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The Remaking of STAR TREK, Part 11: The Jump to the Big Screen
Robert Wise steps on board the Enteprise to turn Trek into a motion picture.
By Edward Gross
December 30, 1999
By the time early November 1977 came along, production of 'In Thy Image' was scheduled to begin in just a matter of weeks. It seemed that nothing was going to interfere with STAR TREK's return. On November 10th, Gene Roddenberry shot a memo off to Bob Collins, detailing William Shatner's comments regarding the 'second draft script' (a statement that foreshadows the competitive creative struggle that would be waged between him and Harold Livingston throughout production). 'Bill suggests that Kirk might participate with Xon in the first realization that the Vejur machine is alive,' wrote Roddenberry. 'Sees no dramatic objection in Xon coming up with the first realization, but does believe that Kirk should immediately see what Xon is talking about and help flesh out the theory...He comments that the major sag in the story comes between the Enterprise being grabbed by Vejur and the final resolution....He suggests that this is the area in which pages should come out....These comments, to me, seem to be sound and certainly worth serious consideration.'
On November 15th, Harold Livingston, working as professionally as he felt he could, despite his gradual falling out with Roddenberry, submitted yet another writer's status report, pointing out that a variety of final scripts would be coming through over the course of the next few weeks. 'As of this date, two first draft scripts have been delivered and six are expected momentarily. Of the four projects awaiting script assignment and/or further discussion,' he said, 'two we feel need considerable work to make them viable. Our status at this point, therefore, is nine hours committed to script, leaving us with two hours open. We will select those two either from the remaining four one-hour projects, or we will exercise our remaining two hours to put into work an entirely new project from an in-house story. We are closed to submissions at this time.
'Of those episodes now in work, I am particularly looking forward to 'Practice in Waking,' by Richard Bach, which really promises to be a landmark STAR TREK film. 'Tomorrow and the Stars' by Larry Alexander is another for which I have great expectations. This is the one that takes Kirk back to the time of Pearl Harbor, involves him in a fascinating--and unrequited--love affair. Summing it up, then, we are--as of this date at least--in fair shape.'
By the end of the month, Bob Collins had submitted his rewrite of the Livingston and Roddenberry drafts of 'In Thy Image,' and this one did not go over very well at all. 'His was a total disaster,' said Livingston.
On December 1, Jon Povill expressed his own opinions to Gene Roddenberry. 'I feel that the characters and dialogue are wrong throughout much of the script,' he admitted. 'Specifically: Decker is petulant and totally unsympathetic for the first two-thirds of the script. Then, with no transition, and, more importantly, with nothing happening directly to or with him that would cause him to undergo this transformation, he abruptly mellows into a team player.
'McCoy has no meat. There are no revealing glimpses of the true depth and character of the relationship between Kirk and McCoy. Instead, McCoy wanders in and out, dropping sarcastic comments at inappropriate moments.
'Also, the character of Vejur needs fleshing out. Vejur is our antagonist and must be developed as fully and consistently as if it were a humanoid. The script attempts to represent Vejur as an incredibly intelligent and complex living being. If we wish to avoid comparisons to Nomad (from the episode 'The Changeling'), we must see evidence of this intelligence and complexity that go beyond its mastery of technology. Despite its unfamiliarity with our variety of life forms, it must come to anticipate some of our moves at least as readily as a computer might anticipate the moves of a human opponent in a chess game.
'Our relationship with Vejur is a game of lion and mouse in which the resourcefulness of the mouse has intrigued the lion sufficiently to keep it around for a while. The lethal paw is only a whim away. Fortunately for us, machine life forms are not prone to whims. In all fairness to Bob, I would have to say that none of the drafts to date have succeeded in truly bringing Vejur to life. If you can develop him as fully as you did Tasha [actually the nickname for an android duplicate of Ilia created by Vejur], I think we will have a blockbuster script.
