Written by: Ron Bricker
Unfortunately (and despite the clearly misleading title), this article is not about the new movie to be released in December of 2008, starring an entirely new cast playing all of our favorites form the original TV show. Rather it is a look at the original TV show on the big screen. On November 13th and 15th, “The Menagerie” – the only two-part episode of the original 79 – was broadcast in hi-def on movie screens all over the country. I was lucky enough to see this showing, and for the most part I must applaud the effort. But the motives behind the broadcast do bother me somewhat.
It turns out the event was mainly to advertise the release of season one of the original series on hi-def combo disk. Now while I like the idea of remastered episodes, as well as the idea of a DVD that is hi-def on one side and standard format on the other, I really could have done without the commercial for it before the episode started. The producers will deny this claim, instead calling what came first a “documentary featuring Eugene Roddenberry” the son of the late Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek phenomenon. But what it boiled down to was Eugene and the production crew for the remastering hocking their wares. I suppose this is something that has to be done, but anyone who is paying $12.50 to see an episode of Star Trek will probably be buying that set anyway, right? So why bother? To me, it felt very forced and cheap. I came to see Star Trek, show me Star Trek!
But I must say, once the episode started I couldn’t have been happier. It was presented in standard TV format, but it was done so in a very tasteful and effective way. I’m also happy to report that the episode itself stands the test of time, for the most part. Sure there were a few laughs here and there when “stunts” were performed, or some crewmember wore 60s attire, but the story held up just fine.
For those who aren’t familiar, Gene Roddenberry actually made two pilots for Star Trek. His first pilot, titled “The Cage,” was rejected by NBC and he was given a chance to make a second one. That second pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before” launched the Star Trek series we know today. The first pilot had similarities to the show, but most of the cast was different, in fact only Leonard Nimoy and his character of Spock remained. But thanks to this overlap Roddenberry was able to use the footage from “The Cage” in this episode “The Menagerie.” He wrote a story in which Spock brought his former captain, Christopher Pike, back to the planet they visited in “The Cage.” Pike, recently paralyzed in a “space accident” would find peace on that planet, Talos IV. What follows is a court-martial of Spock for violating General Order 7: “No starship may visit or have contact with Talos IV for any reason.” During the court martial the Kirk and part of the crew are basically forced to watch an episode of Star Trek! I won’t tell you how it ends in case you want to see it, but it works pretty well.
I had always thought of the episode as kind of cheap, Roddenberry filling an episode with old footage, but in watching it again I think he did a fantastic job of weaving that footage into the story and making it actually work. And since the footage had not been seen by anyone at that point it didn’t play as a clip show either. Overall, I’d say this was a great idea from the people at Paramount and CBS and I hope they continue doing it. But they can save the commercials for TV.