Star Trek, The Motion Picture, Part 1–Pre-Incarnation


I formerly called this a review, but it has expanded far beyond that into a series I’m still working on.  Thus, I’m calling it a “reconsideration” now.  I’ve been intending to write about Star Trek:  The Motion Picture for awhile; not so much a traditional review, as my thoughts on seeing the movie again for the first time in a long time.  Originally, I was just going to plunge right in with no synopsis; but upon thinking about it, I changed my mind.  Many may not have seen it, and those who have may need a refresher.  In this context, it occurred to me also to put in some production notes, background, and other relevant information.  To do all of this in one post would make it extremely long even by my standards (regular readers know that some of my posts are on the long side!); therefore, I’m breaking this into multiple parts, beginning with how STTMP came to be made in the first place.

Throughout the early 70’s, Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, had churned out a string of failed sci-fi (yes, I know that “sf” is correct, and sci-fi is derogatory–but the use here is intentional) pilots, most of them (Spectre, Genesis II, and Planet Earth) awful, one passable (The Questor Tapes) and several that never made it out of the concept stage (two of these, years after Roddenberry’s death, were made into the relatively good series Andromeda and Earth:  The Final Conflict).  None of these worked out, but as the decade wore on and Star Trek became a cult hit in syndication, Roddenberry decided to try to get it back on the air.  Paramount, which owned the rights, was planning to launch a fourth TV network to complete with CBS, NBC, and ABC.  The idea of a renewed Star Trek as a flagship show for the network sounded good; so pre-production began.  The resuscitated show would be christened Star Trek:  Phase II.

The 70’s to that point had not been good to William Shatner.  Typecast, he was reduced at one point to doing small-town dinner theater, dramatic readings, and (reluctantly) fan conventions, while literally living out of his truck.  He was immediately on board with the idea of reprising Captain Kirk.  On the other hand, Leonard Nimoy, also typecast (but working much more steadily in Mission:  Impossible!, In Search Of, and other series and movies), had shied away from his identification with Mr. Spock, famously writing the book I Am Not Spock.  This was controversial in fan circles, and won Nimoy some foes.  In any case, he refused to come back to series TV.

Roddenberry was OK with that, and planned a work-around.  Essentially he split Spock into two characters, replacing a combined science officer/First Officer with two separate characters, a First Officer and a science officer.  Roddenberry had always loved C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels.  The eponymous character starts as a young man aboard a 19th Century British naval ship, and rises to rank of Captain of a Ship of the Line.  Kirk was based on Hornblower, but Roddenberry always complained that the constraints of series TV forced him to introduce Kirk fully-formed, rather than seeing him develop, as one sees Hornblower in the novels.

Now that could be rectified.  The new First Officer would be a young, brash man on his first major assignment, Willard Decker, son of Commodore Matt Decker (from the old series episode “The Ultimate Weapon”).  Decker would be young, cocky, full of himself, and an all-around loose cannon.  Kirk, several years down the road by now, would be seasoned and would replace some of his former swagger with a calmer, more thoughtful approach.  Thus we would, in effect, see Hornblower at two different stages of his career, as manifested in two characters.

Kirk being the elder statesman now, the womanizing and romance would be delegated to Decker.  To spice it up, another new character would be added:  Ilia, a super-sexy member of a race of super-sexy (though bald!) telepaths, the Deltans.  To add intrigue, she and Decker would be former lovers.  Thus, there would be ongoing romantic tension between the two of them over the course of the series.

The second “part” of Spock would be a full-Vulcan science officer, Xon (who would also have the honor of being the first Vulcan male character to have a name not beginning with “S”.  Since this series did not fly, that honor ultimately went to Tuvok of Voyager).  Whereas Spock wrestled with his human side, trying to cleave to the Vulcan way, Xon would be fascinated with humans and human emotions and would develop an interest in exploring them.

The rest of the cast of TOS would be brought back more or less intact.

The plans for a TV network fell through, and Paramount shelved the series.  However, in 1977, a film by an obscure film editor named George Lucas became one of the biggest science fiction adventure hits of all time–of course, I refer to Star Wars.  In light of this, Paramount decided to re-purpose Phase II as a big-screen movie; and thus, Star Trek:  The Motion Picture was born.

With the success of the movie franchise throughout the 80’s, Paramount revived the plans for a new TV series.  The original cast by this time were too old (and expensive!) to bring back.  This was solved by setting the new series–Star Trek:  The Next Generation–some eighty years after the original series.  A new cast of relative unknowns (at least to the American public–Patrick Stewart was a fairly distinguished Shakespearean actor, but had done relatively little in films, and was not well-known stateside.  LeVar Burton was the only cast member then familiar to the American public) was hired, but the original Phase II premise was re-re-purposed.  Seasoned, capable Captain Kirk became Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and First (now Executive) Officer Willard Decker became William Riker.  The Horatio Hornblower motif was extended by adding a teen whiz-kid character, Wesley Crusher (son of the Ship’s Doctor, the very un-McCoy-like Beverly Crusher).  Thus we get to see Hornblower at the beginning, the prime, and the peak of his career, all in one series!

Hot bald sexy telepathic Deltan babe Ilia became hot Greek-goddess-tressed sexy telepathic Betazoid babe Deanna Troi (and I have to say that I think Marina Sirtis did a better job with that thankless character than Persis Khambatta did in the movie.  She was prettier, too).  Finally, the human wannabe Vulcan Xon became the human wannabe android Data.

Star Trek:  The Next Generation, in a move unprecedented at the time for a major TV series was launched in first run syndication.  Skeptics were many, but the show was a hit; and the rest is history.  It’s not the history I want to tell here, though; so we’ll return to Star Trek:  The Motion Picture in the next post in this series.


Posted on 17/01/2013, in Entertainment, movie reviews, movies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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