'In my opinion, in order to make Vejur consistent, there are two conflicting areas of his personality which need to be reconciled in order to understand his motivations and avoid an aftertaste of contrivance. These areas are: curiosity and prejudice. These could be reconciled by virtue of the wedding of Voyager to the original machine race. If the original machine race had stagnated because of the rigidity of its value system, then the original meeting with Voyager would have some of the characteristics of an unfulfilled Morman striking up a friendship with a hedonist. This exploratory pilgrimage that Vejur is making would then be something that it is not entirely comfortable with.
'Perhaps Vejur's prejudice might be more believable if it did have dim memories of having been at one time in control of humanoid beings. Beings who had manipulated and controlled them. Beings from whom they sought independence in order to develop as they wished. Eventually they fought and defeated their own masters, only to stagnate without the spark of humanoid inventiveness. The machines, left to their own devices, could do anything, but they had never learned a why for any of it.
'We have been saying the Voyagers programming gave the machine race purpose. Perhaps it would be better if we thought of it as new purpose, the old purpose having been to be free of humanoid control. Thus, when Vejur gets into space, the new purpose (to learn) comes into conflict with the old purpose whenever they come across carbon-based life. Vejur might believe (with considerable justification) that metallic-base machine life evolved from carbon-base machine life in much the same way we believe that we evolved from apes. As far as Vejur is concerned, carbon-base life, however complex, is at least a step or two down the evolutionary ladder from machine (metallic) life. Vejur's lack of respect for carbon-base life forms could stem from having been initially designed and built by a race that displayed a similar lack of respect for 'lower' life forms. This attitude programmed into the early machines eventually justified the machines take over once they had developed to the point where they were more capable than the humanoids who had built them. Thus, the lack of respect was perpetuated as prejudice through the centuries. The new viewpoint that Vejur must get by virtue of its union with Decker is a tremendous respect for all life forms. Of course in order to accomplish this, Decker must be portrayed in a manner befitting a man who has respect for all life forms.
'Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think the above would entail very much more exposition than we've already got. As it stands now, Vejur's justification for the eradication of humanity is vague at best. Whether this particular back story works for you or not, I think it definitely necessary to insert some kind of additional background information that will enable our audience to understand Vejur so that it is not just another 'incredible monster from space' adversary.'
What's fairly amazing about the above comments, as well as many of the others which have been discussed in considerable detail throughout this text, is that they all serve as proof that the creative minds behind 'In Thy Image'/STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE recognized the script's shortcomings, and were able to point out alternatives that could have made it considerably better. Yet when the film eventually reached theatres, we could see that little had been done to rectify the situation. Why? The most common answer is Roddenberry's determination to get his version of the story on the screen.
'Gene Roddenberry's values lay in his knowledge and experience. Now if he had imparted that and allowed the professionals to do their job, they might have had a picture. Rewriting was compulsive with him; he simply could not live with himself knowing that someone else was writing STAR TREK,' states Harold Livingston matter of factly. 'In December of '77, Roddenberry and I were really at each other's throats. My contract was up around that time, and I quit before they could fire me. I knew there were too many problems. The film was in pre-production, and they had gone back to basically what I wrote, with Collins as a writer, restoring much of what he had left out, but little of Gene's.' Interestingly, Livingston would ultimately quit the STAR TREK project three times--and would eventually have to fight it out with Roddenberry concerning the screenplay credit on the film--but was always coaxed back by the Paramount brass. For the moment, however, he believed that he was leaving the realm of the 23rd Century behind him forever.
As the new year came in, so did the first studio admission that they were interested in turning STAR TREK II into a feature film. Jon Povill, who had taken over the writers status reports after Livingston's departure, pointed out that 'all the scripts that we have in hand are in very good shape, and should Paramount at some point decide to proceed with the series, I feel that we have here the nucleus of an excellent first season.'
