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The Remaking of STAR TREK, Part 9: From Phase II to Feature Film
Development continues on the proposed series that eventually led to the Motion Picture
By Edward Gross
December 27, 1999
On August 29th, 1977, producer Harold Livingston presented a new writers status report, and noted that they had met some twenty odd writers. 'We have also received a large number of submissions from various writers, either in one or two page outlines, and in some cases full scripts,' he said. 'We have investigated most of these, none have really met STAR TREK standards. They keep coming in and the response from writers is totally overwhelming. I have recently received a submission from Thomas Ardies, who has published a best selling novel, is a well known novelist and short story writer, and also extremely desirous of doing a STAR TREK.
'Richard Bach,' the producer continued, 'the author of JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL, and the current best selling novel ILLUSIONS, is a STAR TREK fan. He has submitted two stories, both of which were so eminently desirable that we purchased them. One story is a tale of a society whose people are, for the most part, repressed and annually release these emotions by viewing their star ships in combat with other star ships. It is a very entertaining and provocative story, and Bach had submitted a five-page outline. Almost simultaneously, Art Lewis, a very accomplished writer, came in with a similar idea. It was decided to graft both of these stories and assign Lewis to develop the story and teleplay. At the same time, Bach's second story is, what we consider a truly representative STAR TREK vehicle, about a kind of dream world where our crew members become actively and dangerously involved in the dreams of a lady who had been in suspended animation for 200 years, kept alive throughout that time with periodic dreams. Bach is now writing the outline and actually has requested we allow him to do the script first, and if we do not like the script we can drop the project. I encouraged him to write the traditional outline and we would proceed from that point.
'Alan Dean Foster delivered the final draft of the two-hour movie. We met with him extensively, discussed the story, made numerous revisions and I am now in the process of rewriting the first act which we all, in concert, consider too slow. We should have the story ready to show a screen-writer some time this week.'
In early September, several treatments arrived at the STAR TREK II offices, including James Menzies' 'The Prisoner,' Shimon Wincelberg's 'Lord Bobby,' William Lansford's 'Devil's Due,' the Margaret Armen/Alf Harris collaboration, 'The Savage Syndrome,' and John Meredyth Lucas' 'Kitumba.'
'The Prisoner' deals with the Enterprise being captured by an alien being who first appears in the form of Albert Einstein to appeal to the crew, but whose real plan is to actually take over the minds of all of humanity, citing man's savage nature as his rationale for doing so, and pointing to several examples of this savagery. Kirk's response is that the items being discussed are ancient history, but the alien believes that man, as a species, will never change. 'The Prisoner' would probably not have made a very effective episode. The plot seems to be a mixture of such original series episodes as 'The Squire of Gothos,' 'Return to Tomorrow' and 'The Savage Curtain.' A variation of the theme would eventually be utilized in the 'Encounter at Farpoint' episode of THE NEXT GENERATION, with Q condemning man for his savage tendencies.
'I don't clearly recall the genesis of 'The Prisoner,'' says Harold Livingston, 'but I think it happened in our first flush when we were anxious to put projects into work. Overanxious. The basic problem is that nothing happens--none of the characters are very interesting. The idea of the being manifesting itself in the form of Albert Einstein is interesting, but it doesn't pay off. Analyzing the story--and the premise--you begin to see that it can't pay off: there simply is not enough substance.'
'Lord Bobby,' which would eventually be retitled 'Lord Bobby's Obsession,' was a good attempt, which incorporated an alien being, again something like Trelene in 'Squire of Gothos,' as well as the Romulans. 'Kitumba' had Enterprise traveling to the Klingon home world in an effort to avert a potential intergalactic war. This story would have made a wonderful 'prequel' to the sixth STAR TREK film, THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY.
'The Savage Syndrome' had Decker, McCoy and Ilia investigate a derelict vessel in orbit around a lifeless planet. On board, they find that the crew had been driven mad and killed each other in particularly brutal and savage ways. In the meantime, a space mine detonates in the vicinity of the Enterprise, unleashing energy that affects the crew's neural impulses. Instantly, they, including Kirk, are transformed into savages, and it's up to the trio to set things straight again. From a production standpoint, this episode would have been quite important for the simple reason that it was primarily a ship-board story, and therefore more cost effective than the average episode. This had been a problem that occurred during the run of the original series, and has been a constant one on THE NEXT GENERATION.
