Star Trek's Original Movie Plans Would Have Been Better Than The Motion Picture
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is widely considered to be one of the worst movies in the series, but the original ideas for the film sound much better.
Star Trek's first movie is one of the most disliked in the franchise, but was almost a whole lot better. Upon release, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was rejected by both casual viewers and the devoted Trek fan base, and in a particularly worrying sign, quickly became known as 'The Slow Motion Picture.' Production on the Enterprise's first big screen voyage was a decidedly rough ride. During the scripting process, many storied writers submitted scripts that were swiftly consigned to the nearest airlock, but with the power of hindsight, one has to wonder whether these rejected stories might've been better than the finished product.
In 1975, a Star Trek movie script was submitted by series creator, Gene Roddenberry, but failed to win approval from studio executives. Titled The God Thing, Roddenberry's story featured supreme beings getting too big for their boots and receiving a stern talking to from one James T. Kirk. Clearly, this high-concept plot was a step too far for Paramount, who immediately began looking for a fresh script not written by Roddenberry. Elements of Roddenberry's idea would find their way into Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which proved Kirk meeting God probably wasn’t a good idea after all.
The rejection of The God Thing might've been justified, but other unused scripts for The Motion Picture hinted at far greater potential. After writing the classic Star Trek episode "City On The Edge of Forever," Harlan Ellison was invited to pitch a story, and although it never came to pass, his concept sounds intriguing. Strange events begin happening on Earth, with buildings vanishing and people morphing into reptilians. The source of the trouble is traced to a planet on the far side of the galaxy and, naturally, there's only one man for the job. A mysterious hooded figure soon begins kidnapping former Enterprise crew members (only the famous ones) and is revealed as James T. Kirk, rounding up the old gang. The tale then takes off with time travel, moral dilemmas and a new, villainous alien race.
According to Ellison, the studio exec he was pitching to had read Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods and was hooked on involving Mayans, even though the Enterprise traveled back to the time of dinosaurs. Ellison, after first pointing out the Mayans weren't around in prehistoric times, ended up walking out of the meeting. This is a great shame, as his plot sounds unique, interesting and a novel way to reunite the Enterprise crew in response to a massive threat to humanity. The story would've likely facilitated much more action than The Motion Picture, with Kirk drop-kicking Gorn lookalikes at will.
Although Ellison's idea never took off, another potentially great concept for the first Star Trek movie made better progress - Star Trek: Planet of the Titans. A script, originally written by Chris Bryant and Alan Scott, had been approved, pre-production was underway and a director had been found in Philip Kaufman. Set after the ship's five-year mission, Planet of the Titans involved Kirk and his crew facing off against the Klingons and Cygnans for possession of a planet formerly inhabited by a technologically advanced race, the titular Titans. Unfortunately for all involved, the planet is being sucked into a black hole and inevitably, the Enterprise finds itself pulled into the void. The cast emerge thousands of years in Earth's past and, clearly not concerned about stomping on any butterflies, show the natives how to make fire. The ultimate paradox is that Kirk and the gang, having now accelerated mankind’s evolution, turn out to be the actual Titans.
Ultimately, Planet of the Titans was killed by an abundance of creative hands. Kaufman had realized the popularity of a certain Vulcan science officer and built a very Spock-centric story, also throwing Stonehenge and Kirk’s son into the mix. The writers and Kaufman tried refining the script, but the end result bore little resemblance to the original and Paramount quickly backed out. With an intelligent but uncluttered core story and proper Star Trek villains, Planet of the Titans surely would've been truer to what fans loved about the original TV series than The Motion Picture proved to be.
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