
All that being said, Quentin Tarantino is among my favorite directors. If the medium of film is a language, then Tarantino is as fluent as they come. But having said that, he’s never actually tackled science fiction before, either as a writer or a director. And more importantly, I cannot recall ever hearing him comment on ‘Star Trek’ in a way that would give me any impression – positive or negative – of how he might handle the franchise, let alone what sort of grasp he might have of what makes it special.
In fact, the only time I can recall him publicly commenting on ‘Star Trek’ at all is back in a December 2015 interview on the Nerdist podcast (the relevant portion of which you can find after this paragraph). In that interview, he praised the storytelling of the original series, noting that they were mainly limited by their budget and shooting schedule. He also suggested that you could “easily” adapt a classic episode as a feature film, though he also points out that you would have to make sure you found something for the entire cast to do. That’s where it starts to get tricky, as Tarantino namechecks ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’ as an obvious choice. He also makes clear his interest in stories dealing with time travel and alternate realities, citing ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ as “one of the best episodes of ‘Star Trek’ ever written.”
The trouble with doing a feature length version of ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’, is that (as I covered at length just last month) much of its strength rests on the fact that it tells such an intimate, small-scale story and does so by placing that story in the hands of two of the show’s finest actors. In other words, it’s the kind of story that would fall apart if suddenly you had to add an arc for Sulu. Similar issues would arise with other classic episodes, in that even if there were obvious storylines to plug in for the supporting cast, you’d still run the risk of losing the plot (or at the very least creating pacing issues) by padding the story out from one hour to two.
So is Tarantino going to remake a classic episode or deliver a twist on a later concept like ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’? Your guess is as good as mine, but if nothing else it gives us some idea of where his head is at with regard to ‘Star Trek’. That being that he’s attracted to some of the more esoteric sci-fi concepts involved. Which is perfectly fine, make no mistake. The thing is that ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’, for example, is about more than the alternate history. It’s about showing us what the characters we know and love would be like if they were on the losing side of a decades long war. It’s about the sacrifice that the crew of the titular starship makes, knowing that they’re going to their deaths but doing so with the hope of preventing this grim future. In short, I worry that his interest in the big ideas could cause Tarantino to lose sight of the humanity that has always been at the core of ‘Star Trek’. I certainly don’t have any reason trust the writers that Abrams and company are likely to recruit to pick up the slack in that regard. Time will tell, though.
What do you think of Tarantino’s involvement with the next ‘Star Trek’ film? Are you excited? Surprised? Terrified? If he were to remake a classic episode, which one would you like to see given the feature film treatment? Let me know in the comments, and as always, be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more ‘Star Trek’ news as it becomes available!