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The Untold Truth Of Quentin Tarantino's Star Trek Film

Since the first "Star Trek" motion picture in 1979, a number of filmmakers have given their talents to the iconic science-fiction franchise, from Hollywood directorial legend Robert Wise ("The Sound Of Music" and "The Day The Earth Stood Still") and J.J. Abrams ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens") to "Star Trek" star Jonathan Frakes himself. But despite all of the talent that "Star Trek" films have had behind the camera, it's been rare for a top-tier auteur filmmaker to show serious interest in helming an adventure in the final frontier. 

So in 2017, it was all the more surprising when legendary screenwriter and director Quentin Tarantino expressed interest in doing just that. Nobody was more surprised than the studio execs at Paramount, who leaped at the chance for such a high-profile name — fresh off his eighth feature film "The Hateful Eight" — to take the reins of the franchise. Though an iconic series, the previous film, "Star Trek Beyond," didn't live up to expectations, and to have such a high profile name attached to its sequel would surely bring much-needed attention. But after nearly five years of development on a project that always felt unlikely, it seems the film has been shelved in favor of a new "Star Trek" film to be overseen by "WandaVision" director Matt Shakman.

It's been a long road from Tarantino's initial interest in the film to the final nail in the coffin, with plenty of rumors and hearsay from actors, producers, and the director himself. We're here to separate fact from fiction and provide you with the untold truth of Quentin Tarantino's "Star Trek" film.

It was sparked by Tarantino himself

If Quentin Tarantino doesn't jump out at you as the kind of director who studio Paramount would have had on their shortlist of movie helmers for "Star Trek," you'd be right. The humble beginnings of Tarantino's nearly-made sci-fi blockbuster didn't originate with a call to the writer/director from anyone at Paramount or even J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot. Instead, it was Tarantino himself — an admitted fan of the franchise who has cited "The City On The Edge of Forever" and the "TNG" episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" as personal favorites — who expressed initial interest. 

It began with a 2015 interview with Chris Hardwick when Tarantino discussed his love of "Trek" and his potential interest in helming a movie for the franchise. He responded to a question about his interest in directing "Star Wars" by saying, "I would be more inclined to do a 'Star Trek' kind of thing." Years later, the clip resurfaced, and in September 2017, TMZ cornered Tarantino at an airport and questioned whether he'd actually direct such a project. He responded plainly, "It would be worth having a meeting." Well, someone at Paramount must have seen that clip because it was just months later, in December 2017, that Deadline reported he was officially onboard, and a writer's room was being assembled to flesh out his pitch. 

At the time, almost nothing was known about the concept of the movie, whether a continuation of JJ Abrams' films, a reboot of "Next Generation," or even an original ship and crew. 

There was a completed script by Matt L. Smith

From the initial agreement, things moved quickly, and just a few short weeks after Quentin Tarantino's "Star Trek" project was announced and a writer's room was put together, Mark L. Smith was announced as the writer of the proposed film, as reported by Deadline. Smith, whose previous work had included the Leonardo DiCaprio drama "The Revenant," was a far cry from the likes of previous "Trek" writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who had mostly penned popcorn blockbusters like "Transformers" and "Cowboys & Aliens."

During an interview with Bulletproof Screenwriting, Smith spoke about the experience of writing the script with Tarantino and working with J.J. Abrams' production company Bad Robot. "They just called me and said, 'Hey, are you up for it? Do you want to go? Quentin wants to hook up.' And I said, 'Yeah.' And that was the first day I met Quentin, in the room and he's reading a scene that he wrote," said Smith. "I told him, I was so mad I didn't record it on my phone. It would be so valuable. It was amazing." Though the plot was still under wraps, Smith gave a few hints but mostly talked about his enthusiasm working with the celebrated director. But in a 2019 interview with Empire Magazine, Tarantino himself noted that the script was done as he weighed his options for his next project, saying, "There's a script that exists for it now. I need to weigh in on it, but I haven't been able to do that yet."

Tarantino likely wouldn't have directed it

Even a year after the project's first announcement, the film's story was a tightly guarded secret, and nobody knew who would star in the flick, whether Chris Pine or William Shatner would return as Kirk, or whether an entirely new crew would be used. But the biggest question on everybody's lips was whether Quentin Tarantino himself would direct the movie or simply serve as a producer and receive a "story by" credit. Paramount must have been hopeful that the beloved filmmaker would take the helm, but many outlets were skeptical, mostly because Tarantino wasn't known for directing properties that he hadn't created. While he had directed a handful of episodes for TV series' like the medical drama "ER" and the crime series "CSI," the closest on the big screen was his adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel that became the 1997 film "Jackie Brown."

Two years into development, the director himself was still uncertain whether he'd direct, and the internet was abuzz with rumors that he might be stepping away from the project. Deadline caught up with him and asked him about the gossip, to which he responded directly, "I might be steering away from it, but we'll see. I haven't completely decided or talked to anyone involved. Nothing is official." A year later, in 2020, the same outlet noted that Tarantino had officially dropped out and that if the movie were to be made, he wouldn't be sitting in the director's chair. 