On January 19th, Jeffrey Katzenberg stated, 'We are currently analyzing all of the aspects necessary to move forward with STAR TREK II as a theatrical motion picture. Unfortunately, much information--premature and potentially destructive to our long-range planning--already has leaked out to the media and the public. This has become most alarming, even though we are appreciative of such widespread interest in the project and aware of its future value to us [a classic case of understatement, considering that STAR TREK has become a billion dollar industry for Paramount]. It therefore becomes imperative that no information regarding the film be given out at this time. I must emphasize how essential it is that information concerning this show not now be given out by those associated with it in any capacity. The project at its present stage can suffer seriously. And the success of a properly timed, well-coordinated future public relations campaign can be jeopardized.'
The decision to produce STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE came about for a number of reasons. First of all, the three networks, fearful of any new competition, reportedly lowered their advertising rates, thus making it less viable for Paramount to begin their fourth network. Second, not only had STAR WARS been released and become an unprecedented phenomenon, which had convinced Paramount to do the new series as opposed to a film in the first place (believing that their opportunity had come and gone); but also, Steven Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND found box office life, thus proving that science fiction most definitely could appeal to movie audiences of the 1970s and '80s.
'Obviously the real reason the STAR TREK film finally got the go-ahead was because of STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS,' says Alan Dean Foster, whose 'In Thy Image' was destined to serve as the basis for the film. 'After that, and this is supposition on my part, everybody started running around like crazy. I think that after being told, 'Yes, we're doing a series; no we're doing a movie; yes we're doing a series; no we're doing a movie,' suddenly somebody said 'YES, we're doing a movie,' and everybody hears money. Everybody ran around trying to find something so that they could get started right away with budgeting and casting. Unfortunately, once it became a big budget movie, I didn't get so much as a phone call. Not an invitation to come down to the set, or a request for suggestions.'
'It was a combination of things,' said Gene Roddenberry in regards to the decision to make a feature film as opposed to a new series. 'Five years ago, Paramount began looking at the remarkable rerun of the STAR TREK series--and they began to say, 'Well, gee, maybe we do have something here.' And it resulted in, four years ago, my checking into the studio with the idea of putting together a STAR TREK feature. At the time, the plan was just to do a modest-budget feature; and they were convinced they had a sufficient audience. But we couldn't come up with a script that Paramount really liked. Paramount wasn't that much into science fiction at the time. I think a lot of studios at the time had a rather simplistic view of science fiction--rocket ships and blasters and high adventure--the kinds of things that, really, you saw in STAR WARS, though probably with a few more half-nude women. I just wasn't interested in doing a space pirate type of show--a film is just too great an exertion of time and energy. The concepts I was working in and trying to get by at the same time had some fairly complex and, I thought, daring thematic material. And that just kind of shook them up, because they weren't thinking of science fiction as being a really heavy thematic thing. We finally ended up starting to do it as a spectacular for television to open up a new series. But about that time, STAR WARS did come along and showed that there was, indeed, not only the audience that they thought might be there, but a rather unusual-sized one at that. They have been moving toward it for a number of years. Not fast enough to suit me, nor with a large-enough budget, but they were moving.'
'When 'In Thy Image' became a feature,' adds director Bob Collins, 'we were given a budget of about eight million dollars. Somewhere around that time we were talking about special effects. Roddenberry and I went down to the Pacific Theatre and sat down for what I think was a noon performance of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. We came out and were both pretty blown away by the film. I turned to him and said, 'Well, there goes our low budget special effects.' After STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, you couldn't do those kind of special effects anymore. That meant a whole new thinking and a whole reorganization of the production and concepts. They needed a great deal more money and time, and there were only a few people who could do it. We spoke to John Dykstra and Robert Abel, and they chose Abel. So he came on board and decided that he would make it into a Robert Abel production. His budget, which had originally been one or two million dollars, suddenly jumped to seven and then ten million dollars. The budget kept rising, and Paramount was getting more and more nervous as it kept pumping more and more money into it.'