On September 2, 1977, producer Bob Goodwin wrote, '...in order to do an effective job on our stories that take place in settings other than the Enterprise, and still remain within our financial and production limitations, it is absolutely vital that we have an equal number of ship-board stories.... If we don't have some good Enterprise stories in our back pockets, we could find ourselves with very serious production problems comes December.' The memo specifically cited 'The Savage Syndrome' as a perfect example. For instance, the first draft of the outline had Decker, McCoy and Ilia actually land the shuttlecraft on the surface of a planet, where they studied ancient ruins as well as 'several other things they encounter.' Goodwin made the suggestion that the shuttle be investigating an object in space; this way it 'would confine our story, for the most part, to the Enterprise.' The second draft of the outline made this adjustment.
Harold Livingston came up with the idea of using 23rd Century technology to fight back against the savages. 'Wouldn't it be more exciting and interesting if either Decker or McCoy--or both--used their brains to outwit [them]?' he asked. 'For example, they might use the viewing screens and other instruments to completely enthrall the savages, perhaps on a level of the old 'B' movies, where the white explorer, knowing the moon was due to eclipse, filled the natives with awe and dread when he promised to make the sky dark and (as the eclipse occurred) did!'
Livingston was right, and the scene would have played most effectively. In fact, a later draft had a scene in the recreation room, where McCoy threatens to bring the wrath of the gods upon the primitives. On cue, Decker activates the proper controls and 'the walls become a crashing ocean, the air filled with the thunder of the waves and wind. An instant later the ocean becomes a World War II battlefield--shells bursting, cannon fire, and the deafening shrieks of the wounded.' From there, the image becomes a raging fire, earthquakes and so on. These illusionary walls were probably inspired by Ray Bradbury's THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, and would eventually make it to THE NEXT GENERATION in the form of the Enterprise's holodeck.
Writer Margaret Armen explains the genesis of the episode from her point of view: 'Alf and I started with the what if? motif. There's an old saying, 'Scratch the man and the savage bleeds.' So, what if these people from this futuristic, very scientific civilization have something happen to them, which strips them down to the basic emotions and drives of the cave? That was the line of thought we pursued.'
'Devil's Due,' which was rewritten as an episode of THE NEXT GENERATION, essentially put Captain Kirk in the form of a defense attorney, vying for the freedom of a planet in a struggle against what appears to be the devil. Jon Povill felt that this story worked very well and that it had 'all the elements necessary for a very exciting, involving episode.'
While things were shaping up nicely with the various stories coming in, the opening two-hour episode was proving to be something of a problem. 'William Norton was engaged to write it,' said Livingston, 'but on September 5th he contacted me to say that after considerable agonizing he had reached a conclusion that he could not write a proper STAR TREK script. Although this set us back considerably in time, I think that in the end his honesty and candor and professionalism will prove beneficial. I personally feel this supports my theory that most writers find it extremely difficult writing a STAR TREK script unless they have been completely immersed in it for some time. STAR TREK stories require special treatment, special handling; the writers really should be well acquainted with the nuance, characterization and various other colorations that make STAR TREK stories the unique things that they are. This situation, needless to say, leaves us in a serious state, bordering on crisis. If we are to meet the November 1st production date it is essential we receive a script no later than October 1st. We have examined and re-examined and re-examined again the names of writers considered qualified to write this initial episode.'
None seemed suited for the job, so as a solution to the problem, the plan called for Livingston to work on the script himself over the next few weeks. 'It is a step not taken lightly,' he added, 'but as something we feel we cannot avoid and leaves us no choice other than to proceed in this manner.'
