What seemed like the stuff of fevered Twitter fantasy a while back now looks like something potentially real. Quentin Tarantino has an idea for an ‘R’ rated Star Trek film and it looks like it could actually happen. With the love that Discovery is now getting and the excitement generated by the trailer for the upcoming return of Sir Patrick Stewart as Picard in a new series, it seems like Star Trek is getting warmer by the day as a property.
You only have to go back a year or three to see the rug pulled out from underneath JJ Abrams’ rebooted film franchise as the studio was unwilling to meet pay demands after the poor box office performance of the (actually really good) Star Trek Beyond. Now though, it seems that this project is really picking up speed, with new revelations and snippets of news appearing regularly.
Tarantino himself has been quite open about the whole thing. He pitched the idea to Abrams and then brought on Mark L Smith (The Revenant) to work on a script which is apparently all done. He has made clear that his vision of Star Trek is going to be R rated and, contrary to Simon Pegg’s assertions to the contrary, will be ‘like Pulp Fiction in Space’. Pegg’s comments on the project have, apparently, irritated the director to the point where he felt he needed to come out and publicly say that Pegg knows nothing about the project.
Quentin Tarantino has always said that he would stop at directing ten feature films and Star Trek would be his tenth if he indeed went on to take on the chair for it. He has a handy get out clause for this rule as this would be part of a franchise and not a wholly original project like his others. Also, he directed the season 5 finale of CSI and that’s not counted, and no-one talks about 1987’s My Best Friend’s Birthday any more even though it’s still out there somewhere.
Despite the constant reminders that Tarantino’s Star Trek is ‘a thing’, The Guardian was right to point out last week that this could just go on to join the list of films that he ‘never got around to making’ like Kill Bill Vol.3, The Vega Brothers or his remake of Casino Royale (Credit to @BenChildGeek for a great article about this).
If the project should actually come to fruition, however, I am very excited to see it. Whether he has complete freedom or not over the production would remain to be seen as this is still intellectual property that means a lot to Viacom and CBS. JJ Abrams’ promised autonomy may not extend quite as far as we have been led to believe and that may prove a sticking point in the production process. Unlike David Lynch and Mark Frost being given carte blanche by Showtime to go wherever they wanted in their return journey to Twin Peaks (that was always their creation in the first place), Tarantino is not Gene Roddenberry and doesn’t have the same dominion over things.
If it does happen, it will surely energise the franchise (sorry, I didn’t even notice that pun until after I’d written it, I swear) and give the film iterations of the Star Trek canon a new buzz akin to what has been created with Discovery and the excitement over the new Picard series. From my point of view, here is a very short list of things which I would wish for if the project was ever to become reality. Let me know in the comments section below if you have any of your own, or if you think I’m way off the mark.
He should direct it, not just produce
Tarantino scripts have been handled very well by other directors and his script work on films like Crimson Tide and The Rock also brought great energy but, when it comes to Star Trek, I want to see him put his money where his mouth is. If it’s going to be his vision, let’s see it undiluted so he has responsibility for it. It’s one thing to sit in the corner and say, “if I made a Star Trek movie it would be this, that and the other.” It’s another thing entirely to hang some onions out and just do it. It would be wonderful to see his full range of brilliant camera work, from those great wide shots to the extreme close ups and crash zooms. He gets us up close and personal with the characters in a way that creates so much emotional resonance. He’s got the love for the original source material, too. He grew up with Shatner and Nimoy and that’s the Star Trek he loves. That makes him the perfect person to take on those characters, especially as he’s such a big fan of Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto’s versions of them. The pay wrangling between Pine and the studio would evaporate, I’m sure, if Tarantino was on board.
