We’re a few weeks ahead of the release of “Star Trek Beyond,” and a few months out from the Bryan Fuller-produced new “Star Trek” TV series. Between those events though comes the franchise’s 50th anniversary with numerous related works tying into it including a new book from Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman which overs the first twenty-five years of the franchise – namely the original series, the six original cast films, and the launch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.
An excerpt has just been released by THR covering one of the more interesting times in the franchise – the mid-1970s when it was effectively dead. At the time, Paramount decided to have a go at bringing the franchise to the big screen and asked creator Gene Rodenberry to come up with the movie treatment. The result was an infamous brief dubbed ‘The God Thing’, one in which Captain Kirk and crew encounter a force that claims to be God – though ultimately turns out to be a living computer program.
William Shatner himself explains the pitch Rodenberry gave him:
“[Rodenberry] 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”
So far, so good and not that different from what would become “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” in which the force was a satellite that acquired so much knowledge it achieved consciousness and returned to Earth to join with its creator. Director Richard A. Colla (“Battlestar Galactica”) offered some further insight though into just how bonkers it was:
“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.'”
Michael Jan Friedman, one of several people tapped to write the novelization, recalls how crazy it was:
“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.”
The franchise ultimately did get around to tackling mid-life crisis and meeting ‘God’ at the center of the galaxy in the critically derided “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”. “Star Trek Beyond,” which sadly features no Jesus punching, opens on July 22nd.