Quentin Tarantino may just be the future of Star Trek. And although he's a rogue choice, he may be just what the franchise needs, able to make it cooler than J.J. Abrams ever did.
Star Trek has always had a coolness problem. Often, The Original Series vacillated between kitschy and brainy. It was a niche within another niche, yet managed to join the mainstream. Popular, yes. But, cool? No. And Star Trek never was quite successful when it tried to be cool. It can’t really retain its soul on cool. When J.J. Abrams rebooted the movie franchise, it dripped with cool, but it wasn’t exactly Star Trek. Abrams-Trek was more bubblegum, and that worked, at least for a while. However, with the declining box office returns, it is not sustainable. What Star Trek needs to evolve is a pair of willing to tend the garden, not play in the weeds. It needs Quentin Tarantino.
The Problem With J.J. Abrams Star Trek
Among Star Trek’s longstanding problems is its homogeneity. You could put on an episode of The Original Series and Enterprise - the first and last series that were part of the original Roddenberry vision - and see virtually the same thing. The editing and directing were nearly identical. Establishing shot to captain’s log. Virtually every episode had them. Act breaks followed the same formula. Actions scenes were almost always shot the same way. From 1967 to 2005, the only things that changed was the budget.
Part of that was due to Rick Berman, who took over as Trek’s gatekeeper upon Gene Roddenberry’s passing. Under his auspices, the spin-off series all synced in most ways, right down to the music, which tended to a background nuisance rather than a supplementary method of communication and entertainment. Deep Space Nine was the maverick of the franchise - the most original series since, well, The Original Series. It went against the grain by questioning the Roddenberry utopia; it featured morally complex characters and featured serialized arcs. Yet, aesthetically, it remained obviously Star Trek, and unless you’re a die-hard fan, it’s doubtful that you’ve ever heard of it. It was the coolest series, but when was the last time you heard anyone talk about it?
When J.J. Abrams boarded the franchise, he added his own visual lexicon, which, like or dislike it, was necessary. To speak to the creative quality of Abrams’ work on Star Trek, however, it’s certainly not great. His talents as a director do not lie in invention but in reinterpretation. He is at his best when he’s echoing the familiar. The Force Awakens is A New Hope. Super 8 is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Abrams’ Star Trek was Star Wars, from its directorial flourishes to its creative value system; it is action heavy, it moves quickly, it is not bogged down in the how and why. In stripping away the very thing that made Trek niche, it also robbed it of its uniqueness, becoming cacophonous nonsense closer to Transformers than its own source material. Merely referencing foundational touchstones - tribbles, Khan, common sense - doesn’t make Into Darkness into Star Trek.
Its success, however, demanded its own homogeneity, and Star Trek: Discovery was produced. If not cut from the same cloth, Discovery comes certainly from the same tailor’s shop (though definitely not from Garak’s). The series is purported to exist in the original Star Trek universe, though it clearly derives more influence from the Abrams movies visually and creatively. Discovery attempts to marry the brainier aspect of Trek’s philosophical core with the action of its modern depiction. It does neither particularly well; instead it reflects Star Trek’s social themes at its heavy-handed worst while relying on its pace to blind audiences to its elemental flaws. Like the Abrams films, Discovery is familiar, but will not age gracefully.
The “coolness” factor of this new Star Trek is manufactured. It comes from a formula resultant from other space opera shows and lesser comedies. It feels base. While the Trek of yesteryear certainly faltered and talked down to its audience as well, the self-aware coolness and half-hearted references to the old school give these new iterations a cynical, artificial, post-modern feel.