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Star Trek: The First Adventure

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Star Trek: The First Adventure, also tentatively titled Starfleet Academy and Star Trek: The Academy Years, was a movie penned by Harve Bennett and David Loughery that was intended to follow Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, for a 1991 release date, corresponding with Star Trek: The Original Series' 25th anniversary. The production of this film, which culminated over a period of a year, made it as far as a written script and a few pieces of conceptual artwork.

Proposal

Star Trek: The First Adventure was intended to be a new vehicle to continue the Star Trek movie missions.

According to David Loughery, "Every time they go to make one of these Star Trek movies, the producers and the studio always run into the same problem in getting the original cast together. The reasons for that are money, power, creative differences, ego, health, unavailability...all of those things. Harve [Bennett] always had this ace up his sleeve, which was if we can't get everybody together for one of these Star Trek movies, we should do a prequel."

Star Trek producer Ralph Winter originally pitched the idea for the film to Bennett at his daughter's Bat Mitzvah. "We had already locked in the Star Trek IV storyline with the whales and I said, 'You know, I have a great idea, let's do a prequel' in the middle of this reception for his daughter. I suggested we develop a series of films to be another franchise, another tent pole that we could open. We could do a prequel and find out how Kirk and Spock met at the Starfleet Academy. When we were doing Star Trek V, we got the studio to approve work on the script. It is an excellent story, but it has been misperceived. It's a great story finding out about this young cocky character on a farm who goes to flight school and meets up with the first alien that comes from Vulcan and how they meet the other characters. It would have been a gift for the fans on the 25th anniversary."

Loughery noted "When I heard about the idea, I thought it was terrific. Not from the point of view of recasting, but from the point of view of storytelling, because I worked so closely with these characters on Star Trek V, that the idea of doing an origin story – where you show them as young cadets and kids – was tremendously exciting. What it was, was a real coming of age story."

Winter believed that Starfleet Academy would have ushered in a new approach to the Star Trek franchise for the studio in which a coherent plan would be created for producing the Trek films on a semi-regular basis as opposed to the sporadic, fitful stop and go start-up on a new film every three years with the arduous contract negotiations that initiating each new chapter entailed.

According to Bennett, the film which could have been made for $27 million would also have avoided the hefty multi-million dollar salaries of its leads – Shatner and Nimoy – as well as Kelley's take-home of nearly half a million dollars and the $125,000 paychecks the supporting players pocketed. (Charting the Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI)

Premise

Michael Curtiz's 1940 film The Santa Fe Trail served as an inspiration for what Harve Bennett envisioned as the classic triumvirate's first trek. (Charting the Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI)

Star Trek The First Adventure, Kirk and Spock concept
Conceptual art of young Kirk and Spock

According to co-writer David Loughery, this film was intended to kind of a "Top GunStar Trek, in which this rambunctious, willful Iowa farmboy, Jim Kirk, goes to Starfleet Academy and meets up with this misanthropic, misunderstood, brilliant Vulcan, who is the first Vulcan ever to attend Starfleet Academy." (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – Special Edition DVD, Disc 2) The film also introduces Leonard McCoy, a 30-year-old doctor who attends the Academy after having pulled the plug on his terminally ill father and is searching for the meaning of life. (Charting the Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI)

The premise of the story would focus on young Kirk's development from a careless youth to a responsible leader, and includes the loss of a great love, while the climax of the story, he and Spock battled slavery on an alien world. (Trek: The Unauthorized Story of the Movies)

Loughery stated that "In outline form, it was the story of Kirk and Spock meeting for the first time as cadets here on Earth. We've got a young Jim Kirk, who's kind of cocky and wild. He's not exactly what you might think starship captain material might be. He's like one of these kids who would rather fly hot planes and chase girls. Spock is this brilliant, arrogant, aloof to the point of obnoxiousness, genius. It's this mask he's hiding behind to cover his own conflicting human emotions. He's an outcast, he left Vulcan in shame against his father's wishes and, like all adolescents, he's trying to find a place to fit in, but he keeps screwing it up."

