Hollywood is filled with fascinating “What if…” tales regarding films & television shows that (for better or worse) never came to fruition. Sometimes it’s the simple notion of a different lead actor or director being attached to the production before dropping out. Other times, these stories involve a surprisingly unique approach to a beloved property – one that would have steered the franchise in question down a completely different road.
Last year, we learned a little bit about the Superman Returns sequel Bryan Singer was developing before Warner Bros. decided to reboot the series with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. As it turns out, Singer was also involved with another high profile project that ultimately never came together – a new Star Trek TV series set several centuries after The Next Generation.
Earlier this month, Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker) revealed to UGO that he had pitched a Star Trek show to Paramount that would have centered around Riker’s exploits on board the USS Titan. The studio told him that they were putting the franchise on the back burner for a little while – and that they had also recently rejected pitches from William Shatner and Singer.
The speculation over what Singer’s proposed series might have been about prompted TrekMovie to shed some light on what actually transpired between the acclaimed filmmaker and Paramount. It began in December of 2005 when Singer, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, The Wolverine), and director Robert Meyer Burnett (Free Enterprise) met for dinner and started toying around with the idea of pitching a new Star Trek TV show.
By the time their dinner was over, it had been decided that Burnett would draft a series proposal that the team would take to Paramount once Singer was finished with post-production on Superman Returns. Burnett enlisted writer Geoffrey Thorne (Leverage) to help him put together a 25-page long proposal that outlined their approach to the material, the show’s main characters, and the story arc for the first four episodes. They titled their series Star Trek: Federation.
Paramount never rejected their pitch, however – because it was never made. Before Singer and Co. could present Federation to the studio, it was announced that J.J. Abrams had been hired to direct a new Star Trek movie. Realizing that an updated grand design for the franchise had already been constructed, the team abandoned their project.
Regardless, it’s always fun to take a look at what might have been and TrekMovie has some interesting excerpts from Burnett & Thorne’s proposal. The main difference between their series and Abrams’ Trek is that Federation would have taken place in the original timeline. Still, they recognized that the Star Trek brand needed to be revitalized and their proposal began with an explanation of how they hoped to accomplish that:
The great strength of STAR TREK is the very Universe in which it’s set. The Characters. The Starships. The Aliens. The stories. Gene Roddenberry himself provided the perfect example how to create a wildly successfully new STAR TREK series…
Acknowledge what’s come before, but then set your stage far enough in the STAR TREK future when everything old is new again.Turn the STAR TREK Universe upside down. Shake vigorously.
Utopia as a goal is like the fire in a nuclear engine. Utopia in practice is stagnation; it’s dry rot; eventually it’s death. Which is precisely where we find the United Federation of Planets a few centuries after the last Age of Discovery.
Basically, this would have been a darker and more dangerous time for the Federation and the idea was that its decay could be used as an allegory for the Fall of the Roman Empire. According to the proposal, “Starfleet has been reduced to a ‘mere peace-keeping force’ protecting fringe worlds from aliens and from fighting each other, with starships that are old and spread out too thin.”
The appearance of a powerful new enemy knows as “The Scourge” would have lead to the creation of another USS Enterprise – the first in over 300 years. On the surface, the Enterprise’s mission would have been one of exploration – but her real mission would have been to investigate The Scourge in order to save what was left of the Federation.
Here’s a character breakdown of the ship’s main crew:
Captain Alden Montgomery: Human and the “perfect Starfleet officer” who is “The Captain America of the Federation” but who unfortunately gets killed off early on, leaving room for…
Commander Alexander Kirk: (X-O and 3rd in command) Reinstated for the new mission Kirk is described as having a “checkered past” with an “aggressive manner” who is thrust into leading the mission after Montgomery and first officer get killed and is able to deal with it well, but is “total crap at PR aspects of job.” He alone (even though he doesn’t understand it) “possesses information vital to Enterprise’s true mission.”
Lt. Cmdr. Chel Forlaan (Security Chief): A female Ektosi (a feline species) who has “cat-like” grace, temper and insight with natural hand-to-hand combat capabilities akin to Jem Hadar or Klingons. Joined Starfleet for the “fun,” posesses a “mercurial nature” which initially makes her ill-suited to security chief. Biggest flaw is “intense curiosity which sometimes overpowers her.”
Lt. Cmdr. Sergei Kenyatta (Com & Political Officer): A genetically enhanced human “Alpha” from Proxima Centauri, with a perfect physique along with mental enhancements. Described as gifted in math, linguistics, technology, and diplomacy, yet struggles with personal relationships.
The 76th Distillation of Blue (aka Diz) (Chief Engineer): a member of a gaseous species from the gas giant Penumbra who use “motion suits” to interact with the rest of the “solid” universe. For the show Diz would look like “a slender male humanoid” in the suit, but he can also appear in his gasous state or even change to a solid or a liquid, but he is “not a shape shifter.” Described as a fantastic engineer who is more at home with machines than with other people.
Dr. Felicity Chen: A cybernetically enhanced physician based on (now safely evolved) Borg technology. Many medical instruments are built into her, so no need for tricorder. She can use her “nanospines” to heal injuries, but there is a personal cost to her. She still has to wrestle with her own humanity.
M.A.J.E.L.: The sentient Enterprise computer (Multitronic Architecture Junction/Interactive Energetic Library) that runs the ship and has a personality of her own, including emotions.
Admiral Nelscott: Female Starfleet admiral who saw the threat of The Scourge and bucked the system to get the Enterprise project launched. Not on board the ship, but issuing orders from Starfleet HQ.
Honestly, a lot of those character quirks seem incredibly redundant to me – and I think the name of the computer (a reference to Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) is a nice homage, but possibly a little too overt. There’s certainly a lot of variety, but part of the proposal insisted that “audiences must recognize the world they live in today in the far-flung future, then take the show’s concepts and lessons with them back into their everyday lives”. I’m not saying that Federation wouldn’t have accomplished this – only that the show’s ensemble seems like it might have been too abstract to attract new viewers. Unfortunately, that’s something that Star Trek was in dire need of.
The fourth episode would have resolved The Scourge storyline (temporarily), but as a result:
Frictions between the Federation and the Klingons have never been worse. The internal fissures are growing wider based largely on Enterprise’s secret mission and Admiral Nelscott’s lies to cover up that mission with the council. And, of course, lots and lots of people died.
What’s next for the survivors of these events? Tune in next week, folks.
Be sure to check out TrekMovie for even more details about Star Trek: Federation – including a brief episode synopsis and an explanation of how technology would have advanced since the days of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.
I liked Abrams’ Star Trek movie and I’m looking forward to Star Trek 2 – but I still believe that television is more conducive to the property’s original intentions. In my opinion, none of the films featuring The Next Generation‘s cast hold a candle to some of the better episodes of the series (most of them seemed to contradict fundamental aspects of the characters and lose their focus entirely).
The reality is that Abrams’ film probably did a better job of bringing in a general audience and wiping the slate clean than any television series could have. I know fans are still divided on Abrams’ approach – and I miss the intelligent and more introspective Trek stories as much as any longtime fan – but I’m still optimistic that the next film (and future installments) can retain what worked with Abrams’ first Star Trek movie while introducing more of the spiritual & moral dilemmas that previous incarnations were known for.
Either way, it’s intriguing to examine an alternate direction that the Star Trek franchise might have taken.