Thursday, February 4, 2010

Star Trek Planet of Titans : The Conceptual Art of the 1976 Unfilmed Trek Movie Features

In the book "The Art of Ralph McQuarrie", there are six pages of which are dedicated to production designer Ralph McQuarrie's (Star Wars) conceptual art for what is listed in the book as "Unfilmed Star Trek Feature, late 1970s", better know to Trek historians as Philip Kaufman's 1976 aborted film Star Trek Planet of Titans.(see above for some of that art)

This film, to have been directed by Philip Kaufman (who went on to helm the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Leonard Nimoy), and Executive produced by Jerry Isenburg, had a screenplay written by the British writing team of Chris Bryant and Allan Scott.

Set after the five-year mission depicted in the series, the film involved Starfleet competing with the Klingons for claim to the supposed homeworld of the mythical Titans, a technologically-advanced race long thought extinct. As the planet is pulled into a black hole, the USS Enterprise must also face off against the Cygnans, the alien race responsible for the Titans' disappearance. Ultimately, Captain Kirk is forced to take the Enterprise into the black hole to defeat the Cygnans, a decision that sends the starship and its crew backwards in time thousands of years and into orbit around Earth. After introducing fire to the primitive Humans living at the time, Kirk and his crew are revealed to be the legendary Titans.

Production designer was to be Ken Adams, who then hired McQuarrie to do some design work, some of which you can see here.

Gene Roddenberry said at the time 'I'm very excited about some of the ideas they've come up with. The concept that only a science fiction writer can write science fiction motion pictures is ridiculous. Look at me. I came up with STAR TREK, and I was a dramatic writer. I wrote for TV.'

Kaufman, in particular, was thrilled with the prospect of being involved. 'George Lucas is a good friend of mine,' he had told one reporter. 'He told me before he made STAR WARS he'd made inquiries as to whether STAR TREK was available to be bought. I thought George had a great thing going. When I was asked if I would be interested in doing STAR TREK, well...I felt I could go through the roof.

'My agent called me up,' he continued, 'and said, 'What would you like to do?' I said I would like to do a science fiction movie. And he said, 'Well, I'm sure you wouldn't want to do STAR TREK.' I said, 'Wait a second--they're making a movie out of STAR TREK?' He said, 'Yeah, but they're gonna make a 2 or 3 million dollar quickie.' I told him, 'I don't think they really know what they've got there if that's what they're going to do. Let's explore it.' Right away I got a call from Jerry Eisenberg, who had been put in charge. We talked, and I came down and met with him first and then with Gene Roddenberry. In the process of getting involved with the project, I moved it up from being a small project into a $10 million picture.'

In addition to all of this, the original cast had essentially been signed to reprise their original roles, with the exception of Leonard Nimoy, who at the time had refused all interviews pertaining to STAR TREK. William Shatner, however, had no problem in discussing the situation. 'Leonard Nimoy has a beef, and it's a legitimate one,' Shatner said in 1976. 'It's about the merchandising, and it's something that irks me as well. Our faces appear on products all over the country, all over the world, and we've not really been compensated fairly for it. Leonard was walking in London, England. He stopped to look at a billboard. The billboard's divided into three sections. The first section is Leonard's face with the ears--Spock--the ears are drooping. The second section of the billboard has Leonard, with the drooping ears, holding a tankard of ale. The third section has an empty tankard of ale, and Leonard's face, with pointed ears straight up in the air. So Leonard and I have had this battle, with whoever licenses STAR TREK, for a long time. I mean, kids are walking around with my face on their shirts. Occasionally I see a postcard with my face on it. People are exploiting us. So anyway, Leonard goes back to the studio and says, 'There's a demeaning billboard of me out there. Did you guys okay it?' So he goes to his lawyer and tries to sue. Right now Paramount wants Leonard, and Leonard wants fair recompense. It's only reasonable that Paramount meet his demands. Something has happened here. Someone has made a lot of money from the show, and the people who were the show have seen very little of it. I think Leonard is totally in the right.'

While Nimoy would eventually agree to do this attempted resurrection of STAR TREK, the format would again be changed and he would again drop out. As time went on, it seemed as though the problems facing cast and crew were unending, yet despite all this, Roddenberry remained optimistic. 'I'm very pleased with the way the film is going,' he enthused at the time. 'We've just signed Phil Kaufman--who's done many fine films--to direct. Things really began to change around here when the studio shifted its power base and David Picker took charge. He put Jerry Eisenberg in command of the film, and Jerry knows how to deal with the front office quite well. Once these men entered the picture, things began to move quite smoothly.

