‘Trek’ Like You’ve Never Seen It Before
Star Trek is boldly going where few television shows have ever gone before: to local theaters across the country for a special showing of the newly-remastered 2-part episode that incorporated footage from the original pilot made to sell the series to NBC.
Mark your calendars: on November 13th, 300 theaters will show the episode, “The Menagerie,” which tells the story of Capt. Christopher Pike, James Kirk’s predecessor aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise.
(Click this link to find out whether it’s being shown in your area.)
For those who have managed to spend the last 40 years being blissfully unaware of ‘Trek’ history, Gene Roddenberry’s first pilot episode was called “The Cage” and starred Jeffrey Hunter as Pike. Leonard Nimoy appeared in that original episode as Spock, the Vulcan science officer. In that episode, Pike is abducted by an underground alien race whose mental powers have evolved to the point that they can control minds and create any illusion they wish. Over the course of the hour, as you probably would guess, Pike is able to escape and leave behind a nice glimpse of a human race that evolved the problems of everyday life we’re wrapped up in so much of the time.
But NBC wasn’t convinced that this little show would deliver ratings week to week. So they did something almost unheard of at the time: they ordered a second pilot.
Roddenberry recast the captain as James T. Kirk, hired William Shatner, and the rest was history. But he never forgot that pilot episode, and when production costs for the show were rapidly threatening to go into the red, he and his producers decided to take the footage from the original pilot and incorporate it into an episode of the “real” Star Trek.
Jeffrey Hunter was not available to appear (and/or too expensive to have as a guest star), so Roddenberry & Company devised a clever way to have Pike appear without Hunter appearing at all, and a clever way of explaining why anyone should care about what happened to Pike all those years earlier.
What Kirk uncovers as Spock faces a court-martial also explains why one of the Federation’s general orders carries a mandatory death penalty, a seemingly-archaic method of punishment in the “enlightened” 23rd century.
This budget-saving strategy produced the original series’ only 2-part episode, and gives an interesting look at the early plans for what “might have been” had NBC signed on the dotted line the first time around.
What will also be interesting is seeing how the digitally-remastered film looks. The music has been re-orchestrated.
It will also feature those CGI shots of the computer-generated Enterprise, which I have mixed feelings about: it’s nice to see shots they couldn’t have pulled off in the late 1960s, but part of the charm of the original series is seeing how primitive the future really looked four decades ago. To tamper with it now, in order to create a more futuristic look, seems like cheating to me.
But I’ll still think about going, because there’s still something novel about seeing a sixties-era television program on the silver screen.
Do not, under any circumstances, expect to see me dressed up in an outrageous costume.