Though still an exciting project, without Tarantino at the helm, it seemed to have lost a lot of luster. 

It would have mixed Star Trek with Pulp Fiction

Despite Quentin Tarantino's ninth film as director, "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood," hitting theaters in 2019, his proposed "Star Trek" film was still the talk of the town, and many outlets continued to ask him about it on the press tour for his latest movie. Speaking once again to industry publication Deadline, the director revealed that the film would be a balance between classic "Star Trek" and his own "Pulp Fiction," mixing his gritty, fast-paced vibe with the classic franchise. 

But in the interview, he expressed his grievance with "Trek" actors who had tried to tamp down the project, saying their comments weren't reflective of the film because they weren't as in-the-know as they claimed. "I get annoyed at Simon Pegg," Tarantino said. "He doesn't know anything about what's going on, and he keeps making all these comments as if he knows about stuff. One of the comments he said, he's like 'Well, look, it's not going to be 'Pulp Fiction' in space.' Yes, it is! If I do it, that's exactly what it'll be. It'll be 'Pulp Fiction' in space. That 'Pulp Fiction'-y aspect, when I read the script, I felt, I have never read a science fiction movie that has this s*** in it, ever. There's no science fiction movie that has this in it. And they said, I know, that's why we want to make it. It's, at the very least, unique in that regard."

It likely would have been R-rated

One actor who surely didn't upset Quentin Tarantino with his comments is Karl Urban, who played Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the three J.J. Abrams-produced "Star Trek" films. In a 2018 interview with TrekMovie.com, the actor said he heard the pitch and confirmed just how wild it was, describing it as "bananas." He also confirmed long-standing rumors that the film would carry an R rating, a first for the franchise. While some were concerned this meant the film would be filled with cursing and nudity, Urban noted that it was more about showcasing the true horrors of space. "You shouldn't worry that it is going to be full of obscenity and stuff," the actor said. "He wants an R-rating to really make those beats of consequence land. ... It allows some breadth ... gives him some leeway to do that." 

According to the 2017 Deadline report, Tarantino himself had asked the studio for an R-rating for the project, with Paramount and production partner Bad Robot agreeing to that condition. The director later confirmed this in his 2019 Deadline interview, saying, "If you've seen my nine movies, you kind of know my way is an R-rated way and a way that is without certain restrictions." Tarantino also said that J.J. Abrams was fully onboard and likened it to recent R-rated blockbusters, saying, "'Deadpool' showed that you can rethink these things, do them in a different way. So really, even before J.J. knew what the idea was, his feeling was, if it wants to be an R rating, fine. If it wants to be the 'Wild Bunch' in space, fine."

It would have starred the Kelvin cast

Shortly after the initial announcement of a Tarantino-led "Star Trek" film in 2017, talk turned to who might star in the picture. Without plot details, many wondered if we might see Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto return, but with the last film in the series — "Star Trek Beyond" — disappointing for the studio, some were forced to consider if an entirely new cast was in order. Still, Tarantino himself had professed his love for the J.J. Abrams cast, and it soon became clear that if the film were to move forward, they would reprise their roles as Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and others. 

In the 2017 Deadline interview, he praised the cast, saying, "That's why I actually really was so taken with J.J. Abrams' first reboot and how fantastic I thought Chris Pine channeled William Shatner. ... He's playing the William Shatner version of Kirk, and he's doing a fantastic job at it. I mean perfect, frankly. And [Zachary] Quinto is perfect as Spock. Those two guys, they f****** got it." In July 2018, actor Zachary Quinto himself spoke to USA Today and confirmed his involvement alongside the cast of the previous three films. "I'm thrilled that we might have the opportunity to work with him and see what he would do with us in this universe. ... I've been a fan of his for years, and I'm really inspired by his originality," he said.

It would have been inspired by a 1968 episode

In his interview with Bulletproof Screenwriter, Mark L. Smith spoke enthusiastically about his time working with Quentin Tarantino on the story and how it involved a "cool gangster scene." A Deadline report also mentioned offhand that it might be a 1930s gangster story, which immediately got fans speculating that it could be inspired or related to the classic "Original Series" episode "A Piece of the Action." More recently, a report in Variety also suggested that Tarantino's premise took inspiration from the classic episode.

The 1968 episode of the original "Star Trek" series saw Kirk and Spock land on an alien planet only to discover that their entire culture was based around Prohibition-era Chicago. The planet had apparently been visited some years before by another Federation starship in the days before the Prime Directive. That previous ship unwittingly contaminated their culture by leaving behind a book titled "Chicago Mobs Of the 1920s," influencing them to imitate the life of Al Capone and his ilk. Though not one of the most famous of episodes, it has a long legacy, and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" producer Michael Piller once pitched a story in 1990 that would have acted as a sequel (via TrekDocs).