'It's taking more time than usual to come up with a good script, because we're faced with some unusual problems. This is not just another movie--this is STAR TREK. A lot of people in the business have said to me, 'Hey, it should be easy to do the film. Just do an extended TV episode. You've done lots already; just do it again.' Well, I didn't want to do it that way. A movie is different from a TV show in a lot of ways. For one thing, the audience has made an investment in the film. They've shelled out money for the ticket, as well as for parking, baby-sitters, maybe dinner. They don't want to see a TV show on the screen. They're a captive audience, and they want something special. It's like getting a book and finding out it's lousy. If you've been given it as a present, you figure, gee, since I got it for free, it's no big deal that it's bad. But if you've paid $8.95 for it, you get a little pissed off.

'With the STAR TREK script, we have defined personalities and really can't do anything contrary to the behavior patterns we've already established in the past. We're finding out that it's easier to work from scratch in terms of a storyline, but because all the details of the film are so well known already, it's getting harder and harder to come up with something new. I don't know what we'll finish with at this point, but I'm sure it will be a film that has a lot of entertainment value--action, adventure and a little comedy. I want a 2001.'

Unfortunately, he didn't get it, although it wasn't from a lack of trying. The Scott-Bryant screenplay opens with the Enterprise investigating a distress signal sent from the USS DaVinci. By the time they arrive in that quadrant of space, the other starship is gone. Suddenly, Kirk's brain is struck by electromagnetic waves, which results in erratic behavior and his commandeering a shuttlecraft. He pilots it towards an invisible planet and disappears. Three years later, Spock leads an expedition back to that area of space, and they discover what they believe to be the planet of the Titans, an ancient but highly advanced race that had been thought extinct. Problem is that the planet is being drawn towards a black hole, and it becomes a race against time between the Federation and the Klingons, who are both interested in that particular world. The one who saves the planet will receive the fruits of their knowledge.

On the planet's surface, Spock discovers Kirk, who has been living there as a wild man. However, the captain is restored to normal in short order, and together they discover that the planet is actually populated by the evil Cygnans, a race who have destroyed the Titans. The story concluded with Kirk, in an effort to destroy the hostile Cygnans, ordering the Enterprise into the black hole. As Susan Sackett noted in THE MAKING OF STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, 'During the trip through the black hole, the Cygnans are destroyed and the Enterprise emerges in orbit around Earth. But it is Earth at the time of the Cro-Magnon man, the dawn of humanity. The ancient Titans, it would seem, were the men of the Enterprise.'

Jon Povill, who had shifted into the background as Gene Roddenberry's assistant, noted the project with interest, though he wasn't convinced it was right for STAR TREK's debut on the movie screen. 'It was an interesting script in a certain sort of way,' Povill explains. 'It was not Star Trek. People would have gone to see it, and it would have done as well as we did with STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, but it's just as well that it didn't get made. Chris and Alan even felt that it was something that wasn't quite successful. They didn't feel they had brought off a script that was just right. They didn't feel confident about it. Then Phil Kaufman decided that he wanted to take a run at the script. His treatment was, I think, worse than the script. Then the whole thing kind of fell apart.'

It's been over 3 decades since the Scott-Bryant script had been written, and while Allan Scott cannot recall the specifics of the storyline, he has no trouble remembering his involvement with the proposed film. 'Jerry Eisenberg brought us into the project,' says Scott. 'He was going to be the producer at the time. We came out and met with him and Gene. We talked about it, and I think the only thing we agreed on at the time was that if they were going to make Star Trek as a motion picture, we should try and go forwards as it if were from the television series. Take it into another realm, if you like, into another dimension, and to that end we were talking quite excitedly about a distinguished film director and Phil Kaufman's name came up. We all thought that was a wonderful idea, and we met with him. Phil is a great enthusiast and very knowledgeable about science fiction, and we did a huge amount of reading. We must have read thirty science fiction books of various kinds. At that time we also had that guy from NASA, who was one of the advisors on the project, Jesco von Puttkamer. He was at some of the meetings, and Gene was at all of the meetings.

'We were under instructions at the time,' he adds, the passage of years unclouding a bit, 'that they had no deal with William Shatner, so in fact the first story draft we did eliminated Captain Kirk. It was only a month or six weeks later when we were called and told that Kirk was now aboard and should be one of the lead characters. So all that work was wasted. At that time, Chris and I would sit in a room and talk about story ideas and notions, and talk them through with either Phil or Gene. Without any ill feelings on any part, it became clear to us that there was a divergence of view of how the movie should be made between Gene and Phil. I think Gene was quite right in sticking by not so much the specifics of STAR TREK but general ethics of it. I think Phil was more interested in exploring a wider range of science fiction stories, and yet nonetheless staying faithful to STAR TREK. There was definitely a tugging on the two sides between them. One of the reasons it took us so long to come up with a story was because things like that would change. If we came up with some aspects that pleased Gene, they often didn't please Phil and vice-versa. We were kind of piggies in the middle.'