As he dove into the first draft script of 'In Thy Image,' he managed to issue yet another writer's status report in which he explained that there were only three remaining stories to be filled, and that they were being very selective as to which ones they went with. 'All of the stories,' he said, 'that have come in present no great problems, but all seem to need some work to get them into second draft and subsequently into script. The 'emergency' situation we are faced with slows us up somewhat now in that I am involved writing the script and am unable to devote full time to story development. However, Jon Povill has been very helpful in this area and is keeping things balanced until I can get back to devoting my full attention to this.'
Regarding the development of 'In Thy Image,' he felt that the script was turning out 'extremely promising,' and that the visuals would be spectacular and easily achieve the 'big screen' effect that each of them had been looking for. 'The hour episode situation,' Livingston concluded, 'is, as I have stated above, somewhat uncertain because of this 'emergency.' Although we would prefer some time on the back, I think with some diligent efforts on all our parts, we'll be able to overcome the time problem, and when the two hour episode is in production, we fully anticipate having enough hour scripts to go forward immediately.
'In essence, then, everything is under control.'
* * *
Perhaps the person most affected by the evolution of STAR TREK PHASE II into STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was actor David Gautreaux, who had been cast in the role of Xon, a Vulcan intended to fill the hole left vacant by the absence of Mr. Spock. In fact, plans called for him to play Xon even when the TV series metamorphosized into the first feature film. But after Leonard Nimoy signed on as Spock, Xon was dropped. 'I spoke to Gene Roddenberry,' Gautreaux recalls, 'and I said, 'Gene, don't allow a character of this magnitude to simply carry Mr. Spock's suitcases on board the ship. If he's not going to be more a part of it than that, let's eliminate him.''
As Gautreaux details, the STAR TREK II was plagued by a series of 'never ending' delays. Initial plans called for production to begin in January of 1978, then April, and then June. By the latter date, Robert Wise had been signed to directa fact that may have coincided with Gene Roddenberry's withdrawing from the project to some degree. 'This is supposition on my part, but I don't think Gene liked the direction that Paramount was taking the feature,' he opines, 'and I don't think he was happy with the choice of director. Robert Wise is a very powerful man in Hollywood. He's a five-time Academy Award-winning director. He's a man of great esteem and, if I was him, when I arrived on a set, I would instantly remove anything or anybody who had a different point of view. When I say remove, it's like 'This is a Robert Wise film, yes or no, before we start.' When you're that powerful a director, you can walk on the set and say, 'There is no producer, there is no more executive producer. The writer has done his work. Everyone else go home, this is my picture.' And that's the way it is in Hollywood. Wise had certainly risen to that level, and I'm sure if there were interferences it was the usual power struggle that goes on between two powerful men: someone who has developed a concept and the other person who is hired to shoot it. That's always a struggle. I think Paramount thought they needed a wise and elderly hand to wrestle this project and they ended up wrestling it right to the ground.'
According to Gautreaux, and there is no trace of bitterness in his voice, Wise was instrumental in getting Nimoy to return as Spock. At the time, Nimoy had been involved in an aforementioned lawsuit with Paramount, but the situation was quickly handled. 'When Leonard saw the carrot being dangled out in front of himand this is what he admitted to me himselfhe felt much more aggressive about settling the lawsuit and getting back into it himself,' says Gautreaux. The actor adds that, years later, Nimoy requested a meeting with him during pre-production on STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. 'Leonard called and asked if I would come down to Paramount. He had a lot of roles to cast, and he wanted to meet with me. We chit-chatted for a good period of time, and then he came in with what I call the slider, which was, 'What did it do to your life when I came back and played Mr. Spock, thus removing your character?' I asked him what he meant by that, and he said, 'Well, you were a young man and this was a very big moment in your life. Did I remove that moment?' My response was, 'Look, I was young, but I wasn't brand new. I'd been in this business, primarily in theatre, for a good long time. For me, Xon and STAR TREK was like a play that opened and closed on opening night, which happens all the time. I had, and continue to have, another life outside of whatever Xon was or was not to be.' He said, 'That's very good. I was hoping you'd say something like that.' I had no idea that he had put that much thought into the belief that he had upset my life.'
Gautreaux ended up playing Commander Branch of the Epsilon 9 space station in two scenes of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Apart from that, he left the show behind.