Though it may not be what many expected, a "Star Trek" gangster film certainly fit Tarantino's description of something we'd never seen in a big sci-fi movie, and there's no doubt it would have offered him plenty of opportunities for the kinds of crime stories he does best.

It was one of several proposed movies

Following the release of "Star Trek Beyond," studio Paramount was unsure of where to take the franchise next. While the film did well with audiences and critics, it disappointed at the ticket counter (via Box Office Mojo), failing to live up to the big bucks of its predecessors, and even its CinemaScore dipped to an A- (per Deadline). Unsure of how to proceed, Paramount was thrilled to hear of Quentin Tarantino's interest a year later but wisely decided not to put all its eggs in one basket. In fact, according to Spock actor Zachary Quinto, there were as many as three different scripts being worked on before the sequel was officially given the green light (via Deadline).

In addition to Tarantino's proposed project, Quinto told ET Canada that a sequel script from Simon Pegg and Doug Jung was in the works before Tarantino approached the studio in 2017. "Fargo" creator Noah Hawley was also announced in 2018 to be developing a screenplay that nearly went into production (via Deadline). Meanwhile, J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay were also working on a story that was dubbed "Star Trek 4." The project was said to be directed by S.J. Clarkson and would have starred Chris Hemsworth, and it appears to be entirely separate from the version entering production in 2022 to be directed by Matt Shakman. 

It may seem like a lot of juggling, but with Tarantino's version always seeming like a long shot, it was a wise move to have a few different projects lined up.

Rod Roddenberry hated the idea

Fiercely protective of his father's life's work, Rod Roddenberry — son of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry — was surprisingly vocal about his displeasure with Paramount bringing in Academy Award-winning writer/director Quentin Tarantino to helm a new film. Roddenberry is the CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment and serves as an executive producer on the many new "Star Trek" series, including "Discovery" and "Strange New Worlds." He acts as a steward for the brand his father created, and in a 2021 interview with Forbes, he admitted to being a fan of the director and insisted that his rejection of an R-rated Tarantino "Trek" film was to protect the integrity of the franchise.

"I struggle with [a Tarantino "Star Trek" film] because the way I'm pretty myopic with the way I see 'Star Trek,'" Roddenberry said. "I grew up with fans coming up to me out saying how 'Star Trek' inspired them and gave them hope for the future. It's the optimism and the messaging in there that make 'Star Trek' what it was." After the director himself described the film as "Pulp Fiction" in space, Roddenberry appears to have been rubbed the wrong way. "I'll be honest, that doesn't work for me, but he is a fan, and I think as a fan, he probably understands to some degree that 'Star Trek' has to have some of this [hopeful, optimistic] messaging," he said. While Roddenberry agreed to keep an open mind and was interested in hearing more, he made it very clear that a Tarantino-led "Trek" film had a high bar to pass to gain his approval.

It divided the fandom

After the news that Quentin Tarantino might helm a new film in their favorite franchise, many fans were excited about the prospect of the controversial director producing something risky and daring. Several commenters on fan site Trekmovie.com expressed optimism, with one user saying, "Tarantino would bring something fresh and the characters would be vibrant and logical" and that the director's involvement would "reinvigorate the film franchise." But others weren't as happy about it, with another user declaring that "under no circumstances should this be allowed to happen."

Over at IndieWire, writers Eric Kohn, Kate Erbland, Anne Thompson, David Ehrlich, and Liz Shannon Miller engaged in a roundtable discussion of the pros and cons of the project, expressing their split opinions on the prospect of a Tarantino "Star Trek" film. Meanwhile, on Reddit, user DylanVincent seemed to agree with Rod Roddenberry, saying, "This is such a bad idea. The original spirit of 'Star Trek' gets no respect anymore." But a user with the name Conchobair was as excited as others were upset about it, saying, "I really hope this happens. This would be insane. I love 'Trek' and Tarantino, and they[sic] two together could be amazing." For now, it would seem that the naysayers are the ones walking away happy, as the film is reportedly scrapped (per Variety).

It attracted interest from Trek's biggest stars

When news broke that Quentin Tarantino might helm a new "Star Trek" film, it wasn't just studio executives and legions of Trekkies who were excited. With the rumor mill swirling, several major "Star Trek" alumni came forward to express interest in reprising their roles for the proposed film. In an interview with Reuters posted to Twitter, star William Shatner expressed his love for the director and his passionate longing to return as Captain Kirk. "Quentin Tarantino said something in the paper that somebody said to me, that he loved me. And Quentin, I love you," said Shatner. "If you're going to do 'Star Trek,' hey, 50 years later, a few pounds heavier, come on, not a problem. ... I'd like to do it. Whether I'd be up for it, I don't know."

Though a bit more measured in his response, actor George Takei (original Enterprise helmsman Sulu) spoke of his interest in an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment but said it would all depend on the script while acknowledging that casting wasn't really his call to make. Of course, it wasn't just classic "Trek" characters who wanted back in — "Star Trek: The Next Generation" star Patrick Stewart made it clear that he'd love to return if Tarantino was involved, telling The Hollywood Reporter, "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."