Sunday, 24 May 2020

Roddenberry's Novel Approach: The Motion Picture in Print

As important to the franchise as The Cage, Star Trek: The Motion Picture launched a whole new era, almost a decade after Turnabout Intruder first aired. 

To accompany the recent 40th anniversary of the release, Simon and Schuster have published a new edition of the novelisation written by creator Gene Roddenberry. Based on the screenplay from Harold Livingston and the story from Alan Dean Foster, Roddenberry’s narrative is very faithful to the movie but adds in more background to early events especially around the Klingons and Kirk’s return to front line action. 

We get firm details on the belt sensors as well as Kirk apparently having his own cerebral implant for emergency comms plus other sprinklings of information to build on the fragmentally explored return of the cast. Kirk, to be fair, comes across as an arrogant dick for the first half of the book and it’s unusual to have a strong dislike for the character and his actions, the way in which he thinks of himself and the way that he is perceived in the public eye. I have a suspicion that Roddenberry was attempting to imprint something of himself on to the character in a novelisation of a film where he was beginning to be pushed aside. 

He also has a worrying preoccupation with sex and its importance in 23rd Century life which comes over as chilling as getting home one night to find your dad watching porn and inviting you to take a seat. If you’re annoyed by the inclusion of expletives in Picard, don’t read this. It’s not graphic, more sordid and unwelcome, distracting at many points from the plot and in fact making one or two of the cast seem every so creepy (check out the section regarding Illia’s return for example). 

You do understand his reasoning for the Deltan being on the ship if just to satisfy his well known sexual lustings. Enough of that anyway. If you can ignore these occasional slides, the novelisation is faithful to the film but feels a lot more rounded in places to add background or explain a certain moment.  Evidence here including a voyeristic creepy Kirk only go further to cement Ilia's reason to exist to represent Roddenberry's overt issues.

Spock’s emotional turmoil and inability to complete Kolinar are much more credibly handled, the full nature of Decker’s relationship with Ilia is mapped and the conflict within Kirk over his decision to accept a rather forced promotion. What Roddenberry does manage more than ably is the relationship between the admiral, Spock and McCoy. In the movie we only see the doctor return because he's reactivated but her we get the background that he's been back to Yonada and had been instrumental in a campaign to make Kirk turn down his step up in rank. He's lovingly cranky and tends to get the best lines throughout. I could even push to say that the book deals with him better than onscreen.

As fr the rest of the main crew, they receive as much time as you might expect and as such get little development. Their time since the end of the Enterprise's mission is skated across when in comparison Kirk's time is dissected and comes into play even as the starship is leaving port. You always get the sense Roddenberry only ever has one character really in mind from page one onwards. It's a writing style that you just don't see in any other Star Trek book, not even in Blish's adaptations of the episodes. Here, Gene totally immerses himself into Kirk and playing the hero and never again do we have such a lone "saviour" in play and you could think that it's someone attempting to raise his station. 

I raced through this one during a couple of days last week and although the amount of additional material is, erm, questionable thanks to Gene's input, it's still not as considerable as you'll find in The Wrath of Khan for instance. There's also the matter of that preface which really does seal this as Roddenberry trying to wrestle some form of control back over his baby and frankly turning it into a bit of a mess from the start. He does introduce some concepts which will never see the light of day again and are only ever present in this story but it's a quaint way to see some of the possibilities that might have made it into the abandoned Phase II.

It sits now as a cracking little piece of Star Trek history, a glimpse at the might-have been tinged with Gene Roddenberry's personal bitterness(?) and it should be at the top of everyone's reading list just for those very reasons. It's Gene's final attempt to really evoke all that he alone wanted from Star Trek and wasn't allowed to totally pull off  - ok, not in vision but he made a point to on the page and you'd be silly for missing out on a read of it. A true off one off on screen and in print, The Motion Picture still divides fans 40 years later. 

You can read the novelisation now from Simon and Schuster HERE

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  1. He got creative control back for STTNG though.

    There's always been a debate over who really wrote this book. Susan Sackett has suggested that Alan Dean Foster wrote a good deal of it.

    1. I'd say to a degree on TNG but he lost it just as quickly due to all the infighting, resignations and people who just couldn't work with him.

      From the structure you can easily tell where Roddenberry had input versus ADF. It's as though Gene copied and pasted then added in a few paragraphs here and there to show a little effort.

      Thanks for commenting and hope to see you here again!

    2. With a nod to Susan, I state categorically (as I have on numerous previous occasions) that I had nothing whatsoever to do with the writing of the book.

    3. If this is who I think (and hope it is), you have my greatest respect for your story and further Star Trek novelisations. What I mean by the above is that it's clear where Roddenberry's additions start and the filmed material finishes. While I'm in no doubt he wrote the book, it does come across as a cut and paste from the movie then embellished with his own pieces. Respect where respect is due for your original material.

  2. Alan Dean Foster writes in the comments on Trek Movies old post that he didn't write any of the book.

    When I was a lad, I read the animated series short stories over and over. That led me onto Splinter of the minds Eye and more....

    1. Think it's clear he stepped away from this book. My comments may have been misconstrued earlier. Where Gene has added pieces or descriptions to the existing film I find it becomes obvious where what was screened and his twist begins.