Most great film directors don’t direct major Hollywood franchise films.
When you look at the careers of our most acclaimed directors, it’s rare that they indulge in Hollywood franchise filmmaking. It’s not hard to figure out why. Franchise filmmaking is a wrestling match between the bottom line and vision.
More often than not, the vision loses.
Marvel Studios, for instance, wanted to bring Ant-Man into the MCU and demanded changes to Edgar Wright’s vision.
Because of this, Wright departed from the production and started work on an original film. Lucasfilm alone has fired three separate creative teams working on “Star Wars” films. Talented filmmakers don’t like studios tampering with their ideas. More often than not, it leads to half measures and weakens the film.
Most visionaries would rather just walk away then compromise.
When you go back and look through the collective filmographies of your favorite genre franchises, the names of the creative teams more often than not won’t be a list of the most significant directors of that time.
Certainly filmmakers like Ridley Scott, James Cameron and John McTiernan can elevate your average blockbuster action movie more than a no-name director. They aren’t producing the majority of the films coming out in every franchise, though.
Instead they’re directed largely by dependable workmen and journeymen with experience in special effects and genre filmmaking like Renny Harlin, Rick Rosenthal, Joe Johnson, Gareth Edwards, Irvin Kirshner, Richard Marquand and Nicholas Meyer.
Auteur directors can make culturally impactful films, but relying on them is a major risk. Nobody at Disney today wants to make the modern equivalent of “Cleopatra” or “Heaven’s Gate.” This need for safety has meant that plenty of brilliant genre directors like John Carpenter and George Romero have been shown the door more times than they’ve been successful.
When a studio makes a bet on a visionary director, they’re taking a massive risk that the vision will be what the audience wants. This has the risk of backfiring as the director could make something antithetical to the audience’s wishes or make something so out there that it can’t qualify as a good movie.
This was the case respectively with Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and David Lynch’s Dune.
Given this tendency to prefer dependable workmen over visionaries, Paramount’s flirtation with Quentin Tarantino to direct a “Star Trek film” has been a highlight news of the past few years. Tarantino is nothing short of a radical deconstructionist and a visionary auteur.
He’s easily one of the best working directors in film today.
His work is so much higher minded and textured than the work of half of his imitators combined. He’s the best there is at deconstructing a genre down to its parts and reconstituting it in a new, enthralling way. When he makes a movie, you know it’s going to be one of the best films of that year.
So what would a creative mastermind like Tarantino do with a canonical “Star Trek” film?
From the sound of things, his plan was to play the film rather uncharacteristically straight by his standards. While he did promise that the film would be something unlike anything we’d seen in a traditional science fiction film before, it seems that he fully intended to honor the franchise and its legacy.
Tarantino is a longtime Star Trek fan and rated the J.J. Abrams reboot film as one of his favorite films of 2009.
While we don’t have a full picture of what Tarantino’s “Trek” would be yet, we do know it might take inspiration from the classic Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever.” We also know it would’ve involved some sort of organized crime story.
Sadly, Tarantino himself wouldn’t have written it. The script treatment was handled by Mark L. Smith, the screenwriter of “The Revenant,” while Tarantino was busy working on “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
If it does end up going into production, Tarantino vows the story will be the first “Trek” adventure to earn an R rating.
If anything, the challenge for Tarantino would be one of submission more so than deconstruction. “Star Trek” has an established fan base and lineage he would have to put himself at the mercy of in order to make the film.
The franchise’s fans are already resentful of the current direction, seen in projects like “Picard.”
They want a more hopeful, scientific vision of the future and this alternative take on the franchise may very well embody the nihilism and carnage that has all too frequently debased the franchise.
Tarantino would have to put away some of his best filmmaking tools and assets that define his pershonal style and voice. He’d also have to place imself wholly into the mission of making a movie in a universe that he doesn’t own or control. That’s difficult for any director, but it would be much harder for someone with a very specific voice.
