One of the most unexpected projects was reported this week, as news broke that Quentin Tarantino had conceived of an idea for a “Star Trek” movie that impressed Hollywood heavyweight J.J. Abrams. Tarantino is allegedly sharing the idea with a group of writers and may direct the project. Considering the filmmaker’s long-standing independence from the studio system and especially franchises, IndieWire’s staff debated the prospects of this sudden mid-career twist.
ERIC KOHN: No major American filmmaker has flaunted his autonomy from the Hollywood system more than Quentin Tarantino, whose characters speak and whose movies move in ways that are forever connected to his name. So the idea of Tarantino — who flirted with studio projects early in his success before paving his own path — could have anything to do with a “Star Trek” movie is a bit baffling. Although I love the idea of a QT/JJ combo, the suggestion that Tarantino’s energetic, off-the-cuff pitch to Abrams could yield some vital blockbuster achievement is hard to buy. How could a studio not screw this up? Tarantino’s movies are erratic mishmashes of genre pastiche and rambling monologues. That’s why we love them. The “Star Trek” universe is a sprawling mythology with beloved popular culture figures that adhere to a totally different rulebook.
Then again, maybe Tarantino’s long overdue to take a stab at revitalizing his career in a fresh context. “Star Trek” could use some shaking up as well. It could be an unexpected perfect match. I’m just not sure I can imagine the Starship Enterprise with spaghetti western references outside of an “SNL” parody. What say all of you?
LIZ SHANNON MILLER: Resident lifelong Trekker, reporting for duty! To be honest, I definitely want to see a Tarantino-led “Star Trek” movie, and not just because of all the joke opportunities that it invites. Considering the history of the franchise, this could legitimately be a good thing.
One fascinating aspect of “Trek” as a franchise is that it probably wouldn’t have the longevity it has maintained without an injection of new blood in the ’80s, when Nicholas Meyer — who told IndieWire that he had never been a fan of the original series when it aired — came on board to direct “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” The “Horatio Hornblower”-esque adventure proved that “Trek” had viability beyond Gene Roddenberry’s personal take, meaning that this was a universe that wasn’t just the sole property of one creator. Instead, “Trek” had capacity for multitudes.
Of course, when Meyer joined the franchise, he was best known for the ’70s films “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” and “Time After Time” — hardly a directorial signature on the level of Tarantino’s. But bringing in a new point-of-view to the franchise is still enough to get me excited about what might result, even before considering what his very specific voice might create. And complicating the question is this odd wrinkle: Tarantino collaborating with other writers to figure out whether or not this idea of his is viable. If that is actually the plan — and we don’t know for certain that it is — it could yield fascinating results, depending on who those writers are.
KATE ERBLAND: While I whole-heartedly embrace the concept of fresh blood and fresh ideas when it comes to any franchise — especially one like “Star Trek,” which, as Liz pointed out, has benefited from such moves in the past — I can’t get past the improbability of all this. Tarantino’s tastes are notoriously singular, and his own creation process is not one that is conducive to the rumored writers room collaboration we’re hearing about. This is a man who literally runs off to the woods with a typewriter when it comes time to write his scripts!
But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that even the most improbable of things can happen. Maybe Tarantino really is eager for something entirely new, and while the process behind this rumored production is about as far removed from his normal schtick as possible, it would be work couched in something he loves: “Star Trek”! Maybe that’s the key here — marrying a life-long obsession with a new way of working. If nothing else, the potential final product would be lightyears removed from what we’ve seen of the “Star Trek” films of late, which started off strong and then seemed to putter off into big ideas with little payoff. The franchise world is just a little too uniform these days, and the idea is certainly intriguing. But again, I can’t imagine a world in which this happens.
DAVID EHRLICH: This movie will never, ever happen. Of course, if it does, I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket, but there isn’t a single person in Hollywood with a more lopsided ratio of rumored projects to completed ones. If I had a dollar for every news cycle about “The Vega Brothers,” I’d be rich enough to survive the Republican tax bill. In part, that’s because that everything Tarantino says or does becomes news — movie audiences love the guy, and they have every right to get rabidly excited over the prospect of new work. Of course, one of the reasons that people love Tarantino so much is that he’s super selective about the projects he chooses to do, and he only commits to them if they can be done right, so there’s bound to be a lot of fits and starts along the way. The idea that his process could survive the machinations of working with a Star Trek-sized property… well, it’s pretty hard to fathom, even if Abrams and the rest of the team are super excited about the idea of handing the reins to an untamable iconoclast.
And it’s not a bad idea! As Kate observed, the franchise world — not just “Star Trek,” but all movie franchises — are suffocatingly one-size-fits-all these days, and the prospect of Tarantino at the helm of a massive franchise blockbuster is wonderful. It’s also a nice way of differentiating the contemporary “Star Trek” universe from the future “Star Wars” films; if the former embraced artistic vision rather than firing someone for showing any signs of individuality, it would be seen as an alternative to the biggest game in town, boldly going where no franchise has gone before in a time defined by playing things safe. Ideally, and naively, the experiment would work so well that studios the world over would see the value in handing their most prized brands over to true auteurs.
But none of this is going to happen. There’s not going to be a hard-R “Star Trek” where tension slowly escalates for 150 minutes during an uneasy standoff between Kirk and some Klingons before everyone’s head explodes in an orgy of violence set to a Jim Croce song.
“Star Trek” is rather flexible for a franchise of its size, able to accommodate (and thrive off) a “Beastie Boys” needle drop, but Tarantino might take things a bit too far. Also, you have to consider the fact that Tarantino’s 10th feature would supposedly be his last, and I can’t imagine that a guy who’s created so many iconic film worlds would want his last movie to take place in one conceived by somebody else. If his pitch has any traction, it’s far more likely that he’ll receive a writing credit, and that his name will be used to hype up a movie that’s ultimately directed by someone younger and more pliable, someone who could use the opportunity as a stepping stone towards realizing their own creative vision as the next Tarantino. That’s something that could happen, and also something that should happen.
ANNE THOMPSON: Back in 2015, Tarantino admitted to being a Trekkie in a Nerdist podcast, naming time-travel yarn “Yesterday’s Enterprise” as one of the best Star Trek episodes ever written. “The only thing that limited them was their ’60s budget and eight-day shooting schedule,” he said. “You could take some of the classic ‘Star Trek’ episodes and easily expand them to 90 minutes or more and really do some amazing, amazing stuff.”
Anyone who’s ever talked to Tarantino knows that ideas come tumbling out of his head like a ceaseless waterfall. But oddly, while he may have thought he had the best deal in Hollywood with his exclusive patron of the arts arrangement with Harvey Weinstein — enabling him to indulge long-winded “Grindhouse” episodes and final cut across eight features to date — he was also the prize pony who had to win every race and deliver multi-million dollar paydays in order to keep his patron in business.
Now the pressure is off. For the 1969 Manson-era movie, Tarantino and his agent got to pick the studio that wanted them the most, while still keeping final cut. (It makes perfect sense that he would click with Sony’s ebullient cinephile Tom Rothman.) Now the town can pitch him at will, listen to his endless ideas, and pull him into fruitful collaborations. Tarantino and Hollywood need each other.
With “Star Trek,” J.J. Abrams is putting together a writers’ room to realize Tarantino’s new concept. The great thing about “Star Trek” is that you can go anywhere and plop the “Star Trek” crew into any alien context, to play around with new sets of ideas. I can’t wait to see what comes of this. Tarantino is free at last.