4 Times ‘Star Trek’ Movies Were Behind-The-Scenes Disasters

Screw-ups, the final frontier.
4 Times ‘Star Trek’ Movies Were Behind-The-Scenes Disasters

While Star Trek may take place in Earth’s utopian future, sadly, the movies were made here in our present-day reality, where egos run wild, and people are constantly jerks to each other for no goddamn reason. The classic science fiction franchise began on TV, but it wasn’t long before Star Trek made a leap to the big screen, spawning a long-running film series, the making of which often went about as smoothly as a Ferengi sexual harassment seminar, such as how …

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Was a Hastily Re-Written TV Pilot

After the original TV series was canceled, the future of Star Trek didn’t look so good. But its passionate fanbase eventually led Paramount to consider greenlighting a low-budget movie revival. Unfortunately, the storyline Trek creator Gene Roddenberry came up with for said movie involved an alien that was both God and Satan, and culminated with Captain Kirk literally getting in a fistfight with Jesus. Not surprisingly, Paramount rejected the “Kirk goes full Rocky Balboa on Christ” idea, and eventually, the project fell through. 

Years later, Star Trek was set to return as a new TV show, featuring Kirk, Bones, and a Spock-like character who was definitely not Spock, because actor Leonard Nimoy hated Roddenberry and was suing Paramount over the money they made from plastering his likeness on a starship-sized amount of useless crap. But just 2 ½ weeks before Star Trek: Phase II was set to start filming, Paramount announced that it was going to be a major motion picture instead. Why? Because Star Wars was a hit, and then the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind proved that it wasn’t a fluke. Looking to get in on some of that sweet nerd money, the TV show (which itself was a rewrite of a non-Trek pilot Roddenberry had already completed) was rewritten as a feature.

While the studio was able to lure Nimoy back by settling his suit, the script was constantly being rewritten, and the third act was in shambles. Worse still, technical errors prevented the visual effects crew from completing any work after a whole year. The budget ballooned from $15 million to a whopping $42 million. So with the release date just months away, Paramount’s Barry Diller told fellow executives: “I don’t care if the story doesn’t make sense, I don’t care if it cuts together. We’re delivering this movie. Period.” Which … explains a lot, actually.

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Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan – Gene Roddenberry Allegedly Leaked The Twist Ending Because He Was Mad At The Studio

Following the trainwreck that was The Motion Picture, Roddenberry was relegated to an “executive consultant” role and creatively sidelined. It probably didn’t help that his pitch for a Star Trek sequel involved the Enterprise crew traveling back in time, and undoing their own future after inadvertently preventing the JFK assassination. Apparently, the ending of the movie would have found Spock setting things right by killing the President while hiding in the grassy knoll – so basically like Star Trek: First Contact, but instead of helping to build a rocket, they fix the timeline by murdering a historical figure in cold blood.

Roddenberry was not only pissed off but also battling a substance abuse problem that one friend warned would “kill him.” The eventual sequel, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, famously ends with the death of Mr. Spock, in a tragic twist later bafflingly immortalized in Christmas decoration form.

When script pages describing Spock’s death leaked, all signs pointed to Roddenberry, since each production copy of the screenplay bore a unique code. Fans freaked out and flooded the studio with angry letters complaining that the iconic character was being bumped off. In order to preserve the twist that was prematurely blown, director Nicholas Meyer had to rework the opening of the movie, now with a fake-out death scene during the Kobayashi Maru simulator scene; that way, audiences would assume that it was the source of the apparently-bogus spoiler.

Which also presumably made Spock’s untimely demise at the end of the movie all the more devastating.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – William Shatner Hired Scabs, Despite Apparent Bomb Threats

We’ve talked before about the making of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier; how William Shatner only landed the directing gig because his contract afforded him everything Leonard Nimoy got, how he was obsessed with a story involving a quest to find God, and how he wanted the movie to end with Kirk battling the Devil and an army of rock monsters … which ended up becoming one rock monster for budget reasons … and eventually no rock monsters for “this thing looks stupid as all hell” reasons.

Shatner’s ill-conceived theological nightmares weren’t the only obstacle for this turkey; as recalled by Shatner himself, “less than a month” before Star Trek V began its location shooting, the Teamsters union went on strike. So rather than wait out this labor disruption, the production hired a bunch of replacements, which … didn’t go well. While Shatner and company were concerned about possible “violent retribution” for employing scabs, at one point an empty camera truck “mysteriously blew up in the studio parking lot.” (Although they never identified the culprit.) 

And when they began hauling equipment to Yosemite National Park, the drivers had to sneak off the lot in the middle of the night, in an effort to be “as unnoticed as humanly possible.” But they were still tailgated on the highway by cars full of “masked men,” requiring a police escort for further trips. It remains unconfirmed who these assailants actually were – for all we know, they were angry time travelers who paid hard-earned money to see Star Trek V.   

Star Trek: Generations – Kirk’s Death Was Almost Worse, And They Had No Budget For Uniforms

When it came time for the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew to inherit the franchise, there were a number of provisos – in addition to, presumably, banning any William Riker trombone solo scenes. Paramount commissioned two scripts, one that featured the original Enterprise gang and one that didn’t. When the former was selected, the studio mandated that while the old actors were needed in the opening 10 minutes, only Captain Kirk was to be brought back for the climax. Plus, they needed a Khan-like villain, some Klingons, and of course, a wacky hijinks-filled storyline for Data. 

When screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga came up with the idea that Kirk should die at the end of the film, William Shatner was surprisingly cool about the whole thing. Of course, his chillness may have been a cover for some deep-seated rage, because not long after the movie came out, he wrote a novel in which Captain Kirk is resurrected with Borg technology and punches Picard in the face. 

Kirk’s death scene was tougher to crack than the Kobayashi Maru; originally, the plan was to simply have him get shot in the back. Which is … terrible? According to director David Carson, he even called Paramount on the day of shooting, joined by Shatner and Patrick Stewart, begging the studio: “Please, can we not do this? Can we do something else?” Those concerns were validated when test audiences found the ending “anticlimactic” and “not the kind of thing that they wanted at all.” So an entirely new ending with a whole other death scene was shot, in which Kirk heroically dies on the bridge – sorry, make that under a bridge.

As for the Next Generation characters, they were supposed to have fancy new uniforms; but oddly, the new threads were scrapped “just a few days into shooting the movie.” So to make the crew look slightly different than on TV, some were outfitted with borrowed uniforms from Deep Space Nine and Voyager – and we don’t mean the designs, the literal uniforms belonged to other Star Trek actors, and sometimes didn’t fit, hence why Riker’s sleeves are always rolled up like he’s a close-up magician. 

At least they weren’t forced to use those old, noxiously stinky Next Generation outfits. 

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Top Image: Paramount


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