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The Truth Behind Quentin Tarantino's Star Trek Movie

In 2009, J.J. Abrams gave us a rebooted, alternate timeline Star Trek feature that surprised all but the most optimistic observers by being really good (despite an overabundance of lens flares). The Enterprise crew of what would come to be known as the Kelvin Timeline — including a younger, even cockier James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Zachary Quinto's spot-on Mr Spock — have adventured on through two more well-received films, with another in the pipeline. A familiar yet unlikely name has also been rumored for the franchise: filmmaker Quentin Tarantino

At first glance, it may not seem like the most appropriate fit. The internet quickly chimed in with plenty of jokes about Kirk and Spock going medieval on some hapless alien, or Samuel L. Jackson going on a profanity-laced tirade about whether to engage with the Romulans. But it quickly became apparent that not only is Tarantino dead serious about the project, Paramount is too — and while it may take awhile to materialize, it's looking ever more likely that his Trek will actually become a reality. Here's everything we know so far.

Tarantino's pitch wowed executives

After 2016's Star Trek Beyond became the rebooted series' third straight hit, it was a no-brainer to assume that Paramount would return to the well for further installments. But for the rest of that year and most of the next, there was no news aside from Zachary Quinto occasionally popping up to reassure fans that yes, as far as he knew, Star Trek 4 was still happening. Then, in December 2017, Deadline broke the rumor that Tarantino had visited with Paramount executives to share a "great idea" he had for a new Trek picture — and the execs were so floored by his pitch that they immediately started assembling a writers' room to flesh it out.

More rumors about the project continued to trickle out over the following months, suggesting that Abrams would produce and that screenwriter Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) was the front-runner to pen the script. It appeared to be full steam ahead for QT's Trek, but it quickly became evident that fans excited about the prospect were probably going to have to wait for a little while. 

It won't be Star Trek 4

As details began to emerge about the next Trek picture, one thing became apparent — it wasn't going to be Tarantino's. Simon Pegg (who co-wrote Beyond and has been a highlight of the rebooted series as its Scotty) confirmed in April 2018 that that as-yet untitled film is already in pre-production, and a director has already been tapped. That would be S.J. Clarkson, who helmed the pilot episode of the Netflix series Marvel's Jessica Jones and is set to become the first female director in Star Trek history.

Paramount also revealed to fans at a Comic-Con panel that Chris Hemsworth, who appeared in the 2009 film as James Kirk's ill-fated father George, was supposed to return for the fourth installment. Given the series' time- and dimension-hopping aesthetic, it's not a huge shocker that George Kirk — who famously went down with his ship in the opening moments of the first film — would make a reappearance, especially with an actor as popular as Hemsworth in the role. Unfortunately, those plans may have hit a snag; more recently, it was reported that Hemsworth and Chris Pine — who plays James Kirk — have walked off the project after salary negotiations broke down.

It sounds like Abrams and company are still ironing out the details, but Tarantino's Trek is still going to be on the back burner for awhile — in fact, the director is already knee-deep in an unrelated project.

It may not include the same cast

Tarantino is currently hard at work on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his retelling of the events surrounding the infamous crimes committed by Charles Manson and his murderous "family." While Paramount confirmed there were two new Trek projects in the pipeline, the studio hasn't specified whether Tarantino's project is one of them — and to hear Simon Pegg tell it, there's a strong possibility that QT may not be available even for Star Trek 5.

Speaking with the Edmonton Journal, Pegg opined that the current "Kelvin Timeline" cast might be out of the loop by the time Tarantino's Trek makes its way into production. "Quentin's idea is another thing," he said. "He came in to Bad Robot and pitched it and it's been put in the bank. I think he had us in mind when he came up with the idea; he likes the new cast. But he's going to be so busy with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that I can't see him doing it for five or six years, by which time we might be too old anyway." 

Yes, it might be R-rated

For his part, Quinto isn't convinced that the long production window necessarily means that the new cast will be excluded. The actor told USA Today that, while he didn't have any specifics, he was "thrilled that we might have the opportunity" to work with Tarantino, of whom he's been a longtime fan. In the same interview, he seemed to confirm a tidbit that fans had been speculating about since the project's announcement: the possibility that Tarantino's Trek might carry an R rating.

"It's going to be an R-rated version of Star Trek," he stated flatly, "which would be the first [in] the movies, and that's exciting... I'm really inspired by his originality. Take that originality and mix it with this world full of incredible ideology and colorful characters, and the result could be pretty thrilling." Of course, Quinto may just be assuming along with all the rest of us that Tarantino is simply incapable of making a movie that's not rated R, and Pegg — who doesn't seem to agree with Quinto on anything as far as this project is concerned — poured some water on the idea in an interview with Hey U Guys. "I don't think he's written an R-rated Star Trek script," he said, before conceding, "I don't know much about it other than it's in the mix, so we'll see." 

It may adapt a Next Generation episode

Tarantino offered a bit of foreshadowing in 2015 on the Nerdist podcast, recorded when Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was awaiting release. Asked if he'd ever consider directing a Star Wars film, he replied that Trek was more his speed, having been a lifelong fan of the original series — "in particular, a fan of William Shatner," he said. "That's my key into this series is William Shatner." He went on to opine that there were myriad episodes that could lend themselves to the feature film treatment, singling out the classic episode "City on the Edge of Forever" — but he saved his strongest endorsement not for an original series episode, but for a third-season installment of revival series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This would be "Yesterday's Enterprise," in which Jean-Luc Picard and his crew accidentally meddle with history during an excursion back in time, leading to war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Tarantino called the episode one of the best ever written, and it's worth pointing out that the time travel aspects of the story would mesh well with the reboot series. "I actually think that is one of the great... not only space stories, but the way it dealt with the mythology of the whole thing — that actually could bear a two-hour treatment," he said — and if the stars align correctly, there's even a chance that Picard himself could make an appearance.