As the budget rose, Collins began to suspect that his time with the project was limited. What he did not know, or expect, was a political backstabbing by some of those involved. 'We were preparing to make this picture,' he says, 'but the writing was on the wall. I was a television director who had not done a feature film at that time. It was kind of evident that they were going to hire somebody who was used to working with big budget special effects. Paramount wasn't brave about such things, so I called up Jeff Katzenberg and said, 'You're going to replace me, right?' He said, 'No, Bob, never. Take my word for it, Bob. Trust me.' Then my agent, who at that time handled Robert Wise, called up and said, 'Look, we've got an offer for Robert Wise to replace you on the picture.' Apparently, Paramount couldn't remember that we both had the same agent, so I called up Jeff again and said, 'Look, are you going to replace me?' He said, 'Absolutely not. Never. You're absolutely staying with the project.' I pointed out that Robert Wise and I had the same agent, so he said, 'If Robert Wise doesn't do it, then you are absolutely going to do it. ' I kind of laughed about that for a while. I knew it would happen sooner or later. They wanted to get somebody in place before they fired me. So they got Wise, and the first step was to redecorate my office.
'I was more angry about the way it happened. I could understand them wanting someone else when the budget escalated to twenty million dollars, but I wish they would have been nicer about it and said, 'Look, these are the facts of the situation.' But Paramount's not the only place in town that works that way either. I was angry at Katzenberg. Anyway, and this isn't sour grapes, but I never really thought the film did all that it could do. It wasn't as good as it could have been. This is not against Robert Wise, because given the circumstances, I don't know how anybody could have done. But I didn't think the script was very good in any case.'
He's quick to add that any anger he felt was not really directed at Gene Roddenberry. 'Gene would often say about the script, 'This isn't STAR TREK,'' Collins reflects. 'One could argue that it may not be STAR TREK, but it's good. At the same time, you had to realize that on a human level, on a personal level, that he was wrapped up in it. His whole way of defining himself was involved with the series and with this project. I don't think any of us ever felt very angry at him. We all wanted to help him realize his ambition, and we wanted to make a good picture too. Paramount was kind of holding a gun to his head, saying that they were going to do it, and then they weren't going to do it. That tension, I think, flowed through all of us. I'm not sorry about calling somebody an asshole if that's what I think they are, but I liked Roddenberry and I always felt sympathetic towards him and the project.'
So Bob Collins left the film, with actor David Gautreaux (as detailed earlier) soon to follow. At that time, casting had been going on for someone to portray Decker, but this was put on hold for a time. 'They went with Robert Wise as director,' offers Bob Goodwin as an explanation for why he never cast the role. 'Gene and I were never really informed of what the steps of the deal were. It turns out that Robert Wise is used to getting producing and directing credit. Apparently, he would not accept a producer, so Gene Roddenberry was moved to executive producer and I was asked by Gene and the studio if I would stay on as associate producer. I didn't want to spend a minute of my life doing that. I was an associate producer ten years earlier, and it was like taking a step backwards, especially facing two years of production. So I left.
'What really upset me about all this'he seems to be punctuating each word'is that at the same time I had a pilot that had gotten a go ahead. It was a wonderful script, but I was having severe problems with the director, who was shooting down in New Orleans. I was the executive producer and had hired a producer, but no one was watching the store down there. The dailies were coming in, and they were just terrible. So I wanted to go down there and try to pull it together, because I saw the handwriting on the wall, but the guys at the feature department threatened that if I went down to New Orleans, they would take me off the picture. At the same time, they were negotiating a deal that would have me off the picture anyway. So what ended up happening was that by the time I finally got word on the Robert Wise deal, I immediately got on a plane and went to New Orleans, but by that time it was just too late. So not only did I end up not doing the STAR TREK film, but I ended up with a terrible pilot that did not sell. So there I was, literally out on the street. I came to work one day, and they had taken my name off the door. My stuff was packed in boxes in the hall, and the janitor told me I had to be off the lot in twenty minutes. That's the way they handled it. That's the kind of thing that can destroy you. I began to wonder, 'What did I do wrong?' Luckily, someone I knew with money had been waiting for me to leave Paramount, because he wanted to start a company with me. Thank God for small miracles.'