Ever since the news of Quentin Tarantino boldly going where no Big Kahuna-munching hitman had ever gone before, we’ve been trying to get a grasp on how, exactly, fans might see the iconic director make his mark on the iconic franchise.
“Star Trek’s” legacy might not be an obvious match for a director whose next big project will involve the bloody chaos surrounding the Charles Manson murders. But here are all the facts that have been revealed so far about the potential “Trekantino” film in the works, and how they hint at what to expect going forward.
This All Began After a Conversation Between Quentin Tarantino and J.J. Abrams
The initial report framed what happened as this: Tarantino told J.J. Abrams about an idea for a “Trek” movie he had, which led to a writers’ room forming to develop the story as an idea for Tarantino to potentially direct.
As revealed on Thursday, Mark L. Smith was the writer ultimately selected from that group to direct. Smith’s most notable screen credit is the Oscar-winning Alejandro G. Iñárritu survival drama “The Revenant,” but his background as both a writer and director is more centered in horror, including small films like “Séance” and “Vacancy.”
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An Eclectic Group of Writers Were in That Initial Writers’ Room
This included Smith, Lindsey Beer, Drew Pearce and Megan Amram. It’s an interesting crew — Beer is a screenwriter whose upcoming projects include “Barbie” and a new take on “Dungeons & Dragons,” while Pearce’s genre bonafides include writing credits on “Iron Man 3” and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.”
Meanwhile, Amram might be most familiar to television fans as a key writer for series including “Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Place.” Lest you think this means she lacks edge, when IndieWire interviewed Amram in connection with “Dance Dance Resolution” (the standout third episode of “The Good Place” Season 2), she talked at length about how she and the other writers discussed how to torture their characters:
“I cannot tell you how much of our time was spent just trying to think of torture devices, which is a very fun game to play. But also, I feel like we keep coming back to penis things. It’s always like penis cores, penis peelers, penis flatteners, and they’re all funny, if I do say so myself. Butthole spiders, too, is in sort of the same world. Bees with teeth is a good example of something that’s very scary and doesn’t necessarily have to do with your penis, though I imagine they will go after your penis.”
When It Comes To “Trek,” Tarantino Seems Most Interested in Time Travel and Alternate Universes
No official comment as to what Tarantino’s story idea might be about. But as has been widely spread, in 2015 Tarantino discussed his favorite “Trek” episodes and films on the Nerdist podcast. Tarantino specifically cited the reality-shifting nature of two episodes as ones that excited him: “The Original Series'” “City on the Edge of Forever” and “The Next Generation’s” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” two relatively dark time travel installments in which altering the events of the past end up changing the present for worse.
Tarantino also praised the 2009 J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” film for creating its own alternate reality that technically separates “the Kelvin timeline” from what we think of as the “prime” universe of every non-Abrams “Trek” property. Tarantino’s Nerdist interview comes two years before this project ever came to fruition, but it’s not hard to sense that he might feel intrigued by the idea that a “Trek” film could technically be a part of the 50-year-plus franchise, but not feel beholden to that 50-year-plus history.
That R Rating May or May Not Be a Big Deal
The news that Tarantino’s “Trek” will be R-rated definitely made headlines when it came out. But to play devil’s advocate, this isn’t necessarily about Tarantino trying to conform to the concept of “Trek” as we understand it, but rather Tarantino showing us what his take on “Trek” might be. And one key aspect of Tarantino’s personal style has always been a love of unencumbered language, so it makes sense for him to lock an R rating down before too many F-bombs make it into the script.
It’s worth noting that Tarantino won’t be dropping the first F-bombs in “Trek” history, thanks to the 2017 “Star Trek: Discovery” episode “Choose Your Pain,” in which Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) both use the expletive during a moment of exhilarating scientific discovery. Because neither use happened in a sexual context, if evaluated by the MPAA “Discovery” would probably squeak through with a PG-13 rating — similar to the 2015 film “The Martian,” which used the word “fuck” several times, but with great care.
While it’s a lot to ask Tarantino to hold back on the swears, the fact that Smith, with his horror background, was selected to write the script actually makes it feel far more likely that the R rating would have more to do with violence than profanity.
That’s Fine, Because “Star Trek” Is Capable of Absorbing Many Genres
On a weekly basis, nearly every “Trek” series has shown the capacity to shift in tone and approach, from the very beginning. “The Original Series” featured both soul-crushing tragedies like “The City on the Edge of Forever” as well as comic romps like “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Even the newest iteration, “Discovery,” proved to be somewhat more episodic than initially suggested — “Context Is For Kings” delved into horror tropes, while “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” felt more in line with a traditional “Trek” away mission.
Meanwhile, the “Trek” films that have been made so far have also varied wildly in approach, from the Shakespeare-esque drama of “The Wrath of Khan” to the dark and spooky “First Contact” and the action-oriented romp that was “Beyond.” Not every tone change was successful, but the failures of films like “The Final Frontier” or “Insurrection” were due to execution, not to tone. “The Voyage Home” and “The Undiscovered Country” couldn’t be more different, but they’re two of the best “Trek” films ever made.
This is because, ultimately, there’s no such thing as one kind of “Star Trek.” Great stories of all sorts have been told within the context of the future as initially created by Gene Roddenberry, with one key element at their core: The crews of these ships are inherently good people, blasting through the cosmos because for them, the unknown is full of wonders.
And here’s the thing: Terrible actions and terrible people are certainly a part of Tarantino’s films, but he’s also capable of creating characters who aren’t inherently pessimistic. Consider Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) in “Pulp Fiction,” who at the end of his storyline chooses to leave behind his life of killing for the unknown. “I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd,” he says.
Vengeance and destruction might drip off the screens, but Tarantino also isn’t afraid of a happy ending, especially one that features justice for the underdogs. And that last bit is very “Trek,” indeed.