• Star Trek Oral History: When Captain Kirk Fought Jesus

    From Ubiquitous@21:1/5 to All on Mon Jun 27 21:46:40 2016
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    This excerpt from 'The Fifty Year Mission' shows how Paul McCartney,
    Barry Diller, John F. Kennedy and, yes, even Christ all played a
    role in the original series movie that almost was.

    Star Trek was the show that wouldn’t die. After the original series
    was canceled in 1969, reruns in syndication attracted phenomenal
    ratings, an animated version ran for two seasons and the convention
    scene exploded. Things were not going as well for creator Gene
    Roddenberry. Two follow-up pilots, Genesis II and The Questor Tapes,
    did not go to series, and his big-screen movie, Pretty Maids All in
    a Row, flopped. Roddenberry depended on income from the Star Trek
    lecture and convention circuit. But by 1975, Paramount was toying
    with the idea of reviving the show as a big-screen feature.

    This exclusive excerpt from The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete
    Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek - The First 25
    Years (June 28, Thomas Dunne Books; Volume II covering the second 25
    years arrives Aug. 30) by journalist Edward Gross and television writer/producer Mark A. Altman (Castle, Agent X) details
    Roddenberry’s post-Trek disillusionment and his first attempts to
    come up with a script, including one that had the crew meeting Jesus
    and another where they tried to prevent the Kennedy Assassination.
    Both ideas were rejected by then Paramount boss Barry Diller, though development continued on a new Star Trek. — Andy Lewis

    JON POVILL (associate producer, Star Trek: The Motion Picture): Gene
    was not enthusiastic about Star Trek at the time. He really wanted
    to do something else. It was the idea of trying to prove himself,
    not that he was aware he was proving himself. He was sort of
    desperate to show he could do something besides Star Trek. That came
    out as, "I don't care about Star Trek, I want to move on."

    SUSAN SACKETT (executive assistant to Gene Roddenberry): This was a
    time when he was sort of a writer for hire.

    GENE RODDENBERRY (creator of Star Trek): I had been through harsh
    times. My dreams were going downhill, because I could not get work
    after the original series was canceled. ... I was stereotyped as a science-fiction writer, and sometimes it was tough to pay the

    There were several aborted film projects he was involved with,
    including one that would have seen Roddenberry collaborating with
    Paul McCartney, at the time soaring (no pun intended) with his
    Beatles follow-up band, Wings.

    SACKETT: I have no idea whatever happened to that. It's probably
    stuck in a file, like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Paul
    contacted him and was a Star Trek fan. He invited us to a concert,
    which was great, and we met backstage. Paul hired Gene to write a
    story about the band and it was a crazy story. Paul gave him an
    outline and Gene was supposed to do something with it. It was bands
    from outer space and they were having a competition. Gene was open
    to things at this point; Star Trek wasn't happening and he wasn't
    getting his scripts produced, but he had a family to feed. Gene
    began working on it and it was about the time they started talking
    about bringing back Trek, so he never got to complete anything for

    POVILL: In May of 1975, Paramount expressed interest in developing a
    Star Trek film, so Gene moved back into his old office on the lot. ?

    WILLIAM SHATNER (actor, "Captain James T. Kirk”): I was working on
    the series Barbary Coast at the time, which was done at Paramount.
    It was on one end of Paramount, and Star Trek had been filmed at the
    other end of Paramount. I had never, for the longest time, revisited
    the stage area where [we had] filmed. So one day I decided to go
    there, [and] as I’d been walking and remembering the times, I
    suddenly heard the sound of a typewriter! That was the strangest
    thing, because these offices were deserted. So I followed the sound,
    till I came to the entrance of this building. And the sound was
    getting louder as I went into the building. I went down a hallway,
    where the offices for Star Trek were ... I opened the door and there
    was Gene Roddenberry.

    He was sitting in a corner, typing. I hadn’t seen him in five years.
    I said, “Gene, the series has been canceled!” He said, “I know, I
    know the series has been canceled. I’m writing the movie!” So I
    said, “There’s gonna be a movie? What’s it gonna be about?” He said,
    “First of all, we have to explain how you guys got older. So what we
    have to do is move everybody up in a rank. You become an admiral,
    and the rest of the cast become Starfleet commanders. One day a
    force comes toward Earth — might be God, might be the Devil —
    breaking everything in its path, except the minds of the starship
    commanders. So we gotta find all the original crewmen for the
    starship Enterprise, but first — where is Spock? He's back on
    Vulcan, doing R & R; five-year mission, seven years of R & R. He
    swam back upstream. So we gotta go get him.” So we get Spock, do
    battle, and it was a great story.

