In the first part of this two part series we discussed two unrelated movies intended as hopeful pilots for television series, Spectre and The Questor Tapes. In this second part, we are going to look at a single story that had three different attempts at getting a series off the ground. Genesis II, Planet Earth, and Strange New World all tell the story of character or characters having survived the collapse of civilization on Earth while in suspended animation and attempting to re-integrate into the world that was left.
Genesis II (1973): In 1979, Dylan Hunt (Alex Cord) was testing a suspended animation chamber he helped design in the Carlsbad Caverns, when the caves around the chamber he was in collapsed and the system failed to wake him at the end of the test. 133 years later, he is found by the organization known as “PAX” (Latin for “peace”) and is revived only to find that the world he left behind no longer exists and the “Great Conflict” has turned Earth into a very different place. The people of PAX are the original descendants of the explorers and scientists that worked and lived in the Carlsbad installation. At first Dylan is unable to move or respond and it is only by being nursed back to health by Lyra-a (Mariette Hartley) that he is able to survive. But this has its own problems, she is a spy for the Tyranians, mutants that seek the power and resources that PAX has and treat non-mutated humans as slaves. Lyra-a is able to convince Dylan that PAX has been ravaging and plundering the world for over a century, and helps him escape to her home, where his knowledge of nuclear power is greatly needed, as the power plant that provides electricity to their people is about to fail. Dylan soon realizes that the people of PAX were not what Lyra-a described them to be and sets out to escape his captivity by the Tyranians.
Of the three movies, this one probably had the best story and execution. Alex Cord as Dylan had a certain charm and appeal. He was relatable with a calm and, at times, sensual nature. This was needed as the theme of sex and lust was prevalent within the film. A large portion of the population of the new Earth believed that the downfall of civilization was the “giving in” to sexual and lustful desires. Although the story was interesting, the script was a bit corny at times, falling into many of the cliched trappings of other 1970s television series.
CBS passed on picking up the series and opted for the short lived Planet of the Apes live action program instead. A humorous bit of trivia, the dual navels used to identify the mutants in the story was a jab at the censors that Roddenberry had to deal with while making Star Trek, having to continually reshoot scenes if someone’s bellybutton could be seen. So now that he could show them, he doubled the amount that the audience would see. Roddenberry had also mapped out several episodes for the show, including a trip to the London of 2133 and an episode where Dylan was captured by a society of women who treated men as pets and property. This latter plot brings us to the second Movie.
Planet Earth (1974): Building off the premise of the plot of the unmade episode listed above, the second attempt to make Roddenberry’s post-apocalyptic series is more of a direct sequel than a re-tooling. The movie switched networks from CBS to ABC and also recast Dylan Hunt replacing Alex Cord with John Saxon. The Dylan of Planet Earth is reminiscent of William Shatners portrayal of Captain Kirk adding more machismo and bravado and taking the character from an intelligent scientist to more of an explorer. Dylan, having joined PAX leads a team exploring the world around them, hoping to help what societies are left. While on such a mission, the team is attacked by the Kreeg, technology driven militaristic mutants. Team member, Pater Kimbridge (Rai Tasco) is wounded and will die if he does not get a very risky operation. The only doctor in the area that could save him, disappeared the year before in an area known as the Confederacy of Ruth, a post-apocalyptic matriarchal society where men are treated as slaves bought and sold at auction. When all the men are captured, it comes to light that a drug is being used to keep them subdued and in fear. Dylan, with the help of Harper-Smyther (Janet Margolin), the only female team member, find the doctor and come up with a plan to get him back to the PAX installation to save Pater. While their plan is in action, the Kreegs attack and the enslaved men, coming out of their stupor after secretly being given a cure, save the day.
Unfortunately watching this in the present time gave me a bit of a cringe worthy response and does have a slight male chauvinistic bent, it is also self-aware of this fact and Dylan even calls himself a “male chauvinist” with in the episode. It is also interesting to note, that at the end of the episode, the Pax team do not attempt to take control and the women still rule over the men, and some of the men stay freely, the men are just free from the drug that kept them subdued. Harper also states that a female led society does have some merit. But the depiction of women needing to be saved by men is a product of its time.
In the long run, the episode just didn’t have the same feeling as many other Roddenberry projects. Although John Saxon’s Dylan is not a dislikeable character, he isn’t as interesting as Alex Cord’s dark brooding style. The focus on action and adventure doesn’t lead to much character development and there is no real connection or chemistry between the characters making it really hard to empathize with what is happening on screen. An interesting thing to note, in both Genesis II and Planet Earth, there are scenes where violence is used in front of children, and this immediately shows the effect our own violence has on children forcing the characters to rethink the use of force.
Strange New World (1975): Remaining on ABC and still starring John Saxon, the story and origin of Strange New World was retooled and is not a direct sequel to either of the previous versions. John Saxon is Captain Anthony Vico, the head of a team of three astronauts testing out a suspended animation system aboard a spacecraft above the Earth known as PAX. When an asteroid storm threatens their safety, the PAX homebase changes the trajectory of their craft to orbit the sun and puts them into suspended animation for 180 years. With little time left before the asteroids bombard the Earth, the families of the astronauts are brought to an underground PAX facility and also put into hibernation. When the team awakes, they are informed of what has happened and given the mission to return to Earth and find the PAX facility to awaken those who are still in suspended hibernation. Joining Anthony is Dr. Allison Crowley (Kathleen Miller) the navigator and systems expert, and Dr. William Scott (Keene Curtis) a brilliant medical doctor and scientist. The movie is split between two separate storylines. The first shows a civilization who has conquered death by harvesting body parts from clones of themselves, but this has lowered their immunity and their leader, being over 200 years old is beginning to suffer from dementia and will not last much longer. In order to save this colony, they need the blood of the team of outsiders, but unfortunately, the process will kill our heroes. The resulting conflict ends in tragedy for the colony. The second story is almost the exact opposite, with two groups of survivors living in the wild, not quite savages, but not quite civilized either. One group believes it is their job to protect the wild animals that now roam the area while the other is fighting for the natural resources to survive. It is up to our team of heroes to help teach them how to work together and not depend on violence or physical punishment as a way of life.
Out of the three movies, I found this one the most interesting, but it was not the most cohesive or the best made. Having three main characters begins to fix some of the issues the other two movies were missing, a good connection between characters and a bit more character development. I liked Kathleen Miller’s and Keene Curtis’ characters and the two different stories felt more like episodes in a television series than a movie. It was missing the polish and finesse that could have elevated it to something more memorable and action oriented fight scenes seemed to take importance over thematic exploration of ethical and emotional scenarios. Out of the three, I could see this one being retooled today into something amazing.
In this series we looked at five television movies that were intended as pilots, and although none of them never came to fruition, Gene did have a couple non-Trek shows make it to series posthumously. Most notably, Earth Final Conflict (1997 – 2002) and Andromeda (2000-2005). In all of his work, Roddenberry tried to instill an optimism that humanity can and will do better, learning from the past and correcting it’s mistakes.
Movie of the Week: Gene Roddenberry Pilots (Part 2)
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