It’s been 50 years since Captain James T Kirk and pointy-eared pal Spock first strode onto our television screens, bringing us wide-eyed Apollo-era optimism, the world’s first interracial TV snog and furry space critters named Tribbles. It would be another 13 years, in the wake of Star Wars’ spectacular box office success, before the crew of the Enterprise made it to the big screen with 1979’s middling ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’. Since then there have been a round dozen films in total, with a 13th, the Simon Pegg-penned ‘Star Trek: Beyond’, due to hit multiplexes later this month.
But what about the Star Trek movies that never quite made it to production: the ones featuring Kirk biffing the son of God, the crew of the Enterprise as divine beings and Spock and Kirk as Starfleet Academy students? Read on to discover the big screen space adventures that couldn’t quite get up to warp speed.
The one where Kirk fights Jesus on the deck of the Enterprise
In May 1975, six years after the cancellation of the original series, Paramount suddenly decided it was up for funding a Star Trek movie. Saga creator Gene Roddenberry moved back into his old space on the studio lot and began concocting the film that would eventually form the basis of ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ - though with almost all its metaphysical nuttiness left on the cutting room floor.
Just as they do in the 1979 movie, Kirk and his crew are reunited (with Earth in crisis) in a last-ditch effort to see off a mysterious alien presence that threatens mankind. But in the original draft, titled ‘The God Thing’, the extra terrestrial entity manifests as Jesus Christ himself. Upon its first encounter with Kirk, the presence shapeshifts into a number of forms, each time asking: “Do you know me?” The Enterprise’s commander responds in the negative until the alien assumes the shape of Christ the carpenter, at which point Kirk responds: “Oh, now I know who you are.”
According to author Michael Jan Friedman, who once mulled turning Roddenberry’s abandoned script into a Star Trek spin-off novel: “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.”
Why it never got made: According to a new book, ‘The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorised Oral History of Star Trek’, Roddenberry’s script was “disjointed … didn’t build toward anything meaningful” … and “featured a Kirk, Spock and McCoy [who] didn’t seem anything like themselves”. Furthermore, then-Paramount chairman and CEO Barry Diller was a devout Catholic who would never have green-lit such a controversial concept.
What happened to the story? It was recycled for ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, minus the Jesus stuff. And William Shatner himself used a rather similar man- meets-alien-presence-masquerading-as-God storyline for his self-directed, critically-reviled 1989 effort ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’.
The one where the crew of the Enterprise are revealed as Greek gods
‘The God Thing’ wasn’t the only proposed script for the first Star Trek movie that failed to make it out of orbit. As revealed in the 1980 book ‘The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, producers once considered making the movie ‘Star Trek: Planet of the Titans’, with Star Wars legend Ralph McQuarrie providing the concept art and Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ Philip Kaufman in the director’s chair.
The episode would have sent Kirk et al to the home planet of a mysterious alien society known as the Titans, a long lost race said to have developed radically advanced technologies. In a space race with the Klingons and a new, nefarious extra-terrestrial culture known as the Cygnans, who may have wiped out the last of the Titans, the Enterprise is forced to shift course into a black hole.
Kirk and his team emerge to find themselves orbiting ancient Earth, where they encounter primitive humans. The movie’s final twist would have revealed the Enterprise’s crew as the original Titans of Greek myth, those who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to mankind.
Why it never got made: Paramount did not consider the storyline grand enough for the first Star Trek movie, and made ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ instead.
What happened to the story? As far as we know neither the Cygnans or the Titans ever made it to the big screen, though Ridley Scott later plumped for a similar origins of mankind template for his 2012 Alien prequel-of-sorts, ‘Prometheus’.
The one where Spock and the Klingons go tripping in outer space
Kaufman was flabbergasted when Paramount turned down ‘Planet of the Titans’, just as Star Wars ushered in the new blockbuster era in 1977. So he came up with a completely new idea for a Kurosawan space epic starring Leonard Nimoy’s Spock as the commander of his own ship and Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune as the Vulcan’s Klingon nemesis.
As revealed in the 2012 book Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorised History, Kaufman wanted to make the new film “less ‘cultish'” than the original Star Trek show, and “more of an adult movie, dealing with sexuality and wonders rather than oddness”. The film-maker describes his idea as “a big science fiction movie, filled with all kinds of questions, particularly about the nature of Spock - exploring his humanity and what humanness was.” He adds: “To have Spock and Mifune’s character tripping out in outer space. I’m sure the fans would have been upset, but I felt it could really open up a new type of science fiction.”
Why it never got made: Paramount decided the future of Star Trek should be on the small screen, then changed its mind and struck a deal with Shatner to return as Kirk, leaving the idea of a Spock-led Trek movie in cosmic limbo.
What happened to the story? Star Wars itself remains the only space saga to have borrowed heavily from iconic Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, whose 1958 film ‘Hidden Fortress’ inspired George Lucas to introduce bickering space droids R2-D2 and Cee Threepio.
The one where Kirk and Spock meet at Starfleet Academy
Prior to the release of 1991’s ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’, Paramount had tentative plans to take the whole saga back to the beginning. According to the 1992 book ‘Charting the Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI’, ‘Star Trek: The First Adventure’ would have seen a reckless, cocky Kirk and painfully humourless Spock meeting for the first time at Starfleet Academy, with the movie pitched as a kind of sci-fi take on Top Gun.
With Shatner’s ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ having underwhelmed, the studio was tempted at the prospect of rebooting the saga with an entirely new, cheaper cast. Kirk and Spock would have overcome their essential differences to take down an expelled former cadet named Kalibar, a cruel alien prince who is intent on retaking control of his planet against the wishes of Starfleet. DeForest Kelley’s Bones McCoy was due to bookend the prequel storyline after arriving at the Academy to deliver a commencement speech, regailing cadets with tales of his old comrades before signing off with a “Beam me up Scottie” as the credits rolled.
Why it never got made: Paramount chose to move ahead with ‘The Undiscovered Country’ instead.
What happened to the story? Key elements from ‘Star Trek: The First Adventure’ turned up in JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot, which also parachuted in an all-new cast. But this time, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime was the returning Star Trek legend, and the off-Earth events of the movie are entirely different.
The one in which the Romulans attack Earth
Before Abrams arrived to transform Star Trek into big budget space opera, the 11th film in the long-running saga was to be titled ‘Star Trek: The Beginning’. The script, from ‘Band of Brothers’ writer Erik Jendresen, would have centred on Kirk’s ancestor Tiberius Chase, a Starfleet commander who finds himself caught up in the human-Romulan war of the 22nd century, which took place around a century before the original series’ five-year mission. Jendresen hoped to set up a trilogy that would have bridged the gaps between ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ and the sixties show.
Why it never got made: Regime change at Paramount saw Jendresen’s script shelved and Abrams brought in instead.
What happened to the story? The Romulans ended up being the enemy in 2009’s Star Trek, but little has been heard since regarding Tiberius Chase.
Picture Credits: Paramount/Autumn Productions