    Based on research that had been done by Povill for a proposed non-
    Star Trek novel to be written by Roddenberry, the above-described
    treatment for The God Thing focuses on Admiral Kirk reassembling his
    crew to stop an entity on course for Earth that claims to be God. It
    turns out to be a living computer programmed by a race that was
    “cast out” of its own dimension and into ours. The story ends with
    the “God” entity miraculously granting our crew newfound youth and
    returning them back to the original five-year mission.

    RICHARD COLLA (director, The Questor Tapes): Gene showed me that
    treatment, which was much more daring than Star Trek: The Motion
    Picture would be. The Enterprise went off in search of that thing
    from outer space that was affecting everything. By the time they got
    into the alien’s presence, it manifested itself and said, “Do you
    know me?” Kirk said, “No, I don’t know who you are.” It said,
    “Strange, how could you not know who I am?” So it shift-changed and
    became another image and said, “Do you know me?” Kirk said, “No, who
    are you?” It said, “Strange, how could you not know who I am?” So it shift-changed and came up in the form of Christ the carpenter, and
    says, “Do you know me?” and Kirk says, “Oh, now I know who you are.”

    POVILL: It probably would have brought Star Trek down, because the
    Christian Right, even though it wasn’t then what it is now, would
    have just destroyed it. In fact, Gene started the script under one
    Paramount administration and handed it to another ... to Barry
    Diller, who was a devout Catholic. There was no way on Earth that
    that script was going to fly for a devout Catholic.

    RODDENBERRY: Actually, it wasn’t God they were meeting, but someone
    who had been born here on Earth before, claiming to be God. I was
    going to say that this false thing claiming to be God had screwed up
    man’s concept of the real infinity and beauty of what God is.
    Paramount was reluctant to put that up on the screen, and I can
    understand that position.

    Over the decades there were reportedly a number of attempts to
    novelize The God Thing; among the potential authors were Susan
    Sackett and Fred Bronson, Roddenberry official biographer David
    Alexander, Trek star Walter Koenig and, in the version that came the
    closest to fruition, Michael Jan Friedman’s adaptation for Pocket

    MICHAEL JAN FRIEDMAN (author): Gene had written a script for the
    first Star Trek movie. Certain elements showed up in Star Trek: The
    Motion Picture, but most did not. So there was this mysterious
    script floating around that people talked about as if it were the
    Dead Sea Scrolls. After I had written several successful Trek
    novels, Trek editor Dave Stern asked me to turn Gene’s efforts into
    a novel called The God Thing. To the best of my recollection, I
    received both the script and a short narrative version of it.
    Naturally I jumped at the chance to translate and expand it. Gene
    was — and still is — one of my heroes, for God’s sake, no pun
    intended. As he had already left the land of the living, this was a
    unique opportunity to collaborate with him. But when I read the
    material, I was dismayed. I hadn’t seen other samples of Gene’s
    unvarnished writing, but what I saw this time could not possibly
    have been his best work. It was disjointed — scenes didn’t work
    together, didn’t build toward anything meaningful. Kirk, Spock and
    McCoy didn’t seem anything like themselves. There was some mildly
    erotic, midlife-crisis stuff in there that didn’t serve any real
    purpose. In the climactic scene, Kirk had a fistfight with an alien
    who had assumed the image of Jesus Christ.

    So Kirk was slugging it out on the bridge. With Jesus.

    DAVID STERN (former Star Trek editor at Pocket Books): We worked up
    an outline, [Roddenberry's lawyer] Leonard [Maizlish] and
    [Roddenberry's wife] Majel looked at it, and said the things
    Friedman added to make it novel-length were not reflective of what
    Gene intended. And that got frustrating, because we weren’t getting
    specific enough feedback to know which direction to go in. And the
    manuscript — Gene’s treatment — definitely needed more.

    FRIEDMAN: This was, of course, Majel’s prerogative. After all, she
    was Gene’s widow. And I could have tried to do what she was asking —
    just stretch out the scenes to take up more pages. Certainly, it
    would have been a healthy payday for me. The print run was slated to
    be enormous. But public scrutiny of this story in anything
    approximating its original form would not have put Gene or his
    legacy in a good light. It would not have put me in a good light.
    And it would not have put Pocket in a good light. In the end, after
    discussions with Majel and after entertaining the possibility of
    using one other writer, Pocket agreed with my assessment and
    scrapped the project. I wish it had turned out otherwise. But you
    know, all things considered, it’s probably better this way.

