Earlier this week, we learned that Quentin Tarantino is involved with developing the next ‘Star Trek’ movie. And if your head is still spinning from that revelation, you may want to sit down.
For those who haven’t been keeping up, the short version is that the ‘Pulp Fiction’ auteur pitched a story idea to JJ Abrams. Abrams then assembled a writers’ room to develop the pitch. That writer’s room, we’ve since learned, consists of Tarantino himself along with Mark L. Smith, Lindsey Beer, and Drew Pearce. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, given the less than stellar box office performance of ‘Star Trek Beyond‘ last summer), neither Smith, Beer, or Pearce has any prior association with ‘Star Trek’. The three, however, are no strangers to large scale, blockbuster-y screenplays, as they are best known for ‘The Revenant’, ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’, and a slate of upcoming genre films respectively. Once the story has been fleshed out, one of the team will sit down to pen the actual screenplay, a job for which Deadline reports that Smith is the current frontrunner.
But of course, that’s not the big news. As with last time, in which the news of Tarantino’s involvement was accompanied by the arguably more shocking news that he was in the running to direct, we’ve saved the best for last. In addition to developing and potentially directing the film, Tarantino has apparently required that it be R-rated, a stipulation to which both Paramount and Abrams have agreed. Yes, you read that right. And while it’s perhaps not the most surprising news if you have even a passing familiarity with Tarantino’s filmography, it is an unprecedented move for ‘Star Trek’.
The big question is “Why?”
For what it’s worth, I tend to favor the approach of making the movie you want to make and worrying about the rating later (though obviously, this isn’t always practical), some films just “need” to hit a certain rating. Just think of all the watered down, PG-13 horror films we’ve seen over the last fifteen years or so for a sense of what I’m getting at. Or look at ‘Terminator: Salvation’, a film that didn’t quite work for any number of reasons, but was certainly not helped by the studio mandating a PG-13 ‘Terminator’ film of all things (though I grant that ‘Star Trek’ is about as far from ‘Terminator’ as sci-fi gets).
Likewise, I’m glad to see a studio willing to take chances with a major property. In and of itself, that’s never a bad thing. That’s especially the case when those chances involve bucking the conventional wisdom that box office tentpoles “can’t” carry an R-rating. And while that “wisdom” has certainly been challenged in recent years (perhaps most notably through the surprise success of ‘Deadpool‘), it nonetheless remains fairly well entrenched in the Hollywood hivemind. But why challenge it with this tentpole?
The closest ‘Star Trek’ has come to R-rated territory to date has been ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. Thanks to its distribution via streaming platforms, ‘Discovery’ has for the first time largely been freed from the traditional concerns of broadcast standards and practices and film ratings. Despite that, it has yet to be markedly more violent than any of its predecessors. In point of fact, the most graphic moment I can recall is a scene in which Voq alludes to having eaten Captain Georgiou. And grisly though that may be, you don’t have to look all that hard to find examples of Klingons of the ‘Next Generation’ or ‘Deep Space Nine’ vintage who similarly talk about eating their enemies. Nor has the show gone over the top in terms of language, with the notable exception of a scientific breakthrough that was described as “fucking cool” – a fleeting (if admittedly jarring) F-bomb that would likely pass muster in a PG-13 film.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t tell a good ‘Star Trek’ story that also happens to be an R-rated story. That would be absurd. But it does raise the question of just what kind of story Tarantino is trying to tell. With the possible exception of war stories, it’s hard to think of any quintessentially ‘Star Trek’ story that would demand an R-rating. And even then, I’m not talking about “war stories” in the sense of ‘Star Wars’, but rather in the sense of episodes like ‘The Siege of AR-558’. That is to say, a story that is fundamentally about the human cost of war rather than what Indiana Jones might call “fortune and glory.” In any case, it’s hard to reconcile this with Tarantino’s prior comments about ‘Star Trek’, which suggest that his particular interest in the franchise lies in stories dealing with time travel, alternate universes, and similarly esoteric sci-fi concepts.
Regardless, this is clearly going to be an interesting film to follow. As bizarre as the creative choices we’ve learned about this week have been, how can it be anything but? I just hope it also turns out good. It’s been far too long since we’ve had a ‘Star Trek’ movie worthy of the name.
What do you think of the prospect of an R-rated ‘Star Trek’ movie? 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!