Posted on Tuesday, July 5th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
The sad truth about Star Trek is that it took original creator Gene Roddenberry stepping away for the series to find its second wind. Although he will always rightfully be considered the genius who shepherded the finest science fiction franchise in history into existence, his later vision of what Star Trek was clashed not only with other creatives, but with much of what made the original television series so great in the first place. It’s no accident that he was forced out of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which remains arguably the best of the twelve films made so far.
But those twelve films will soon be thirteen, so it’s no accident that the new book The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek – The First 25 Years is in stores right now (the second volume arrives in August). While I’m anticipation Star Trek Beyond, this book is what is currently grabbing my attention… mainly because it reveals that Gene Roddenberry wrote a Star Trek movie where Captain Kirk fights Jesus Christ.
The Hollywood Reporter posted an extended excerpt from the book that is a must-read if you’re a fan of Star Trek or simply enjoy great Hollywood stories (and tip of the hat to The Playlist for brining this to our attention). However, the bizarre highlight deals with one of several screenplays Roddenberry wrote as Star Trek: The Motion Picture was being developed. One version was a time travel story where the Enterprise crew attempts to stop the Kennedy assassination. Another was… well, here’s director Richard Colla:
Gene showed me that treatment, which was much more daring than Star Trek: The Motion Picture would be. The Enterprise went off in search of that thing from outer space that was affecting everything,” he said. “By the time they got into the alien’s presence, it manifested itself and said, ‘Do you know me?’ Kirk said, ‘No, I don’t know who you are.’ It said, ‘Strange, how could you not know who I am?’ So it shift-changed and became another image and said, ‘Do you know me?’ Kirk said, ‘No, who are you?’ It said, ‘Strange, how could you not know who I am?’ So it shift-changed and came up in the form of Christ the carpenter, and says, ‘Do you know me?’ and Kirk says, ‘Oh, now I know who you are.’
As bonkers as this sounds, it’s actually very much in line with the Star Trek universe, where religion is viewed as something that humanity has evolved beyond. Captain Kirk grappling with Jesus makes one of Trek‘s underlying themes very literal. And while this is all very interesting, author Michael Jan Friedman, who was later hired to adapt the unmade screenplay into a novel, was not a fan of what Roddenberry put on the page:
To the best of my recollection, I received both the script and a short narrative version of it. Naturally I jumped at the chance to translate and expand it. Gene was — and still is — one of my heroes, for God’s sake, no pun intended. As he had already left the land of the living, this was a unique opportunity to collaborate with him. But when I read the material, I was dismayed. I hadn’t seen other samples of Gene’s unvarnished writing, but what I saw this time could not possibly have been his best work. 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.
Interestingly, the only person who seems particularly positive on this angle is Kirk himself, William Shatner… who later directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which features the Enterprise crew encountering an alien being who claims to be God. Huh.
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