Loughery added that "Over the course of this story, which is one year at Starfleet Academy, Kirk and Spock are sort of put to the test and they begin as rivals and end up as friends and comrades who learn that they have to combine their talents for the first time to defeat a deadly enemy. In the final scene, where they say goodbye at graduation and go their separate ways, we're able to see the legends that these two boys are going to grow up to become." (Charting the Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI)

Outline

A script review for this film, bearing the Star Trek: The Academy Years title, was explored by Ain't It Cool News on March 20, 2006.

The story begins following the events portrayed in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as Dr. Leonard McCoy addresses a group of graduating Starfleet cadets, and is asked about his famous former shipmates, James T. Kirk and Spock. "What were they like?" one asks. "Were they friends?" inquires another. To their surprise, McCoy scoffs at the idea. "I never met two less likely candidates for friendship in my entire life," he says, adding that Kirk and Spock were as different as night and day, or "Vulcan and Iowa."

From there, the story flashes back to Iowa, where a young Jim Kirk is scolded by his brother, George Samuel Kirk, for recklessly flying his "futuristic crop duster". Jim looks fated to remain Earthbound on his small-town farm – until he is accepted as one of a hundred new recruits at Starfleet Academy. Meanwhile, on Vulcan, young Spock is also being dissuaded by an individual named Shardik from accepting a place at Starfleet Academy, where he would be the first and only student with Vulcan blood.

Arriving in San Francisco, where the Academy is based, Jim accepts a speeder bike ride from a young woman, Cassandra Hightower, who will become his love interest; gets into a dust-up with a fellow cadet, Kalibar; meets his new roommate, McCoy – whom he instantly christens "Bones"; and a young engineering officer, Montgomery Scott, who worked on a warp propulsion project with Jim's pilot father, George Kirk, until he was presumed dead after his test ship, the Bonaventure, disappeared during an experimental dilithium-fueled warp jump.

As the cadets settle in, and Kirk grows closer to Cassandra, it becomes clear that the story takes place before the "enlightenment" spoken of in several episodes of the original series. Slavery still drives many economies, including the one on Kalibar's homeworld, where Kalibar is next in line for the throne. Racial prejudice is also a powerful force in the universe, as evidenced by a beating Spock suffers at the hands of Kalibar and his cronies, and from which he is rescued by Kirk. Kalibar is expelled for the beating, just as he learns that his father has been killed in a coup d'etat, an event possibly linked to the signing of a new anti-slavery proclamation by Kodaris, an ambassador from Kalibar's homeworld.

But Kirk and Spock have troubles of their own: both are confined to quarters for cheating (Spock helped Kirk on his quantum mechanics exam by using a Vulcan mind meld), while McCoy and Cassandra report to their first assignment aboard an old starship, described in the script as "a war horse, battered and patched. Its design may not be familiar, but its name is: USS Enterprise." But before they can complete their mission – returning Ambassador Kodaris to his homeworld – Kalibar attacks, disabling the Enterprise, and threatens to destroy the ship unless Kodaris is released to his custody. Hearing of its plight, Kirk, Spock and Scotty steal a prototype warp ship, the Bonaventure II, from the Starfleet museum, arriving too late – the Enterprise is badly damaged, its captain is dead, its crew dying.

Beaming aboard the stricken ship, Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and McCoy leap into action, each assuming roles with echoes of their future posts, as they take on Kalibar's ship in a jury-rigged, warp-capable Enterprise of their own devising.

With Kalibar defeated and the Enterprise saved, the crew, including Christine Chapel, go their separate ways, fated to meet again.

The film cuts back to the present day, where McCoy finishes his story. His communicator beeps, as Scotty asks if he's ready to beam back aboard the Enterprise. McCoy excuses himself from the group of Starfleet cadets, and takes a last look around. ",,Beam me up, Scotty,,," he says and beams out.