Other captains are interested

Trek fans were given a gift for the ages in August 2018 when it was announced that Sir Patrick Stewart, who hadn't stepped into Captain Picard's shoes in any capacity since 2002, would be returning to reprise the role in a brand new Trek series. This, however, was not the first time Stewart had teased the good Captain's return. Speaking with the Hollywood Reporter in late 2017, Stewart said, "One of my dreams is to work with Tarantino. I admire his work so much, and to be in a Tarantino film would give me so much satisfaction. So, if he is going to direct something to do with Star Trek and there was the possibility of dear old Jean-Luc showing up again and doing that for Mr. Tarantino, I would embrace it."

As it turns out, he's not the only Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise who feels that way. William Shatner, for whom Tarantino has expressed so much fondness, also indicated a willingness to jump on board when asked directly about it by a fan on Twitter. Given Tarantino's penchant for skillfully utilizing classic stars in his films — not to mention his Trek fandom — it actually seems possible that he might be the man to finally reunite the two most beloved Captains in the Enterprise's history.

The script is in good hands

Shortly after his involvement was rumored, Deadline confirmed that Paramount had tapped Mark L. Smith to pen the script for Tarantino's Trek, which on the surface seems like a bit of an odd choice. Tarantino typically writes or co-writes his scripts himself, and they are always liberally peppered with rapid-fire dialogue and pop culture references. Smith, by contrast, displayed a remarkable knack for crafting a compelling narrative with a near-absence of dialogue in The Revenant. It wasn't that script, however, that won Smith the job — it was his screenplay for 2018's Overlord, an Abrams-produced, WWII-set thriller.

Smith took part in the writers' room convened after Tarantino's initial pitch, a panel that also included esteemed scribes Lindsey Beer (who is working on a huge slate of forthcoming reboots), Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) and Megan Anram (The Good Place). Smith won over Abrams and Paramount with his completed script for Overlord, and he'll be hard at work on the Trek screenplay while Tarantino completes Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Of course, we're not likely to have any plot details for months — but if Tarantino's comments are any indication, some significant plot elements of the current film series might be off the table.

Tarantino isn't a fan of alternate timelines

Tarantino picked Star Trek as the best film of 2009, but didn't care for sequel Star Trek Into Darkness for one reason: Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan. Not that he has anything against Cumberbatch, he just apparently has a tough time getting his head around the idea of alternate timelines, as he explained on the Nerdist podcast. "I was really disturbed when I saw [Star Trek Into Darkness]," he said. "It really bothered me that [Cumberbatch] was playing Khan... The thing that I liked about the first one [was that] Chris Pine is playing William Shatner, and Zachary Quinto is playing Leonard Nimoy. So all those things that happened in the Star Trek universe will happen... thus, [Cumberbatch] can't be Khan."

Given the fact that Nimoy appears as "Spock Prime" in the 2009 film, and even shares screentime with Quinto, it seems as though Tarantino may have misinterpreted key elements of that film's story. But even though both of the episodes he cited as being ripe for cinematic adaptation feature time-travel elements, it's safe to say that Tarantino either isn't a fan of or doesn't understand the concept of alternate timelines, making it all but certain that his Trek will diverge from the current films in this respect.

The idea has proven divisive

Since the project was announced, more than a few observers have expressed the opinion that this is a poor match of filmmaker with material. Tarantino is talented, but he has a pretty specific set of strengths, and not everyone is convinced that they'll play well in the Star Trek universe. Chris Taylor of Mashable made a compelling case along these lines in his analysis, arguing, "If there is a mindset further opposite that of Gene Roddenberry, the man who created Star Trek, I can't think of it. Roddenberry was a profoundly hopeful believer in the essential goodness of man... Tarantino's self-interested anti-heroes are a galaxy away from the kind of idealism we miss in our movies."

On the other hand, some have pointed out that Tarantino's penchant for pushing boundaries and putting story above all could result in one of the more exciting Trek pictures. Some have even gone so far as to opine that with the Star Wars franchise back in full swing, the writing could be on the wall for Trek as a film franchise unless some risks are taken — and that an R-rated, Tarantino-directed Trek would perfectly fit that bill. Strong arguments can be made either way, and there's no real precedent — Tarantino has never worked within an established franchise before. His take on Trek could be a chance to prove that he can offer up a fresh, compelling take on others' material — but it might also be his swan song.

It might be Tarantino's last movie

Love him or hate him, it can hardly be denied that Tarantino — particularly by way of his 1994 masterpiece Pulp Fiction — has changed cinema forever. His style has spawned legions of imitators, his works have been endlessly referenced and parodied throughout pop culture, and his influence-quoting aesthetic will be dissected and debated by film students for generations. But all things must come to an end, and after hinting at it for years, he confirmed in 2016 that he intends to retire after his tenth film.

After his involvement in the Star Trek project was confirmed, observers across the internet were quick to do a bit of simple math. 2015's The Hateful Eight was, appropriately enough, Tarantino's eighth movie. With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in production, this would make Trek his tenth — and, if he remains true to his word, final — film. It would be a fittingly idiosyncratic ending to the distinguished career of a filmmaker who has never been interested in doing what anybody expects of him, always going wherever his muse takes him — and it also just somehow seems right that for his final act, he would take us on a mind-blowing trip to the Final Frontier.