    POVILL: Gene went to work on The God Thing in May of 1975, and it
    was his first attempt at a Star Trek feature. By August it was
    shitcanned by Paramount president Barry Diller. Gene, who had gotten
    to know me pretty well by then, suggested that I take a crack at
    writing a treatment, which I did. Then he and I worked on a
    treatment together.?? Treatment One was a spec story that I did
    after Gene told me that the studio had turned down The God Thing —
    which was not the actual title of his script, just what the script
    has come to be called since then. So, Gene told me it'd been
    rejected and told me that if I wanted to come up with a Star Trek
    movie story of my own, he'd be happy to look at it and to pass it
    along if he thought it was worthy. What I didn't know at the time
    was that about 700,000 other writers had been told the same thing
    and that some of them (I think) were being paid to come up with
    their ideas. Amongst them ... not sure, but I think there was Harlan
    Ellison, Norman Spinrad, John D.F. Black, Richard Matheson and Ted
    Sturgeon. And probably others from outside the Trek universe.

    In this story, planet Vulcan passes through an area of space in
    which they had previously released a "psychic cloud" that — they
    believed — would fill the enemy with distrust that would break down
    all military discipline and create chaos within the enemy ranks.
    They had done this in the final war that they'd fought, a war in
    which things were going so poorly that they were forced to release
    the cloud prematurely, without full testing that would have revealed
    the damn thing only worked on Vulcans. But as with most weapons,
    it's only a matter of time before whatever you came up with winds up
    being used against you — only in this case it was more a matter of
    the movement of star systems bringing Vulcan into this area of
    space. Interestingly, in order for Spock to be free of the influence
    of the cloud, he has to focus himself totally on the human half of
    his being — and he remains human and quirky for the majority of the
    story. ?

    Ultimately, the Enterprise must go back in time to the final Vulcan
    war in an attempt to prevent the release of the cloud. When they
    fail to do so, Spock uses the equipment to send out a psychic cloud
    of his own — of logic, trust, restraint and respect that effectively counteracts the effects of the initial cloud. And the Enterprise
    turns the tide in the war against the ancient foe so that Vulcan is
    not conquered or destroyed. I gave it to Gene sometime in late
    August or early September of 1975. He read it and said it would have
    made a swell episode, but that he didn't think it would work as a

    In December of 1975, he called me and said he had a new idea for a
    feature, would I like to work on it with him? I still remember
    standing in my kitchen and hanging up the phone after I said, "Yes,"
    and then whooping so loudly that my neighbors came running over to
    see what the hell was going on.

    The result of that call was Treatment 2, which certainly seemed at
    the time was my "big break." It was my first work for a studio —
    yes, I took over Gene Coon's old office (for the first time — I'd
    lose it and get it back again many times in the next four years) and
    Paramount paid me for my efforts on it. The story has numerous
    elements in common with Treatment 1, which at the time led me to
    believe that Gene's "new" idea had been inspired by my spec story,
    though he never said as much to me and so I have nothing to go on
    but my own presumption. In this one, rather than Spock being
    responsible for the change in Vulcan personality from hot-blooded
    warriors to peaceful beings ruled by logic, Scotty is responsible
    for wiping the Earth out of the Federation. The Enterprise and all
    aboard it had been destroyed by a black hole while Spock and Scotty,
    in smaller research vessels without the gravitational disrupting
    issues of warp engines, had managed to escape. Scotty, in a
    desperate attempt to go back in time and prevent his precious ship
    and crew from slipping into the event horizon, miscalculates, winds
    up in 1937 and triggers changes with a snowball effect.

    His efforts to stop the snowball only make things worse for his
    original time period, though they do make things considerably better
    between 1937 and 1964. World War II is avoided, Kennedy is not
    assassinated, medical science advances substantially and a whole
    bunch of other boons make it impossible for world leaders to agree
    to help Kirk set things right for the future by plunging the 20th
    century back into the horrors stored in the Enterprise's history
    records. Kennedy, however, recognizes the greater good and helps
    Kirk destroy his world to create the better one. There's also a cool
    bit of stuff as Einstein along with Churchill, Kennedy, Hitler and
    others tour the Enterprise.

    As I read the two treatments, I felt like both of them had merit to
    the concepts. Treatment Two had a really great way of reintroducing
    most of the main characters — who are dead as the movie starts, but
    are literally resurrected by a mysterious process in some way
    related to the black hole. Both stories needed a lot of reworking,
    but there was potential there. If the studio had any real sense of
    what Star Trek was about and why it worked, they might have shown
    more patience, but the plug was quickly pulled and Treatment Two was
    rejected by the studio.

    The road to Star Trek's rebirth was still to be a long one. Between
    Paramount rejecting The God Thing in August 1975 to the Dec. 7,
    1979, release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there would be a
    minimum of six additional attempts at a feature film and the aborted
    television series, Star Trek Phase II.

    In other news, somehow Crooked Hillary still isn't in prison...

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