Thursday, June 21, 2007

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and JFK: The Rejected Roddenberry Pitch for Star Trek II, III, and IV

by Jack Klause.

In the spring of 1980, Gene Roddenberry sat down to write a 60-page outline for a sequel to the first Star Trek feature film. Unlike The Motion Picture, the next one, he hoped, would be a Gene Roddenberry script, not a creative mishmash that went through the hands of countless other writers and studio executives. This would be the film that he wanted to make, and no one could claim co-writer credits or file grievances with the Writers' Guild. Committees be damned! Trek was his baby, and he was confident that Paramount would welcome his storyline with open arms and open wallets.

What was his grand idea? It involved time-travel, Klingons, and a beloved American president: JFK. After losing ships to V'GR, Klingons locate the "Guardian of Forever" (seen in "The City on the Edge of Forever"), and they diabolically use the time portal to travel back to 1963. These rogue Klingons succeed in stopping the assassination of JFK. Perhaps they kidnap Lee Harvey Oswald, or maybe they abduct the president and feed him Gagh! Somehow... they keep JFK alive. Only the insiders who've read the unpublished script know the full details. But, apparently, this change in the timeline is extremely detrimental for the future of humanity, and by the 23rd century, the Klingons reign supreme as an unstoppable intergalactic imperial force.

Fortunately, Captain Kirk once again saves the universe... by letting someone die. Travelling back in time, the noble captain ensures that JFK gets his head blown off in Dealey Plaza. "The climactic moments of the film," according to William Shatner, "would find Spock standing on a grassy knoll in Dallas, firing that infamous `phantom shot'... thereby guaranteeing a brighter future for all of mankind."

Prior to this cinematic climax, viewers are treated to Captain Kirk and JFK fighting, arguing, and then becoming close friends as the handsome and young commander-in-chief tours the spaceship Enterprise.

According to Trek insider Susan Sackett, this idea wasn't as hokey as it sounds, because the script contained many sensitive and tender moments, as well as interesting scifi concepts. And, in all fairness, was it really that worse than Kirk going back to the 1980s to save whales?

Paramount rejected the idea, and they soon turned to Harve Bennett to produce The Wrath of Khan. Roddenberry felt extremely hurt, and he took the rejection and demotion to "executive consultant" personally. An ensuing period of intense depression was accompanied by increased alcohol and cocaine abuse.

But, he didn't give up on the idea. He polished and resubmitted it for Star Trek III. It was immediately rejected without explanation. Roddenberry claimed that they just didn't like the idea of time-travel. So, when he learned that the fourth film would involve time-travel, he submitted yet another draft only to face yet another rejection.

Paramount insiders have not spoken publicly about those rejections, but we can guess their reasons. The idea WAS hokey. However nostalgic it may have been to see characters from Star Trek living in the actual sixties ("Double Groovy on You too!" Kirk screams), it was not an entertaining premise, especially when audiences were asked to applaud the death of JFK, because it safeguarded a future of human spaceflight!

It was also not original. Despite Roddenberry's assumption that no one else could claim writing credit, one can imagine an irate Harlan Ellison jumping on every soapbox he could find to denounce yet another bastardization of his original script, "City on the Edge of Forever." Roddenberry was simply combining the plot of "City" with the embarrassingly bad season 3 TOS episode "The Savage Curtain," in which Kirk hobnobs with none-other-than Abraham Lincoln (who calls Uhura "a charming Negress").

Any fan who attacks Harve Bennett's movies as "not in the spirit of TOS" should take a few moments to imagine the Star Trek film that Roddenberry would have made: Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and JFK

*Sources Consulted: Susan Sackett's Inside Trek, Robert Justman and Herb Solow's Inside Star Trek, and Joel Engel's The Man and the Myth Behind Star Trek: The unauthorized biography of Gene Roddenberry.

*Author's note: Some sources claim that Kirk and Spock attempt to stop the assasination of JFK. It is possible that different versions of Roddenberry's script contained different narratives.