Star Trek has seen a resurgence in popularity in the wake of the J.J. Abrams-backed series of feature film reboots. While Trek fandom remains divided over the films themselves they’ll soon have another new series (set in the original non-reboot Star Trek continuity) to check out as well from Hannibal veteran Brad Fuller along with a third reboot film in Star Trek Beyond from new helmer Justin Lin — the storyline of which has been largely kept back from public view thus far.
Now, with the franchise’s 50th anniversary looming, creators are looking back on just how much different the original Star Trek movies could have been. Star Trek’s road to movie screens was difficult since the original series didn’t attain cult status until well after it had been canceled. Plus, the first film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, came together in the wake of creator Gene Roddenberry’s originally planned TV revival (Star Trek: Phase II) failing to materialize. Even then, the unusual first film — a slow-paced, philosophically minded affair — met with mixed reception from audiences and largely dismissive reviews from critics. Today it’s widely believed that the franchise might not have endured had the more adventure-focused sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan not been a smash hit afterwards.
But according to many voices within the Trek production community, The Motion Picture could have been an even more divisive film than it already was, with Roddenberry’s original treatment for a first feature (“Star Trek: The God Thing”) pitting the Enterprise crew against an existential exploration of religious themes that many audiences might have found utterly absurd — or even blasphemous. According to an interview with The Playlist, Michael Jan Friedman, who was at one point tapped to craft a novelization of the unused “God Thing” treatment, said the story (in which Earth is threatened by a malevolent cosmic entity claiming to be God) wrapped up in a singularly eyebrow-raising fashion:
“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.”
Star Trek fans will no doubt note that the setup — wherein the evil alien force cycles through the form of multiple (presumably alien) deities before settling on the Christ form because the humans recognize it — is oddly similar to the plot of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which was conceived by director/star William Shatner. Shatner himself also recalls receiving Roddenberry’s original “God Thing” pitch, and seemed more enthused by it than others:
“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.”
The subject of religion is a notoriously contentious matter within Star Trek lore and among the fandom. While myriad alien cultures are often depicted as having either avowed or symbolic spiritual traditions, human characters are seldom tied to explicit spirituality outside of superficial trappings (i.e. there was a “ship’s chapel” on the original Enterprise, mirroring a similar tradition on large naval vessels) or symbols with a parallel cultural significance — though various belief systems are said to still exist in one form or another. Much of which is said to reflect Roddenberry’s own atheism and often-stated distaste for the subject, with The Original Series often featuring storylines where gods or god-like beings are revealed as alien impostors or merely “advanced beings.” It remains to be seen whether or not similar themes will crop up again in Beyond or the new Fuller series.
Star Trek Beyond hits U.S. theaters July 22, 2016.
Source: The Playlist