It's pointed out that in many instances there was a similar situation between Roddenberry and director Robert Wise on STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. 'I would imagine,' Scott replies earnestly. 'Eventually we got to a stage where we more or less didn't have a story that everybody could agree on, and we were in very short time of our delivery date. Chris and I decided that the best thing we could do was take all the information we had absorbed from everybody, sit down and hammer something out. In fact, we did a fifteen or twenty page story in a three-day time period. I guess amendments were made to that in light of Gene and Phil's recommendations, but already we were at a stage by then that the thing was desperate if we were going to make the movie according to the schedule that was given to us. We made various amendments; we went to the studio with it, and they turned it down.

'We never heard the reasons that it was turned down. I think other political things intervened, and I think the management at Paramount changed as well. I'm almost sure that at that time Michael Eisner came in and David Picker left, and I think that may have been as significant as anything else that may have happened. Our working relationship with Gene was very good and very friendlysimilarly with Phil. The only thing I can remember about the story itself is the ending, and I truly don't remember anything else but the ending. It involved primitive man on Earth, and I guess Spock or the crew of the Enterprise inadvertently introduced primitive man to the concept of fire. As they accelerated away, we realized that they were therefore giving birth to civilization as we know it. That's the only thing I can remember. I know a black hole was very important to the story. I guess it was through the black hole that they ended up in time warp.'

Although there had been a slight feeling of intimidation at the outset, this quickly faded as the writing duo got further involved. 'I think as time wore on, we became less intimidated and much more absorbed in the STAR TREK ethic,' Scott concurs. 'You can't work on that project with Gene and not become involved with it. The difficulty for us was trying to make, as it were, an exploded episode of STAR TREK that had its own justifications in terms of the new scale that was available to it, because much of the show's charm was the fact that it dealt with big and bold ideas on a small budget, and of course the first thing that a movie would do, potentially, was match the budget and scale of the production to the boldness and vigor of the ideas. Of course we spent weeks looking at every episode of STAR TREK, and I would guess that more or less every member of the cast came by and met us.

'We were surprised that it didn't go, because it seemed that it would. It was absolutely a 'go' picture. But it was a very exciting project to be involved with. I'm sorry it didn't work, because we would have enjoyed it even more if it had. We had a lot of fun, and it was really an enjoyable time. I don't feel unhappy about it at all. It was just one of those deals that happens at studios from time to time that fell down the middle.'

Phil Kaufman's reaction to the cancellation of the film was not quite so idealistic. 'We were dealing with important things,' he said. 'Things that George [Lucas] has a smattering of in STAR WARS. We were dealing a lot with Olaf Stapledon. There were chapters in LAST AND FIRST MEN that I was basing STAR TREK on. That was my key thing. Gene and I disagreed on what the nature of a feature film really is. He was still bound by the things that he had been forced into by lack of money and by the fact that those times were not into science fiction the way they are now. Gene has a very set way of looking at things. My feeling always was that he was anchored in a 10-year-old TV show which would not translate for a feature audience ten years later with all that had been done and could potentially be done in a feature scope. For years I had walked around San Francisco with George Lucas talking about what he was doing. I knew what the potential of this kind of stuff was.' Perhaps most shocking to him was the feeling that Paramount canceled the film because of the success of STAR WARS, which was released in May of 1977, and the belief that they had blown their opportunity at the box office. 'They didn't even wait to see what STAR WARS would do,' Kaufman said incredulously. 'I don't think they tried to understand what the phenomenon of STAR TREK was.'

'We considered the project for years,' summed up then Paramount president Barry Diller. 'We've done a number of treatments, scripts, and every time we'd say, 'This isn't good enough.' If we had just gone forward and done it, we might have done it quite well. In this case [the Scott-Bryant-Kaufman version], it was the script. We felt, frankly, that it was a little pretentious. We went to Gene Roddenberry and said, 'Look, you're the person who really understands STAR TREK. We don't. But what we should probably do is return to the original context, a television series.' If you force it as a big 70-millimeter widescreen movie, you go directly against the concept. If you rip STAR TREK off, you'll fail, because the people who like STAR TREK don't just like it. They love it."

Bryant and Scoot's draft was rejected by Paramount in April 1977, as was Kaufman's rewrite in May (just before Star Wars came out). Paramount decided to produce a TV Series titled Star Trek Phase II instead of the movie.


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