Paramount's New President Is Trying to Figure Out What to Do About the Star Trek Movies

Chris Pine as Kirk in Star Trek: Beyond.
Chris Pine as Kirk in Star Trek: Beyond.
Image: Paramount

While Star Trek’s TV offerings are flourishing, the films are stuck in somewhat of a rut. After the plans for a fourth Abrams-helmed Trek fell apart, the studio hasn’t had a lot of clarity over what to do with the property, with several film ideas, including one famously pushed by Quentin Tarantino, being floated, tentatively put into production, and then lost into the ether of production hell.

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With recently appointed film group president Emma Watts, formerly of Fox, now taking the helm at Paramount, that seems primed to finally change. As reported by Deadline, one of Watts’s top priorities at her new job is to figure out what, exactly, to do about the Star Trek movies. Per these plans, it seems the Trek movie written and slated to be directed by Noah Hawley (Legion, Fargo)is on hold. While Hawley is still attached to the project, it’s paused for now, as is the project written by Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) which was, at one time, set to be directed by Quentin Tarantino, though per the Deadline report he is no longer attached to the project.

What does that leave? Well, not making a Star Trek movie isn’t an option, so that means returning to the idea of bringing back the original rebooted cast for another go at it, though likely without Abrams. That original project got held up due to contract disputes and the sheer cost of the star power on display in that franchise. But with Star Trek a bigger name on television than it’s been in decades, Paramount has a strong incentive to find the money and get something moving sooner rather than later. 

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io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.

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DISCUSSION

remyporter
Remy Porter

Star Trek has never been particularly successful as a film franchise. Oh, it’s had a few hits, but adjusting on its ratio for hits and misses, well, they’ve been at their best when they’ve been at their lowest budgets. (TWOK famously shot on roughly a TV production budget)

So, with that in mind, I think we should take cues from the most successful- commercially and critically- installment in the franchise, ST:IV.

1) ST:IV picks up in the middle of a story, but also recognizes that many people might be coming into it for the first time. To that end, they quickly establish the character relationships, and the stakes, and the conflicts, right at the top, as if nobody knew the crew yet. In fact, you don’t even need to use known characters here, if you draw the characters well, so you could use this to launch a new franchise. Do that, and also…

2) follow ST:IVs “no gunfights, no explosions” rule, and that forces the story to find ways to challenge our characters in ways that let them express their character. It also help maintain a…

3) Lighter tone. ST:IV isn’t a full on comedy, but it certainly makes plenty of room for moments of levity, and that really makes the characters far more approachable. But the jokes (mostly) feel rooted in the characters: “They are not your damn whales,” and “double dumbass on you,” are funny lines, but they’re also illustrating the characters, and how they’re…

4) Fish out of water. In ST:IV, we get a whimsical look at our world through the eyes of these future people, but we don’t have to go a-to-the-b here. Star Trek is so much about exploration, and it’s easy to imagine Star Trek-y scenarios where our protagonists are out of place, trying to catch up to a world that’s alien to them, to solve a problem that they’re (at the start of the plot) ill equipped to solve, and that problem should let the film have…

5) Heart and a message. Look, I get it, “save the whales” is hokey. “What does god need with a starship” is hokey. “He’s white on the left side and black on the right, so I’m racist against him,” is hokey. Giving a speech about how you aren’t going to kill the lizard monster is hokey. Star Trek is hokey! It’s message focused franchise. The best of TNG always ends with a rousing Picard speech about ethics and philosophy. Don’t run away from that, embrace it! Plan with a moral of the story, but just make sure that everything else around it is so much fun that nobody cares that there was a message. Let the Federation be your ultimate progressive fantasy, your utopian ideal, your wonderland. And then, remember…

6) No gunfights, no explosions. I really want to stress this, because Star Trek doesn’t generally do action well. Even when the effects are great, you have to come up with weird contrivances to explain why Kirk needs to skydive or why Picard needs to take the dune-buggy out. TWOK, arguably the most “action oriented” of original films, doesn’t have much action, and the space battles are very much in the vein of Horatio Hornblower in spaaaaaaace: they’re slow, they’re about positioning and about the crew working together, about tricks and strategy. Which isn’t what audiences really expect, so hell, for our first outing, just don’t. Sci-fi action these days is supposed to look like Marvel movies, and you aren’t making a Marvel movie. Don’t try. Minimize the action beats, to make room for character and wonder.

So, TL;DR, the movie that they’ll never make: an entirely new crew in a setting that’s as unfamiliar to them as it is to us, where the conflict is really rooted in a simple “moral of the story” dilemma, throw in some jokes and lighthearted character moments, and don’t let the sci-fi setting drag you into thinking it has to be an action franchise.

Everybody coming into Star Trek from the 90s on has wanted it to be gritty and “real” and hates the utopianism of the setting, but it’s that utopianism which defines the franchise. It’s baked into its very premise (because if you don’t have that, then the Enterprise’s gunboat diplomacy rapidly becomes dystopian and nightmarish).