Film

From Thinking Steaks to TITANic Mistakes: The 'Star Trek' Films They Almost Made

If not for “The Guardian of Forever” and other unworldly phenomenon, our next Star Trek film, starring Eddie Murphy, might have been a cross between Police Academy and The Jetsons.

It's a matter of Hollywood lore that the even numbered Star Trek episodes are the best. The odd numbered entries, on the other hand, range from also-rans to space holders to complete wastes of time, no matter who was at the helm.

You laugh, but the first film was directed by the guy who brought us The Sound of Music and West Side Story. Who better to deliver a... “Space Opera”? While 2009's Star Trek reboot (the 11th theatrical film) seemed to disprove this theory, it remains to be seen whether Star Trek into Darkness will completely invert the trend.

Love or hate the odd (or even... even) numbered Star Treks, you've got to see what Trek creators almost produced, instead. Some of these attempted films even make the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier look like a better movie. Sound impossible? Set your Phasers on FUN and see for yourself!

1. Star Trek: The Cattlemen (1973)

Four years after the cancellation of the “Original Series”, Star Trek was already starting to show the new life that would eventually lead to its franchise resurrection, given the right vehicle. Comic strips on both sides of the Atlantic were telling new stories based on the original five year mission and conventions everywhere showed fans chomping at the bit. Knowing the iron was hot enough to strike, Gene Roddenberry approached Paramount with this pitch for the first Trek feature film. You may question the... taste... of this proposal.

What was it about?

Based on the original Star Trek pitch to NBC, specifically in a proposed episode synopsis called “A Question of Cannibalism”, the proposed Roddenberry-penned feature reads like a vegan's worst nightmare. The Starfleet crew was to encounter a race of “cow-like creatures” being raised and slaughtered by ranchers for food and the profitable meat and leather empire surrounding this industry. The catch is that the “cattle” is an intelligent species that raises the title “question”.

Why was it never made?

Surprisingly, Paramount was actually keen on making the “thinking steak story” into a movie and this was almost our first foray into big screen Star Trek. Fortunately, Producer Herb Solow indicated the script needed heavy rewrites because “it did not foreshadow an enjoyable night at the movies” (especially for those who had already eaten hamburgers on the way to the theatre). It was actually Roddenberry who turned off the grill on this feast. Dissatisfied with Paramount's offer for screenwriting pay, “The Great Bird” walked away from the negotiating table. Paramount wasn't willing to wait till the cows came home (and they feared fan backlash if they made the film without Trek's creator) so they let the project quietly die.

What got made instead?

Star Trek the Animated Series started in 1973 and lasted two seasons but beyond that there wasn't much meat on the bones of Star Trek for a while. Still, at least we avoided a first Trek that would inspire the phrase “You want FRIES with that?” at the box office.

2. Star Trek: Planet of the Titans (1976 -1977)

Unlike The Cattlemen, Planet of the Titans (also known as Planet of Titans) went beyond the pitch stage, past negotiations and straight on into pre-production. With the syndicated ratings for Star Trek proving franchise potential, Paramount gave Roddenberry millions to develop a new script, but it was Chris Bryant and Allan Scott's script that Paramount greenlit.

Directors like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Wise were considered for the director's chair before Philip Kaufman (who would later direct Leonard “Spock” Nimoy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) sat down. James Bond's production designer Ken Adam and Star Wars' conceptual genius Ralph McQuarrie even contributed concept artwork for the film to be. Clearly this one was launching at way more than merely “impulse power”.

What was it about?

If the title doesn't clue you in, this space journey was to feature the original crew (on their newly refitted and now triangular Enterprise) seeking out the home world of the mythical Titans. Kirk and company then have to face off with both the Klingons and a new race called the Cygnans in a battle that sends them through a black hole and back in time to primitive Earth. Thus, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are actually revealed to be the Titans themselves. The sequel could have been called “Planet of Contrivances”, if it had gotten that far.

Why was it never made?

But that never happened, so we never got to hear DeForest Kelley say “Damn it, Jim, I'm a Doctor, not a TITAN!” Why not, especially when so much work had been done?

The Bryant/ Scott script was rejected, which put the re-write pen into Kaufman's hands. Kaufman's concept refocused the script on a less-Titanic match between Spock and a Klingon (whom Kaufman wanted uber-famous Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune to portray). Ultimately the budget ballooned to over ten million dollars, and Paramount pulled the positronic plug for good.

What got made instead?

Paramount's focus shifted to the proposed TV spinoff, to be entitled Star Trek: Phase II (which ultimately led to Star Trek: The Motion Picture). In addition, Ralph McQuarrie fans have noticed more than a little resemblance between the triangular refit of the Enterprise and the ultimate design for Star Wars' Imperial cruisers known as “Star Destroyers” (which McQuarrie also did concept work on). If this similarity is no coincidence, take note that decades later on UPN's Star Trek: Enterprise, spherical planet destroying spacecraft that resembled the “Death Star” more than a lot debuted, so we'll call it even.

3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture II (1979 – 1980)

Ultimately the success of that same Star Wars film helped shift Paramount's gears from the television-based Star Trek: Phase II to the big-screen epic Star Trek: The Motion Picture which more closely resembled Roddenberry's (semi-) original idea “The God Thing”, than it did Titans. It was a success at the box office, but fans and critics considered the film to be somewhat slow and plodding.

The Guardian of Forever

What was it about?

Remember “The Guardian of Forever”, that groovy, psychedelically glowing rock structure from the Original Series that sent Kirk, Spock and (a quite insane) McCoy way back in time? In this proposed second feature, the Klingons get ahold of it and use it to go back in time and prevent President John F. Kennedy from being assassinated. The Enterprise crew then have to go back in time to repair the corrupted timeline... and thus, kill Kennedy.

Following the Klingons' logic in this case is almost as difficult as following Roddenberry's own. Wasn't Kennedy the President who insisted we go to the moon before the end of the 1960s, thus laying the groundwork for the future of Starfleet? While only Paramount insiders who have read the original treatment truly know how this worked, irrationally (unless Kennedy was a secret Klingon spy), JFK's survival ensures a future where the Klingons are the dominant military force in the galaxy... somehow. If the Klingon Empire truly wanted to go back in time to prevent a travesty and ensure their own longevity, perhaps they should have stepped in to prevent the cancellation of Star Trek instead. The thought of Captain Kirk walking around with a "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Nixon" button is too much to bear.

Why was it never made?

You mean besides the fact that the concept of our interstellar heroes theoretically beaming to “the grassy knoll” to wipe out one of our most beloved presidents being in even worse taste than that whole “Cattlemen” debacle? Roddenberry's constant meddling and rewrite demands were blamed for Star Trek: The Motion Picture's eventual budget which hit $46 million (remember the previous film was shelved largely for hitting the $10 million mark). Paramount wanted Roddenberry's control over the franchise like they wanted Tabasco sauce on their ice cream, so Uncle Gene was “kicked upstairs” to the largely ceremonial position of “Executive Consultant”.

What got made instead?

Harve Bennett (a Paramount Television producer) was brought in to produce the next Star Trek film in the hope that he could make a big screen feature on a small screen budget. Like Roddenberry's never-made sequel, Bennett brought in a major icon from the original series and explored what would later be known as The Wrath of Khan (or, more accurately, “Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!”).

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