Three possible Trek projects, but which one will move forward?
Nearly nine months after tapping Noah Hawley to write and direct the next Star Trek movie, Paramount executives have put the project on hold. The writer/creator of Legion and the rebooted Fargo television series was working on one of two or three Star Trek cinematic projects that had been green lit in the year following the merger of Viacom and CBS which reunited the various Trek license holders. Depending on the source, Hawley’s project is planned for Kelvin Timeline featured in the J J Abrams Star Trek movies which last screened in 2016, or a re-attempt at Star Trek 4 is a completely separate project. Quentin Tarantino has been working on producing an R-rated Trek movie with Micheal L. Smith doing the writing.
The pause is not specifically directed at Star Trek, but is part of a larger review of the studio’s production slate five weeks after Paramount hired former 20th Century Fox studio executive Emma Watts as its new motion picture group president. However, it would appear that three simultaneous projects in the same franchise may be more than Watts wants to pursue right now. According to Variety, “Watts has put the brakes on the Hawley project in order to get more clarity on how to handle the next Star Trek movie, but added that the project has not been ditched.” Of course this takes place with the background of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic upending the film production and release schedules of studios around the planet. But even without a global crisis, a number of wildly divergent takes on the flagship brand runs the risk of diluting its value. Disney found itself in a similar situation after Solo: A Star Wars Story was seen as being “too much, too soon”, resulting in the studio changing to a biennial release schedule for future films in the franchise rather than one every year.
A Return to the Kelvin Timeline?
The most recent movies are referred to as the Kelvin Timeline after the destruction of George Kirk’s USS Kelvin at the hands of the Romulan Nero’s mining ship. The Narada was hurled, along with Ambassador Spock, into another dimension following the latter’s failed attempt to stabilize Romulus’ star, Eisn. Following the somewhat disappointing box office for Star Trek Beyond in 2016, Paramount looked to create the follow on Star Trek 4 at a lower budget. However, actors Christopher Pine and Chris Hemsworth who played James T. Kirk and his farther George T. Kirk in the first of the rebooted films both balked at the lower paycheck being offered by the studio and walked away from contract discussions and the film was indefinitely shelved.
Since the movies were put on hiatus, the merger of CBS owner the television rights, and Paramount’s corporate parent Viacom negated the reasons for having a separate cinematic and television versions of the venerable SciFi franchise. Indeed, CBS All Access’ successful Picard series incorporates the destruction of Romulus as a main plot element. So, with a central event from the films, now part of the main canon, does the studio have a need to play in more than one timeline, especially when it cannot be assured of bringing back the original cast? On the other hand, CBS has had problem marketing merchandise for its flagship Star Trek: Discovery show because the paywall that is a streaming service has limited its audience.
Interestingly for major – and reputable – Hollywood news sources, Variety has Hawley’s project as the one involving the Kelvin Timeline while The Hollywood Reporter is reporting it as a third, separate project entirely being developed in parallel. If Hawley’s is a clean slate reboot as Deadline reports, it is seen as the best chance for the studio to gather a broader international audience – something which is increasingly needed in the modern film arena, as well as something where Star Trek films have collectively fallen short since the original movies.
Whether it is Hawley’s project or another movie, there have been a number of stories – all unconfirmed – circling around a return to the Kelvin timeline. Some sources, including Variety have stated that it would involve a different crew, while the Hollywood Reporter suggests that the plot of Hawley’s movie was to be to be centered on a galaxy-wide pandemic. If that latter is true, it would be a case of very unfortunate timing as audiences are less likely to want escapist fantasy revolving around something they just lived through.
Set a New Course, Mr. Sulu
While no deadline has been set for Watts to make her decision, it is thought to be made “within a few weeks”. If it is ultimately put on hold for more than a few months, iit cannot be expected that Hawley would continue to put his career on hold while the fate of his project is being weighed. Similarly, S. J. Clarkson who was tapped to helm Star Trek IV as the first woman director of a Star Trek movie, has gone on to direct the pilot for the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel series. Additionally, the principle actors also have commitments to other films. And, while those projects have been delayed due to the global health crisis, some filming has resumed and it is very unlikely that they will have a 4-10 month hole in their respective schedules all at the same time.
While it could be possible to pick up a few stardates later with one or more of the characters having advanced their Star Fleet careers, would there be enough demand to turn that into the blockbuster Paramount needs? Certainly, there was popular demand for a Captain Sulu series or film, which actor George Takei acknowledged when he pranked fans with an April Fools Joke several years back. But could it be pulled off with the most recent incarnation of the crew? Not impossible, but with Hollywood heads being a cautious bunch, they would be more likely to green light a 10-episode series for the CBSAA streaming service, much as Marvel has for some of their connected shows coming to Disney+.
And then there’s the Quentin Tarantino Star Trek project from which very little is actually known despite the buzz that the director occasionally generates regarding it. He has since dropped out from directing the film, remaining a producer and working with Smith, co-writer of The Revenant to develop his idea. It is being increasingly reported that the story would center around “a largely earthbound 30’s gangster setting” which would suggest a connection to the original episode, 1968’s A Piece of the Action. At the end of the episode, as the landing party returns from Sigma Iotia II, McCoy realizes that he left his communicator behind, to which Kirk responds that the Iotians, “may one day be in a position to demand a piece of our action.” A return to Sigma Iotia II was considered for an episode of Star Trek Deep Space 9, in honor of Trek’s 30th anniversary, but the classic Troubles and Tribble-ations was produced instead.
In the end, with the television side of Star Trek developing more content, including season 3 of Discovery debuting this October 15, committing to a second season of Picard, the animated Star Trek Below Decks debut and the upcoming Nickelodeon animated series Star Trek: Prodigy, it is clear that ViacomCBS values the franchise. The question will be, which heading will it take to “boldly go”.