Noah Hawley must boldly go back to Star Trek's origins
If hardcore Star Trek fans do not much like the current series of movies introduced by JJ Abrams a decade ago, we should wonder what they do want to see. Amid reports that Fargo and Legend’s Noah Hawley is to write and direct the next film, this is surely a critical stage for the saga if it is to survive in its current incarnation. Hawley simply must make a Star Trek movie that fans of the original series and its successors can embrace, and retain the dynamism, thrills and spills of the Abrams years.
If he cannot, Star Trek has a problem. These films are relatively big-budget affairs – all three movies in the trilogy so far have cost at least $150m in production bills alone – but they do not make the big bucks that would be expected of similar productions. No film since Abrams’s 2009 reboot has so far made more than $500m at the global box office – which given that these movies have all been critically acclaimed should be all the more shocking. During the same period, dozens of Marvel and DC superhero flicks have beaten that figure, while every Star Wars film (bar the middling Solo) has hit $1bn or more.
This wouldn’t be such an issue if the films were holding on to the hardcore fans that have supported the series since its beginning. But it’s become clear that there is a certain type of Star Trek head that absolutely detests everything about this new version of the venerable space saga: from its focus on action over ideas to its decision to humanise Zachary Quinto’s Spock by pairing him with Zoe Saldana’s Uhuru.
The old certainties of Star Trek – the cosmic melodrama and blokey bonhomie – have to some extent been stripped away and replaced with something a little more generically Hollywood. And yet there is much to like about the new cast, from Chris Pine’s amiable Captain Kirk to Quinto’s taciturn Spock – and especially Karl Urban’s pleasingly cynical Bones McCoy. These feel like more than cheap copies of their predecessors, even if Simon Pegg’s Scotty will always have his detractors for playing the character with more clownish flamboyance than the late James Doohan would ever have considered.
Some of the set pieces in the new movies – from Star Trek Into Darkness’s opening chase scene among the primitive inhabitants of the planet Nibiru, to Star Trek Beyond’s destruction of a swarm of space invaders scored with the raging chaos of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage, have been simply inspired. Despite this, a new direction is clearly required.
Hawley follows Justin Lin, director of 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, a movie that ought to have attracted a far larger audience than it did. Might the introduction of a film-maker known for his more subtle, character-driven work on TV be a sign that Paramount is looking to shift the saga in a more cerebral direction – to lure back fans for whom this new Enterprise and its crew was always a little too flashy and modern?
Hawley also has a knack for delving into psychedelic inner worlds, as he proved with the off-kilter superhero series Legend. In the original series – often far more space fantasy-oriented than sci-fi – Kirk and Spock were always coming across bizarre planets where the laws of nature and physics seemed to have been utterly altered, and where they began to doubt their own realities. Could Hawley be the director to send Star Trek back into the strange, re-engaging those fans who long ago gave up on the film series?
If he fails, our only other potential saviour is Quentin Tarantino, whose purported hard “R-Trek” movie hasn’t been heard of so much since he stopped promoting Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The suspicion is that Star Trek for Tarantino is somewhat whimsical, just as dozens of other potential projects (The Vega Brothers, Kill Bill 3 etc) have turned out to be in the past: fun to talk up in interviews, but unlikely to ever get made – especially as this would be Tarantino’s final turn in the director’s chair before his own self-determined retirement. Honestly, are there not other movies he would rather make?
It’s over to you then, Mr Hawley. We can no longer say that no film-maker has gone before you, but the need for boldness when venturing into the unknown realms of deep space has rarely been more pressing.