Regardless of how sensible an idea of is, the film’s very existence is uncertain and likely to fall apart before it ever gets off the ground. There are a lot of questions at the moment as to whether or not such a film is even currently possible. For one, Abram’s production company, Bad Robot, is struggling to keep the “Star Trek” brand afloat.
The last film in the franchise, “Star Trek: Beyond,” proved a box office nonstarter.
Paramount’s investors are understandably nervous about keeping the film series afloat. Having Tarantino direct a film in the franchise would mostly be a gimmick to attract cash. At this point, it’s likely the decision falls on Tarantino’s lap alone.
There is the question of Tarantino’s involvement in the film, though. Despite the very public announcement of his interest in the project in December of 2017, he’s walked back his commitment to the project numerous times. It’s understandable to see why. He promised that his career is effectively going to end with the completion of his tenth film.
Directing a “Star Trek” movie would be an odd way to culminate his career. As of early 2020, he’s currently going into production on a “Bounty Law” spin-off television series which will require his attention for the next year and a half. He may well change his mind between now and then, but his indecisiveness speaks poorly of a “Star Trek” film’s future.
As it stands, Tarantino has other more personal reasons why he may say no. He may ultimately decide not to go with “Star Trek” just because he still has a bone to pick with the studio system. In 2015, Disney famously strong armed the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles in 2015 to cancel showing “The Hateful Eight” in favor of playing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for an additional two weeks.
As he said on his Howard Stern interview, he took that slight to heart.
In an interview with Deadline last month, he went as far as to say his kind of movies were in a war with Disney. Echoing Scorsese’s comments like fall, the kind of cinema he makes is getting washed out of movie theaters.
“As far as I can see, the commercial product that is owned by the conglomerates, the projects everybody knows about and has in their DNA, whether it be the Marvel Comics, the Star Wars, Godzilla and James Bond, those films never had a better year than last year. It would have been the year that their world domination would have been complete. But it kind of wasn’t. Because of what you said, a lot of original movie comment (maybe content?) came out and demanded to be seen, and demanded to be seen at the theaters. That ended up becoming a really, really strong year. I’m really proud to be nominated with the other films that just got nominated. I think when you sum up the year, it’s cinema that doesn’t fall into that blockbuster IP proof status, made its last stand this year.”
For understandable reasons, Tarantino may feel the need to fall back on one more original film to round out his career instead of one that fits into the Hollywood blockbuster machine. It would mean having to sacrifice the chance to play with some of the most beloved characters in Hollywood history.
It might be more important, from his perspective, to protect the art form one last time.
Still, if he did take the project he’d be making just as much a statement. Wrestling a major franchise away from the studio system and remaking it into something radical and new would fly right in the face of the studios making corporately mandated focus tested decisions. Tarantino’s “Star Trek” film would still be HIS film. He could have the opportunity to beat Hollywood at its own game.
If he ultimately decides officially against a “Star Trek” sequel, it would honestly be quite disappointing. I can’t say whether any of this would’ve worked. Tarantino isn’t a perfect director. We ultimately don’t know why he’s skeptical of the project. It’s possible he’s not happy with the script or that he has one more great idea that he suddenly has an urge to work on.
Considering he’s fresh off of the success of his newest masterpiece, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” it wouldn’t be surprising if he felt like he had one more surprise to spring upon the world.
It would be a shame if Tarantino’s “Star Trek” became one of those great lamented films that could’ve been great, like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s trippy 1970s adaptation of “Dune.”
The decision making on this belongs to the people who work at Paramount as well as Tarantino himself. Speaking selfishly for myself,
I desperately hope we get to see this film. It would be that rare chance where Hollywood gave the reigns on one of our most culturally beloved franchises to a complete radical and let him do with it as he pleased. Such a film, if successful, could be a powerful anti-thesis to the current state of Hollywood. In an era when we need good visionary blockbusters,
Tarantino could have an amazing opportunity to mic drop the film industry. If nothing else, it would be one of the most ambitious and talked about Hollywood films of the decade.