Will Quentin Tarantino really make Star Trek his final frontier?
There’s nothing like a new Quentin Tarantino movie to send the internet into a flurry of excitement, not just because of the film itself – in this case the forthcoming Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood – but also because QT loves to wax lyrical about projects he might or might not make before his supposedly imminent retirement. Kill Bill 3, The Vega Brothers, that once-mooted remake of Casino Royale. Get Tarantino in the press room, and he seems to go all twinkly-eyed about the prospect of movies that might have been, movies that still could be, and occasionally movies that someone else ended up making before he had a chance to do so.
On the publicity trail for Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, the film’s director has found himself bombarded with queries about the most unlikely Tarantino project ever – his much-hyped take on Star Trek. And we’ve started to learn a little more about where the movie, which has a script in place from The Revenant’s Mark L Smith, might go if he ever gets it into warp drive.
First off, it appears Tarantino will be using the contemporary Kirk and Spock, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, in an episode that will exist – just about – in the timeline created for the recent JJ Abrams-led trilogy of films.
“The one thing I can say is it would deal with the Chris Pine timeline,” Tarantino told MTV’s Happy Sad Confused podcast. “Now, I still don’t quite understand, and JJ [Abrams] can’t explain it to me, and my editor has tried to explain it to me and I still don’t get it … about something happened in the first movie that now kind of wiped the slate clean. I don’t buy that. I don’t like it. I don’t appreciate it. I don’t – fuck that … I want the whole series to have happened, it just hasn’t happened yet. No, Benedict Cumberbatch, or whatever his name is, is not Khan, alright? Khan is Khan. And I told JJ, like, ‘I don’t understand this. I don’t like it.’ And then he was like, ‘Ignore it! Nobody likes it. I don’t understand it. Just do whatever you want. If you want it to happen the exact way it happens on the series, it can.’”
It ought to come as no surprise, given the film-maker’s fondness for trash cinema, that his route into the original series came through falling in love with William Shatner’s Kirk. The latter’s furniture-chewing performance in the classic The Enemy Within episode wins special praise. But despite his concerns over the timeline reboot that set up 2009’s Star Trek, Tarantino also goes on to gush over Pine and Quinto’s performance in that film. For the director, it seems that channelling the original series’ high camp through the saga’s current cast is the obvious route through the stars.
“The reason I was actually intrigued by the JJ Abrams version of it is because I thought Chris Pine did a fantastic job not just playing Captain Kirk, but playing William Shatner’s captain – he is William Shatner. He’s not just another guy, he’s William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. And it’s literally, Zachary Quinto is literally Leonard Nimoy’s – because they both have the same scene together – he’s his Spock. They fucking nail it. They just nail it.”
Speaking separately to Deadline, Tarantino described the tone of the proposed film as “Pulp Fiction in space”. “That Pulp Fiction-y aspect, when I read the script, I felt, I have never read a science fiction movie that has this shit in it, ever. There’s no science fiction movie that has this in it. And they said, I know, that’s why we want to make it. It’s, at the very least, unique in that regard.”
In many ways, Tarantino’s revelations throw up more questions than answers. We learn that Abrams appears to have no qualms about letting the maverick film-maker loose on the space saga with no set guidelines whatsoever. This is itself rather admirable and not a little bit exciting. It’s not hard to imagine Tarantino riffing off the operatic tone of a movie such as 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, especially as we know he once tried to cast Ricardo Montalbán as the pimp Esteban Vihaio in Kill Bill: Volume 2.
But if QT really is allowed to make his bloodthirsty (it will certainly be R-rated) gangster space epic, where does this leave the series once he has departed? If the Tarantino take on Star Trek proves popular, do future movies continue along a similar path, potentially changing the way the franchise operates for ever? Or does this latest Star Trek movie end up being a standalone entry – perhaps like the X-Men movie Logan – a film that’s simply impossible to follow on a tonal level? Let us not forget Tarantino once accused Bond rights owner Eon of refusing to let him take charge of 007 because they were “afraid Quentin’s going to make it too good and fuck the rest of the series”.
The short answer is we just don’t know, because nobody has given Tarantino the keys to a franchise movie before. And let’s not forget the film-maker himself admits he isn’t 100% certain he’s going to get to the production stage. This could easily end up being added to the long list of films QT never quite got round to making before his 10 movies were up.
In many ways, it’s remarkable that such a barmy-sounding project has even come this far. And yet given plans for Star Trek 4 are currently stuck on the Hollywood equivalent of a backwater Romulan planet with no apparent source of dilithium crystals, it may be that QT’s involvement is just about the only way to get the Starship Enterprise moving again.