Anghus Houvouras on Quentin Tarantino’s Star Trek…
Quentin Tarantino is doing a Star Trek movie.
Take a minute. Let that sink in. Hollywood’s most interesting auteur is being handed the sci-fi toybox to one of the most entertaining franchises ever. This is cause for celebration. An R rated Star Trek movie that can take the best elements of science fiction and exploitation cinema and create something potentially new and unexpected.
Ever since we heard the rumblings of Tarantino’s interest in the Star Trek universe, there were small palpitations of excitement. Personally, I never thought it would happen. It was one of those crazy ideas that felt too good to ever actually work out. One of those scenarios you just knew that studio executives would ultimately destroy due to their inability to think outside the box. When you think about a studio like Paramount handing the reins to a franchise to a provocateur like Tarantino… it feels risky in a way that blockbusters aren’t anymore.
This is why a Tarantino Star Trek film is a gift.
Let’s face it; Blockbusters are boring. They haven’t been interesting in ages. The vast majority of big studio movies are formulaic and engineered by committee. The goal is to create a four quadrant crowd-pleaser that doesn’t have anything that will remotely offend Chinese censors. The idea of Paramount handing the reins of Star Trek to a filmmaker with Tarantino’s sensibilities is both surprising and inspiring.
The Star Trek franchise has been in a weird place since Paramount rebooted the whole thing with J.J. Abrams at the helm. His Star Trek was a fun space adventure that jettisoned the high-minded intellectualism of Roddenberry’s creation in favor of big thrills and fun. It was exactly what you would think a big budget Star Trek movie would be with the original concepts and ideas stripped down to their most basic components while amping up the spectacle.
The follow up, Star Trek Into Darkness, didn’t do much to expand on the formula. The third entry, Star Trek Beyond was seen as an improvement over previous efforts but failed to become the international box office hit Paramount was hoping for. In recent years the series has once again returned to the small screen with Discovery and the forthcoming Picard series leaving the cinematic fate of the franchise in question. So when a brilliant filmmaker with a track record of success walked through the door with a Star Trek pitch, Paramount was smart enough to see this is an opportunity. Cinematically, Star Trek has become uninteresting. Why not try a new direction and infuse the franchise with some new energy and take it in a new direction?
And it would be so easy to see these studio executives going the other way; feeling as though the franchise needed protecting or that a creator like Tarantino would threaten the sanctity of the franchise by introducing a darker, more violent, more sexualized hue to the cinematic palette.
But that is exactly the reason why studios should be letting unique creators take a crack at their franchises; because it could help freshen up the franchise and bring something new to blockbuster cinema.
When the news broke that Tarantino was indeed going to be writing and directing a Star Trek movie, I was genuinely excited. This felt like a home run for film lovers and great win for the Star Trek fans. There were others who weren’t as excited seeing Tarantino as ‘the wrong choice’ for the franchise. That R-Rated violence and a foul-mouthed Starfleet crew would be a bad fit. Handing Tarantino the keys to the USS Enterprise would be akin to handing a baby bunny to the kid who’s always kicking garbage cans and stares at fires a little too intently.
As a life long Star Trek fan, I think this feels like a gift. The problem with certain elements of fandom is that they get locked into the idea that the franchise they love must adhere to a set of predetermined elements. The idea of a re-imagined Star Trek through the lens of a different creator makes them uncomfortable because it exceeds their expectations of what they believe Star Trek should be. They believe that these core elements should never be abandoned or challenged. In order for something to be ‘Star Trek‘ it must adhere to a standard established when the series was first launched over 50 years ago.
But that, my friends, is boring as well as being creatively debilitating for those looking make bold choices and perhaps add their own ingredients to what could be an ever-expanding formula.
Personally, I’m far more interested in seeing what the world of Star Trek looks like through Tarantino’s eyes. Maybe it means more serious themes where the stakes are markedly higher. Perhaps it’s violent space battles where we see interstellar conflicts that result in brutal deaths. It could mean we hear a redshirt exclaim “Fuck me!” when he inevitably gets disintegrated by a Klingon disruptor. I don’t know what it looks like… but I’m excited to find out.
Star Trek has a deep history that spans television, films, games and comics. Tarantino’s contribution to this storied franchise will be another interesting and potentially polarizing addition. But at least it will (hopefully) deliver something new that we haven’t seen before. As fans, do we really want everything to be exactly what it was before? Does every Star Trek movie or show have to adhere to rigid standards that never allow for experimentation?
If, like me, you’re tired of all these uninspired sequels and by-the-book blockbusters, you should be seeing Tarantino’s Star Trek for what it is; a chance to make blockbusters interesting again. This could be the start of a trend where studios loosen their grip on some of their properties and let visionary filmmakers take a crack at some of these dusty, uninspired cinematic franchises. Let Terrence Malick have a crack at a Pirates of the Caribbean film. Get Lars von Trier to do the next Godzilla movie. How about a Jurassic Park movie directed by Yorgos Lanthimos?
That would be a gift to every fan of blockbuster cinema.