The big franchise news of December – other than Disney buying Fox’s properties, thus further solidifying their stranglehold on all entertainment, and Star Wars! Star Wars! Star Wars! – is Quentin Tarantino’s involvement in a new Star Trek movie as story creator and director. This has birthed a lot of predictable online enthusiasm – as well as countless, redundant “it’s the phaser that says bad motherfucker on it” jokes. But it ought to inspire more questions and, hopefully, doubt. While the doubt of this project’s existence might be fading away, the questions must still remain. Namely, assuming this is at all real, why?
Why is this to be believed? Like with so many other recent movie news/rumors (e.g. the Scorsese-produced Joker standalone prequel film), it’s practically impossible to determine what percentage is truth and what – much higher – percentage isn’t. What we “know” is that, according to a December 4 Deadline article, Tarantino pitched a story to JJ Abrams, who pitched it to Paramount, who have made definite steps towards it coming to fruition. Three days later, Deadline continued with more information such as Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) being the frontrunner to write and Paramount agreeing to make it R-rated, as Tarantino demanded. Patrick Stewart has expressed interest in returning to the role of Picard for Tarantino just further adds to confusion. Where in the timeline? What timeline? Where in what timeline?
As great as Tarantino is and as exciting as any new Tarantino film should be, why him for Star Trek? Star Trek is generally about camaraderie and using diplomacy to save the day. Tarantino’s films are generally about betrayal and using ultra-violent revenge to save the day. Both are great in their own ways, but they are polar opposites. If Tarantino claims he genuinely has a great idea for where to take Star Trek, he has earned the benefit of the doubt after 25 years. However, just because the names Quentin Tarantino and Star Trek cause people to geek out, doesn’t mean that they fit together.
Why would Tarantino do Star Trek? Tarantino is one of the few directors who has enough clout to exert some dominance over the studios. The bidding war for his latest film about the atmosphere in California surrounding the Manson murders shows that he’s able to get major players fighting for projects that would be a near-impossible sell coming from anyone else. Why would he sacrifice that level of control to be constrained by what I assume are Paramount’s extensive rules surrounding its flagship franchise? Why would he want to be constrained by the rules of the Abrams-verse with Khan’s magical healing blood? Why would he want to make the fourth film in a franchise that’s considered moderately popular at best? Why do this – or do yet another full-on reboot of the film series less than a decade after Chris Pine first took the Captain’s seat — if this is even The Original Series related – when he could probably change a few details and have his own adult sci-fi franchise more attuned to his own sensibilities (and allow for greater personal financial gain)?
On the same token, why would Star Trek want Tarantino? Yes, he’s one of the biggest name directors in the world, but he’s yet to show any real interest to do an effects-heavy spectacular, which is what is expected in Star Trek. While his films do well enough, they’re hardly the blockbusters a Star Trek budget would necessitate. This could just as easily greatly limit the audience as well as it could increase it. More importantly, Star Trek has a legacy, a brand identity, an internal philosophy of over half a century that could be practically obliterated by Tarantino’s hard R requirement and sensibilities.
I’m not saying neither party wouldn’t, it’s easy to recognize how both can benefit from this deal. Tarantino does unexpected things and he is a pop culture aficionado, though he’s never seemed drawn to Trek before. Paramount is desperate for something, anything. Abrams screwed them over to direct Star Wars 9. Star Trek Beyond – which is probably the best of the three Abrams-verse films – couldn’t even pull $350 million worldwide, so that franchise is very much in limbo. Outside of Trek, their only major franchise is Transformers and this year’s critically reviled The Last Knight was the lowest grossing of all five films, and pulled in $500 million less worldwide than 2014’s Age of Extinction. So one can see them making this decision as a last ditch effort to revitalize something, anything. Yet for all the possible reasons ‘why’ this should or could happen, it seems far more reasonable and understandable that it shouldn’t. There is nothing wrong with hesitancy if something doesn’t feel right.
Then again, maybe this alleged left field choice begs the bigger question of – what is the point of a remake? After over a decade of bland, flavorless “dark, gritty, and realistic” reboot/prequels (still going on with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and next year’s Taron Egerton-starring Robin Hood: Legend of the Bow) and bland retreads of the originals (Blair Witch, Ghost in the Shell), maybe going so completely off script is the better option.
The remakes we remember are the ones that do something unique with the original property, Cronenberg’s The Fly, Carpenter’s The Thing, Reeves’ Of the Planet of the Apes sequels. We want Shane Black’s upcoming Predator re-whatever to have the wit of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, not yet another paramilitary force stalking around the jungle. Sure, it might bring the franchise closer to action-comedy than the straight up action of the previous three films – only one of which is any good. And sure, more humor might disappoint hardcore fans, but if it works, a quality re-imagining can breathe new life into a franchise that would otherwise by left for dead, which Predator essentially is. (Of course, the opposite could always happen – as with Eli Roth’s Death Wish remake that appears to have completely missed every single point of the original.) Though none of those original properties are nearly as iconic or omnipresent or relevant as Star Trek, but then again, how many things are?
Yes, Trek fans want a return to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future – optimistic, togetherness, exploration, surrealistic. But maybe The Original Series is too ingrained in the zeitgeist to be able to return to its roots. Star Trek as a whole can do that with offshoots and spin-offs, like the ongoing Discovery series, but Kirk, Spock and the NCC-1701 have become larger than life. We know them more as their caricatures than as their characters, which is why Abrams’ 2009 effort worked while abandoning the “soul” of Trek (though Into Darkness torpedo’ed all the good will built by the first one). If the earlier Trek properties are too big to tone down to the charming simplicity of back when, going in such an unexpected direction might be the best, if not the only, option. But to go with a key visionary so ideologically dissimilar? It’s…I’m not going to say illogical.