If you’re a fan of the rebooted Star Trek movie franchise (called the “Kelvin” timeline by many Trekkers because of what happened in the 2009 Star Trek film), it appears increasingly likely that we’re not going to see that particular Enterprise crew on screen anymore.
As first reported by Deadline, director SJ Clarkson is going to direct the pilot episode for HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel. According to reporter Nellie Andreeva, Clarkson got the gig because “she recently became available” when the untitled Star Trek 4 was shelved. If there’s no film in development, she didn’t have a project to direct. Clarkson had been hired for the gig back in April, set to become the first female director for the Trek franchise.
But production on Star Trek 4 has been difficult, perhaps even impossible with both Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth walking away when producers reportedly wanted to rework existing contracts. Paramount Pictures wanted to keep costs down after the previous Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond, grossed only $344 million ($160 million domestically) against a $185 million budget.
Though two of the three Star Trek films have been good (personally, I prefer the first of them) and the cast is stocked with popular stars like Pine, Zoe Saldana and Karl Urban, audiences have never really responded to them as Paramount hoped.
The 2009 Star Trek earned $385 million worldwide and was loved by critics. Star Trek Into Darkness was a bad misstep (and probably took too long to be made, four years later), but still earned $467 million and earned decent reviews. (J.J. Abrams irritated many fans by trying to deny that iconic Trek villain Khan was part of the story when he obviously was.) Star Trek Beyond drew strong reviews and many Trekkers thought it was the best of the three films because it was most like an episode of the original TV series. But it wasn’t the blockbuster hit that Paramount wanted.
Bringing in Hemsworth to reprise his role as James T. Kirk’s father in a time-travel adventure might have given Star Trek 4 a boost. He’s become a huge star since his brief appearance in the series’ first film, going on to play Thor for Marvel and headline several other movies, including the upcoming Men in Black International. Reportedly, he had a deal in place — one which producers tried to renegotiate.
Pine also had a deal in place and his increased profile from playing Captain Kirk has made him a reliable star, if not a marquee headliner. He’s been impressive with supporting turns in Wonder Woman and A Wrinkle in Time (and was a surprise part of the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse cast), and is the lead in the upcoming TNT miniseries I Am the Night.
Maybe negotiations would’ve eventually worked out, but beginning production on a Star Trek film without its Captain Kirks — James and George — presumably created a considerable obstacle. The cast also suffered a tragic blow with the 2016 death of Anton Yelchin, who played Officer Chekov. Perhaps a chunk of filming could have been done with the remaining players — including Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Simon Pegg, who are recognizable faces — but the studio apparently decided it was better to shelve Star Trek for now.
There’s also the possibility that the issues with Pine and Hemsworth made it easier for Paramount to spike Star Trek 4 and focus instead on Quentin Tarantino’s proposed Trek movie, if that project is ever actually being made. The current cast believes that Tarantino’s movie would be made with them (putting together a new cast would be quite an undertaking for what is probably a one-off venture). Perhaps it’s easier for the studio to wait until everyone’s schedule opens up some more and concentrate on a movie that is certain to draw more attention.
If this is it for the rebooted Star Trek series, that feels like a wasted opportunity. Abrams and crew put together an excellent young cast, and there were so many Trek stories — either adaptations or originals — that could’ve been told. But that cast, improved digital effects and more exciting action still couldn’t pull in audiences. Maybe Star Trek fans like their Starfleet adventures more on TV than the big screen.