Even with Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood less than two weeks from release, buzz has already begun to swirl around what Quentin Tarantino’s next film will be. Part of that hype is generated by the director’s long standing promise that he will retire after his tenth film, which would be his next (if you count Kill Bill as a single film, which Tarantino does). Another aspect stems from ongoing buzz that Tarantino is interested in directing an installment in the Star Trek franchise. The last time the topic was raised, Tarantino suggested that any discussion about him directing a Star Trek film would need to await the release of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood before resuming. So it seems like a decision might be made relatively soon, at least within the next couple of years based on the director’s typical timeline.
There are a lot of valid reasons to be excited about the concept of Tarantino’s Star Trek. There’s no doubt that his script and style would be unlike anything else the franchise has witnessed before. It would undoubtedly engage with the cinematic history of both previous Star Trek movies and science-fiction writ large. Tarantino has largely avoided the sci-fi genre as well, offering a lot of room for potential surprises. There’s also the increasing political relevancy of Tarantino’s films, with his last four providing robust commentaries on the history and character of the United States, that would make for an interesting infusion into the futuristic Star Trek landscape.
Even with all of those potential upsides in mind, it’s clear that Tarantino should steer away from the Star Trek franchise for his own sake.
The Franchise Movie Model
It’s difficult to imagine any arrangement for a future Star Trek film where concerns about the strength and future of the property won’t lead to studio oversight. The business model for modern Hollywood is dominated by franchises. Whether audiences are talking about Marvel, DC, Star Wars, or The Fast & The Furious, they’re discussing movies as collections complete with post-credits sequences and a complicated chronology. There will likely never cease to be a place for independent film and ambitious solo outings, but the available funding for these projects is decreasing as ongoing juggernauts of stories reap the most profit.
Star Trek may not be the most popular franchise, but it’s one of the most recognizable and holds a lot of value for Paramount Pictures purely based on its decades-old brand. Any producers attached to a future Star Trek picture will be tasked with maintaining and protecting the value of that brand, ensuring they don’t lose an increasingly rare opportunity to compete with the leviathan that is Disney.
While it might be expected that Paramount would make certain creative promises for any Star Trek project helmed by Tarantino, it’s hard to believe that these promises would meet the degree of creative control the director has exerted on his previous films and even more difficult to believe that these promises would be kept. It’s one thing for a studio to claim they want to provide directors with creative freedom and another to watch the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise curse in a Tarantino-esque cadence or brutally dismember a Klingon. The nature of modern franchises would inevitably lead to big compromises, for both the studio and director.
The Final Few Auteurs
Audiences might still expect a good, or even great, Star Trek film to emerge from this model. Tarantino has worked on plenty of projects in the past with limited input that turned out very well. Dedicating years of time and hard work towards a project where he has less input and control feels like a recipe for disappointment, though, especially if this does turn out to be his tenth and final film. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood has shown Tarantino is still capable of producing original, innovative hits, movies that build on both his own career and push the limits of what can be found in mainstream movie theaters. Star Trek would all but guarantee the loss of such promise.
Very few directors can command tens of millions of dollars in resources (Once Upon a Time is estimated to have cost more than $90 million) for original concepts. Tarantino occupies a rarified stratum where he can produce a big, new idea, one that never intends to produce sequels. The other directors who might be able to craft projects similar to Tarantino’s last few films could likely be counted on one hand, including the likes of P.T. Anderson and Steven Spielberg. If Tarantino opted to work with Paramount in directing the next Star Trek movie, an increasingly rare opportunity to have this sort of project would be lost. That would be unfortunate for audiences and the director, alike.
Best of Both Worlds2comments
The most powerful consideration left is a hypothetical: What if Tarantino’s next great idea is a science-fiction tale perfectly suited to the world of Star Trek? That’s not really a problem, unless one is particularly obsessed with seeing a Starfleet insignia on character’s lapels. The “USS Callister” episode of Black Mirror recently served as a reminder that Star Trek is a franchise with enough cultural cachet as to be easily parodied or mimicked. Even non-fans recognize the colorful uniforms and familiar layout of characters onboard a starship’s deck. The tropes and ideas of Star Trek are easily accessed, with or without access to specific trademarks.
There is nothing stopping Tarantino from producing a science-fiction film based around a familiar franchise like Star Trek, whether or not Paramount is interested. The box office success of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood has shown the director can still attract a big audience (and likely find funding for another ambitious project). So even if the next Tarantino project needs to reference Star Trek, there’s no call for the production compromises involved, as the project surely doesn’t need to be named Star Trek. It seems all but certain that making a Star Trek movie would apply unnecessary pressure to both Tarantino and Paramount, so why even bother with unnecessary struggles when so many more opportunities abound?