Conceptual art

Development and rejection

According to Harve Bennett, in a 2006 interview on The Trek Nation website, "We had a green light to picture which was canceled only when there was a regime change at the studio and a concern that we should do something more conventional for the then-25th anniversary. We had 19 months to do it in. 19 months? There's no way to do a special effects picture in 19 months. The best time we had was Star Trek III, which was two years from concept to release date. And the reason for that is, we would write the script normally and that was an easy script, that was six weeks and we were ready to go. But the special effects planning takes the better part of the year. I said, 'It can't be done.' And then my time was up, so I left." [1]

In a 2010 interview with StarTrek.com, Bennett said, "It was the best script of all and it never got produced. It was at the end of my run. Ned Tanen, who was Paramount's head of production, had green lighted it before he left. We even had location scouts and sent feelers out for the cast. I had an eye on John Cusack for Spock, which would have been great. Ethan Hawke could have been Kirk. There were so many possibilities. But basically it was a love story and it was a story of cadets, teenagers. And, in order to get Shatner and Nimoy in, we had a wraparound in which Kirk comes back to address the academy and the story spins off of his memory. At the end, Kirk and Spock are reunited and they beam back up to Enterprise, which would have left a new series potential, the academy, and a potential other story with the original Trek cast. All the possibilities were open, the script was beautiful, and the love story was haunting, but it didn't happen." [2]

Bennett's script created a lot of friction between himself and the original cast with whom he had spent the better part of a decade working. Support was marshaled against the film and vociferously denounced on the convention circuit by Gene Roddenberry and the members of the supporting cast.

Roddenberry, who stated in a Cinefantastique interview that "I didn't like it. Who was going to cast the new Kirk and Spock? No one has ever cast a Trek character besides me that's worked. Braggadocio or whatever, that is the history of Trek. It wasn't good. Some of it was like Police Academy. You could hardly do this without the magic of a group of characters tailored for Star Trek, which this was not."

Walter Koenig shared Roddenberry's feelings, stating that "I think there was a fat chance of that happening. I can't read Harve's mind, but if Starfleet Academy had done well, they would have gone on with that group. If it hadn't, they probably would have abandoned the whole project."

Once word began to leak about the project, letters began to pour into Paramount decrying the planned feature as heresy. Loughery admitted that "We were really caught off guard and surprised by the fans who reacted so negatively to the idea of this movie. Somehow they conceived it as sort of a spoof or a takeoff. That's where we got off on the wrong foot. The fans had misinformation, which may have been put out there by people for their own reasons. Certainly if we were going to make a movie like that, it meant that Walter [Koenig] and whoever wouldn't get that job a year or two down the line that they had come to expect. I don't know if that's the case, but I do know that the misinformation released had people convinced that we were going to do a cross between Police Academy and The Jetsons. It was never that kind of story. I think it's traditional that the fans have objected to different things. Harve's always been smart enough to double-cross them; given them what they've objected to, but surprise them with something that makes it good and worthwhile. We felt that there was a powerful story there, one that the audience would be interested in. We're always interested in young Indiana Jones and young Sherlock Holmes, and how they started and came to be who they are. This was sort of the way to explain Kirk and Spock and where they came from."

Bennett recalled that "the only one I'm really furious at though is Jimmy Doohan. He said I was fired and I can't abide lies. My term was up and I was offered $1.5 million to do Star Trek VI and I said, 'Thanks, I don't wish to do that. I want to do that. I want to do the Academy." Doohan's response was that "I was impressed with Harve when he first came in and did Star Trek II and III, but I think he got a little greedy. He wanted things his own way. He wanted to take over Star Trek for himself. What the heck, you don't do that sort of thing, trying to destroy instead of building. He obviously did not realize the strength of the old cast. The whole thing would have been starting out as if from scratch." (Charting the Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI)

Too many people, however, had a vested interest in doing Star Trek the old way. Although the story of the first meetings of the Enterprise crew and their days at Starfleet Academy was eventually told in the 2009 Star Trek film, in 1990 the time was not right to recast these characters.

