Star Trek: We Dodged a Photon Torpedo with Quentin Tarantino’s Movie

While Quentin Tarantino remains one of the consummate filmmakers of his time, Star Trek was just not a good fit.

Quentin Tarantino, Star Trek Beyond, and A Piece of the Action
Photo: Getty Images / Paramount Pictures / Viacom

When the news broke in December 2017 that Quentin Tarantino had approached Paramount Pictures with a pitch for a new Star Trek film, one could hear the collective sound of countless fans’ jaws dropping open. One of the most respected (and controversial) filmmakers of his time, the imagination behind modern classics like Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, wanted to put his imprimatur on one of the most beloved (if creaky) sci-fi franchises of all time?

Apparently that was the case, even if it was unclear whether Tarantino actually wanted to direct the thing himself or just sort of shepherd his story idea to the screen. A writers’ room was convened, with different scribes proposing different ways to flesh out Tarantino’s pitch, with The Revenant screenwriter Mark L. Smith eventually winning the gig.

Thus began a confusing, four-year journey through development hell for what might have been as many as three different Trek features. Over the past few years, as Tarantino’s interest in the project faded, directors and writers such as Noah Hawley (Legion) and S.J. Clarkson (Jessica Jones) were attached at different points, with Matt Shakman (WandaVision) eventually landing in the director’s chair in mid-2021.

Different scripts were also apparently bandied about, with both a direct sequel to 2016’s Star Trek Beyond (Clarkson) and yet another reboot with a different set of characters (Hawley) both in the mix. Meanwhile, even though he officially withdrew from directing the film, the script based on Tarantino’s story idea still lurked in the background.

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It was only in February 2022 when Paramount announced that a new Trek film under Shakman’s direction (with the latest script penned by Josh Friedman and Cameron Squires) was going into production later this year for a Dec. 22, 2023 release, that Tarantino’s version was unequivocally declared dead.

That’s probably a good thing.

What Was Tarantino’s Star Trek Story About?

While we have the utmost respect for Quentin Tarantino as a filmmaker (even if we’ve been a little cold on his last couple of films) and believe that he is truly a Star Trek fan with his heart in the right place, we never were and are still unable to imagine him directing a Trek adventure.

For one thing, Variety recently confirmed again longstanding reports regarding exactly what Tarantino’s pitch was, calling it “a largely earthbound story set in a 1930s gangster setting” that involved time travel and did feature the most recent “Kelvin timeline” cast (or at least Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk). The story seemed to be a direct take on the famous second season episode of the original series, “A Piece of the Action.”

Written by David P. Harmon and Trek producer Gene L. Coon, “A Piece of the Action” had the crew of the Enterprise investigating a planet of highly imitative humanoids who based their entire culture around a book left behind by an Earth ship a century earlier–in this case, a book about 1920s Chicago mob organizations.

The episode is fondly remembered as part of a string of second season episodes that leaned in a comedic direction–along with “I, Mudd” and “The Trouble with Tribbles”–while allowing Kirk and Spock to romp around in pinstripe suits and fedora hats as they brandished tommy guns and convinced the rival gangs to “cooperate wid us and, uh, maybe we’ll cut choo in for a piece o’ da action.”

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It’s still a fun watch, but it’s also an example of some of the laziest writing that permeated the original Trek in its second season, one of a number of episodes in which the Enterprise found itself orbiting a planet patterned after an old Earth culture (thus allowing the production to use standing period sets instead of building exotic new futuristic ones).

Why Tarantino’s Star Trek Might Have Sunk the Franchise For Good

As we said, “A Piece of the Action” may still be an enjoyable Star Trek episode in many ways, but to hang an entire feature film on this premise–the Enterprise running up against early American gangster culture in a time travel adventure set on Earth–would, we believe, prove to be a disappointment.

For one thing, the Enterprise traveling back to Earth’s past and generating laughs has already been done: the most successful of the original cast’s six features, 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, featured the crew going back to then-modern day San Francisco to save some whales and bring them forward to the future. The gangster angle would not only rehash “A Piece of the Action” to some degree, but it would also bring Star Trek directly into Tarantino’s wheelhouse, had he indeed chosen to direct the film. His first five features are all immersed in the world of thugs, criminals, and gangsters, while two of his four subsequent movies feature criminal elements in different environments.

And while he has experimented with alternate histories in Inglourious Basterds and Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood, he has never directed a pure science fiction film. Most of his movies are set either in a gritty present or an equally gritty, hyper-realistic period scenario.

Add to this the fact that Tarantino’s Trek movie was purportedly going to be–had it gone into production–the first R-rated effort in what had traditionally always been a family-friendly franchise, and it becomes clear that Tarantino would have made a Tarantino movie, dressed in the trappings of Star Trek, instead of lending his formidable talent and energy to the franchise while keeping its basic foundations intact.

It’s our belief that this, while perhaps done with good intentions, would have alienated Trek fans already let down by Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond, while providing Tarantino devotees and the rest of the public with an odd curio that might not have found an audience with anyone.

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Beyond Tarantino

So what happens with Star Trek now? The world has obviously changed since Star Trek Beyond did not light up the box office nearly six years ago, with Paramount/Viacom/CBS shifting the focus to streaming and generating an incredible four new Star Trek series in the past five years, with a fifth imminent, and at least two more in development.

But the studio insists that Star Trek still has a future in feature films with the announcement of a release date for the new movie while confirming the return of the Kelvin cast (much to their surprise, apparently), indicating the company’s commitment to restoring the Trek franchise to the big screen.

What will the new Star Trek movie be about? We have no idea, really, but here are a few things we’d like to not see in the fourth Kelvin timeline adventure: Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s dad (no more daddy issues, please, he’s the captain of a goddamned starship), time travel of any kind, more of the Spock-Uhura romance (time for the First Officer to Vulcan up), motorcycle stunts, a revenge-driven villain, and any kind of deep state conspiracy inside the Federation or Starfleet.

Also let’s not take a cue from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and create a multiverse in which the casts of Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds can cameo (we bet that’s been discussed though).

How about an adventure in which the Enterprise encounters a strange new alien race or space-based phenomena that poses an ethical or moral conflict and/or some kind of physical danger for the crew? Can that really be so hard? They used to do ’em every week (most of them still pretty good), and that was 55 years ago!

Let Star Trek be Star Trek. It’s not gonna make a billion dollars at the box office. It’s not Marvel, it’s not Star Wars, and, most of all, it’s not Pulp Fiction in Starfleet uniforms. We could be wrong, but we suspect that fans would not have wanted a piece of that action.

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