More Pine, Quinto and Urban; less Pegg
Now I love Simon Pegg. He’s fantastic. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Minions in Despicable Me? Funny. Minions in their own film? Not so funny. The original series was all about Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Pine, Quinto and Urban did such a great job in the new films of channelling those performances that they made the whole thing so much better. Pine had the biggest boots to fill, but Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban deserve special praise for the way they ‘became’ those characters. Simon Pegg did a really good job in the first one in 2009 and the decision was made to up his screen time as the series moved on. Scotty was never as big a character in the original series as he became in the reboot, except in that story where he got so out of it that he couldn’t remember whether he’d murdered an exotic dancer or not. If Tarantino takes on Star Trek, he should keep it to the central three characters to get the best results. His media exchange with Pegg almost guarantees that Scotty will be largely “stuck down in the engine room with the probably cancer-emitting fuel cells” as Mark from Peep Show so elegantly put it.
A good, standalone story
The Star Trek film series’ best entry remains 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This was made by Nicholas Meyer, a man who was not a fan of Star Trek and hadn’t watched it before he got involved. He forgot about the lore and just threw himself into the story and that’s what made it work so well. Despite Tarantino being abhig fan, he is also first and foremost a storyteller. He’s already said that he wants to throw out continuity and put the same Enterprise crew in the ‘prime timeline’ and forget about the ‘Kelvin timeline’ created by the Romulans in Abrams’ reboot. There should be nothing to fear in thinking that he could just tear up the rule book and make the film that he wants. It would not be unthinkable for him to have gone back to the original series for inspiration. An episode like The Galileo Seven would be the perfect vehicle for a story, as would others like Mirror, Mirror. If Tarantino wants to make Pulp Fiction in space, then it might involve several intertwining stories that are linked by characters or outcomes, and you could find enough existing material in the original series to piece together. Failing that, a similarly self-contained story, focussed on character would be preferable. It should involve distrust, betrayals and subterfuge and if this could happen between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, that would be perfect.
Not too much profanity
It felt wrong when they first dropped an F bomb on Discovery. Maybe it was because it was such a throwaway usage which added nothing to what was going on and did not fit the emotion of the scene. I remember on the original series, Kirk saying ‘Hell’ was reserved for one of the run’s most emotional moments at the climax of City on the Edge of Forever. He saved the ‘B’ word for when his son was killed. It meant something. If there’s going to be profanity, which you have to imagine still exists in the 23rd Century, I’d like it to add something to character or story. The Enterprise is ship after all, and I imagine sailors will still be renowned for their ‘colourful metaphors’ in the far future. In that way, you have to expect it. They managed to find a creative way of doing it in Battlestar Galactica’s reboot which maintained the power of the language, but the same tactic would not work in the Star Trek universe. If this is going to be the equivalent of Logan in the X-Men series (its own very different entity but intrinsically linked to the main films), we may have to accept a lot of swearing but that doesn’t mean it should be just for the sake of it.
The Enterprise is the perfect setting for a start. It’s like a submarine. Everyone is trapped in there together and that creates tension and drama of its own even without any outside stimuli. That’s why it would be great if the majority of the action were to take place on board ship. If there is to be location work, then it needs to be a remote, undermanned Starbase on a planet with a profoundly hostile environment. Keep everyone inside and you’ll build tension. Tarantino loves doing this and it would be great to see the same tension as we get in that warehouse in Reservoir Dogs, the farm in Inglorious Basterds or in the Stagecoach rest stop in The Hateful Eight. Put your main characters in a room, stoke up the distrust and paranoia and then watch the sparks fly. Taking it back to the Enterprise, all you’d have to do is damage the life support system and trap everyone in one place to make this happen.
A reappearance for Butch’s gold watch
This is just a silly one that I thought of but, as this is going to be Pulp Fiction in space, it would be wonderful to imagine that the two properties could be linked to the same universe. Imagine if that watch had been handed down continually over the few hundred years between the two films and was now in the hands of another Coolidge. That would be a great Easter egg if someone cared enough to make it happen.
So, those are my wishes for the Tarantino Star Trek project, if it should ever really happen. I don’t know about you but I would definitely go and see it, just like I’d love to go and visit the alternate universe where David Lynch took the Return of the Jedi job and Christopher Walken was playing Han Solo, just for a laugh.
My thoughts on the Star Trek film series as it stands can be found in my Taste of Cinema piece, which you can find a link to here.
Thanks for reading,