With word last month that Quentin Tarantino might end up directing the 14th Star Trek movie, I thought it might be fun to start speculating about the potential new film.
Star Trek Beyond (2016), the most recent movie, failed to meet Paramount’s box office expectations, but I maintain that it was the best Trek adventure in a quarter of a century. However, Tarantino taking on the directorial reins may well be the hypospray in the arm that the Trek films need.
A Tarantino Trek could be an interesting hybrid, indeed. I would expect a grittier and, potentially, darker take on Star Trek than seen to this point – even compared to Discovery and Deep Space Nine.
At the same time, I would expect a brighter, more optimistic approach from Tarantino than seen in much of his previous work. If Star Trek and Tarantino meet somewhere in the middle of their natural tendencies, there is potential for real magic. Push either too far, though, and that magic turns to dust. If the film ever gets made, expect it to be either a resounding creative success or a horrible failure. A mediocre Trek this surely would not be.
Back in 2015, Tarantino mentioned two Star Trek episodes as potential inspirations if he ever directed a film in that franchise, “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967) and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (The Next Generation, 1990).
In “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Jim Kirk (William Shatner) is forced to allow Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), one of the few women he ever truly loved, to die in order to restore a timeline run amok.
In “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the arrival of the Enterprise-C from the past wrecks the present for the Enterprise-D, and the older starship must be sent back in time to face possible destruction in order to restore the timeline. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), who is dead in the Enterprise-D’s proper timeline but still living in the off-kilter version, elects to go back in time with the Enterprise-C to assist in a looming battle with Romulans. It admittedly sounds convoluted when typed out like this, but the tale is handled perfectly in the episode, which, like “The City on the Edge of Forever,” continues to stand out as a highlight of the last 51 years of Trek.
These kinds of timeline difficulties happen with frightening regularity in the Star Trek universe, though. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (2009), for instance, begins with an attack on the USS Kelvin in the 23rd century by a vessel from the 24th century, representing yet another divergence from the “Prime Universe,” this time creating the separate “Kelvin Timeline” of the latest three Trek films. In the 2009 film’s bittersweet opening, George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) learns of the birth of his son, Jim, just before sacrificing himself to save the attack’s survivors.
The thematic similarities of “The City on the Edge of Forever” and “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” combined with 2016 reports that Hemsworth would return in the 14th Star Trek movie have fueled fan speculation that the next film might force Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) into a scenario where he is finally able to meet his father, but must choose to let him go. Imagine, for instance, Spock (Zachary Quinto) telling Kirk, “Jim, your father must die.”
While such an adventure sounds quite intriguing to me, I am not sure that doing new spins on a couple of old episodes is the way to go. Though I still do not mind the approach, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) faced fan backlash for rehashing portions of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), for instance.
On the other hand, there is another classic episode that comes to mind which Tarantino might be able to mine for ideas. Years ago, I remember reading that Tarantino was interested in directing a James Bond film, preferably set in the 1960s rather than present day. Things did not work out with the owners of the Bond franchise, but I have always wondered about a Tarantino Bond.
It would, of course, be very easy to set a Star Trek adventure in the 1960s. After all, the Enterprise of the Prime Universe traveled back to the 1960s at least twice. One of these episodes, “Assignment: Earth” (1968), features a time-traveling character by the name of Gary Seven (Robert Lansing) and his assistant, Roberta Lincoln (Teri Garr). In some ways, Seven is a science fiction take on James Bond – complete with gadgetry, intrigue, and lucky number. While the episode itself fails fully to ignite, the concepts it presents are ripe for exploration.
Though it would be a risk, I could imagine a Tarantino Trek that focuses almost entirely on Gary Seven in the 1960s, using the Enterprise and select crew members as a framing device. This grounded type of story could save budget, both in terms of effects and star salaries, resulting in potential for more studio profit. After all, it was the cost of making and marketing Star Trek Beyond that really sealed its fate. I still find it hard to believe we live in a time where a movie that makes over $343 million worldwide at the box office is considered a “flop,” but here we are.
Another question is, would we even need the Enterprise and crew at all for this kind of movie? Why not use an “Assignment: Earth” style movie as a jumping off point for a Star Trek cinematic universe? The core adventures would still be the Kelvin Timeline’s Kirk and crew, but other films could fill in gaps. This kind of approach would also allow filmmakers like Tarantino to be less constrained in terms of style, because not every story would have to loop back to the optimistic future of the Federation. Tarantino seems to be a true Trek fan, though, so I suspect he is not going to miss the opportunity to use certain classic characters in favor of focusing exclusively on the relatively unknown Gary Seven.
I could go on and on with ideas, but I am out of time…. What are your thoughts? Can Tarantino pull off a Star Trek?
Update February 3, 2018: As a post script, I feel compelled to include the following link to a New York Times opinion piece out today, which significantly dampens my enthusiasm for a Tarantino Trek.