Rumor has it that Quentin Tarantino’s going to do an R-rated Star Trek movie, possibly written by Mark L. Smith, best known for The Revenant.
Who thought this was a good idea? Apart from Tarantino and executive producer J.J. Abrams, whose tenure at the helm of the Star Trek franchise has been a near-decade-long dissertation on how little he understands or even wants to understand one of the most beloved and tonally distinct cultural monuments of American pop culture.
Perhaps the time has come for an auteur Star Trek film, which through 13 films, the franchise has never seen. Of the 10 films that came before Abrams rebooted the franchise in 2009, five were directed by Star Trek cast members. Not since Robert Wise, who won three Best Director Oscars before helming Star Trek: The Motion Picture near the end of his career, has the series had a director who’d make you take notice. That includes Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness; as a director, Abrams is a very good businessman.
Tarantino would be, by light-years, the most interesting filmmaker ever to work on the series. He is provocative, witty, and stylish, and would alter—if not reject outright—the familiar aesthetics and tone of the series’ first 10 films, as well as the peripatetic, Fyodor Bondarchuk–through-a-different-Instagram-filter style Abrams lent to the series. But Tarantino isn’t the only director who could paint Star Trek using different and more interesting tools than we’re used to, or imbue a Star Trek film with a more mature vision. He is, however, the most ill-suited auteur who could ever take over the franchise.
Star Trek is characterized, most of all, by its optimism. By the 23rd century, Earth is a multicultural socialist utopia, and the series is long on monologues about the humanitarian value of scientific exploration, the dangers of cultural imperialism, and critiques of the inadequacies of 20th-century Earth. Nowhere in the more than 50-year history of Star Trek can you find ideas or values compatible with Tarantino’s work, which—in addition to being clever, stylish, and provocative—is gleefully violent and frequently nihilistic. Star Trek has never shied away from sex and violence, but rather depicts them with some concessions toward taste. As opposed to Tarantino, who’s John Woo with more talking. Not just violent, but gory; phasers and disruptors don’t lend themselves to arterial blood geysers, but one suspects Tarantino will find a way.
Tarantino’s lack of restraint is his calling card, not only in the violence he depicts but in his dialogue. That dialogue is not only unrestrained in volume—the worst thing that can happen to a writer is he gets so big and self-important that editors can’t tell him to stop—but in the deluge of racial epithets that increasingly characterize his work. There’s a gleeful immaturity to Tarantino that makes it look like he doesn’t think there’s a distinction between provocative art and naked shock value. Most people grow out of that—in The Hateful Eight, a man’s head explodes.
Perhaps Tarantino—particularly with Abrams and Paramount to answer to, and another writer’s name on the script—would mitigate his baser impulses and produce a film that feels like a fresh take on Star Trek, rather than a wolf wearing your beloved lapdog’s skin. After all, that’s exactly what Seth MacFarlane did with The Orville, and nobody’s more immature than he is. But Tarantino’s insistence that his film be rated R undermines that hope, because part of the point of Star Trek is that it’s PG or PG-13. The R rating also undermines one of the possible explanations for Tarantino’s involvement in the first place—that Abrams and Paramount were hoping to score big at the box office by attaching a big-name director to the film, when of course, big-budget PG-13 movies tend to make more money than R-rated movies.
So we’re left with the cinematic equivalent of Russell Westbrook playing baseball or Chance the Rapper making a bluegrass album. And it’s a shame, because a totally original space adventure film written by Smith and directed by Tarantino would probably be very interesting. Of all the reasons Tarantino shouldn’t do Star Trek, his inexperience with sci-fi isn’t one of them—in the past, he’s adapted seamlessly to many genres on his first try.
But today’s studios rely so much on existing franchises, and are so averse to original storytelling, that we’ll never get that Tarantino space opera. Instead, Paramount is spending $100 million to pick up a paintbrush and pretend it’s a sword.