While Paramount Pictures studio executive Ned Tanen supported the project, the other studio executives did not. Paramount ultimately rejected the script when Bennett made a make-or-break demand, and according to Doohan, "I think it was [Frank] Mancuso who didn't realize we were not going to be in it. When he found out, [he] said good-bye Harve."

For Bennett, the rejection of the project was a big disappointment for the veteran producer who planned the film as his freshman directorial effort. "It meant a lot to me because I came out of UCLA film school wanting to be a director and other winds blew me to other ports. It was a desire of mine to direct and it was accepted by the studio and, the fact is, part of the deal was for us to do a Star Trek VI, with the original cast after Starfleet Academy," which was slated for production eighteen months later.

Bennett added that "My last words to Mancuso before he was asked to leave was if it was a question of anyone's concerns about my directing, I'd back off on that." In response, Paramount "offered me Star Trek VI and gave me a pay or play commitment to direct and produce Starfleet Academy afterwards. My position was, and I think it was correct, that they would pay me to do VI and make the movie which would have been a real big, fat check for me and never make Starfleet Academy. To be paid off because the movie I might have done, which is being done by others, would close the franchise was not my intention."

Bennett ultimately quit the studio when he lost, turning down the offer to produce Paramount's version of Star Trek VI. "It wasn't easy to walk away from that, but if your heart is not in something and you've earned the right not to have to do things that cause you pain, then you don't do them." He maintains that the supporting cast was entirely accountable for the film's demise, however recognizing that "their jobs and livelihoods were jeopardized."

Bennett later admitted that "because of the way Star Trek VI is being sold, don't miss your chance to say good-bye, it's unlikely that Starfleet Academy, which asks 'Would you like to know how it all happened?' will be made." He maintained, however, that "Starfleet Academy, like Star Trek IV, would have reached beyond the cult. It would have interested people who had never seen a Star Trek film which did not exclude the regulars, but it simply said, if you don't understand what it's all about, come see how it all began." (Charting the Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI; Trek: The Unauthorized Story of the Movies)

After the idea for the premise was tossed out, the studio was still "not happy going out on V" and still "wanted another Star Trek movie" so they approached Nicholas Meyer on coming up for an alternate idea, which both he and Leonard Nimoy eventually developed into the story that would become Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – Special Edition DVD, Disc 2)

Resurrection

In spite of the film's rejection, Bennett remained hopeful, stating in 1992 that "Brandon [Tartikoff], Paramount production chief is an admired colleague and we've done business together in the past. If he ever called me and said 'I read this script and I'd like to do this,' I would go back." Tartikoff, unfortunately, died five years later, dashing Bennett's immediate hopes. (Charting the Undiscovered Country: The Making of Trek VI)

As recently as 2004, Harve Bennett and, then Chairman of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group, Sherry Lansing had a meeting in which Bennett proposed that "now was the time to do Starfleet Academy."

According to Bennett, Lansing "loved it," and "we would have made it, but then she said the television department had asked her not to do it, because Enterprise was being produced and they thought that should be the prequel. Therefore, we did not do that."

Bennett later admitted that "some of the steam went out of it when my dear DeForest Kelley died. He was going to be in it along with Bill [Shatner] and Leonard [Nimoy], those were the only two regulars, and they were involved in a flashback. That's how we incorporated the three main characters into the prequel: it was a memory. Kirk comes to the Academy to address the classmates and remembers his time, when they were 17."

As of 2006, Bennett still expressed interest in working on the film if anyone was willing to make it. [3]

The 2009 film Star Trek, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, superficially borrowed the same basic premise of Bennett's film by returning the franchise to the Academy years of the original crew, how they first met, and how they first came aboard the USS Enterprise. Aside from these surface similarities, the plotlines of these two films are significantly different. When asked about the 2009 film, Bennett said, "I did see it. I'm not the audience for that. Rapid cuts. Explosions. Gore for the sake of gore. Either that makes me a dinosaur or there's a generational problem, but that's not J.J.'s fault." [4]

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